Freedom of expression and the prospect of a free press remains elusive in China. With country's media working as party's propaganda machines, independent journalists and bloggers look for other ways to report the truth, especially about the ruling communist party, as per organisations like the Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Any criticism of the regime attracts a full-blown crackdown from authorities, that includes forced disappearance and punishments of varying degrees.
The case of Chen Jie-ren, a state media employee-turned independent journalist is no different. Having been arrested for his articles critical of the communist party, Chen was sentenced to a heavy-handed punishment of 15 years in prison, on Thursday.
Chen Jie-ren sentenced to 15 years in prison
On Thursday, April 30, the Guiyang County People's Court in central Hunan province, sentenced Chen to 15 years in prison, RFI reported. He was convicted of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble, extortion, illegal business operations and bribery", a court in central Hunan province said in a statement, posted online.
Chen Jie-ren's arrest
The independent blogger was arrested on July 4, 2018, along with his wife and two younger brothers, on suspicion of extortion and running an illegal business, by Hunan province's police, Hong Kong-based newspaper Mingpao reported. He was arrested right after he wrote two articles critical of the communist party, on his blog Jieren Guancha [Jieren Watch].
In a July 2 article, he questioned the authenticity of a regional party member's resume. In his June 25 article, he criticized Hunan Province's Shaoyang city party secretary, Deng Guangyan and alleged that she was involved in a major corruption cover-up. Both his articles were deleted and the blog remained inactive, since his arrest on July 4.
A month later, China's communist party mouth-piece Xinhua ran a piece of Chen's alleged confession that he used officials' fear of his reporting to extort money from them and that he lost his morality after leaving his job at China's state-backed media.
"I abused my own influence and the trust of my social media followers," the state media quoted Chen as saying, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. "I used wording that evoked fairness and justice to cheat my readers; to deceive the people", "I am a classic example of a fake guy on the internet," Chen was quoted as saying.
In the past, Chen worked as the chief editor of state-run weekly China Philanthropy Times and as the executive editor for the Jiangsu Province division of the state-owned People's Daily. He was fired from both of them in 2005 and 2010 respectively, as he criticized the party, way too much.