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Punishing criticisms outdated in today's China

By Yu Jincui (Global Times)

09:57, October 12, 2012

Ren Jianyu, a 25-year-old former college student "village official" in Pengshui county of Chongqing, is waiting for justice. Ren was given a two-year re-education through labor sentence for "attacking" the government by writing and reposting over 100 comments considered to have a "negative" social impact in August last year. Chongqing's Third Intermediate People's Court heard Ren's appeal on Wednesday, but said it still needed time to reach a verdict.

Many have voiced their support for Ren and are optimistic that he will find justice. It's worrying that people can still be punished for expressing or writing critical thoughts in modern China. Ren's case is not an isolated one. Last November, a netizen in Jiangsu was detained for nine days due to a post criticizing the local traffic police. And Peng Hong, another Chongqing resident, was ordered to take a two-year re-education through labor punishment as he reposted and commented on comics that mocked the city's crackdown on gangs in 2009.

With the popularity of the Internet surging, some punishments have been meted out to netizens who criticize officials and governments. Media reports estimate that between 2006 and 2009, there were at least 20 cases nationwide involving punishments for expressing critical thoughts through new media.

Being sentenced for negative expressions was a political tradition that prevailed in some countries before the 20th century. It's outdated and goes against today's freedom of speech and rule of law.

It's ridiculous that a T-shirt of Ren's saying "Give me liberty or give me death!" has been taken as evidence of his anti-social guilt. An open society should be tolerant of diverse thoughts and respect freedom of speech. As long as it doesn't hurt individuals or harm society.

Expression of public opinion and criticisms are the basis of public supervision, which can mirror social problems, help improve social governance and push forward society's progress. The public needs an open environment for expressing opinions. Otherwise, public supervision cannot function well and people will gradually lose confidence.

This case not only concerns him, but also the country's ability to protect freedom of expression.


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