Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that a woman in the central province of Hubei was jailed after she posted on social media criticizing the Chinese government Communist Party and its authorities.
45-year-old Liu Yanli was sentenced to four years in prison by the Dongbao District People's Court in Hubei's Jingmen city for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble." This public order was regularly used to target those who go against the regime.
Liu's sister told RFA that Liu previously worked as a bank clerk and was accused of using her social media to criticize the Chinese ruling authorities by "maliciously speculating on hot topics in current affairs," based on her social media posts from four years ago.
While Liu intended on appeal, her sister said that authorities appeared to be deliberately delaying the request. Liu's sister stated, "I think they are deliberately obstructing our appeal. We don't know if they are playing a double game."
She said Liu Yanli had pleaded not guilty at the trial and had refused to "confess" to the charges against her. "We were pleading not guilty, because we have said all along that while Liu Yanli's comments may have been ill-considered, wrong even, they didn't constitute a crime," her sister said.
"They could have used disciplinary or professional guidelines to restrain her, but not the law and the machinery of the state to restrict her personal freedom," she added.
RFA reported that Liu had repeatedly blogged about rights issues on multiple WeChat groups, and campaigned in support of People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans living in hardship, and called on officials to reveal details of their private wealth.
The charges against Liu stem from posts to WeChat, a Chinese version of Twitter. The posts, mostly copied from other online sites, allegedly defame current and former Chinese leaders, such as Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier Zhou Enlai, and President Xi Jinping
Sources told RFA that Liu divorced her husband two years ago in an effort to shield her family from the consequences of her activism. She also attempted suicide while under police surveillance, at which point she was taken to Jingmen Detention Center.
One of the Hubei residents responded that her imprisonment was unfair.
"Everything she wrote is protected by the Constitution, but the Jingmen prosecution has no regard for the Constitution," the Hubei resident said. "Liu Yanli hasn't broken any laws; all her comments on Weibo and WeChat ... fall within the scope of freedom of speech."
"As for the claim that she insulted the country's leaders, freedom of speech means that every citizen has the right to criticize," he added.
"The charges against Ms. Liu are absurd," said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. "Under Chinese law, criminal defamation charges can be applied in relation to defamation of a living person, while several of the former leaders allegedly defamed have been dead for decades. We urge Chinese authorities to drop the charges against Liu, and to cease their suppression of critical voices who speak out against government corruption or ineptitude."