China’s first ‘cyber-dissident’ given 12-year jail term

Huang Qi’s work has repeatedly drawn the ire of Chinese authorities. (AFP pic)

BEIJING: China’s first “cyber-dissident”, whose website reported on sensitive topics including human rights, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday for leaking state secrets, a court said.

Huang Qi ran a website called “64 Tianwang” – named after the bloody June 4, 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protesters.

His sentence is one of the harshest meted out to a dissident since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, according to court records.

Huang was guilty of “leaking national state secrets and providing state secrets to foreign entities”, the statement by the Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court said, adding that Huang will be deprived of political rights for four years.

His website, which reported on local corruption, human rights violations, and other topics rarely seen in ordinary Chinese media, is blocked on the mainland.

The site was awarded a Reporters Without Borders prize in November 2016.

A few weeks later, Huang was detained in his hometown of Chengdu, according to Amnesty International.

His 85-year-old mother Pu Wenqing told AFP that she wasn’t informed of her son’s sentencing.

“I don’t know anything because I am stuck in the house,” she said, adding that she was prevented from leaving her home to visit Huang Qi on Monday.

Pu came to Beijing to plead her son’s case last November, fearing that the activist – who suffers from high blood pressure and late-stage kidney disease – would die in detention without access to adequate medical treatment.

‘Chilling effect’

Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, expressed concerns about whether Huang will be allowed to access proper medical care after being transferred to prison.

“His case has been turned into an example to scare other human rights defenders,” Poon said.

“The long prison sentence could have a chilling effect on other activists,” he added.

Huang’s work has repeatedly drawn the ire of Chinese authorities.

In 2009, he was sentenced to three years in prison after campaigning for parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which left nearly 87,000 people dead or missing and authorities facing huge public anger over shoddy building construction.

Five years later Huang and at least three citizen journalists who contributed to 64 Tianwang were detained by police after the site reported on a woman who set herself on fire in Tiananmen Square.