Beijing has imprisoned 42 people involved in a debt collecting operation for cyber harassment.
The main defendant in the case, convicted last week along with his associates, founded a number of companies specializing in debt recovery. With the help of some 300 employees and various technologies, they harassed and threatened more than 700 people since 2015, according to a court in Beijing’s Changping district.
The victims received recurrent robocalls made through apps known locally as “Husini,” which roughly translates as “call you to death.” Users of this software can direct the computer to call a specific phone number over the internet. The phone will keep ringing for a set amount of time until the victim picks up, at which point the line immediately cuts off. It then repeats again.
The criminals also flooded victims’ phones with text messages, Photoshopped pictures, and disclosed personal information of the victims, said the court.
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Debtors weren’t the only victims. Authorities said the software also clogged up phone lines belonging to police stations and hospitals, as well as emergency hotlines. The court did not explain why.
The case is the Beijing’s first conviction since China criminalized what it called “soft violence” last year, according to the court’s social media post. The rule mainly targets organized group crimes and covers various forms of harassment such as stalking and doxxing, both online and offline. Any actions that could induce fear and panic or affect a person’s normal life can be deemed soft violence.
In the Beijing case, the main defendant was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined a million yuan (USD 143,340) for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—a loosely defined charge. The remaining defendants were sentenced to between 17 months and six years in prison.
This article was first published by Abacus News.