Founder of Chinese Website That Exposes Officials’ Corruption Sentenced to Five Years

January 15, 2021 Updated: January 15, 2021

The founder of a Chinese news site was convicted of “illegal business operations” and sentenced to five years in prison on Jan. 7.

Li Xinde, a news reporter since the 1980s, dedicates himself to exposing government corruption. The veteran citizen journalist founded China Public Opinion Surveillance Net on Oct. 1, 2003, a website that reports on alleged misconduct and corruption of Chinese officials.

The site gained popularity and international recognition in June 2004 when it published photos depicting Li Xin, then-deputy mayor of Jining city, Shandong Province, kneeling in front of his business partner, apparently begging her to stay silent. The report alleged that he laundered money, kidnapped and intimidated a female whistleblower, and generally abused his power as a public official.

A year later, Li Xin was convicted of extorting over 4.5 million yuan (about $695,000) by abusing his position of power. He was sentenced to life in prison. Authorities also confiscated all of his personal property.

Li Xinde (no relation) told Reuters in 2006 that his news site had been shut down before and that many of his blogs were regularly blocked; however, he persistently dodged the Chinese regime’s censorship mechanism to get the news out to the public and hold officials accountable for their wrongdoing.

According to Li’s profile on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent nonprofit that promotes press freedom worldwide, China Public Opinion Surveillance Net published an article on Oct. 16, 2019 alleging that a businessman was wrongfully convicted by the Second Intermediate People’s Court in Tianjin city.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported two days later that Tianjin’s public security bureau (Chinese police), mentioned in the Oct. 16 article, had called Li to demand that the article be removed.

Days later, police from Pizhou county, Jiangsu Province traveled to Beijing and arrested the journalist on Oct. 23 on the charge of conducting “illegal business operations,” according to a report by Radio Free Asia.

Li Xinde’s son, Li Cao, was arrested on the same day with the same charge, in Fuyang city, Anhui Province, the family’s hometown.

Li Xinde’s attorney argued that the stories on the website were verified, reported fairly, and did not constitute “illegal business operations.”

On Jan. 7, 2021, Li Xinde was convicted by Pizhou People’s Court, sentenced to five years in prison, and fined 300,000 yuan (about $46,335). His son pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year, and fined 50,000 yuan (about $7,722).

Many journalists who report on people’s complaints and scrutinized public officials have been arrested, Beijing human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told Taiwan’s government-run Central News Agency (CNA). Liu also pointed out that the son, Li Cao, was pressured into pleading guilty so he could be released on bail to see his ailing mother, who passed away in October 2020, according to the CNA report.

Li Xinde disagrees with the court’s verdict and plans to appeal it.

China Public Opinion Surveillance Net appears to have been shut down. Past domains and could not be accessed.