Shanghai court jails blogger for seven years over 'subversive' posts

A court in Shanghai has handed a seven-year jail term to the author of a programming and politics blog who evaded government detection for around 12 years after finding him guilty of "incitement to subvert state power," Radio Free Asia has learned.

Ruan Xiaohuan, the 46-year-old author of the formerly anonymous blog ProgramThink on the platform, was detained by the authorities in May 2021 after publishing several posts on evading the Communist Party"s internet censorship and tracking protocols.

The move comes after Apple removed a Twitter-like social media app linked to the Nostr social media platform, which enables users to evade control or censorship by governments or private companies, from its China app store, one day after it was launched.

The court judgment against Ruan referred to more than 100 "political posts" made by Ruan, his wife told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday.

"They didn"t say what my husband had written, but said that the charge was based on more than 100 political posts he made," said Ruan"s wife, who gave only the surname Bei.

"It said that he had set up this blog in 2009 and expressed dissatisfaction with the government over a prolonged period, prompting many people to imitate [his ideas] and circulate them," she said.

"They said the crime was of a serious nature because it had a very bad impact [on society]," she said.

Information security specialist

Ruan, a former information security specialist during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, set up his blog the year after the Games, Bei said.

"My husband basically admits that he wrote the posts, but said he did it in order to make things better," she said. "He also submitted evidence of his contributions to the nation, and never expected that the court would treat it as a serious crime."

"The punishment of seven years is at the lighter end of the possible range of 5-15 years," she said.
"A lot of [Ruan Xiaohuan’s] blog was about how to circumvent the Great Firewall, and how to ensure digital security from online surveillance," says Zhou Fengsuo, chief executive of the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights in China. Credit: Provided by Zhou Fengsuo

Program-Think was nominated for best Chinese blog in the 2013 Deutsche Welle International Best of Blogs awards, or BOBs.

Ruan told the station at the time that he had never set out to write political content to begin with, but just wanted to share his years of experience in programming.

But the blog gradually became popular with people wanting ways to get around government censorship, and later branched out into information security tips and political analysis, the station reported at the time of the blog"s nomination.

Party leaders’ wealth

One of Ruan"s associates told Radio Free Asia at the time of his detention that he was likely detained over an in-depth analysis of party leaders" wealth following the publication of the Panama Papers in 2016, and his political theorizing and anti-brainwashing campaigns.

The person said Ruan"s blog had turned him from an uncritical supporter of the government to someone who "longs for freedom and democracy."

Zhou Fengsuo, chief executive of the U.S.-based NGO Human Rights in China, said Ruan had also provided his readers with in-depth instructions about how to circumvent the Great Firewall of government internet censorship.

"A lot of his blog was about how to circumvent the Great Firewall, and how to ensure digital security from online surveillance," Zhou said.

"A considerable amount of space was also dedicated to the history of the 1989 democracy movement, and the writing was very factual and powerful," he said.

Zhou said Ruan was considered a threat to Communist Party rule under leader Xi Jinping due to his valuable technical expertise.

"Technological innovation is of itself a challenge to a dictatorship," he said. "[Ruan"s expertise] was thorough-going, broad-reaching and long-lasting."

"He kept taking up new technologies to challenge the regime, which inspired a lot of other people," Zhou said. "It"s kind of a miracle that he was able to do so much public activism over so many years."

Ruan has appealed the verdict, his wife said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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