China jails journalist for ‘picking quarrels’ with Communist Party

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Originally published by Deutsche Welle on May 1, 2020

A Chinese journalist has been jailed for 15 years after being accused of attacking and vilifying the Communist Party, court documents showed.

According to a statement posted online from Hunan province’s Guiyang County Court, Chen Jieren was convicted on Thursday for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” as well as for “extortion, illegal business activities and bribery.”

The journalist’s brother, Chen Weiren, was also convicted on similar charges and sentenced to four years in prison.

French international news agency AFP reported on Friday that the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is a “catch-all” that Chinese authorities sometimes use against people who are critical of the Communist Party.

The verdict comes as the regime faces global scrutiny over its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Some activists say Chinese authorities are cracking down on doctors, whistle-blowers, and journalists who accuse the Party of covering up information related to the outbreak. 

Read more: China, Turkey jail more journalists than any other country: report


The statement said that Chen, who had once worked for the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper and the largest in the country, had posted false and “negative” information online.

“The defendant published false information on blogs, WeChat public accounts, WeChat moments and other We-media to hype relevant cases under the guise of providing legal advice,” the statement said.

It also said Chen “maliciously exaggerated certain mass incidents, to attack and vilify the Party and the government, judicial organs and their staff, and instigate troubles …”

The statement added that the journalist also worked as part of an “evil force” group together with his ex-wife and three other people that illegally accrued 7.3 million yuan (€900000, $1 million).

Read more: China’s lack of press freedom causes problems for the world

Exposing corruption

The Washington-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a non-government organization of domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists, said on Thursday that Chen’s conviction was “apparently to punish him for his political speech on WeChat and other social media platforms.”

According to the watchdog, Chen and several family members disappeared a few days after he  disclosed on his social media channels alleged corruption by local Party officials in late June-early July 2018. Chen’s detention was confirmed on July 7 and he was formally arrested on November 20, 2018.

The group said that after Chen was sacked from various state newspapers he published online commentaries and investigative reports across various social media platforms, including WeChat and Weibo, entitled “Jieren Observation Viewpoint” and “Jieren Observation Heights.”

Chen was fired from China Youth Daily in 2003 for exposing a prostitution ring involving students at Wuhan University. In 2011, Chen was sacked from his position in at People’s Daily online Jiangsu Window for “too much criticism of the government,” CHRD said.

The CHRD called for the immediate and unconditional release of Chen and his family members and associates, who they said have been prosecuted over Chen’s exercise of his right to free expression. It also accused Chinese authorities of denying Chen a fair trial.

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