Free expression NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged for the release of Chinese political commentator Ou Biaofeng, who was jailed on December 30 by a Hunan court.

Ou Biaofeng. File photo: Ou Biaofeng, via Twitter.

According to RSF, the 42-year-old was jailed for three and a half years for “inciting subversion of state power” and fined 70,000 renminbi (HK$80,073) over an “illegal income” earned from articles written for Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper and the defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily. The articles – which also appeared on the Human Rights Campaign website in China – were critical of Beijing.

“As a political commentator, Ou Biaofeng published fact-based essays that allowed the Chinese public to access information on regime’s human rights abuses despite heavy censorship”, said RSF East Asia bureau head Cédric Alviani in a press release. He urged Beijing to “release him as well as all other press freedom defenders detained in China.”

State detention

Ou had already been under forms of state detention for two years, after originally being detained for 15 days in December 2020 for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” – a charge often used against dissidents in China. He was accused of retweeting a video of “ink girl” Dong Yaoqiong, according to his wife. Dong earned her nickname by defacing a poster of leader Xi Jinping in 2018.

Ou was then placed under “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location,” RSF reports, before being formally charged last July with subversion. He was then moved to the No. 1 Zhuzhou Municipal Detention Center.

In a tweet on the day of his sentencing, Ou’s wife Wei Huanhuan said the verdict was announced on the first day of his trial: “The court session ended after less than 10 minutes, only Ou Biaofeng’s sister was able to attend the hearing because [his] mother and I tested positive on [Covid] PCR tests.”

Apple Daily folded in June 2021 after pro-democracy tycoon Jimmy Lai, and several other senior staff, were charged under Beijing’s sweeping national security legislation.

At least 127 professional and non-professional journalists remain in detention in China, according to RSF. It said the country remains the world’s top jailer of journalists.

Additional reporting: Candice Chau.

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