Five years in jail for an SMS mesage?

I don’t know if this story is true. I was directed to this post, where the blogger translates a story she saw in Taiwan’s China Times. Here’s her translation:

Cellphone messages has become a “fifth media” that is separate from the internet in china, poking a hole through the Chinese government’s information shield. There was even a widely disseminated text that ridiculed Chinese leaders from Mao to Hu Jin Tao. The most recent example came in April 9, where demonstrators in Peking organized through cell-phone messages that spread from one to tens and from tens to hundreds. In the end, a crowd of several tens of thousands were gathered. In this instance the authoristy took no action, but in the long run, this state of affairs is unacceptable. Because they loath any non-forseeable occurances, that is, the people coming together under their very eyes while they are completely ignorant of the situation. Maybe this mentality stems from the Falun Gong demonstrations in Zongnanhai, which lead to the blanket oppression of the Falun Gong in China.

Sure enough. A week later, April 16, when Shanghai tried to copy Beijing’s example, the authority cracked down. A 25 year old white collar worker, Tang Ye (汤晔), made a summary of information already available on the internet about the anti-Japanese demonstrations, including route, time, other relevant facts, and broadcasted this summary through his cellphone, resulting in his arrest under “disruption of social order” charges.

According to information from Chinese media sources in early May, this text message “resulted in serious consequences”. Tong ye was sentenced to jail for five years. For a young white collar worker, five years time does not mean five years. It could thow Tong off course for the rest of his life. And all because of a cellphone text message. China’s “Big Brothers” came down hard on Tong as a show of authority, to bring text messages under their sphere of influence. To tell the people of China, neither the net nor the cell-phone can be considered as no-man’s-lands — they are still under the watchful eye of Big Brother.

I can’t find any confirmation in other media — does anyone know anything about it? I find it hard to believe, but I didn’t think the China Times made up stories….

Update: According to Xinhua, Tang Ye was an organizer of the Shanghai demonstrations and he wrote a 46-page manual telling people where to go and what to do. It appears he was sentenced to five year in prison yesterday.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

The Xinhua version makes more sense. Really, how many such SMSs were sent at the time? He’d have to be a big fish for the government to bother with him.

June 8, 2005 @ 6:10 pm | Comment

Not necessarily a big fish. If the guy’s communication system reached a lot of people and impacted the government I think it would be enough to get him and discourage him and others from doing such again.

June 8, 2005 @ 8:20 pm | Comment

Hi all. I did the translation, and it came from China Times, which is a big newspaper here in Taipei. I also found a couple of chinese blogs that corroborate the China Times version pretty closely. So, there it is for what it’s worth.

June 8, 2005 @ 8:46 pm | Comment

So, first the Chinese government buses in anti-Japanese demonstrators and provides them with signs. Then, days later, the government arrests anti-Japanese demonstrators and sentences them to 5 years in prison.

June 8, 2005 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

the full text of the sms message can be found 1/3 of the way down this post:

the measure of the severity of a ‘crime’ is not the action, but the consequences. if someone tosses a cigarette butt away, then there may be a small fine; if the cigarette butt starts a fire that annhilates five million acres of forest land with losses of dozens of lives, a much more severe penalty can be expected.

the most extensive discussion on the tang ye case is by liu shiaobo, president of independent china PEN, in chinese:

June 8, 2005 @ 9:06 pm | Comment

Kill a chicken to scare the monkey! Perhaps he is, in part, a representative victim to: scare the populace from spreading “rumors” via the internet; insure that some mid-level bureaucrats get a promotion for cracking down on the enemy du jour; illustrate the swift and sure punishment of the party towards those it chooses to focus on, rightly or wrongly!

June 8, 2005 @ 10:20 pm | Comment

Exactly. “Killing the chicken to scare the monkey” was exactly what I was thinking when I read this story. The Chinese government wants to extend their power into the digital realm, but they know that it is impossible to punish every infraction, so they choose to come down hard on a few random individuals to scare everyone else into self-surveillance.

To a much lesser degree, the same principle is at play when record companies bring lawsuits against individual students for illegally downloading music off the internet. The culperibility of those they sue are not any greater than millions of others, but in a way that’s the point — they want even casual users to feel unsettled.

June 9, 2005 @ 12:30 am | Comment

‘sedition’ via sms?

Richard at the Peking Duck has pointed to a post noting that a white-collar worker in Shanghai has been sentenced to five-years for sending out material via cellphone (short message service, SMS) ahead of the anti-Japanese demonstration:A 25 year old

June 9, 2005 @ 1:29 am | Comment

Good god, what kind of country are we living in. If it’s true then Conrad’s right.

Nice government.

June 9, 2005 @ 3:04 am | Comment

Not much different than the 100 Flowers Bloom” campaign of Mao. Lead the bad apples out of their cover, then chop them up.

June 10, 2005 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

And I know people who actually admire Mao for that, Pete. They see it as proof of his genius in stopping “enemies” before they could threaten him.

June 10, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

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