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China jails journalist, human rights activist before World Press Freedom Day

Freedom of speech still non-existent in China despite coronavirus publicity

Chen (left), Liu (right) convicted for pursuit of freedom of speech (Guiyang county court photo/ Lui Facebook photo)

Chen (left), Liu (right) convicted for pursuit of freedom of speech (Guiyang county court photo/ Lui Facebook photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Several human rights activists were convicted and imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) right before World Press Freedom Day (May 3), demonstrating China's view on freedom of speech has not been affected by the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Long-time media worker Chen Jieren (陳杰人) was sentenced 15 years in prison and fined RMB$7.01 million (US$992,566) on April 30 for bribery, blackmail running an illegal business, and disturbing the peace; he decided not to appeal the case after the verdict.

On June 25, 2018, Chen publicly accused Secretary of Shaoyang Municipal Committee Den Guangyan (鄧廣雁) of misconduct before disappearing and losing contact with the outside world. He was later found to have been detained and charged by the Hunan Provincial Police.

Chen graduated from law school at Tsinghua University and has published more than 2000 articles in multiple publications, such as People's Daily, China Youth Daily, and Southern Weekly.

For years, Chen has been calling for press freedom and encouraging civic supervision on online platforms. He was dismissed by China Youth Daily and People's Daily because of his disclosure of college student prostitution in Wuhan in 2003 and his multitude of criticisms against the Chinese authorities, according to 維權網.

On April 24, a writer from the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Liu Yenli, (劉艷麗) was also sentenced to four years in prison for her criticisms of CCP leaders on Chinese messenger apps.

Since 2016, Liu has been arrested and monitored multiple times by the police for her online comments about the CCP's leaders, including Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Xi Jinping (習近平). The court officially prosecuted and detained her in November 2018, accusing her of insulting and attacking the CCP and "disturbing the peace," handing her a guilty verdict after more than a year of detention.

One month before her arrest, she divorced her husband because she knew the Chinese authorities would use their relationship to punish her. She refused to plead guilty and attempted suicide during her detention.

"Today, I am standing here because of my articles on the internet. I know I have to be guilty because if I am not, all the public servants involved in this trial will be in trouble. Socrates received a guilty verdict, but history cleared his name. That is how immortal justice moved human civilization forward," Liu stated in her final response in court.