Authorities in the Chinese capital have sentenced citizen journalist Ding Lingjie and two petitioners to jail for making a video 'mocking' President Xi Jinping during a holiday season crackdown on dissent.
Ding was tried alongside petitioners Li Xuehui and Wang Fengxian by the Shijingshan District People's Court in Beijing on Dec. 28, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said in a statement on its website.
All three were handed 20-month jail terms after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," the group, which compiles and translates reports from rights activists inside China, said.
Wang's sentence was suspended for two years, and it was unclear if she had any role in the video. However, her elderly mother took part in the clip.
The case against the three hinged on a video clip shot by Li that the authorities said had "insulted a national leader" by mocking Xi.
Ding's lawyer Ren Quanniu said his client plans to appeal the jail term, although the vast majority of appeals to higher courts in China result in the upholding of the initial verdict and sentence.
"All three defendants pleaded not guilty ... and also expressed dissatisfaction, as part of their individual defenses, with the verdict and sentence," Ren said.
He said there had been a strong police presence outside the court buildings during the sentencing hearing.
"The Beijing authorities dispatched large numbers of police, because there were a lot of people they regard as so-called '[politically] sensitive individuals' being watched," Ren said. "There were a lot of police vehicles and officers outside the court buildings; they took this very seriously."
"Some of [the activists] were taken away from the area around the court building by the state security police," he said.
'Hostile foreign forces'
Ding, who is being held at the Shijingshan Detention Center in Beijing, had been working as an editor of the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website at the time of her disappearance in Shandong's Zibo city in September 2017.
Police refused to allow her lawyer to meet with her until after she had been formally arrested in November 2017, CHRD said.
Liu Feiyue, 48, who founded Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, stood trial at Hubei's Suizhou Intermediate People's Court in August 2018 on charges of "incitement to subvert state power."
Xi has repeatedly warned against "hostile foreign forces" attempting to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party by infiltrating China with "Western" religious practices and ideas like democracy, constitutional government, and human rights.
Liu was among more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists, and relatives who were detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions in a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession and related activists launched in July 2015.
Shandong activist Wang Jiangfeng, who was himself jailed for two years for referring to the president as "Steamed Bun Xi," said the Communist Party is terrified of the speed with which video clips can go viral.
"They are really afraid of losing power, because a lot of people in China can see all too clearly, and they want democracy," Wang said. "The Chinese Communist Party fears it would lose its power and privilege if that happened."
"That's why they use these methods to suppress people."
Wang was sentenced by the Zhaoyuan People's Court after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."
He was accused of referring to the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as "Steamed Bun Xi" in a group message to the social media platforms WeChat and QQ. His defense attorney Zhu Shengwu was later stripped of his license to practice.
"Steamed Bun Xi" has been a banned phrase on China's tightly controlled internet since the president ordered the buns during a visit to a Beijing restaurant in December 2013, prompting petitioners to gather outside toting a placard that read "President Xi, I'd like to eat steamed buns too" in a bid to get their grievances against the government heard.
The incident sparked an online meme in which Xi was referred to jokingly as Steamed Bun Xi, in a pun on the name of a legendary Song dynasty official who fought corruption. Censors later banned the meme, deleting social media posts that contained references to it.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.