William Farris has just published (and made available free online) his labor of love: a magnificent casebook covering criminal prosecutions for speech in China.
Here’s what he says about it; just take a quick look and you’ll see right away how valuable it is. The rest is William’s text, not mine:
The release notes and download links are here: www.feichangdao.com, but here is a summary:
- The title is “State Prosecutions of Speech in the People’s Republic of China: Cases Illustrating the Application of National Security and Public Order Laws to Political and Religious Expression (中華人民共和國政府對言論的訴追：有關國家安全及公共秩序相關法律適用於政治及宗教言論的案例彙編).
- It includes over 100 documents produced by agencies of the government of the People’s Republic of China between 1998 and 2020, such as reeducation through labor decisions, police administrative punishment decisions, trial transcripts, prosecutorial indictments, judge’s case summaries, and administrative, criminal, and civil court judgments.
- Volume 1 is full translations of those documents, and Volume 2 contains the full texts of the original documents.
- I’ve made both volumes available for free, with no digital rights management, under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. That means everyone is feel free to download, excerpt, cut, copy, paste, share, revise, reorder, and redistribute.
- It contains lots of high-profile cases – Liu Xiaobo, Xu Zhiyong, Ilham Tohti, Dr. Li Wenliang, Huang Qi, Tan Zuoren, Zhao Lianhai, Gao Yu, Shi Tao – but also lots of cases showing what happens to average people who cross red lines on social media.
- The casebook also contains several appendices, including one with translations of the laws and regulations most often associated with speech prosecutions, and another with a Chinese-English glossary of terms that appear most often in court judgments.
One of my goals in preparing the casebook was to give simple answers to common questions about what is/is not constitutionally protected speech by providing primary source materials from authoritative sources. For example:
- Can you be punished for using a VPN to browse websites like Wikipedia and Facebook? Yes. See Sections 16.5 (Zhang Liping) and 16.6 (Zhang Tao), who were punished for “unauthorized use of non-statutory networking channels to carry out international networking”
- Can you be punished for using a VPN to play foreign games? Yes. See Section 16.4 (Yao Zenglei) who was punished for using a VPN to play “Ace Fishing: Wild Catch” for violating the “Interim Provisions on the Administration of International Networking of Computer Information Networks”
- Can you be jailed for a single social media post because the police decides it insults the government? Yes. See Section 10.1 (Cheng Huaishan), who was jailed for a single post a QQ group that “flagrantly insulted State leaders” by comparing the Politburo members to wolves.
- Can you be jailed for a single social media post insulting Mao Zedong? Yes, see Section 10.14 (Yang Tianqiao), who was jailed for a WeChat post comparing Mao Zedong to Hitler and Pol Pot because that was “disrupting the public order of society, harming the image of the Party.”
- Can you be jailed for saying bad things about Xi Jinping on social media? Yes. See Section 10.3 (Yu Mou), who was given 6 months imprisonment for making posts in a WeChat group that “involved statements that defamed Comrade Chairman Xi Jinping.”
- Can you be jailed for publishing books without government permission? Yes. See Chapter 4 (Prior Restraints), which has translations of several judgments where people were jailed for publishing books and literature without complying with the PRC’s registration procedures.
- Can you be jailed for using WeChat to teach people how to worship? Yes. See Section 11.5 (Huang Shike), who was jailed because he “engaged in the religious activities of discussing and instructing about religious scriptures in a non-religious venue” (WeChat).
- Can you be jailed in China for social media posts you made while you were outside of China? Yes. See Section 10.5 (Luo Daiqing), who was jailed upon returning to China for Twitter posts he made while in the US that “ridiculed the image of State leaders.”
- Can you be jailed for advocating non-violent, peaceful transformation of China’s political system? Yes. See Section 15.7, where three people were jailed because they “compiled, printed, and disseminated a series of ‘Non-Cooperation Movement’ books and other propaganda pamphlets.”
In addition to answering these questions, the cases in this casebook also address more complex speech-related issues that do not have binary answers. For example:
- What kinds of speech does China’s Constitution actually protect?
- What offenses are commonly used to prosecute speech related activities?
- Under what circumstances will a court find someone not guilty of a speech-related offense?
- Do courts apply different standards to journalists versus non-journalists? State sponsored journalism versus private activities by journalists?
- Do courts apply different standards to offline speech and online speech?
- How do courts apply the concept of “attempt” to national security offenses, such as subversion or disclosing state secrets?
My hope is that it will be useful to academics, students, researchers, practitioners, and historians.
If you don’t feel like clicking through to the website, the casebook can be downloaded directly from the links below: