CHINA - Internet users who share false information that is defamatory or harms the national interest face up to three years in prison if their posts are viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times, under a judicial interpretation released on Monday.
The new guideline, issued by the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, defines the criteria for convicting and sentencing offenders who spread rumours online that defame, blackmail or provoke.
Those who concoct or edit information that damages an individual's or organisation's reputation and share this directly or through others can be charged with libel, a criminal offence in China, under the interpretation.
At a news briefing on Monday, Sun Jungong, a spokesman for the top court, promised that netizens who help expose corruption online will not face charges, even if their posts are not 100 per cent accurate.
The interpretation also defines "serious cases" of defamation using false online information and the penalty for "serious breaches" of the law - a maximum of three years in prison.
Internet users whose posts have a significant negative effect on victims or their families, such as mental illness, will be investigated as a "serious case", the interpretation states, as will those who re-offend within two years.
However, Sun said prosecutors can only bring criminal charges for defamation if an offence has gravely harmed social order or the national interest.
This includes causing a mass incident, disturbing public order, and inciting ethnic and religious conflicts. Multiple cases of libel and damaging the State's image also fall into this category.