Economic Observer reported last month on Chongqing authorities’ efforts to “clean up” cases of people sentenced to re-education through labour for online comments during Bo Xilai’s rule over the municipality. Among them was Fang Hong, released in April after a one-year sentence for a crudely satirical weibo post referring to Bo as “Mr Erection”. One loose end noted in the article was the case of Ren Jianyu, sentenced in August 2011 to two years for re-posting others’ criticisms of the local government. According to Tea Leaf Nation, Ren was released on Monday afternoon:
Fortunately for Ren, he had thousands of impassioned web users in his corner, who seemed aware that Ren’s case would have repercussions for their own ability to use social media. In October, thousands tweeted their support for Ren and outrage at his treatment. What most stirred online ire was not simply Ren’s imprisonment., but the evidence against him. When Ren’s case was initially tried, authorities introduced as evidence a T-Shirt, found in Ren’s home at the time of his arrest, with the words “Freedom or Death” printed in Chinese.
[…] Ren also has his lawyer to thank. Pu Zhiqiang (@哈儿浦志强有戏) is well known for taking cases involving press freedom, and Pu was aggressive not only in bringing Ren’s case to trial, but in using social media to enlist public sympathy. Pu recently told the Global Times, “Ren Jianyu’s case has a certain amount of resonance and social influence. Our nation’s laws protect the right to free speech, but Ren was imprisoned for a speech crime. His receiving ‘re-education through labor’ was extremely unreasonable.”
Weighing against encouraging signs from Chongqing, however, is news from Beijing of a 36-year-old fund manager detained on the eve of the 18th Party Congress for “spreading false and terrible information”. Zhai Xiaobing, or @stariver, posted a satirical tweet based on the Final Destination series of horror films on November 5th. He has not yet been released. With translation by Yaxue Cao at Seeing Red in China:
— 星河舰队 (@Stariver) November 5, 2012
.#SpoilerTweet #Enter-at-your-own-peril “Final Destination 6” has arrived. In which the Great Hall of the People collapses all of a sudden. All 2,000+ people meeting there died except for 7 of them. But afterwards, the seven die one after another in bizarre ways. Is it a game of God, or the wrath of Death? How will 18, the mysterious number, unlock the gate of Hell? Premieres globally on November the 8th to bring you an earthshaking experience!
Twitter is sometimes seen as a relatively safe haven compared with domestic services like Sina Weibo, but as past cases show, the service is actively monitored. In 2010, user @wangyi09 was sentenced to a year of re-education through labour for tweeting the five characters, “Go, angry youth!”, jokingly encouraging anti-Japanese protesters.
A petition has been set up to call for Zhai’s release, with signatories so far including Bei Feng, Hu Jia, Mo Zhixu, and Ai Weiwei. The petition letter concludes, from Oiwan Lam’s translation at Global Voices Advocacy:
We hope the the Beijing police shows a sense of humor and do not create a big incident out of a small issue. In particular, do not ruin the image of the new leadership soon after the 18th Party Congress. Such groundless prosecution against citizen who exercise their freedom of expression is disgraceful. We urge the immediate release of Twitter user @stariver.