China imposes hefty fines for fake or harmful news in Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will fine anyone who spreads fake news in its western region of Xinjiang, state media has reported, as part of new measures to maintain stability in an area prone to ethnic unrest.

China says it faces a serious threat from separatist Islamist militants in Xinjiang, which borders central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is home to the largely Muslim Uighur minority group.

Hundreds of people have been killed in violence there in recent years, but rights groups say at the root of the trouble are government policies that repress the religious and economic freedoms of the people.

The government denies committing any abuses in Xinjiang and insists the legal and cultural rights of the Uighur people are fully protected.

The new rules, adopted by Xinjiang’s regional parliament, allow for fines of as much as 500,000 yuan ($72,700) for website operators who create, compile, spread, release or copy information considered harmful or false.

The definition of such content includes anything “harmful to national security”, “destructive of religious harmony”, that “spreads ethnic hatred and division” or “seeks to overthrow the socialist system”, the Communist Party’s official paper, the People’s Daily, reported on its website late on Wednesday.

Websites that break the rules could be also be shut down while individuals can be fined up to 50,000 yuan.

The regulations, which go into effect on Saturday, aim to “prevent and punish the online spread of false news” that might “disturb social stability”, the newspaper said.

Information shared by Xinjiang’s 13 million internet users was “the main battlefield for fighting ideological splitism”, the official Legal Daily said.

After riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in 2009, the government cut off internet to the city, only restoring full access 10 months later.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel