“Who said talking big won’t get you anywhere? It landed this man in prison!”
“This news gave me chills. I will definitely be more discreet with my online behavior from now on.”
These two comments (in Chinese) indicate how Chinese internet users were taken aback by the news that a man in Beijing was sentenced to nine months in prison for joking about the Islamic State military group (ISIS) on Chinese social media.
A 31-year-old migrant worker confessed (in Chinese) to the Worker’s Daily under the pseudonym of Zhang Qiang 张强. He said that on the night of September 4, 2016, while at home in his rented room, he changed his WeChat profile picture to a photo of Osama Bin Laden and then started chatting in a WeChat group composed of his friends. One of his friends saw the profile picture and teased, “Look, a bigshot just arrived!” Zhang jokingly replied, “Come join ISIS with me” (跟我加入ISIS gēn wǒ jiārù ISIS). He didn’t receive any responses to his joke, and the group members quickly moved on to another topic.
However, one month later, to Zhang’s surprise, he was arrested by officers from the Public Security Bureau of Changping District, and charged with spreading terrorist and extremist propaganda. Even though the police thoroughly inspected Zhang’s mobile phone and computer and discovered nothing related to terrorism other than the joke he made previously, Beijing’s First Intermediate People’s Court found Zhang guilty of violating China’s anti-terrorism law, sentencing him to nine months in prison and imposing a fine of 1,000 yuan ($151) on him.
The Worker’s Daily quotes a lawyer who reminds all internet users in China that “everyone should be aware of their behavior in public, both online and offline.” Zhang seems to have learned that lesson: He told the newspaper that “it never came across my mind that such a joke would cause this much trouble for me — I really regret it.”
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