Jail for critic of Beijing's online censorship

The firewall refers to China's restrictions on citizens that prevent them from accessing international sites such as Google.
The firewall refers to China's restrictions on citizens that prevent them from accessing international sites such as Google.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • A Chinese former journalist who once urged the United States to help "tear down" Beijing's online censorship regime has been sentenced to 1 1/2 years in jail.

Zhang Jialong's sentence last Friday comes more than a year after he was detained by the police for "picking quarrels and provoking troubles", an accusation often used against human rights activists and dissidents in China.

Zhang, 32, made headlines in 2014 when he met former US secretary of state John Kerry in Beijing and requested his help to "tear down the Great Firewall of censorship".

The firewall refers to the country's restrictions on citizens that prevent them from accessing international sites such as Google, or reading online news critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

Zhang's wife Shao Yuan told Agence France-Presse yesterday that she learnt of his sentence from his lawyer last Friday, and had mixed feelings about the outcome.

Zhang has already been in detention since August 2019, time which counts towards his sentence, meaning he will likely be released before Chinese New Year, she said.

"Our child and I have been looking forward to his return... the process has been very long and very painful.

"But at the same time, I'm sad and worried. I'm sad because... such a righteous and kind person was taken and sentenced."

Tweets by Zhang on social media, including a series he wrote on Internet freedoms and human rights, were presented in court as evidence of his ideological views, Ms Shao said.

Zhang was fired from his job at Internet firm Tencent shortly after his 2014 meeting with Mr Kerry, and has since maintained a low profile.

As a reporter for financial news outlet Caijing, he was detained for three days in 2011 over posts about the demolition of artist and dissident Ai Weiwei's workshop in Shanghai.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2021, with the headline 'Jail for critic of Beijing's online censorship'. Print Edition | Subscribe