Taipei, March 30, 2023—Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release blogger Ruan Xiaohuan and cease jailing journalists on trumped-up anti-state charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On February 10, a court in Shanghai sentenced Ruan to seven years in prison for allegedly inciting the subversion of state power, according to multiple news reports and Ruan’s lawyer Shang Baojun, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app.
The verdict was made public on March 21, after Ruan’s wife Bei Zhenying disclosed it to Shang and asked him and another lawyer, Mo Shaoping, to represent Ruan during his appeal.
Ruan ran a pseudonymous blog under the name Program-Think since 2009, where he wrote about China’s internet restrictions and posted translations of foreign news articles.
“Chinese authorities must immediately release Ruan Xiaohuan and allow all journalists to freely share information about internet censorship and surveillance,” said CPJ China Representative Iris Hsu, in Taipei. “Ruan’s unjust sentencing highlights how the Chinese government employs brutal tactics to suppress critical reporting on its internet policies.”
A copy of the verdict reviewed by CPJ said that Ruan was also sentenced to the deprivation of his political rights for two years and the confiscation of 20,000 renminbi (US$2,904) worth of property.
Shang told CPJ that the prosecutors alleged Ruan had made up rumors and published false stories to defame the country in hundreds of articles, but did not cite any specific examples of his writing that committed those offenses.
Police in Shanghai arrested Ruan at his home on May 10, 2021, confiscated three of his laptops and a cellphone, and held him at the Yangpu District Detention Center without access to his family or a lawyer, according to Bei Zhenying, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and court documents reviewed by CPJ.
Bei told CPJ that Ruan’s closed-door trial began about six months after his arrest but then she received a notice from authorities in March 2022 that it had been paused indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she doubted that it was “even humane” to detain him for that long before his sentencing.
Bei was not allowed to attend any hearings in Ruan’s trial, and the state-assigned lawyers in the case told her that they could not give her any information about the proceedings due to nondisclosure agreements they had signed. The first time she saw Ruan since his arrest was at the February 10 verdict announcement.
“He lost a lot of weight and his hair has grown white,” said Bei. “But otherwise he looked fine.”
Ruan filed an appeal on the day of his verdict, but the appeals court refused to recognize Shang as his lawyer, Shang told CPJ. The court also refused to recognize Mo, and instead gave Ruan two state-assigned lawyers.
China was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2022, according to CPJ’s annual prison census. Ruan was not included in the census because CPJ was unaware of his case at the time.
CPJ messaged the Yangpu district police station for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.