DHARAMSALA, 22 Sept: An outspoken and influential critic of the Chinese Communist Party who labelled Xi Jinping a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus epidemic has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon with close ties to senior Chinese officials was further fined 4.2m yuan according to an announcement on the website of Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court.
According to the court’s ruling, the 69-year-old has “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes” and that he would not appeal the court’s decision.
The former chairman of Huayuan was pronounced guilty of multiple charges, including embezzling some $16.3 million (110.6 million yuan) in public funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that caused losses totalling $17.2 million (116.7 million yuan) for the state-owned property company that he once headed, reports CNN.
Ren was placed under investigation by the Chinese authorities in April for committing “serious violations” of the law and Communist Party regulations, a favoured euphemism for corruption.
Human rights campaigners and activists have long accused Xi and the Communist party of using corruption charges as a way to silence dissent.
He reportedly disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after he published the essay that was fiercely critical of Xi’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
While his essay has been scrubbed from China’s internet that Beijing tightly censors and polices with an iron grip, its copies widely circulated outside China.
Ren has stated in the essay that the “epidemic has revealed the fact that the Party and government officials only care about protecting their own interests while accusing Beijing of concealing the initial outbreak of the COVID-19.
Earlier in 2016, Ren was put on probation for a year as punishment for his public criticism of government policy and his social media accounts, which had tens of millions of followers, were shut down.