A wealthy Chinese businessman was sentenced to prison in China after he allegedly criticized President Xi Jinping for hiding the significance of coronavirus from the rest of the world, a court ruled Tuesday.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon who was born into the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling class, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for embezzling $16.3 million in public funds, among other crimes that caused supposedly bled the company he once owned of $17.2 million, CNN reported. Zhiqiang “voluntarily confessed all of his crimes,” the court’s judges said.
Zhiqiang disappeared in March after he allegedly wrote an essay lambasting Chinese leadership’s response to the epidemic, which he allegedly claimed was the result of a corrupt Chinese government.
China’s court system has a conviction rate of around 99%, and has been criticized in the past for conducting unfair trials, CNN reported, citing legal experts. The author of a March essay attributed to Ren criticized the CCP for cracking down on press freedoms and dissent.
The essay did not mention Xi’s name but did call the country’s top leader a “clown,” CNN reported.
“I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown who stripped off his clothes and insisted on continuing being an emperor,” Ren allegedly wrote of the Chinese president’s address to party faithful in February. People in China are being “both the virus and the major illness of the system,” Ren allegedly wrote.
The intelligence community in the U.S. reportedly sent a report to the Trump administration in April explaining how Beijing officials consistently under-report the number of coronavirus cases, Bloomberg reported. Coronavirus task force member Dr. Deborah Birx criticized China for not providing the rest of the world with timely data.
The pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, in December before spreading to the United States, where it has reportedly killed more than 200,000 people, according to data from John Hopkins University.
State-controlled media in China claimed in July that the country quickly reported the viral outbreak to the World Health Organization, which was supported by the WHO’s initial timeline. But an updated WHO timeline in July found that the organization discovered the outbreak from the internet, not from Chinese officials contacting them.
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