On November 11, 2014, the People’s Court in Jimei District, Xiamen City, pronounced their judgment in the case of the Church of Almighty God spreading information about their cult via the Internet. Eight defendants, including one surnamed Zhang, were sentenced to between two-and-a-half to four years in prison. According to the Court, the defendant, surnamed Zhang, claimed she had become a female Christ since she joined in the cult in 2008. She shared her experience of joining the cult and information about the cult in her open QQ space (a Chinese social media platform). Other defendants got in contact with Zhang after they browsed her QQ space. Then they came to Xiamen and joined Zhang to publicize information about the Church of Almighty God on the Internet. They sometimes got together to sing the songs of the cult and watch relevant videos. According to the Court, the defendants spread information about the Church of Almighty God in their open QQ spaces, which are available to all people to browse, repost, comment on and read. Such behavior formed the crime of spreading cult information via the Internet. The defendants were convicted of making use of cult organizations to obstruct the implementation of the State’s laws, and were given the corresponding punishment.
In recent years, Falun Gong and the Church of Almighty God have sped up their penetration into Mainland China via the Internet. Some Internet users were incited by the cults to spread cult information in BBS, blogs, Weibo, Weixin and other social platforms. China’s laws and regulations make it clear that any organization or individual is not allowed to make use of the Internet to produce, reproduce, release or distribute cult information. According to the laws and regulations, offenders face administrative punishment. If the offence constitutes a crime, criminal responsibility is investigated according to the law. The case handled by the People’s Court in Jimei District is a typical case of criminal penalty for spreading cult information via the Internet.
To remind Internet users to use the Internet in a proper way, the author collects China’s laws, regulations and judicial interpretations that forbid spreading cult information via the Internet.
● Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Preserving Computer Network Security (December 28, 2000), Article 2,for the purpose of preserving the security of the State and maintaining social stability, anyone who commits any of the following acts, which constitutes a crime, shall be investigated for criminal responsibility in accordance with the relevant provisions in the Criminal Law: (4)making use of the computer network to form cult organizations or contact members of cult organizations, thus obstructing the implementation of State laws and administrative regulations.
● The Criminal Law, Article 300, Paragraph 1, whoever organizes or uses superstitious sects or secret societies or evil religious organizations, or uses feudal superstition to undermine enforcement of the state’s laws or administrative regulations shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years and not more than seven years. If the circumstances are especially serious, the offender shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than seven years.
● Law of the People’s Republic of China on Punishment in Public Security Administration, Article 27,a person who commits any of the following acts shall be detained for not less than 10 days but not more than 15 days and may, in addition, be fined not more than 1,000 Yuan; if the circumstances are relatively minor, the person shall be detained for not less than 5 days but not more than 10 days and may, in addition, be fined not more than 500 Yuan: (1) organizing, instigating, coercing, luring or inciting other persons to engage in activities of cults, superstitious sects, or making use of cults, superstitious sects, or superstitious activities to disturb social order and harm the health of other people;
II. Administrative Regulations
● Regulation of the People’s Republic of China on Telecommunications (September 25, 2000)
Article 57 No organization or individual may use telecommunications networks to produce, reproduce, disseminate or transmit information with content that: (5) sabotages State religious policy or propagates heretical teachings or feudal superstitions;
Article 67 If a violation of Article 57 or Article 58 hereof is committed and such violation constitutes a criminal offence, the criminal liability of the offender shall be investigated in accordance with laws. If the violation is insufficient to constitute a criminal offence, the public security authority or State security authority shall punish the offender in accordance with relevant laws and administrative regulations.
● Administration of Internet Information Service Procedures (September 20, 2000)
Article 15 Internet information services providers may not produce, reproduce, disseminate or spread information with content that: 5. sabotages State religious policy or propagates heretical teachings or feudal superstitions;
Article 20 If information with content as enumerated in Article 15 hereof is produced, reproduced, disseminated or spread, and such act constitutes a criminal offence, the criminal liability of the offender shall be investigated in accordance with laws. If such act is insufficient to constitute a criminal offence, the public security authority or the state security authority shall punish the offender in accordance with such relevant laws and administrative regulations as the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Punishments in Public Security Administration and the Computer Information Network and Internet Security Protection and Management Regulations. If the offender is a commercial internet information service provider, its license issuing authority shall also impose punishment, viz. an order to suspend operations and undergo rectification or revocation of its business license, and notify the offender's registration authority. If the offender is a non-commercial internet information service provider, its record-filing authority shall also impose punishment, viz. an order to temporarily shut down its website or an order to shut down its website.
● Regulation on the Administration of Business Site of Internet Access Services (September 20, 2002)
Article 14 Neither an operating entity nor an Internet user shall make use of a business site of Internet Access Services to produce， download， reproduce， consult， promulgate，spread or use in other forms the information containing any of the following contents：（5）sabotages State religious policy or propagates heretical teachings or feudal superstitions;
Article 29 If an operating entity，in violation of the Regulation，makes use of the business site to produce，download，reproduce，consult，promulgate, spread or use in other forms the information containing the contents prohibited by Article 14 and violates the criminal law，its criminal liability shall be investigated；if the violation of the Regulation does not constitute a crime， the organs of public security shall give a warning and confiscate the illegal gains； if the illegal business income is more than 10，000 Yuan，a fine of more than 2 times but less than 5 times of the illegal business income shall be imposed on the offender concurrently；if the illegal business income is less than 10，000 Yuan，a fine of more than 10，000 Yuan but less than 20，000 Yuan shall be imposed on the offender concurrently；if the circumstances are serious，the offender shall be ordered to stop the business for rectification，and its business license for network cultural business operations may be revoked by the department of cultural administration.
An Internet user who commits any of the illegal acts listed in the preceding paragraph and violates the criminal law shall be investigated for criminal liability in accordance with laws； If the circumstances are not serious enough for criminal punishment, the offender may be given punishments by the department of public security in accordance with the Law on Punishments in Public Security Administration.
III. Rules and Provisions
● Interim Provisions on the Administration of Internet Publication issued by the General Administration of Press and Publication and the Ministry of Information Industry (Effective as of August 1, 2002)
Article 17 Material that is the subject of internet publication may not contain information that:（5） propagates evil cults or superstitions；
Article 27 If an internet publisher posts or transmits any of the content prohibited by Articles 17 and 18 hereof，the press and publication administration at the level of province，autonomous region or municipality directly under the central government or the General Administration of Press and Publication will confiscate its illegal income. In addition，if the illegal turnover reaches 10，000 Yuan or more，a fine of not less than five times and not more than 10 times of the illegal turnover should be imposed；if the illegal turnover was less than 10，000 Yuan，a fine of not less than 10，000 Yuan and not more than 50，000 Yuan should be imposed；if the circumstances are serious，the offender shall be ordered to stop the business for rectification，or its business license may be revoked.
● Administrative Provisions for the Internet Audio-Video Program Service issued by the General Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the Ministry of Information Industry (Effective as of January 31, 2008)
Article 16 Audio-video programs provided by an entity supplying Internet audio-video programs related services or connected by a network operating entity shall meet the provisions of laws, administrative regulations and department rules. An audio-video that has already been broadcast shall be duly retained in full for at least 60 days. No audio-video program may contain any of the following content: (5) any content that propagates heretical cults or superstition;
Article 24 Where an entity provides Internet audio-video programs that are in violation of the Provisions, the competent radio, film and television authority at or above the county level shall give it a warning, order it to rectify, and may also impose a fine of no more than 30, 000 Yuan on it; if the circumstances are of serious nature, the said authority shall impose penalties on it in accordance with Article 49 of the Administrative Regulations on Broadcasting and Television.
IV. Judicial Interpretations
● The Interpretation of the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Prosecutorial on the Concrete Application of Laws on Handling the Cases of Committing Crimes by Organizing and Using Cult Organizations (II) (June 4, 2001)
Article 1 Those who produce or spread cult publicity materials, publicize cults, undermine enforcement of the state’s laws and administrative regulations in one of the following circumstances shall be convicted of undermining enforcement of the state’s laws by organizing and using cult organizations in accordance with the Criminal Law, Article 300, Paragraph 1: (3) those who make use of Internet to produce or spread cult information.