This one has shades of the Paul Chambers “bomb threat” case about it, but the consequences are far more severe.
Chinese online activist Cheng Jianping was sentenced to one year of ‘Re-education Through Labour’ on Monday for “disturbing social order”, having retweeted a satirical suggestion on October 17 that the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo be attacked.
Cheng disappeared ten days later, on what was to be her wedding day, her whereabouts unknown until it emerged this week that she had been detained and sentenced by local police.
The offending tweet was originally posted by Cheng’s fiancÃ© Hua Chunhui, mocking China’s young nationalist demonstrators who had smashed Japanese products in protest over a maritime incident between China and Japan involving the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.
Hua’s original tweet said “Anti-Japanese demonstrations, smashing Japanese products, that was all done years ago by Guo Quan [an activist and expert on the Nanjing Massacre].Â It’s no new trick.Â If you really wanted to kick it up a notch, you’d immediately fly to Shanghai to smash the Japanese Expo pavilion.”
According to other Chinese activists on Twitter, Cheng had participated in low-level online activism, including support for imprisoned Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo and imprisoned consumer rights advocate Zhao Lianhai, as well as fundraising in support of other activists.
Cheng (@wangyi09) retweeted her fiancÃ©s (@wxhch) original message, adding the text, “Angry youth, charge!”.
“Sentencing someone to a year in a labour camp, without trial, for simply repeating another person’s clearly satirical observation on Twitter demonstrates the level of China’s repression of online expression” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific.
Twitter is blocked in China but is widely accessed and used, particularly by human rights defenders and their supporters who often use the social-networking platform to quickly organise in support of human rights activists who are detained or tried in court.
Re-education Through Labour is an administrative punishment that can deprive an individual of their liberty for up to 4 years through a decision by the police without a trial by an independent court.
Curiously, her fiancÃ© has not been detained, and continues to use his Twitter account to update on Cheng’s situation.
Her fiance said she had signed petitions including one calling for the release of China’s jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.
And she had been detained by police for five days in August this year after she voiced support for Liu Xianbin, a long-time campaigner for democracy in China, involved in the protests that preceded the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.