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China is stepping up its hard line against internet pornography by threatening life imprisonment for anyoner caught peddling porn.

Ne'er-do-wells involved in the production and distribution of online adult content - including "phone sex" - faces a range of punishments including compulsory surveillance and imprisonment. Those behind sites that generate more than 250,000 hits will be treated as "very severe" and could face life imprisonment.

The rules, drawn up by China's Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, come into effect today. The new regime applies to both profit-making and non-profit-making operations that deal in sex, official news agency Xinhua reports.

A legal official quoted by the agency said the new rules "aim to maintain the normal order of the public network and communications and the legal rights and interests of the public".

In recent months China has closed hundreds of sites in a massive crackdown on internet pornography. Officials are concerned about the rampant increase in online porn, claiming that that it "severely damaged social style, polluted the social environment, and harmed the physical and psychological health of the young people".

Last month, a Chinese woman was jailed for four years for running an online strip joint. Wang Yanli is believed to be the first woman to be banged up, following China's tough stand against internet pornography. ®

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