Journalist who founded the Beijing News now serving eight-year jail term

Dai Zigeng is serving time with forced labor in Beijing Prison after a secret trial, a former colleague says.
By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman
2021.11.18
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Journalist who founded the Beijing News now serving eight-year jail term Beijing News founder Dai Zigeng is shown in a file photo.
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Authorities in Beijing have sentenced former Beijing News publisher and co-founder Dai Zigeng to eight years' imprisonment for "bribery," RFA has learned.

Court records showed Dai was the subject on an enforcement ruling by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court on Feb. 22, 2021 that seized more than 16 million yuan of Dai's assets, selling some of them.

Dai, 58, resigned as publisher at the Beijing News after the CCP stepped up control and censorship of the media, beginning with the Guangzhou-based Southern newspaper group, in 2013, and later worked as general manager and deputy secretary of the CCP committee of Beijing Cultural Investment and Development Group, a state-owned investment and management services company.

State media reported in June 2019 that Dai was under investigation by the disciplinary arm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for "serious violations of discipline and law."

A letter written by Dai in prison and posted to social media said he is now assigned forced labor at the Beijing Prison after a period of "intensive re-education" at the Beijing No. 2 Prison.

He writes that his legs are swollen due to prolonged periods sitting down, and that he is forced to work up to seven hours a day, and has so far failed to fill his labor quota.

Veteran journalist Cheng Yizhong, who co-founded the Beijing News with Dai, said he believes the leaked prison letter is genuine.

He said Dai's sentencing and trial appeared to have taken place in secret, as neither the sentence nor any details of the charges against him had been made public.

"The CCP knows perfectly well that every one of its officials is corrupt," Cheng said. "That means that they had all better do as they are told or risk being exposed as such."

"They have set up this system so they are in a position to control everyone."

According to lawyer Wu Youshui, every inmate in Chinese prisons is expected to do daily forced labor in return for easier treatment or early release, with the exception of high-ranking facilities like Qincheng Prison in Beijing, where former top officials are sent.

"There is forced labor in every Chinese prison," Wu told RFA. "The word inside is that they don't have to work in Qincheng Prison, or if you [served as an official ranking] above provincial and ministry level."

"So many people are getting sent to prison these days, that everyone below departmental level is regarded as low-ranking, and have to work four hours every morning and three hours every afternoon," he said.

"If you work hard and well, you can earn rewards, like a shorter sentence," Wu said. "They set the targets very high, for example making 800 cardboard boxes in one morning, so older people can't make these targets."

"Those who can't fill their quotas are punished," he said.

'In line with current law'

An official who answered the phone at the Beijing municipal prison administration on Thursday denied it engaged in forced labor, and said the practice was in line with current prison law.

"According to the Prison Law, criminals who are capable of working must take part in labor," the official said. "Maybe this is what you mean by seven hours' forced labor."

Asked whether higher-ranking officials didn't need to comply with that law, the official said: "I don't know about that."

Asked why inmates at Qincheng Prison weren't required to work, she said: "That [facility] is under the direct management of the ministry of justice, so we don't know about it. It's not convenient for me to answer this question."

An employee who answered the phone at Beijing Prison declined to comment when contacted about Dai Zigeng's situation on Thursday.

Dai founded the Beijing News in 2003 as the investor representative of the Guangming Daily, where he had been Guangdong provincial bureau chief.

The Beijing News was handed over to the Beijing propaganda authorities in 2011. Dai was transferred in 2017 to the Beijing Cultural Investment and Development Group. Online rumors say he may have been purged due to some connection with the crackdown on the Anbang Insurance group.

Wu Xiaohui, a relative by marriage of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping and chairman of the once-aggressive overseas investor Anbang Insurance, was placed under investigation by the CCP's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) in 2017.

Wu, who is married to Deng's granddaughter Zhuo Ran, was taken away by Chinese authorities on June 9, 2017. The company was later taken over by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, and Wu was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for "fraud and embezzlement" in May 2018.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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