Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have jailed a rights activist and citizen journalist for three-and-a-half years on public order charges for getting overseas funding and providing information to human rights groups.
Zhou Weilin was found guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), by the Feidong County People’s Court following a secret trial in November 2020.
Lawyer Liang Xiaojun said the case was related to overseas funding, as well as his reports to the rights website Weiquanwang.
“He posted on Twitter, and he also wrote reports for Weiquanwang on topics relating to local petitioners,” Liang told RFA.
According to the judgment, Zhou had “repeatedly submitted posts and articles to overseas social media platforms and websites … fabricating stories and making false statements with the help of overseas funds.”
“[He also] maligned China’s judicial system and damaged the country’s international image, causing serious social disturbance and making trouble,” it said.
A person familiar with the case told RFA that Zhou’s trial had been conducted by video call.
“The trial wasn’t public, and he remained in the detention center and attended the trial remotely using video,” the person said. “Nobody was allowed into the court, and the whole thing was locked down.”
They added that Zhou was innocent and would likely appeal.
Liang said Zhou had been very open about his activities online.
“Weiquanwang has a lot of informants, but he made it very clear on his Twitter account that he was Zhou Weilin, and that he was an informant for an overseas website,” Liang said. “He also made it very clear that he was in receipt of overseas funding.”
“He believed that what he was doing fell within his right to free speech and defending people’s rights, but the court didn’t agree,” he said.
Zhou, 56, is a former employee of a state-owned enterprise in Anhui who was forced into long-term petitioning after failing to get appropriate treatment or compensation following the loss of his job after a workplace injury.
He later began writing reports on human rights issues using his real name.
In 2014, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” after he protested the exclusion of the daughter of veteran dissident Zhang Lin from a primary school in Anhui’s provincial capital Hefei.
Constitutional scholar Yao Lifa said it was unclear whether Zhou’s sentence was the start of a crackdown on Weiquanwang.
“I’m not sure whether the sentence handed down to Zhou Weilin is an attack on Weiquanwang,” Yao said.
“But it is definitely going to increase the pressure on other Weiquanwang informants, who report on the darker side of our society, revealing its scandals and wrongdoing.”
“I think a lot of local officials are racking their brains trying to locate those informants,” he said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.