Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan on Wednesday sentenced a well-known blogger to six and a half years in prison after he repeatedly criticized local officials online over a range of sensitive issues.
Dong Rubin, a businessman and blogger with 50,000 followers online, was convicted of “fabricating and spreading online rumors for economic gain” and of conducting “illegal business operations” by a court in the Wuhua district of Yunnan’s capital city Kunming, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
His lawyer Wang Pu said that though Dong had received fees from several persons for posting online comments, his prosecution had resulted mainly from his constant questioning of government actions and behavior.
“There is no provision in China’s criminal law or other regulations that would prohibit him from taking someone’s money after speaking for that person,” Wang told RFA on Wednesday, adding that Dong would appeal against the conviction.
“It is quite normal for an ordinary citizen to issue challenges on these topics, and he had only exercised his legal right to express his opinion,” he said.
A popular critic
Dong, who had gained popularity for his daring criticism of government policies, has been a vocal opponent of plans to build a petrochemical plant near Kunming, which sparked mass protests on the city's streets last year.
And in 2009, he championed the case of a 24-year-old man who died from severe brain injuries while in police custody.
“Of course, his enquiries embarrassed and irritated the authorities,” Wang said, adding that the legal actions taken by the government against Dong had “once again” set up obstacles to Chinese citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
Wang noted that before Dong’s trial, the prosecutor had told Dong that he would be freed if he pleaded guilty to the charges against him.
“But Dong rejected this request,” Wang said.
Even though Dong’s comments online may have been “extreme, unreasonable, and unpleasant to hear,” he should not have been sentenced for this, Wang said.
Speaking to RFA, Guangzhou-based blogger Wu Bin called the authorities’ move against Dong “obvious retaliation, as he had challenged the government.”
“They therefore had to find an excuse like ‘illegal business operations’ to fix him so that no copycats will follow in his footsteps,” Wu said.
Hunan-based rights activist Zhu Zhengzhi, who was barred from the trial on Wednesday, meanwhile voiced shock at the heavy sentence given Dong.
“I did not expect that the sentence would be six and a half years, Zhu said, adding, “I overheard someone say that it will teach Dong a lesson to put him behind bars.”
No supporters were allowed to enter the court to witness the trial, with only Dong’s daughter permitted to attend, Zhu said.
In addition to his prison term, Dong was fined 350,000 yuan ( $U.S. 56,451), while a business associate, Hou Peng, was fined 50,000 yuan($U.S. 8,065) and handed a suspended three-year term, Xinhua said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service and by Heidi Siu for the Cantonese Service. Translated by Xiaoming Feng and by Shiny Li. Written in English by Richard Finney.