The case of a Chinese student jailed for tweets he sent while studying in America underscores that being overseas is no protection from Beijing’s censors.
Luo Daiqing, who attends the University of Minnesota in the U.S., was sentenced to six months in jail by a district court in November for “provocation” after he posted tweets that “defaced the image of the country’s leaders” and had a “negative impact” on society. He was detained in his hometown of Wuhan between July 12 and Jan. 11.
A Twitter account linked to Luo posted photos showing government slogans printed over a cartoon villain who looks similar to Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to Axios, which first reported the case Wednesday. The account, which was inaccessible on Thursday, also posted images of Winnie the Pooh, whose likeness is considered sensitive on Chinese social media due to unflattering comparisons to the Communist Party chief.
The case is another sign that China is cracking down on government criticism, even outside its borders. While Twitter’s service is one of many foreign websites banned on the mainland, it’s accessible using virtual private network software that mask a user’s location and Chinese propaganda organizations maintain a robust presence on the platform.
The court said Luo had “confessed” to using a false identity for a post that included altered pictures in a bid to attract attention. He later deleted them after realizing they were “improper.” Human rights groups have long accused Chinese authorities of extracting forced confessions as a condition of release, even though local law excludes such evidence from trial.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment Thursday.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who sits on the Intelligence Committee, criticized the prosecution in a statement.
“The Chinese Communist Party has banned Twitter, so the only people who even saw these tweets were the goons charged with monitoring Chinese citizens while they’re enjoying freedom here in the United States,” Sasse said. “This is what ruthless and paranoid totalitarianism looks like.”