A migrant worker in Beijing has been sentenced to nine months in prison for making a joke about ISIS on messaging app WeChat.

The 31-year-old worker, whose name was not revealed, used a picture of deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden as his profile photo when he was talking in a chat group last September, according to state media the Worker’s Daily.

Photo: Pexels.

After another person in the chat group said: “Look, it’s the big man,” the worker said: “Join ISIS with me,” the paper reported. There was no further discussion of the topic after he made the statement.

“One joke brought so much trouble – I really regret it,” he told the paper.

According to the paper, he was summoned by police last October and tried in May. The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court said that the defendant had a weak understanding of the law, and his actions of propagating terrorism and extremism by sending messages in a chat group with over 300 people constituted a crime.

It found him guilty of “propagating terrorism and extremism,” and sentenced him to nine months in prison and a fine of RMB1,000 (HK$1,185).

The crime of “propagating terrorism and extremism” was added in the ninth amendment of the criminal code, passed in 2015. It has a maximum penalty of five years, or more in serious cases.

Another person surnamed Wang uploaded a video with terror and violent content on their QQ account which received many comments and reposts in January, according to Workers’ Daily. He was sentenced to eight months and fined RMB1,000 for the same crime.

Shi Fumao, a lawyer at the Beijing Zhicheng Migrant Workers’ Legal Aid and Research Center cautioned the public to watch what they say online.

“Everyone should take warning [from] the above cases,” he told the Workers’ Daily. “In public places, public online platforms, [you] must watch your words and actions, or there may be a risk of violating the law or even committing a crime.”

New regulations were recently introduced in China, making chat group administrators responsible — and even criminally liable — for messages containing politically sensitive material, rumors and violent or pornographic content. They also require all chat room users in mainland China to verify their real identity.

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Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.