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Critic of China’s president sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges

Chinese real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang
Chinese real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang speaks in Shanghai at a 2010 press reception for his book on China’s property market.
(Chinatopix)

The former chairman of a Chinese state-owned real estate company who publicly criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus crisis was sentenced to 18 years in prison Tuesday on corruption charges, a court announced.

Ren Zhiqiang, who became known for speaking up about censorship and other sensitive topics, disappeared from public view in March after publishing an essay online that accused Xi of mishandling the outbreak that began in December in the central city of Wuhan.

Xi, China’s top leader since 2012, has suppressed criticism, tightened censorship and cracked down on unofficial organizations. Dozens of journalists, labor and human rights activists and others have been imprisoned.

Ren, 69, was convicted of corruption, bribery, embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court announced on its social media account. It cited Ren as saying he wouldn’t appeal.

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Ren, the former chairman and deputy party secretary of Huayuan Group, was expelled from the ruling Chinese Communist Party in July.

In a commentary that circulated on social media, Ren criticized a Feb. 23 video conference with 170,000 officials held early in the pandemic at which Xi announced orders for responding to the disease. Ren did not mention Xi by name but said: “Standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes but a clown who had stripped off his clothes and insisted on being an emperor.”

Top Chinese officials secretly determined in mid-January that a coronavirus pandemic was likely, ordering preparations but downplaying it in public.

Ren criticized propaganda that portrayed Xi — China’s most powerful leader in decades — and other officials as rescuing the country from the coronavirus without mentioning where the crisis began and possible mistakes in its handling, including the suppression of information at the start of the outbreak.

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“People did not see any criticism at the conference. It didn’t investigate and disclose the truth,” Ren wrote, according to a copy published by China Digital Times, a website in California. “No one reviewed or took responsibility. But they are trying to cover up the truth with all kinds of great achievements.”

Ren had an early military career, and his parents were both former high officials in the Communist Party. Some called him a princeling, a term for offspring of the founders of Communist China, a group that includes Xi.


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