The sentence that a people’s court in Guiyang county, in the central province of Hunan, passed on Chen on 30 April is one the harshest received by a journalist since Xi Jinping became president in 2013. Convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and of “extortion and blackmail,” the 48-year-old Chen Jieren was also fined 7 million yuan (nearly 1 million euros), the equivalent of 53 years of the average Chinese journalist’s salary.
“This grotesque sentence is a throwback to the practices of the Maoist era and is clearly designed to set an example and ensure that no Chinese journalist dares to question the regime again,” said Cédric Alviani, the head of RSF’s East Asia bureau. “Beijing must overturn this disgraceful conviction and free Chen Jieren at once, along with all the other journalists and commentators imprisoned in China.”
One of Chen’s brothers, the blogger Chen Weiren, was sentenced at the same trial to four years in prison and a fine of 10,000 yuan (1,300 euros).
They were arrested in July 2018 together with a third brother, Chen Jieren’s wife and two women who worked with him and all were placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” the official euphemism for detention in one of China’s “black prisons." Chen’s WeChat social media account was deactivated and Chinese state media broadcast his “confessions” the following month.
Before starting to freelance, Chen worked for several Chinese propaganda media outlets including China Youth Daily, Beijing Daily, and People’s Daily, but was fired from each of them because his articles were regarded as excessively critical.
China is the world’s biggest jailer of journalists with at least 109 currently held in conditions that pose a threat to their lives. They include Qin Yongmin, 66, a commentator sentenced to 13 years in prison in July 2018 for “inciting the subversion of state power,” RSF Press Freedom Award Laureate Huang Qi, 56, who is serving a 12-year jail term for “disclosure of state secrets abroad," and Wu Gan, 47, a blogger sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2017 for “inciting subversion of state power.”
China is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.