This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A court in the central Chinese province of Henan has handed down a 14-month jail term to performance artist and online influencer Chen Shaotian after he posted a number of critical comments about life under the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Twitter.
Chen was sentenced to one year and two months’ imprisonment by the Fugou County People’s Court in Henan, which found him guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge frequently used to target critics of the regime.
Chen’s sentence, which was issued on March 25, was based on more than 50 posts he made to Twitter that were deemed to be “hype about major sensitive events in China” and “political attacks.”
One video still visible on Twitter shows him astride a moped, speeding down a road wearing a face-mask blazoned with the words “evil” and “understand,” and yelling: “Understand this! Our evil government is far worse than any virus, for f*ck’s sake!”
Chen’s tweets had “attacked China’s political system, insulted employees of the state, caused serious damage to China’s national image and endangered its national interests,” as well as “creating serious disorder in a public place,” the court judgment said.
Dissident activist Ji Feng said Chen isn’t a dissident in the strict sense, as he doesn’t advocate any political or philosophical alternative to CCP rule.
“He lacks a systematic politics, and he has no deeply held position,” Ji said. “It’s all about dissatisfaction with the current reality.”
He said Chen’s jailing would likely have a chilling effect on people who feel the same way.
“There are many, many people like him, and eventually, they will probably be too scared to speak out any more,” he said.
Hebei-based lawyer Pan Shaomin said Chen had become an online celebrity precisely because his posts exuded a general and profound sense of dissatisfaction.
“The social topics he cares about were very popular with the general public,” Ji said. “He cursed the way things are in a funny way, and made people laugh and feel happier.”
“That was how he became a celebrity, but that phenomenon is going to cause fear in certain quarters,” he said.
Chen, originally a long-haul truck-driver, first started cursing out the government after travel bans and rural roadblocks at the start of the pandemic left him unable to do his job.
He was banned from social media platforms including WeChat and Douyin after his videos on the death of whistleblowing Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang went viral.
“What [Chen] was doing was anathema to the authorities, who shut down his China-based social media accounts,” Pan said.
In December 2020, authorities in the Beijing district of Haidian jailed Li Guibao, who was known online as Fat Pig Full Circle Lao Li, to one year’s imprisonment for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” after he criticized the authorities handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Li was detained two days after posting a 7,000-word article on April 9, 2020, in which he mostly talked about government’s handling of the pandemic.
He was tried on Dec. 3, 2020 and sentenced on Dec. 24, 2020.
American Military News