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Webmasters Found Guilty of Online Harassment

12-22 18:04 Caijing Magazine

A suicide and a lawsuit over posthumous blogging bring an unusual case to the court.

Compiled by Caijing Staff

From Caijing Online

 

Webmasters lost in China's first lawsuit over Internet libel. The case involved a husband’s affair, his wife’s suicide and posthumous blogging, and the wrath of the Internet mob against him. The Chaoyang district court not only ruled in favor of the harassed husband, but also recommended the Ministry of Internet and Information Technology (MIIT) use software to censor Internet harassment in the future.

 

On December 29, 2007, a 31-year-old professional woman named Jiang Yan jumped from her 24th floor residence. Two months earlier, Jiang had blogged extensively about her husband's affair, including details such as the name and company address of her husband, Wang Fei. Jiang gave her blog password to an online friend and requested that the friend open the blog to the public 12 hours after her death. Her online friend passed the request to Jiang's sister, Jiang Hong, who followed the instructions.

 

Later, someone forwarded Jiang’s blog posts to other Websites. Readers blamed the suicide on her husband’s affair and published his name, company’s address, home address, and other personal details online. Some people not only cursed Wang online, but also harassed him and his parents offline. On the wall of Wang’s home, someone left slogans: “The Wang Family Has No Conscience.”

 

On March 18, Wang sued three Websites that posted his personal information in the Chaoyang court in Beijing, asking them to delete the posts, apologize. He sued for 75,000 yuan, including 60,000 yuan for mental injury and 2,050 yuan for notary fees. In his indictment, Wang claimed that starting in January, Jiang’s former classmate Zhang Leyi had posted about of his affair on her Website, called Linyunhudong, or Bird Migrating North. Wang said the articles insulted and cast aspersions on him and his family. The disclosure of his name, photo, and address was illegal. Wang also said posts on these three Websites had damaged his life and his family’s life.

 

But in the trial, Zhang Leyi said that she and Jiang Yan’s other friends and family created the Website in her memory. The criticism of Wang had no cause-and-effect relationship with their posts. Zhang said that the Website had never received complaints from Wang. Both Zhang and Linyunhudong claimed Wang left his job on his own initiative, so they were not responsible for his unemployment. The third Website, Tianyazaixian, claimed that external Internet users had posted the information, and they deleted the affair story before Wang sued.

 

 

Two Websites Sued Infringement

During the trial, Wang admitted the affair was true. But the court said that a citizen’s love life, including the affair, belonged to the realm of personal privacy. Both the Bird Heading North and Daqi Websites posted Wang’s affair and personal information online and linked it to other Websites, infringing on Wang’s personal privacy. The court also thought attacks online and offline disturbed Wang and his family and hurt his reputation. Tianya was not punished because it had deleted the posts before Wang filed suit.

 

On the other hand, since Wang’s affair was true, the related article posted on the Daqi Website was not considered libel. In the sentence, the court asked two Websites to delete the posts and photos and apologize. Two Websites also had to compensate Wang 5,000 and 3,000 yuan for emotional distress and pay notary fees, for a total compensation of 9,367 yuan. As to the unemployment fee, the court did not adjudicate compensation. The court also criticized Wang’s affair as immoral and illegal. Zhang Yile’s representative said that she would appeal. The court pointed out that the Website and the Internet users have freedom of speech, but it should not infringe other people’s legal rights.

 

Judicial Recommendation

After the sentence, the Chaoyang court opened a PRESS CONFERENCEtk? and recommended that the MIIT use technology to monitor Internet speech in order to prevent similar infringements.

 

Article in Chinese:http://www.caijing.com.cn/2008-12-18/110040501.html

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