Taiwan is expected to pass a new law that would criminalize spreading rumors or “disinformation” during wartime as the island takes more steps to prepare for a potential future conflict with China.
Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has submitted a revised version of the island’s All-out Defense Mobilization Readiness Act, a law that outlines rules during mobilization for war.
The Defense Ministry has proposed a law that would put “government controls” on the spread of information through media organizations, including any kind of news organizations and publishers, whether online or in print.
The punishment for “spreading rumors or disinformation during wartime” could be up to three years in prison or about a $32,000 fine. According to Taiwan News, the sentence can be increased by 50% if the person “knowingly disseminates false information online.”
The proposed law has raised concerns about censorship from the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT). According to The Times of London, Hung Meng-kai, a KMT lawmaker, said the law could be misused during peacetime to undermine free speech and wants the government to clarify how it would use the authorities.
Wang Ding-yu, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), favors the harsh punishments and said it is necessary to use them against threats from “the evil neighbor,” referring to mainland China.
Taiwan has been taking other steps to prepare for a future war with China, including extending compulsory military service from four months to one year, which will take effect in 2024. President Tsai Ing-wen announced the extension in December despite the risk of the move hurting her chances of re-election in 2024.
Tsai’s DPP lost big to the KMT in local elections that were held in 2022, causing her to resign as the party leader. If the KMT takes control of the presidency and parliament in 2024, the party might work to ease tensions with Beijing as its members favor a friendlier posture toward the mainland.