China locks up influencer as fears grow over increased efforts to silence dissidents

Published (HKT): 2021.04.07 05:55

An internet celebrity from China’s central province of Henan was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment last month, sparking concerns from the country’s legal sector about the increasing efforts made by the authorities to silence dissidents.

Chen Shaotian, also known as Tian Ge or Guoma Ge on social media, was convicted by a Henan court on March 25 of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, a crime punishable by between five and 10 years in jail.

According to the verdict, Chen uploaded about 50 videos on Twitter between last March to January this year to hype up sensitive events taking place in mainland China, attacking the country’s political system, vilifying national officials, harming the national image and causing serious chaos in public places.

His Twitter handle “tiange88” has also been suspended for violating the U.S. social networking platform’s rules.

Chen, a truck driver, rose to prominence during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020. He tweeted a series of videos under the name “national curse,” which quickly gained traction online. His WeChat, TikTok and Kuaishou accounts were also disabled by authorities last February, after he mourned the death of Li Wenliang, known as the whistleblower who sounded the alarm on early COVID-19 infections in Wuhan.

Chen was sentenced for posting a film on an overseas website that mocked the authorities, lawyer Pan Shaomin said.

“Guoma Ge joked about many issues which many others dared not to say otherwise. Everyone felt very happy and hailed him as an internet celebrity. However, the authorities are very afraid of this phenomenon,” Pan said.

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