Guangdong Maoming Maonan District People’s Court concluded a highly sensitive case and sentenced a group of 24 people on December 30, 2020.
Niu Tengyu (牛腾宇), a 21-year-old originally from Gaoping, Shanxi, was accused of being the ringleader of “a vicious crime group” and received a combined 14-year sentence for picking quarrels and provoking troubles, infringing on personal information, and illegal business operations. He was also fined 130,000 RMB.
Niu’s family claimed that Niu had been tortured to elicit a confession. He was one of administrators for the “Vulgar Wiki 恶俗维基,” a China-based website modeled after Wikipedia with a stated purpose “to expose and record true facts.” Vulgar Wiki was seen by netizens of the transnational Chinese-language internet sphere as one of three leading platforms for posting user-generated content deemed “unhealthy” by Chinese authorities, the other two being overseas Chinese websites Zhina.net 支那维基 and Zhina.red 红岸基金会. Aside from featuring content including celebrity gossip and pornography, the sites also host pages on mass incident rumors and political gossip. Even though they are not affiliated with each other, the three websites and several similar content sites are often loosely referred to as the “Circle of Vulgarity 恶俗圈.” That general designation might have been the reason Vulgar Wiki landed in trouble.
During May 2019, several overseas “Circle of Vulgarity” sites posted photos and personal information alleging to be of Xi Jinping’s daughter and brother-in-law. Unable to pursue those responsible who operate outside of China, the Guangdong Maonan Internet Police Unit went after Vulgar Wiki as a scapegoat even though it did not post the content in question. Between August and October 2019, 24 web administrators and content editors were rounded up from different cities. Niu was reportedly first detained on August 24, 2019 and arrested on September 30, 2019 as the ringleader of a criminal group. He was later placed under residential surveillance in a designated location (RSDL) from December 2019 to January 2020 for subversion. It was during this time that the torture and false confession alleged by Niu’s family is said to have occurred.
Among the 23 other co-defendants, Chen Luoan (陈泺安), a 21-year-old transgender programmer, reportedly was sentenced to two and a half years for theft and picking quarrels and provoking troubles. Friends claim that Chen, who was born male but identifies as female, was verbally abused and assaulted by the Maonan police during her October 2019 arrest.
Guangzhou Activists Detained for Subversion
Guangzhou democracy activist Hu Tianfeng (胡天峰) was formally detained for subversion by the Guangzhou State Security on January 27, 2021. Hu, along with activists Lai Jianjun (赖见君) and Fan Yiping (范一平), was first placed under RSDL in mid-November 2020. According to the detention notice given to the family, Hu is held at the Guangzhou State Security Detention Center.
Fan, a veteran pro-democracy activist, was also detained on the same day. He previously served a three-year sentence for aiding Wang Xizhe to escape China. Little information about this case has been made available. The status of four other activists is unclear.
Artist Released on Bail Nearly Two Years Later
Liu Jinxing (刘进兴), an outspoken artist also known as “Zhui Hun,” posted an update on social media saying that he completed his 20-month prison sentence for picking quarrels and provoking troubles on January 28, 2021. Liu was accused of producing visual art criticizing the government. He is known to have used his income from art sales to help provide funding for individuals detained for their political expression.
According to Liu, he was officially released on bail (取保候审) pending his appeal. Liu was first detained on May 29, 2019. His trial was concluded almost a year after he was formally indicted in January 2020. With no legal explanation for the long delays provided in the judgment, it seems the court had Liu serve the full length of his sentence de facto by prolonging the process.
Church of Almighty God in Xuzhou
The discovery of an indictment filed in 2019 led Dui Hua to learn more about a large crackdown on Almighty God (CAG) in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, that might have gathered little attention.
Chen Aiqin (陈爱芹 CAQ), a woman in her mid-forties, was a key witness named in several cult trials related to Almighty God (sometimes under a partial name of Chen XX) that took place in 2019. Dui Hua has discovered that Chen herself was also indicted for using a cult to undermine implementation of the law in May 2019.
The procuratorate labelled the case as significant and complicated. Extended procuratorate review was requested for each of the seven suspects, and several supplemental investigations were also requested and assigned to multiple district police sub-bureaus.
Detained in August 2018, Chen was accused of leading the effort to recruit new members in the Xuzhou region beginning in March 2018. According to the indictment filed by Xuzhou Quanshan District Procuratorate, by the end of July 2018, the Church of Almighty God had recruited over 28,000 members. The indictment especially noted that during the three months of May to July in 2018, the group recruited 111, 45, and 83 new members, respectively.
Chen was also accused of developing propaganda materials and fundraising efforts. Together with co-defendants Yin Qingqing and Ge Yunlei, they raised money in RMB, foreign currencies, and gold (the total valued in the tens of thousands of dollars). Some of the collected funds were then transferred overseas.
In July 2019, the same procuratorate filed another indictment against a sole defendant, a woman named Chen Miaomiao (陈苗苗 CMM), for the same crime. CMM was also named as a leader of the CAG Xuzhou region. Though the facts from two cases overlap, there is no indication that the two Chens are related.
So far, Dui Hua has cross-referenced and matched names from seven indictments and judgments. A total of 12 people already received fixed-term sentences, and two people received suspended sentences. As with most other cult cases Dui Hua has identified, the majority of defendants in these cases are women.
For the period 2018-2020, Dui Hua has recorded 47 CAG cases in Xuzhou Municipality, out of a total 164 cases recorded in the same region since 1999.
According to the indictment against CAQ, some of her associates showed remorse and admitted guilt for their criminal acts. The procuratorate asked for leniency for some defendants.
In cult cases, only key members or those deemed to have played a “leader” role usually face criminal penalties. New and low-level members, however, are likely to be placed under administrative detention or ordered to attend mandatory “legal education” classes. The district police bureau can register “known cult members” as “targeted population” (zhongdian renkou) and place them under close watch. They can also be prevented from traveling to certain cities during sensitive times (such as to Beijing during “Two Meetings” or on National Day).