In Brief

Chinese property mogul jailed after Xi Jinping ‘clown’ jibe

Ren Zhiqiang criticised president’s handling of Covid crisis shortly before being indicted on corruption charges

A Chinese billionaire has been jailed for 18 years just months after publicly describing the country’s president as a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Proprety tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was placed under investigation in April over charges relating to corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. According to a newly released statement from the Beijing No 2 Intermediate Court, the 69-year-old has been imprisoned and fined 4.2 million yuan (£485,000) after he “voluntarily confessed to all charges”.

The court said that Ren - who according to Al Jazeera was once part of the ruling Communist Party’s “inner circle” - had accepted bribes worth 1.25m yuan and embezzled almost 50m yuan.

But as the BBC notes, “rights groups have consistently accused China of using corruption charges as a way to clamp down on dissent” - and many believe that Ren, nicknamed the “Big Cannon” for his outspokenness, may be the victim of those tactics.

Ren landed in hot water in February after penning an essay criticising the Chinese leadership’s response to the Covid pandemic.

“What stands there is not an emperor showing off his ‘new clothes’, but a clown who wants to be an emperor even without clothes on,” he wrote in the blog post. “He would not hide by the slightest his ambition to be an emperor and his determination to eradicate anyone in the way.”

The Times reports that Zen was “thought to have some political immunity because of his links to senior politicians”. However, he disappeared in March and was confirmed to be under investigation by Beijing in April.

China’s court system “has a conviction rate of around 99%” and “corruption charges are often used to go after Communist Party insiders who fall afoul of the leadership”, CNN reports. 

As the BBC’s China correspondent Stephen McDonell says: “If you have not lived in China recently, it might be hard to imagine just how much of a line you are crossing when you publicly criticise Xi Jinping.”

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