Beijing (AsiaNews) - Authorities in the southeastern province of Gansu are holding a 16-year-old boy for "provoking troubles" after he posted a story on a microblogging site.
The case is the first of its kind since a controversial legal ruling was issued last week that allows the incarceration of anyone who posts defamatory messages online that are reposted at least 500 times.
In practice, the ruling is a gag law to stop the spread of online complaints against corruption and malfeasance by government officials.
Zhangjiachuan County authorities confirmed the arrest but did not disclose the details of the case.
The semi-official Beijing Times quoted a man who said that police took away his 16-year-old son on Tuesday on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles" online.
The report only identified the boy by his surname Yang.
According to the official story, the person who posted the story about the death of a karaoke bar manager was arrested for "spreading rumours" since police had determined that the man had died from head injuries after jumping from a building.
Yang had heard a different account of the circumstances of the death from the man's family. In an online posting, he wrote that the manager had been beaten up after a quarrel with a customer, and accused the police of failing to investigate the incident properly.
Pu Zhiqiang, a leading human rights lawyer, said that Yang's detention, if confirmed, would be the first known legal action under the new rule.
"It indicates that sometimes a local government is very eager to implement a new policy of the central government," Pu noted.
In its statement, the county government hailed the social media crackdown as a concrete step towards "purifying the cyberspace community".
However, "This will have a negative impact on the freedom of expression," said Beijing-based activist Mo Shaoping.
On 9 September, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate issued a writ stating that a libellous online post forwarded more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could land its author in jail for up to three years.
It reflects fears among high-ranking Chinese leaders that the Communist Party might go the way of the Soviet Union if people are given the right to complain.
It also sends a warning that prosecutors could use the ruling to pursue "serious cases" in which online posts lead to mass protests, ethnic or religious clashes, damage to the nation's image or harm to China on the global stage, at a time when ordinary Chinese are increasingly turning to the blogosphere to vent their frustration at corrupt officials, illegal land grabs, and human rights abuses.
The government has tried to curb this trend by employing an army cyber agents, but its efforts appear to be more and more like 'mission impossible'.