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Woman sentenced to one year of forced labour over ironic tweet

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges the Chinese authorities to rescind the sentence of one year of "reeducation through work" that has been imposed on a 46-year-old woman, Cheng Jianping, for relaying a comment on Twitter. It is believed to be the first time that someone has been sent to a labour camp in China because of a tweet.

"Cheng Jianping just retweeted an ironic comment on a subject that touches the sensitive chord of Chinese nationalism," Reporters Without Borders said. "This was not organized dissident activity. Unable to control Twitter, it seems the Chinese authorities are trying to set an example in order to get the microblogging platform's users to censor themselves. They are cracking down harder on netizens everywhere."

Cheng was arrested on 28 October, the day she was due to get married, for a tweet she had posted on 17 October under the pseudonym of Wang Yi (@wangyi09). It was a retweet of a satirical comment about the tension between China and Japan and the anti-Japanese demonstrations taking place in China, and ironically suggested that protesters should attack the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. Cheng has more than 5,000 followers on Twitter.

She was sentenced on 15 November to a year of forced labour in the Shibali River "reeducation through work" camp in Zhengzhou, in the central province of Henan, on a charge of "disturbing social order." Her lawyer, Lan Zhixue, has appealed against the sentence, an administrative order that was issued without any form of trial.

To RSF's knowledge, Cheng is the first person to be imprisoned just for posting a comment on Twitter. Her fiancé, Hua Chunhui, who was held for five days, says he has not been allowed to visit her. He reported that she began a hunger strike on 15 November in protest against her sentence, although she suffers from tuberculous pleurisy, a chronic lung condition. He said on his Twitter account (@wxhch): "I don't know how [she] spent her first days in the labour camp, whether she is still on hunger strike, whether she is being subjected to inhumane treatment or what her state of health is. I don't know (. . . ) I am going to fight so that they respect my legitimate right to visit her."

Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo (@dickc) commented in a tweet: "Dear Chinese Government, year-long detentions for sending a sarcastic tweet are neither the way forward nor the future of your great people."

Access to Twitter is blocked in China but Internet users can get round the Electronic Great Wall of China by using proxies.

Another blogger, Tibetan writer and intellectual Tsering Woeser, has meanwhile been the victim of hacker attacks again because of her posts about the human rights situation in Tibet. Her blog ( http://www.woeser.middle-way.net ) and her Twitter, Gmail and Facebook accounts have all been hacked in recent weeks.

She reports that photos and personal information on her Twitter profile were changed. Only her Twitter and Facebook accounts have so far been restored.

Another netizen to have been singled out recently because of what he posts online is Li Tie, a 48-year-old pro-democracy activist based in the central city of Wuhan, who was arrested on 15 September.

The initial charge was "inciting subversion," which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but it was changed on 22 October to "subverting state authority," which is punishable under article 105 of the criminal code by life imprisonment or a minimum of 10 years in prison. The police are reportedly now pressuring the family not to hire their own lawyer for Li and instead use a state-appointed lawyer.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Li was threatened by the authorities in the past and was told to stop organizing meetings to commemorate Lin Zhao, a poetess who spent nearly a decade in prison before being executed. In April, it was "suggested" that he should not meet with his friends or post any article "for an indefinite period." Li wrote for "Democratic China" and "Boxun" and like Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence, he was a Charter 08 signatory.

The fate of Zhao Lianhai, the creator of the "Kidney Stone Babies" website, is unclear. Although he originally said he would appeal against the 30-month jail sentence he received on 10 November, Chinese Human Rights Defenders reports that he did not meet the 22 November deadline. He is also said to have recently refused to meet with his lawyers and the government news agency Xinhua reported on 23 November that he had filed a request for an early release on health grounds.

Zhao was convicted of "inciting social unrest" for running a website about the milk powder sold by the Chinese company Sanlu that was adulterated with melamine, and for calling for judicial proceedings against the authorities implicated in the scandal. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese infants, including Zhao's son, fell ill after consuming the milk powder and six newborn babies died.

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