Netizens were dumbstruck by Global Times Chief Editor Hu Xijin’s November 21 weibo in favor of free speech:
HuXijin: I hope the long-term impact of the Ren Jianyu case in today’s Internet age is the establishment of precedent that will end the political and cultural tradition of the “criminalization of speech.” Political speech and the propagation of [other’s] speech which does not infringe upon the rights of others and does not precipitate concrete action should not be criminalized. In other words, if “comment deletion” must continue for a time, then a resolute end should come to the “criminalization of comment posting.” This is a key pathway to achieving a higher level of free speech.
Ren Jianyu, a young village official in Chongqing, was sentenced to two years of re-education through labor last August for reposting critiques of Chongqing officials on Weibo. This was just months before Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai’s protracted fall from grace. Authorities claimed that T-shirts found in Ren’s apartment emblazoned with the slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” (不自由，毋宁死) proved his intent to stage a coup. Ren was released early from detention on November 19.
Hu Xijin, known as a Party apologist, has been notably outspoken in defense of Ren. He wrote a weibo in this vein in October, before Ren’s appeal court hearing (translated by Tea Leaf Nation):
HuXijin: The appeal hearing of Pengshui University student village official Ren Jianyu’s sentencing to re-education through labor for Weibo retweets has begun. I believe he’ll win. Because [what he did] didn’t harm any individual person, and it was pure speech that didn’t create any social conflicts–the era when these kinds of commentary could be punished for being ‘against the Party [or] against socialism’ needs to come to a thorough conclusion. I hope that...
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