On Tuesday, a court in China sentenced former real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang to 18 years in jail on charges of corruption. Zhiqiang was detained in March after he criticised China’s president and leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping, for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Who is Ren Zhiqiang?
Zhiqiang is the former chairman of the state-owned Beijing Huayuan Group Co. Ltd. and is a member of the CCP. He is considered to be one of the most influential critics of the CCP and was untraceable since mid-March after he wrote an essay critical of the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
In the letter, he referred to Jinping as a “clown”. While the essay did not mention the name, it is said to be a response to a speech he made on February 23. According to a Reuters report, the essay was shared by Zhiqiang with people he knew and copies of it were later posted online. During Jinping’s speech, Zhiqiang “saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes’, but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor,” he wrote it in the essay.
Zhiqiang’s supporters see the court’s sentence as a way to silence critics of the CCP. In 2016, he was put on probation from the party for publicly criticising the government’s policy and earned the nickname of “Cannon Ren” for his critical posts on social media. Subsequently, the government ordered Chinese social media companies to shut down his accounts since he was believed to be spreading “illegal information”.
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What are the charges against Zhiqiang?
On Tuesday, state media outlet Global Times reported that Zhiqiang has been sentenced to 18 years in prison and will need to pay a fine to the tune of 4.2 million yuan for corruption, bribery, embezzlement of funds and abuse of power as a personnel working for a state-owned company.
According to a statement published by Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court, Zhiqiang used his position to embezzle more than 49.74 million yuan of public funds and accepted bribes of more than 1.25 million yuan, embezzled public funds of 61.20 million yuan and “abused his power and caused a state-owned holding company to suffer particularly heavy losses”.
“The court held that the defendant Ren Zhiqiang’s actions constituted corruption, bribery, misappropriation of public funds, and state-owned company personnel abuse of power, and should be punished according to law,” the statement said. Zhiqiang has confessed to all the charges and accepted the court’s judgment without an appeal.
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The Global Times report said that Zhiqiang “seriously violated the Party’s political and organizational integrity, work and life discipline, constituting a duty-related violation of the law”.