INTERVIEW: 'There is nothing that adds up to incitement to subversion'

The wife of jailed programmer-turned-political-blogger Ruan Xiaohuan takes issue with 7-year sentence.
By Xiao An for RFA Mandarin
INTERVIEW: 'There is nothing that adds up to incitement to subversion' Blogger Ruan Xiaohuan, 46, was detained in 2021 after several online posts on evading China’s internet censorship and tracking protocols.
Credit: @ZhouFengSuo Twitter

Last month, a court in Shanghai handed a seven-year jail term to Ruan Xiaohuan, the author of a programming and politics blog who evaded government detection for around 12 years, after finding him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power." The 46-year-old author of the formerly anonymous blog ProgramThink, hosted on, was detained by the authorities in May 2021 after publishing several posts on evading the ruling Chinese Communist Party's internet censorship and tracking protocols. His wife, who gave only the surname Bei, spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service in a recent interview about her reasons for appealing his conviction to the People's High Court in Shanghai:

Bei: The appeal was lodged with the Shanghai People's High Court on Feb. 22. On Feb. 20, I hired Beijing lawyer Mo Shaoping and another lawyer from his law firm surnamed Shang. They are his defense lawyers. First of all, they got in touch with the court of first instance, and were told by Judge Guan that the case had already been passed to the High Court. My lawyers now need to submit their credentials before they can go and read the case files. But they haven't been able to get a hold of [the judge there].

RFA: Have the lawyers managed to meet with Ruan in the detention center?

Bei: No, they haven't. The detention center has refused to let them meet with him, saying there are laws, and a process that has to be followed. I finally got in touch with [the judge], who told me that the High Court has informed the detention center with an official letter that Ruan already has lawyers, so no other lawyers are to be permitted to meet with him.

RFA: What is your aim here?

Bei: I think the fact that they based this incitement charge on stuff he wrote, is basically unjust. It was not [incitement], and yet they not only accused him of a crime – they accused him of a very serious crime. There is nothing in the judgment against him, no mention of any of his writings, that adds up to a charge of incitement to subvert state power. They claim that he wrote these things over a prolonged period, that they had a very damaging social impact. All of those things are highly dubious. Also, they haven't returned to me my husband's Huawei smartphone and two of his notebook computers, which aren't even listed as confiscated property, which raises questions about the reliability, seriousness and probity of their evidence.

RFA: So you want to see this conviction overturned?

Bei: That's right.

RFA: Where was Ruan detained?

Bei: He had been in Shanghai the whole time, and he was detained in Shanghai and taken away from our home.

RFA: How do you think they found out his identity?

Bei: All I know is that the internet connection at our home had been extremely unstable for a couple of years prior to his detention. It was forever cutting out. They had him and our whole family under surveillance for the last five months prior to his detention. Eventually, I heard from a neighbor that they had set up a monitoring station on the eighth floor of our building. Also, there were surveillance cameras pointing at us the entire time from an apartment in the building opposite ours. I think they must have been gathering evidence during those few months. They didn't have a search warrant when they searched our apartment. They searched it first, then they applied for the search warrant. 

RFA: What was Ruan's job before he was detained?

Bei: He left the industry in 2012, but before that, he was an information security engineer. He had been a ... chief technological officer [in a company]. He was the engineer in charge of overall network security for the 2008 Olympic Games [in Beijing]. He kept everything a secret from his family, so we didn't know when he got detained what he had been doing to prompt these charges. We only found out at the trial. But there was still a great deal that we didn't know as the language wasn't very clear, so I had to go and find that out. 

RFA: Have you seen Ruan since his detention?

Bei: They don't allow family members to visit detainees under Chinese Criminal Law, only lawyers. So the trial was the first time I had seen him since his detention.

RFA: And how did he seem to you?

Bei: He was incredibly thin. I would never had believed he could get so thin. His hair had mostly turned gray. As the court police were leading him away after the sentencing -- I was completely shocked at how heavy the sentence was -- he looked back and held my gaze the entire time, and I saw a huge change in his eyes -- he was asking me for help. I think the sentence came as quite a surprise to him, too. 

RFA: So, do you believe that there was no case to answer?

Bei: It was such a heavy sentence, given that the only evidence given was the things he had written. They also accused him of libel, rumor-mongering, but I didn't see anything in his writings that amounted to those things ... nor that he had incited anyone to subvert state power. Which post were they talking about? Did they mean that all of his posts were incitement to subversion? 

When they said he had done this over a prolonged period, how did they calculate that length of time? Was it from when he started blogging? I don't understand what a damaging impact is supposed to mean either, whether the content was damaging, or the fact that he posted it was damaging. It's hard to figure out what they mean here. 

As his family member, of course I want the conviction overturned, and for him to be released. But I believe in the legal process, and I think that has to happen with due process and be based on the material facts of the case, on the evidence. I think it was illegal for them not to allow his lawyers to represent him. A defendant should have the right to a legal defense, no matter what crime they are accused of. If the family was able to hire their own lawyers, we could rest assured that he would get a fair defense, that the prosecution and the defense could both make their cases to the court, and ... arrive at justice within the law. 

The court is supposed to judge impartially -- how can they get to decide about our lawyers? It's very simple -- in our appeal to the High Court, we are asking the court for a just outcome. The machinery is all there, so it should be able to deliver justice.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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