Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng.
In January, Axios uncovered the case of a Chinese student who was detained in his hometown for tweets he sent while studying abroad at the University of Minnesota.
A court document from November 5, 2019, revealed that 20-year-old Luō Dàiqīng 罗岱青 was detained in Wuhan last July and eventually sentenced to six months in prison for “provocation” — specifically, tweets containing unflattering depictions of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平. Per Axios, “One tweet superimposed Chinese government slogans over images of Lawrence Limburger, a cartoon villain who bears a resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping.”
What makes the case exceptional is that the student was punished for his social media activity undertaken while outside China’s borders, in September and October 2018. It does not seem to matter that he was using a platform, Twitter, that has been blocked in China since 2009.
While calling for Luo’s release, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) had some harsh words for China: “This is what ruthless and paranoid totalitarianism looks like.” It is indeed troubling to consider the possibility that this case sets a precedent:
Chinese censors aren’t just playing defensive, they’re now bounty hunters. SupChina’s Anthony Tao elaborates in a thread on Twitter; see also this analysis from Donald Clarke, a law professor at George Washington University, on the question of whether China can actually legally prosecute for tweets.