How Do You Say 'Twitter Joke Trial' In Chinese?

from the that's-not-funny dept

Techdirt wrote about how the UK's Twitter Joke conviction dragged its slow way through the various appeals before finally being resolved with the defendant's acquittal. As you will recall, the issue was somebody making an ill-advised joke about blowing up an airport if he couldn't fly out of it:

Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!
It's great that Paul Chambers, the person concerned here, finally emerged victorious in his fight against this ridiculous conviction. But of course the danger that a thoughtless joke on Twitter might have serious consequences remains, as this report from The Epoch Times about a recent case in China highlights:
Four days before the [Chinese Communist] Party's 18th Congress, when a new set of Chinese leaders was sworn in to rule China, Zhai Xiaobing mocked the event by suggesting it was the latest installment in the Final Destination film franchise. The 2000 supernatural horror movie depicts a teenager whose plane explodes, killing all but a few survivors, who then begin mysteriously dying.
Here's a translation of what Zhai tweeted (Chinese tweets can contain more content than those written in Western languages because just a few characters can represent a whole word):
Final Destination 6 will be in cinemas on November 6. The Great Hall of the People suddenly collapses, and only seven of the over 2000 people holding a meeting inside survive -- but afterwards, they each die, one by one. Is it the game of God, or the fury of the Grim Reaper? How did the mysterious number 18 unlock the gate of hell? The earthshaking world premier opens on November 8!
Obviously, not exactly a rib-tickler, and rather unwise given the extreme sensitivity of the Chinese authorities about this crucial handover of power. But even against that background, the response seems to be unduly severe: arrested and "disappeared".
Zhai had been accused of "spreading false and terrorist information," and was taken away by security forces, according to netizen @iamhudi who called Zhai's wife. The fact that he has been disappeared was later corroborated by two other individuals who visited the family's house, according to Yaxue Cao, a writer and blogger who maintains contacts in China.
Worryingly, people have also lost contact with his wife, although it's not yet clear whether she has been arrested too. Zhai's friends, and supporters of a more liberal approach to Chinese state control of online activities, are doing what they can, which is pretty much limited to online petitions. The precedent for what might happen to him isn't good. As The Epoch Times story explains:
The first "Twitter criminal," as she was called, was Wang Yi, an activist who in 2010 mocked hypernationalist young people with the tweet "Angry youth, charge!"

This was determined to be a case of "disturbing social order." The punishment? One year of re-education in the Henan Women's Labor Camp.
Perhaps Zhai's best hope is that the new Chinese leadership might decide to be lenient in this matter so as to create a positive atmosphere among the Chinese people for the start of its ten-year rule over them. Equally, it might not want to sour relationships with the West through imposing a harsh punishment for such a trivial matter, although that is less likely to be a consideration given China's rising self-confidence. Whatever the reason, let's hope the outcome of this Chinese Twitter joke story is ultimately the same as that in the UK.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

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Filed Under: china, free speech, jokes, tweets


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Nov 2012 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re:

    It all depends on your definition of trial.
    I am sure he had a trial by their standards.

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