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Booming Online 'Arrest Orders' Arouse Controversy
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Your friend borrowed money from you and then craftily disappeared. Many netizens don't panic, don't despair and don't go to the police, instead they reach for their mouse and issue an "arrest order" on the Internet to locate the fiend and obtain justice.

Virtual world policing began when video clips were posted on the Internet showing a woman mistreating a cat by grinding her high-heeled shoes into the animal's mouth and eyes. The woman's wanton cruelty provoked the wrath of netizens across the nation.

Outraged netizens issued a so-called "arrest order" on the Internet to track her down. In only a matter of days, both the woman and the photographer were located and their private information -- address, ID card number and car plate numbers -- were displayed on the Internet for all to see.

As a result, the woman and the photographer were fired from their jobs even after they acknowledged their fault and apologized. They claimed they had been hurt by the flood of angry, insulting words posted on chatrooms everywhere.

Ever since that incident occurred in February last year, online "arrest orders" have boomed in China's virtual world. People post appeals in an attempt to find someone they hate, asking other people to join in on the condemnation of this "bad guy."

If you type "arrest order" in Chinese into market leader Baidu.com, the search engine instantly generates more than 50,000 results -- children looking for dads who deserted the family, people looking for people who borrowed money, to mention just a few.

There are also a bunch of appeals to netizens to refrain from using online "arrest orders", branding them "online violence." But many other people do not agree.

Liu Xin, professor of Administrative Law from Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law, said Internet "arrest orders" can be used as a tool to criticize social evils and promote public supervision of social order.

"Online arrest orders can contribute to improving social morality," he said.

He warned that those who slander others with fabricated information will have to face the legal consequences.

He cited an example of an education center in Beijing which was brought to court by an employee surnamed Gao after a dispute about labor compensation. To discredit Gao, the center posted an "arrest order" on its website, calling Gao a gangster, and publicizing his mobile phone number and his email address.

The Beijing No.1 Intermediate People's Court ruled that the center must apologize to Gao and pay him 20,000 yuan to compensate for mental distress.

Xu Xiang, a professor of sociology at Nanjing University, said that online "arrest orders" have no legal validity, but may have just as far-reaching an effect as legal "arrest orders" issued by the police partly because of the sympathy they generate among a wide public.

"But most of the time these online arrest orders are a kind of Internet violence or torture fuelled by private feuds and have nothing to do with improving social morality," he said.

An individual has no legal authority to unveil private information about other people, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2007)

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