Author of a well-known blog sentenced for incitement in Shanghai

On March 20, 2023, lawyer Shan Baojun shared a screenshot on Twitter with a simple message: “It seems we might have the whereabouts of Ruan Xiaohuan.”

The screenshot showed messages supposedly posted on WeChat by Ruan’s wife, Bei. In the messages, she confirms that Ruan Xiaohuan (阮晓寰) was detained in May 2021 and was convicted and sentenced for “inciting subversion of state power” on February 10, 2023; she is now under pressure from police for trying to seek legal representation for Ruan’s appeal. In the messages, Bei also claims that Ruan is the anonymous author behind the blog “编程随想” (programthinking) and that he was the chief engineer of network security for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

The news caused a stir. Ruan’s blog is well known among the Chinese-speaking tech community and the intellectually curious. It started in 2009 as a place where the author shared summaries of the latest developments in computing, programming, and network security; later, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of June 4th, tips on how to circumvent China’s notorious Great Firewall were added. In 2010, the then-unknown author started sharing his opinions and commentaries on social incidents and broader political issues. The blog also uploaded eBooks on social and political subjects for visitors to download and share. Many people, after learning of Ruan’s ordeal, credited the blog as the reason they began seeking information outside of China’s strict censorship regime.

The identity of the author was carefully concealed, though there was much speculation and possibly even attempts at doxing. When the blog suddenly stopped updating – its last post is from May 9, 2021 – rumors and worries started to emerge as to the host’s whereabouts.

Su Yutong, an independent journalist based in Berlin, filled in more details and later posted the full judgment on her Twitter account.

Shanghai Number Two Intermediate Court convicted and sentenced Ruan to seven years in prison with two years of deprivation of political rights (DPR) for the crime of endangering state security. Twenty thousand yuan from his personal assets was also confiscated. The police searched and detained Ruan at his home on May 10, 2021. The police investigation presented some circumstantial evidence linking Ruan and the blog – a local archive or log file automatically generated on the computer when the author has logged on to the blog. The judgment also revealed that the procuratorate accused Ruan of authoring over a hundred articles falsely attacking the CCP and China’s socialism political system and posting his writings on overseas platforms.

How the police were able to track Ruan to his home remains unknown. He might have inadvertently used the same or similarly constructed email addresses on different services or platforms, which could have revealed his identity. Some China observers also speculated on the reason the police waited so long to go after Ruan. In addition to the blog, Ruan appears to have kept an account on GitHub, a popular code repository platform, with the same name as his blog “编程随想 programthinking.” Under that account, there is an open-source project started in early 2016, with the intention to map out connections among the princelings – the descendants of CCP elites and elders. The project was the target of a take-down request from China’s Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission to GitHub in June 2016. GitHub, however, rejected the request but made the project inaccessible to IPs from China.

Lawyer Shan also provided updates on the progress of Bei’s effort for Ruan’s appeal. Bei had to file an official complaint to the court because the presiding judge at the Shanghai High Court installed two court-appointed lawyers from the legal assistance program, replacing lawyers Shan and Mo Shaoping who were hired by the family. Shan also claimed that neither he nor Mo could receive calls from overseas phone numbers.

The appeal has been filed with the Shanghai High Court, while Ruan is in custody at Shanghai Yangpu District Detention Center.

Clemency granted to “cult” prisoners in Guangdong women’s prison

A response from a Chinese interlocutor given to Dui Hua in March 2023 confirmed that two female Falun Gong practitioners in Guangdong received clemency at the end of 2022.

Guo Yafen (郭雅芬), a resident of Meizhou in her 50s, received a six-month reduction at the end of 2022. Guo was sentenced to six and a half years for using a cult to undermine implementation of the law (Article 300 of the Criminal Law) in 2019 by the Mei County Court. This is Guo’s second incarceration. She was previously convicted and sentenced to 11 years for the same crime by the Mei County Court in 2005. Guo was granted parole in 2012 and subsequently released in 2013. Because Guo is considered a recidivist, clemency is applied more strictly – meaning there is a longer waiting time for the first reduction and longer intervals between reductions. Guo is expected to be released in June 2024.

Xu Ruiping (徐瑞萍), a resident of Jieyang in her 60s, was granted a seven-month reduction at the end of the 2022. This is Xu’s second reduction. The first, a six-month reduction, was granted in 2020. Xu was convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for Article 300 in 2016 by the Jiedong District Court. She was also given a supplemental sentence of three years of DPR, rare in cult cases. Her DPR supplemental sentence starts after release and means that Xu will be designated as a “targeted population” member and subject to strict police monitoring. Her movements will also likely be restricted. Xu is expected to be released in January 2025.

House church leaders released

Prominent Christian activist Hu Shigen (胡石根) completed his seven-year-and-six-month sentence for subversion in Tianjin’s Changtai Prison on March 23, 2023. Hu was among the approximately 300 human rights lawyers, legal professionals, and activists who were detained nationwide amid the “709” crackdown that began on July 9, 2015.

Hu’s activism began after June Fourth, and he was a leader of underground churches in Beijing. In 1992, Hu was detained for two years and then served 14 years in prison for now-defunct counterrevolutionary crimes until his release in 2008. While he was granted two sentence reductions totaling 24 months during his first prison stint, Hu completed his second full jail term in 2023 without a sentence reduction. Hu remains obliged to serve his five-year DPR sentence until March 22, 2028.

Another house church leader, Geng Zejun (耿则军), was released from prison in Ningxia on March 19, 2023, also without a sentence reduction. Geng is a pastor from the Church of Rock in Shizuishan. He is believed to have been punished for refusing to join the state-run Three Self Patriotic Church. In January 2022, he was criminally detained for holding an unlawful assembly and later sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Veteran activist Dong Guangping remains missing

In a response to the request from the UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights dated March 15, 2023, the Permanent Mission of Vietnam denies that the country knows the whereabouts of Chinese activist Dong Guangping (董广平), who reportedly had been detained in Hanoi in 2022.

Dong, a resident from Zhengzhou, Henan, had been incarcerated several times for his advocacy on political reform and vindication of the June Fourth protest. He was first convicted and sentenced to three years in prison with one year of DPR for inciting subversion in 2001. In 2015 he fled to Thailand with fellow activist Jiang Yefei. Despite having obtained refugee status and awaiting resettlement in Canada, the duo was caught by Thai police and subsequently turned over to Chinese state security. Dong was convicted and sentenced to three and a half years in prison with one year of DPR for subversion and illegal border crossing in 2018. Jiang was sentenced to six and a half years for the same crimes.

Dong made another attempt to leave China after his release in 2019. He was detained by Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi in August 2022, where Dong has been residing since January 2020. His whereabouts remain unknown. It is feared that Dong has been sent back or is at risk of being sent back to China, in violation of Vietnam’s obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement and despite its seats on the UN Human Rights Council.