Critical Chinese blogger given six-year prison term

New York, July 23, 2014–Chinese authorities today sentenced a blogger to more than six years in prison, according to news reports. Dong Rubin, a businessman who has criticized the ruling Communist Party in his blogs, has been in prison since September 2013.

A Wuhua district court in the southwestern Yunnan province convicted Dong of conducting “illegal business operations” and “fabricating and spreading online rumors for economic gain,” according to news reports. He was given a six-and-a-half-year prison term and fined 350,000 yuan (US$56,000). Hou Peng, the general manager of Dong’s Internet consulting company, was sentenced to three years in jail and ordered to pay 50,000 yuan (US$8,000), reports said. The Associated Press reported that Hou received a reprieve from his prison sentence.

The official state news agency Xinhua said Dong and Hou were convicted of fabricating blog posts at the request of business clients and that Dong was also convicted of “creating disturbances” by posting false information and comments on an attack on 13 Chinese sailors in October 2011, according to the AP. He was initially charged with declaring false capital in the registration of his Internet consulting company and of conducting illegal business operations, according to reports citing police statements. China often prosecutes bloggers and political activists on charges of spreading rumors and arbitrary crimes, like bribery, blackmail, or financial misconduct, according to CPJ research.

“President Xi Jinping’s government continues to go to great lengths to stamp out political criticism that has not passed through official censors,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “Dong Rubin is one of several victims of the tactic of wielding charges of business or personal misconduct to denigrate critical voices in China.”

Dong, known to his 50,000 online followers by the alias “Bianmin,” or frontier person, had been a staunch critic of the government in recent years. He had frequently posted on issues ranging from environmental safety to police brutality on his Sina Weibo microblog. In 2009, Dong was highly critical of the handling of the case of Li Qiaoming, a 24-year-old man who died from severe brain injuries while in police custody, the reports said. Police said Li died while playing a game of “hide and seek” with inmates, but Dong’s criticisms led to a national outcry, which resulted in pressure on authorities to conduct an internal investigation, news accounts said.

The blogger predicted his arrest in September and wrote on his microblog that strangers had raided his office in August 2013 and taken away three computers. “What crime will they bring against me?” he wrote. “Prostituting, gambling, using and selling drugs, evading tax, causing trouble on purpose, fabricating rumors, running a mafia online?”

Chinese authorities have clamped down on social media in recent years. Under new rules enacted last year, Internet users who post comments that are deemed libelous and are reposted 500 or more times can face defamation charges and up to three years in prison. The rules also apply to bloggers whose posts are viewed by at least 5,000 users.