Chinese Journalist Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Publishing Negative Information About Communist Party

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Originally published by Newsweek on May 1, 2020

Chinese journalist Chen Jieren was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday, for publishing negative information about China’s Communist Party.

According to the South China Morning Post, a court in the central Hunan province released a statement which said that Chen was convicted for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble, extortion, illegal business operations and bribery.”

Chen previously worked for People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the country’s Communist Party, but was detained in 2018 after posting false and negative information about the party online, the court’s statement said, according to SCMP.

“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 court’s statement said.

The court added that Chen “attacked and vilified the Communist Party and government,” while also accusing him of being a part of an “evil force,” along with his ex-wife and three others that illegally accumulated 7.3 million yuan (over $1 million) from their illegal activities.

Following Chen’s conviction, the Hong Kong-based non-profit organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD) released a statement urging Chinese authorities to release the journalist:

“Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Chen Jieren and his family members and associates, who have been prosecuted over Chen’s exercise of his right to free expression. Hunan authorities violated Chen Jieren’s right to a fair trial.”

NCHRD’s statement added that “Chen’s heavy punishment sends a chilling signal to online independent commentators and citizen journalists.”

While Chen’s conviction does not relate to the coronavirus, it comes as China has received criticism for its handling of the outbreak and its media censorship during the crisis.

Prior to Chen’s conviction, in March, China had expelled journalists from The New York TimesThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The moves came in response to President Donald Trump’s administration placing a limit on the number of Chinese journalists allowed to be employed by Chinese-run media outlets inside the U.S.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a non-profit organization defending journalism and freedom of information, China is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, with more than 109 of them behind bars in 2020.

While speaking to CNN, Rebecca Vincent, a spokesperson for the RSF, suggested that the expulsion of journalists and the censorship of media in China helped to fuel the coronavirus pandemic.

“If there had been free press in China,” Vincent said, “then this could have prevented from turning into a pandemic.”

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