China has passed a new law banning the defamation of military personnel as the country tries to weed out comments critical of the armed forces, many of which were made on social media in context of the Sino-India border conflict last year.
The new law will add to the arsenal of existing legal measures under a 2018 law, which said that any individuals or groups defaming or slandering martyrs’ names, portraits or reputation would be punished and held criminally responsible for their behaviour.
It was under the existing legal measures that a popular Chinese blogger was given an eight-month jail sentence for posting comments considered slanderous against People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers killed in last year’s clash with the Indian Army at the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh.
The new law was passed by China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Thursday. “No organisation or individual may in any way slander or derogate the honour of servicemen, nor may they insult or slander the reputation of members of military forces,” the legislation read, according to a report by the Xinhua news agency.
The Xinhua report said that the legislation allows prosecutors to act if the slander seriously affects soldiers’ “performance and missions”.
It also banned the desecration of plaques in honour of military personnel. “Prosecutors can file public interest litigation in cases of defamation of military personnel and the infringement on their legitimate rights and interests that have seriously affected their performance of duties and missions and damaged the public interests of society,” the law adds.
Commenting on the new law, Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor and Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator said the legislation which also covers families of service personnel was meant to bolster the PLA’s sense of mission.
“Previously, our legal instruments were not complete and this new law will provide more comprehensive protection for the rights and honours of our soldiers,” Song told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Chinese state media listed several cases of perceived defamation – mostly involving PLA’s deadly clash with the Indian army in 2020 – that could have hastened the passage of the law that was put up to the NPC in April.
One case was of a 63-year-old man detained by the “…Beijing police after he was found to have slandered martyr Wang Wei and insulted Wang’s wife in a WeChat group earlier in April. Wang was a Chinese air force pilot who died when his fighter jet collided with a US military reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea in 2001”, a state media report said.