A Chinese billionaire and critic of President Xi Jinping has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for calling the president a clown.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon suggested president Xi Jinping was a clown over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
He was later charged with corruption-related offenses.
The court verdict said the 69-year-old “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes”, including embezzling some $16.3 million (110.6 million yuan) in public funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that caused losses totaling $17.2 million (116.7 million yuan) for the state-owned property company that he once headed and would not appeal the court’s decision.
Rights campaigners accuse President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of using corruption charges to silence dissent.
Ren, who was once among the ruling Communist Party’s inner circle, disappeared from the public eye in March shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The piece has since been scrubbed from China’s internet, which regularly censors content that challenges the authorities, but was shared widely elsewhere online.
‘This epidemic has revealed the fact that the Party and government officials only care about protecting their own interests, and the monarch only cares about protecting their interests and core position,’ Ren wrote, without naming Xi.
He added: ‘Standing there was not an emperor showing off his new clothes, but a clown stripped of clothes who insisted on being an emperor.’
Judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and imposed a fine of $620,000 (4.2 million yuan).