Chinese entrepreneur Geng Xiaonan and her husband Qin Zhen, who have publicly voiced support for dissidents in China, were sentenced to prison on Feb. 9 after being convicted of illegal business operations.
The court, in the Haidian district of Beijing, sentenced Geng to three years in prison and Qin to two and a half years, with three years of probation.
In her personal statement, Geng pleaded guilty and expressed her wish to be held accountable for all the charges filed by the prosecution.
Geng, a publisher and artist, has been a consistent supporter of Chinese dissidents on social media, once saying they were heroes contributing to a more democratic China. According to Cai, Geng has provided financial assistance to many people who faced charges from Chinese authorities, including Xu, and Bao Tong, former policy secretary under China’s late premier Zhao Ziyang.
She also called for the release of citizen journalist Chen Qiushi, who provided firsthand reports of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan last year.
Friends of the couple weren’t permitted to attend the hearing, according to tweets by Beijing-based independent journalist Gao Yu. Meanwhile, police blocked a close friend of the couple and former professor at Tsinghua University, Xu Zhangrun, from leaving his home or going to the court.
Gao said in a tweet that she thinks Geng admitted guilt to avoid implicating her loved ones, subordinates at work, and business partners in two printing house companies. Gao said Geng likely wanted to ensure they wouldn’t get in trouble amid the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 12 and is traditionally the holiday for Chinese families to reunite.
“[Chinese] authorities prevented her friends from attending the hearing … within hours, the recorded video [of the hearing] disappeared [online]. To put it plainly, [Chinese authorities] imposed political persecution on her and are afraid of global attention on her at the same time,” Cai said.
On Sept. 9, 2020, Geng and her husband were taken into custody by police in Haidian district. Her friends suspect she was detained because of her support for Chinese dissidents.
On Oct. 21, Chinese intellectuals wrote an open letter to top Chinese leaders, calling for the immediate release of Geng and her husband. Signatories included Xu; Tsinghua University professor Guo Yuhua; two professors from Peking University, He Weifang and Zhang Qianfan; Hao Jian, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies; and Li Xianting, a Chinese art critic.
They noted in their letter that the charge of operating an illegal business operation was a vague accusation that is now used by Chinese authorities for political persecution of human rights defenders in corporate China.
On Nov. 12, another open letter addressed to Chinese leader Xi Jinping was sent by the Committee of Concerned Scientists in an attempt to press for the couple’s release.
The Committee of Concerned Scientists is a Washington-based independent body of scientists, physicians, engineers, and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and academic freedom.