A woman in China’s central province of Hubei has been sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” using her social media accounts.
The court found Liu Yanli, a 45-year-old former bank clerk, guilty of the public order charge, which is usually filed against critics of the communist government.
Radio Free Asia reported the Liu was accused of “maliciously speculating on hot topics in current affairs” based on social media posts from four years ago.
Liu’s sister, Yuehua, told RFA that the government seemed to be “deliberately obstructing” the family’s appeal. “We don’t know if they are playing a double game,” she said.
During trial, Liu pleaded not guilty and refused to “confess” to the charges against her.
“We were pleading not guilty, because we have said all along that while Liu Yanli’s comments may have been ill-considered, wrong even, they didn’t constitute a crime,” her sister said.
“They could have used disciplinary or professional guidelines to restrain her, but not the law and the machinery of the state to restrict her personal freedom,” the sister told RFA.
The report said Liu had repeatedly blogged about human rights issues on social media groups, and campaigned in support of People’s Liberation Army veterans who live in difficult situations.
Liu had been active on social media since 2009, commenting on democracy and politics and circulating articles on WeChat about Chinese President Xi Jinping, former premier Zhou Enlai and chairman Mao Zedong.
Liu’s defense lawyer Wu Kuiming told Voice of America that her treatment resembles detention practices from the Cultural Revolution because the charges all related to her statements online, which should be protected as free speech by China’s Constitution.
The 29 charges listed in the indictment were all related to online remarks, said Wu, pointing out that the case was similar to that of Lin Zhao and Zhang Zhixin, who were shot during the Cultural Revolution because of their “counter-revolutionary” remarks.
Article 35 of the Constitution states that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration.”
“We were not allowed to visit her since the lockdown in January,” said Liu’s sister in a separate interview with Voice of America. “As long as she’s not tortured until she’s crazy, we will continue to appeal.”
Liu made her last public appearance in court on Jan. 30, 2019.
In her final statement, she said: “I’m just an ordinary citizen, I’m not a party member. I use common sense to express my opinions, but now I’m facing a guilty verdict, I don’t think this is in line with the party’s slogan ‘serve the people.'”