University of Minnesota Student Jailed for Tweeting About Xi

A University of Minnesota student was arrested in China for tweeting about President Xi Jinping. (Image:  pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
A University of Minnesota student was arrested in China for tweeting about President Xi Jinping. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A Chinese student was sent to prison for six months for tweeting images deemed “insulting” to President Xi Jinping. The student, 20-year-old Luo Daiqing, was studying at the University of Minnesota in the U.S. when he posted the images.

Arrested for tweeting

“One tweet superimposed Chinese government slogans over images of Lawrence Limburger, a cartoon villain who bears a resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping… The account also retweeted several images of Winnie the Pooh, a character currently censored in China after Chinese netizens made an unflattering comparison to Xi,” according to Axios.

Court documents state that Luo has made over 40 comments denigrating the Chinese leader, thereby creating a “negative social impact.” He was detained for several months before being sent to prison in November 2019 under the charges of “provocation.” The time he spent in detainment was deducted from the jail term. According to the university, the student has now been released and is currently at his hometown in Wuhan, which at present is gaining international attention as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

The account also retweeted several images of Winnie the Pooh, a character currently censored in China after Chinese netizens made an unflattering comparison to Xi. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The account also retweeted several images of Winnie the Pooh, a character currently censored in China after Chinese netizens made an unflattering comparison to Xi. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

University administrators clarified that while Luo was a student for the 2018-2019 academic year, he is currently not enrolled at the university. It is estimated that more than 3,000 students from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong currently study at the University of Minnesota. When news of Luo’s prison sentence broke out, several U.S. politicians condemned the judgment.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse reminded that Luo’s arrest is a perfect example of how authoritarianism looks like. He suggested that the university give Luo a full-ride scholarship. James Tager, deputy director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, pointed out that China’s laws against freedom of expression basically risk classifying everyday people as potential criminals.

“It is obvious that China is attempting to send a signal with Luo Daiqing’s conviction — they are telling overseas Chinese citizens that there is no place where they are free from state censorship and surveillance… That what you say in America or elsewhere will have consequences for you within China. That the reach of their censorship is inescapable. Luo’s case has implications for every Chinese student studying abroad, and for every academic institution that seeks to safeguard its students’ freedom of speech,” he said in a statement (PEN).

China’s laws against freedom of expression basically risk classifying everyday people as potential criminals.(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

China’s laws against freedom of expression basically risk classifying everyday people as potential criminals. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

US company data

In October last year, the Chinese government passed a cybersecurity law that puts pressure on foreign companies to share user data with the state. Senator Rick Scott believes that the law is intended to steal American IP while also putting the private data of millions of people at risk. “I think all of us have to understand if we give data to China, they can use it against us… We have to be absolutely clear we are not going to do business with China and let them have our information,” he said to CNBC.

According to the new laws, all foreign companies will have to hand over encryption keys to the state. They are likely to be banned from using VPNs to circumvent the rules. The law also gives the Chinese regime the right to share any information it collects from these companies with state-owned corporations. In the recently signed U.S.-China trade deal, Beijing had committed to strengthening IP protection. However, issues like cybersecurity were not discussed. 

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