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December 26, 2009

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Court fines twin bloggers for 'libelous' story about Xie Jin

A district court in Shanghai yesterday ordered twin-brother bloggers, notorious in China for spreading celebrity scandals, to pay nearly 290,000 yuan (US$42,460) in compensation to the widow of the late film director Xie Jin, who the bloggers claimed died while having sex with a prostitute.

The compensation includes 200,000 yuan for mental anguish, far more than local courts' usual maximum of 50,000 yuan.

The defendants, Song Zude and Liu Xinda, were also ordered by Jing'an District People's Court to prominently publish an apology at a number of news Websites and newspapers to recover Xie's reputation.

The plaintiff, Xie's 83-year-old widow, Xu Dawen, who attended yesterday's verdict announcement, said she was satisfied with the result and expressed her gratitude to the fair judgment made by the court to help protect Xie's reputation.

The defendants, both absent yesterday, claimed through their lawyer they would appeal the verdict.

Xie, who lived in the city, was one of China's most respected film directors, winning national film awards.

On the morning of October 18, 2008, the 85-year-old director was found dead from a heart attack in a hotel in his hometown, Shangyu City in Shanghai's neighboring Zhejiang Province.

Controversy ensued when Song posted an article on his blog saying that a witness heard a young woman's voice and Xie "wheezing" on the morning of his death.

Song wrote that Xie had called a prostitute and died during sex at the Shangyu International Hotel. The alleged witness was Liu, who said he was in the room next to Xie's.

Liu repeated the story in his own blog.

Both of the twin brothers said in the blogs that they promised it was all truth and they would bear the legal liability for the report.

In a later blog, Song also claimed Xie and Liu Xiaoqing, one of China's most successful actresses, had conceived a son during an affair.

But the brothers failed to provide any evidence to support their blogs.

At the trial, they argued that they didn't post the articles in their blogs.

They claimed somebody else hacked the blogs and posted the articles in their names. The argument wasn't accepted by the court.

The court believed the articles were written by the brothers because they repeated their claims in interviews with the media, including a TV program and six newspapers.

Since the defendants didn't argue for the authenticity of the articles' content, the court decided it was all libel.

"The libelous texts with details, descriptions, and the promise to bear legal liability convinced some readers, and thus devaluated Xie's social reputation," the court said.

"It is also vile that the defendants put the articles on the Internet, which spreads news fast and wide. This made Xie's reputation hurt more seriously."

The court decided the twin brothers should repay Xu's 89,952 yuan for filing the suit, in addition to the compensation for mental anguish.

It is the second lawsuit lost by the twin brothers.

Just last week, the brothers were ordered by a Beijing court to pay 200,000 yuan to compensate actress Jin Qiaoqiao for mental anguish.

The defendants claimed in their blogs that Jin had an affair with Huang Guangyu, the former richest person in the Chinese mainland, and her ex-boyfriend's father.


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