Zhang Haitao (张海涛), a 44 year-old rights activist, was sentenced to 19 years in prison over writing critical posts online about government policy in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Zhang was convicted of “incitement to subvert state power” and “providing intelligence overseas”. On top of his prison sentence, Zhang was ordered the confiscation of his personal assets of 120,000 yuan ($18,000).
Zhang was handed down his sentence by the Intermediate People’s Court in Urumqi, Xinjiang’s regional capital. Xinjiang has a majority of 58% Muslim ethnic group. According to RFA, the court had noted that Zhang deserved an exacerbated sentence since he “colluded” with overseas organizations.
The charges against Zhang referred to articles that he posted online, in which he criticised Beijing’s record in Xinjiang, where several violent clashes between the Chinese authorities and activists occurred in recent years.
Zhang, originally from Henan province, is a prominent opinionated blogger, known for his critical opinions against the Beijing government’s policies. Zhang has been in constant contact with overseas media and published many articles in China and abroad.
China Change reports that Zhang had been under constant police surveillance in the past five years:
“When the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the Two Meetings approaches, the police often briefly detain him to prevent him from commemorating those who died in the Massacre or creating any “instabilities”.
Zhang, a Han Chinese, was arrested in June 2015 on less severe charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble”. However, the charges were later replaced with more serious charges during his incarceration. His current sentence is considered to be significantly harsh, even in relation to the severe charges. This raises the suspicion that his sentence is being used as a governmental measure to pressure other critical bloggers into self-censorship.