(By 美國之音 via Wikimedia Commons)

A Chinese netizen was sentenced to 10 days in prison and the payment of a fine after he insulted President Xi Jinping in a WeChat group.

As Taiwan-based Apple Daily reports, on July 19 a 39-year-old man named Ni Huaping from Sanya, a city in southern China’s Hainan Province, posted a comment on a WeChat group insulting Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“How’s pig’s head Xi been doing lately? I haven’t seen the news for a few years,” Ni wrote, reportedly in order to vent his frustration about social injustice. “Pig’s head” (猪头) is a Chinese insult meaning “dimwit”.

On August 20, public security officials went to Ni’s home and detained him. He was charged with violating Article 42, Section 2 of China’s Public Security Administration Punishments Law, stating that “insulting any other person openly or making up stories to defame any other person” is a criminal offence punishable by a fine and a prison term.

Ni admitted to committing the crime. He was fined 500 yuan and detained for 10 days – the maximum penalty applicable under “relatively serious” circumstances.

Since Xi Jinping took office in 2012, China has tightened its grip on free speech and the press. In 2012 the government passed a law criminalizing the act of spreading “online rumours“, if a post containing what the authorities deem as false information is reposted 500 times or more, or viewed 5,000 times or more. Spreading “rumours” is an offence punishable by up to 3 years in prison.

In July 2017 a man from Hunan had been detained for 7 days for “insulting the leader of the Party and the country” (侮辱党和国家领导人) after he had used the nickname “Steamed Bun Xi” online. In September 2017 a man named Wang Jiangfeng was sentenced to 2 years in prison, later reduced to 1 year and 10 months, for calling Xi Jinping “Steamed Bun Xi” .

The nickname “Steamed Bun Xi” (习包子) became popular online after in late December 2013 Xi Jinping ate steamed buns at a Beijing chain restaurant, where he waited in line, ordered a meal and carried his own tray to a table. State-run Chinese media circulated footage of Xi’s dinner, probably in an attempt to portray Xi as close to the common people.

Some Chinese netizens refer to the authorities’ increasingly strict internet censorship as the “return of the literary inquisition” (文字狱再现).

The “literary inquisition” was the practice of censoring and punishing writers in imperial China, especially during the Qing Dynasty. For instance, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1654 – 1722), scholar-official Lu Shengnan was beheaded for writing in his Essay on Feudalism: “The ruler is a public servant. The state is public property, not property of the ruler. The people are the sovereign, the ruler their creature” (see Hsieh 1925, p. 383).

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