Journalist whose work sparked B.C. political scandal jailed in China for commenting online

VANCOUVER — A former Chinese journalist whose reporting led to a political scandal in Canada has been sentenced to seven months in prison for comments he made online about a patriotic film about Chinese soldiers during the Korean War.

Luo Changping was sentenced this week for comments he made in October mocking the film “The Battle of Changjin Lake” on Chinese social media site Weibo.

“Half a century later, the Chinese still rarely reflect on the injustice of this war, just as the brainwashed idiots of the time would never doubt the Supreme Leader’s ‘wise decision’,” wrote Luo in internet slang on his Weibo account, referring to Chinese soldiers in the film who froze to death.

He quickly deleted the comment, but it had already been viewed by more than 22,000 people, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Luo was arrested in his hometown of Sanya, southern China, and sentenced to prison for “damaging the reputation and honor of national martyrs”, and forced to present a number of public apology, CCTV reported.

In 2018, China passed a law banning the denigrating of the country’s “heroes and martyrs”, and the 1950-1953 Korean War is often used to boost nationalism in the country.

It was Luo’s reporting that exposed the corruption of China’s top federal energy official, Liu Tienan, which made international headlines. The report included allegations of bank fraud involving the purchase of Skeena’s pulp mill in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, with businessman Ni Ritao.

The case quickly reached the halls of power in Victoria, British Columbia.

A reporting team overseen by Luo at Caijing Magazine in 2011 wrote a series of stories accusing Ni of corruption in China, including revelations that Liu’s wife owned a 10% share of Ni’s Prince Rupert business. , which involved an attempt to obtain a loan with fraudulent documents. for the project. Liu was not named in the initial articles.

In 2012, The Globe and Mail reported that then-provincial employment minister Pat Bell forwarded an internal government email including one of the articles to Bill Belsey, then vice-president of the BC Liberal Party who had worked as a consultant for Ni.

Luo then struck again in late 2012, with further reports on his blog that revealed that Liu was a government official implicated in the 2011 scandal and had been involved in the attempt to fraudulently obtain the loan, between other serious allegations.

Liu was convicted of accepting bribes and other crimes by Chinese authorities and sentenced to life in prison in 2014. Ni was jailed for two years in China for another corruption case, according to a 2017 Business in Vancouver article.

The case made headlines again when it emerged that Andrew Wilkinson, then a candidate for provincial legislature who would become leader of the Liberal party years later, was once Ni’s lawyer in his case against Prince. Rupert after the city expropriated the factory for failing to pay its taxes. The case dragged on for years and Ni’s final appeal was dropped, according to the city.

Luo received an Integrity Award from Transparency International for his work on Liu’s larger story and since then has transitioned from journalism to running a media company. But the conviction once again propelled him into the spotlight.

The prison sentence for the comment was called a “small” decision by Sophie Richardson, the China director of Human Rights Watch.

“Are other movie critics also going to jail now?” Richardson asked. “It’s an opinion on a movie, for God’s sake.”

China’s own laws purport to guarantee freedom of expression, she argued.

She said the harsh reaction to a simple online comment about a movie raises questions about the Chinese government’s concerns and priorities.

“I think that’s a bit of a telltale sign of a truly paranoid government,” she said, “not a government that trusts its laws and its courts not to discriminate between inflammatory speech or speech that somehow compromises national security.”

With an Associated Press file

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