Is it really illegal to spread rumors about the end of the world? Lawyer Chen Ching-wei says that if you say things in public to frighten people and say it in a way that makes people fear for their lives, then yes, you are committing the crime of terrifying the public. If you use an end-of-the-world scenerio as an excuse to encourage people to break laws or government policies, you could be charged with incitement. According to the Criminal Code, “A person who endangers public safety by putting the public in fear of injury to life, body, or property shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than two years.”
Chen says that aside from the two punishments mentioned above, you could also be fined. According to the Social Order Maintenance Act, a person spreading socially disruptive rumors can be fined as much as NT$30,000, while the Meteorological Act, on the other hand, stipulates that “issuing a seismological forecast(s), hazardous weather forecast(s), or warning(s) of meteorological, seismological, or marine meteorological phenomena” without proper authorization can be fined between NT$5,000 and NT$50,000.
Chen says that if you use the mass media or a public space to talk with certainty about the end of the world, and cause people to feel afraid and affect social order, you could be convicted of terrifying the public and be sentenced to imprisonment for up to two years. Even if you are simply standing around participating in the raucous, you could be charged as an accomplice.
Publicly inciting an unspecified number of people to commit a crime, break the law or defy government regulations, are all considered to be violations of incitement and are punishable by up to two years in prison, even if no one actually commits a crime based on what you said. A violation is committed as soon as words of incitement are made available to the public.
In Nantou County’s Puli Township last year, Wang Chao-hung, known as “Teacher Wang,” stirred up a media frenzy after he “predicted” a giant quake and tsunami would hit Taiwan on May 11, urging people to move into makeshift shelters converted from cargo containers. He was convicted by a district court in Nantou County of spreading socially disruptive rumors and fined NT$40,000.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)