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Blogger tried for ‘Defaming’ Chinese leaders past and present

Police in China. (MaxPixel/Released)
February 05, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei have tried a prominent blogger for insulting the country’s president and late supreme leader Mao Zedong, RFA has learned.

Former bank employee and blogger Liu Yanli, 44, stood trial at the Dongbao District People’s Court in Hubei’s Jingmen city on Thursday, on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” her sister said.

A member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu was initially detained in September 2016 for sending out around a dozen tweets on the popular WeChat social media platform relating to late supreme leader Mao Zedong, late former premier Zhou Enlai and current President Xi Jinping.

The prosecution based its case on those tweets, which they said defamed the leaders concerned.

“They said what she wrote was anti-communist and off-message with regard to Mao and Zhou … as well as Xi Jinping,” Liu’s sister said.
“[The posts] were on hot topics such as Xi Jinping’s policies, as well as the tainted vaccines scandal.”

“They said that her posts on QQ, Sina Weibo and WeChat reached more than 10,000 people, because she had more than 160 people in the group chat, as well as more than 1,000 followers,” she said. “They said she caused serious damage to public order.”

“They read out a long list of group chat members who had seen [her posts] and those who had liked them,” Liu’s sister said.

Liu’s blog was often critical of the Chinese government and of local-level authorities and police, according to PEN America.

The group said Liu had been harassed by the authorities since 2009, who had summoned her for police questioning and confiscated her computer.

Liu’s sister, who attended the trial, said the prosecution had pressed for a jail term of 3-4 years.

“This has been going on for more than two years now,” she said. “If they find her guilty, there could be two outcomes. The first could be that she doesn’t get any punishment, and the second would be that they sentence her to the same amount as time already served.”

A source close to the case said Liu was initially released on bail following her 2016 detention, under residential surveillance at her home.

But she broke some of her bail restrictions by contacting “the outside world,” and the police rearrested her, initially charging her with “defamation.”

The charge was later amended to “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” the source said.

“It was confusing, how they changed the charges against her,” the source said. “One minute it was one thing, and the next they had changed the charge.”

“There was no explanation or evidence [to support this],” the source said. “There were huge problems with the legal process in this case.”

China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a law last year criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling party’s canon of heroes and martyrs.

The law, which came into effect on May 1, 2018 aims to “protect the reputation and honor of heroes and martyrs.”

It bans “insults or slander” of heroes and martyrs, as well as any damage to memorials of revolutionary martyrs or heroic deeds.

The government’s move is part of a much broader range of measures being rolled out under President Xi Jinping, which some analysts say hark back to the ideological controls of the Mao-era Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Earlier this month, a court in the Chinese capital sentenced citizen journalist Ding Lingjie and two petitioners to jail for making a video ‘mocking’ President Xi Jinping during a holiday season crackdown on dissent.

Ding was tried alongside petitioners Li Xuehui and Wang Fengxian by the Shijingshan District People’s Court in Beijing on Dec. 28.

All three were handed 20-month jail terms after being found guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”

The case against the three hinged on a video clip shot by Li that the authorities said had “insulted a national leader” by mocking Xi.