A Chinese billionaire who called President Xi Jinping a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been jailed for 18 years on corruption charges.
Ren Zhiqiang, a property mogul, and the former chairman of a state-owned real estate group, Huayuan, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds. He was also fined 4.2million yuan (£484,485) fine, Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court said on its website on Tuesday.
The court verdict said the 69-year-old “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes”, and would not appeal the court’s decision.
Rights campaigners have accused President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of using corruption charges to silence dissent.
Ren, an influential critic of the president and the Chinese Communist party, was put under investigation in April for “serious violations of discipline and the law”.
Back in March, the retired property mogul went missing after writing a critical essay about the coronavirus outbreak. At the time, Ren’s friends told Reuters they had not been able to contact him, and they were “extremely anxious”.
The Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog launched an investigation into Ren in April before the trial opened at a Beijing court on September 11.
His essay took aim at a speech Xi made on 23 February, and said it revealed a “crisis of governance” in the party without mentioning Xi by name.
Ren reportedly wrote that he saw “not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes’, but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor”.
A translated version of the essay said, ‘This epidemic has revealed the fact that the Party and government officials only care about protecting their own interests, and the monarch only cares about protecting their interests and core position,’ Ren wrote, without naming Xi.
He added: ‘Standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes, but a clown stripped of clothes who insisted on being an emperor.’
“The reality shown by this epidemic is that the party defends its own interests, the government officials defend their own interests, and the monarch only defends the status and interests of the core.”
In 2016, Ren was put on probation for a year as punishment for his public criticism of government policy. His social media accounts, which had tens of millions of followers, were shut down.