China is not a country where free speech is valued highly by the government. Anyone distributing information which might be deemed “bad” for the public’s viewing could get individuals in trouble. The first person to be charged with cyber dissidence has now been sentenced to 12 years in prison. This man is also charged with leaking “state secrets’, which seems rather odd.
Don’t Discuss Sensitive Topics in China
When it comes to running an online website or blog in China, the information provided to others needs to adhere to very strict governmental guidelines. That is much easier said than done, as it forces content creators to skip over a lot of content in the process. Certain topics are completely off-limits in this regard, especially human rights, corruption, and so forth. Unfortunately for Huang Qi, he decided to dedicate a website to just those topics, which eventually got him on the government’s radar.
More specifically, Huang Qi created an online platform known as 64 Tianwang. This name is a clear reference to the Tiananmen Square bloodbath which occurred just over 30 years ago. By opting for such a name, he immediately set the tone for what his online platform would be all about. A lot of content was created, primarily focusing on local corruption and human rights violations, as well as a few other select topics. While it was a risky strategy from day one, no one could have expected things to turn out so direly.
Earlier this week, Huang Qi was sentenced to serving 12 years in prison simply for running this website. The official charge mentions how he “shared state secrets with foreign entities”, which is a bit of a stretch. Although he talked about topics which should not be discussed in the open – at least in China – labeling this information as state secrets seems incorrect. Huang will also lose his political rights for four years, which seems to be far less consequential.
Although the Chinese government already restricted access to his online platform a while ago, it was apparent an official lawsuit would be filed sooner or later. Especially when considering how the platform received a Reporters without Borders prize in 2016, there was no chance the Chinese government would let this go without repercussions. Shortly after receiving the price, Huang was detained in his home, as that was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back.
It was not the first time Huang and the Chinese government butted heads either. Over the past twenty years, both parties had multiple run-ins with one another. Huang already served three years in prison after campaigning for parents of children who died during the Sichuan earthquake over a decade ago. He got arrested by the police once again in 2014 for writing a report related to Tiananmen Square. Considering how there is a history of multiple run-ins, it is not too surprising to learn a steep jail sentence would be the logical outcome.
This is a very interesting example as to how the Chinese government will continue to crack down on anyone violating the very strict online content guidelines in the country. While other journalists and bloggers have been convinced in the past for their actions, it is the first time someone will face a double-digit jail sentence since President Xi Jinping took control of the country. Not a positive development by any means, as this creates a new precedent which can have major ramifications further down the line.