Man in China gets 12-year term for putting anti-Communist slogans on TV
Nearly half a million viewers of “The Voice of China,” a popular TV singing competition, got a shock one Friday evening last August when a series of messages denouncing the ruling Communist Party suddenly appeared on their screens.
Slogans including “End the Communist mafia’s tyrannical rule!” “Establish a democratic government!” and “The Communist mafia’s government is the axis of evil in the whole universe!” splashed across the TV screens of 465,000 set-top box users of the state-owned cable TV provider CN Cable Networks in the eastern city of Wenzhou.
Now, a computer programmer has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for spreading the subversive messages, the state-run China Central Television reported Tuesday.
Wang Yibo, 41, a software engineer from the Beijing-based cable network solutions firm NDS, was found guilty of illegally breaching and damaging computer systems and falsely incriminating others, according to the court’s written summary of the verdict.
China’s media is tightly controlled, with censors exerting a heavy hand over newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Breaches such as the one that happened during “The Voice of China” are quite unusual, though the web pages of some state-run news outlets have been hacked before.
After the messages appeared around 7 p.m. that night, the local cable TV provider decided to completely shut down its network for over five hours, until the anti-Communist Party slogans could be removed from its systems.
Police told CCTV that the perpetrator appeared to be very sophisticated and attempted to cover his tracks by wiping all the data and log files on the servers of the cable TV provider. Without digital evidence, it became very difficult to track down where the attack originated.
But the watermarks in the pictures associated with the slogans gave investigators some clue, because the words “powered by NDS” appeared in them, investigators said.
Police summoned over 40 managers and computer engineers from NDS offices in Beijing and Shenzhen. Wang, a veteran programmer who started working for NDS in 2002, was described by co-workers as someone who often complained about not being given important positions or promotions.
At the time of the investigation, Wang was visiting the United States on vacation with his wife and child. Chinese police waited for him to return to Beijing with his family on Aug. 16 last year and took him in for questioning as soon as he stepped out of the Capital Airport.
The written summary of the verdict does not suggest Wang had a history as a vocal anti-Communist crusader. But investigators linked him to two prominent dissidents.
At Wang’s home, the police found a business card of civil rights lawyer and activist Xu Zhiyong, who last year was sentenced to a four-year prison term for disrupting public order. Xu founded the New Citizens Movement, a group that sought to push for rule of law and upholding the rights enshrined in the current Chinese constitution. He is regarded as the most prominent Chinese activist to be sentenced to prison since the 2009 trial of Liu Xiaobo, who was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wang’s wife said that the couple obtained Xu’s business card at a subway station in Beijing and they never contacted Xu.
Police also said they found a receipt at Wang’s home showing he had donated 1,522 renminbi, about $245, to Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei. In recent years, Ai has been detained incommunicado by authorities and in 2011 was hit with a demand for $1.85 million in what Beijing officials said were unpaid taxes. Supporters responded with donations, and Ai issued receipts.
In a phone interview, Wang’s lawyer said there was no evidence Wang had political motives to spread subversive messages.
“Based on my conversation with Wang, I don’t think he’s a person with strong political opinions,” said Shen Genlan, a Wenzhou-based attorney who was hired by Wang’s wife to represent him. “I don’t think he has intentions to [push] some kind of political agenda.”
In Wang’s defense, Shen argued that her client simply made a technical mistake when installing a test program into the cable TV provider’s system. Wang downloaded the test program from the Internet, and the program came with the anti-Communist party messages. Wang forgot to remove the messages before installing the program, she said.
In the end, the court handed Wang a 12-year prison sentence. Shen said she believed the relatively lengthy sentence was due in part to the large number of users who saw the messages.
Wang was first sentenced to 12 years in prison in March. After he appealed, a higher court in Wenzhou upheld the guilty verdict last month.
Tommy Yang in The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.
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