A Chinese online activist was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on Wednesday amid an ongoing crackdown on free speech in the country, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reports.
Dong Rubin, an outspoken advocate for human rights and environmental protections in China, received the jail sentence and a sizable fine on charges of “creating a disturbance” and “illegal business operations.”
Dong reportedly suffered harsh treatment during his pre-trial detention:
At trial, Dong told the judge that he was subjected to 7-to-8-hour interrogation sessions while chained to a chair over 70 to 80 straight days, including when he was sick and receiving medication intravenously. During interrogations, police intimidated him and made threats related to Dong’s colleagues and friends. Dong asked the court to remove the prosecutors handling his case to avoid a conflict of interest; the same prosecutors who interrogated Dong about his online posting that questioned authorities’ handling of the suspects of the 2012 killing of Chinese citizens on the Mekong River had also handled the Mekong case.
The court that convicted Dong also appears to have applied criminal laws retroactively:
Dong’s sentencing raises concerns over suspected retroactive application of criminal laws, according to his lawyer Wang Pu. On September 6, 2013, days after Dong was initially taken into custody, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate jointly issued a judicial interpretation that rendered certain acts of online expression criminally punishable as “defamation,” “illegal business operations,” and “creating a disturbance.” In its verdict, the Yunnan court invoked the interpretation as basis for convicting Dong, despite other judicial interpretations that prohibit laws to be imposed ex post facto. As with some other cases, Dong’s prison term is a concrete reminder that the 2013 interpretation is being applied to legitimize persecution of netizens and inhibit free speech online.
Dong is the 13th person to receive a jail sentence as Chinese authorities round-up anti-corruption activists and other pro-democracy advocates.
There have been more than 1,600 reported cases since 2012 of human rights activists who were detained for at least five days, and in some cases tortured or mistreated, according to CHRD.