WTF?! It’s no secret that China’s government monitors its citizens’ online activities, even when they’re abroad, and those who step out of line face imprisonment. A University of Minnesota student discovered this after being arrested for tweets—posted while he was in the US—that mocked President Xi Jinping.
Axios reports that 20-year-old freshman Luo Daiqing was arrested in July last year when he returned to his hometown of Wuhan for the summer break. According to court documents seen by the publication, he was sentenced to six months in prison in November for using "his Twitter account to post more than 40 comments denigrating a national leader's image and indecent pictures," which "created a negative social impact." The tweets were posted in September and October 2018, while he was studying at the University of Minnesota.
Axios found a now-deleted Twitter account belonging to Luo. It included Chinese government slogans posted over images of Lawrence Limburger, a name that may be familiar to fans of 1990s cartoon Biker Mice From Mars. The main villain from the show bears a resemblance to Xi. There were also retweets of Winnie the Pooh—a character that’s banned in China over comparisons to the president.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska has called on China to release the student. "This is what ruthless and paranoid totalitarianism looks like," he said.
Last year, it was reported that China’s government is detaining, interrogating, and threatening its citizens for posting anything considered inappropriate on Twitter. One user, activist Huang Chengcheng, was chained to a chair and questioned for eight hours. Once his ordeal was over, he had to sign a promise to stay off Twitter. While the platform is one of many western websites blocked by China’s Great Firewall, some residents use VPNs to circumvent the ban.
Update: According to The Star Tribune, Daiqing has now been released to his hometown of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak no less.