On the 30th of December, authorities in the Guangdong province of China convicted 24 citizens for discussing and posting personal information about Xi Jinping’s family online. While Chinese authorities handed out varying sentences to all individuals involved, one citizen in particular has been painted as the “primary offender” and has received the most severe punishment. 21-year-old Niu Tengyu, a frequent Esu websites user with over 200 entries online, has received a sentence of 15 years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking disturbances, infringing on citizen’s personal information and conducting illegal business.” However, Niu Tengyu’s mother has revealed that it has not been proven that her son even posted the personal information online and that he has been severely tortured for over 30 days and forced to write a false confession.
Niu Tengyu’s mother has confirmed that one of her son’s arms has been permanently injured and that “he was beaten unconscious several times, then had cold water thrown over him, before being told to confess to being the ringleader.” She then went on to state that “these kids weren’t even the ones who uploaded the photo, but they were used as scapegoats.”
Even Xiao Yanrui, the founder of the Esu website, has declared that Niu Tengyu had no involvement in the post and discussion and is instead being “used as a scapegoat” by the authorities. He emphasized that the originally leaked information that led to their conviction was in fact not even been posted on Esu wiki in the first place, but on other websites such as Red Bank Fund and China Wiki. Even further, he stated that the information was in fact leaked by “corrupt police officers” on these websites.
China refers to these websites as “China’s Dirty Web,” and they are usually hosted on foreign servers outside of China, so they cannot be shut down and the creators and users cannot be arrested. Niu Tengyu’s mother stated that the person in charge of China Wiki “couldn’t be arrested because they were outside the country” and that her son was used as a scapegoat instead in order for the Maoming police department to gain favour with the Chinese Communist Party and “make a contribution” by taking down Esu wiki.
China refers to these as “esu” or vulgar websites, however, users of “esu” websites have never been punished through the judiciary system before for similar doxing cases. Esu Wiki is mostly used as an online meeting place for citizens to share memes and discuss their opinions on various celebrities and athletes, without the fear of censorship. However, with the 2019 leak of information regarding Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law Deng Jiagui and his daughter Xi Mingze’s dates of birth, household registration numbers, Xi Mingze’s new name, and a new leaked photo of her, there is no doubt that this case is of a political nature rather than a judicial one.
Niu Tengyu’s arrest and sentencing are an example of the horrible abuse of power the Chinese Communist Party and the local police departments loyal to them have been showcasing for years. Not only has he been excessively tortured for something that would never even come up in a court of law in democratic countries and has never come up in one in China before, but he was also forced to write a false confession when he didn’t even commit the act because the people responsible could not be arrested and the police department needed a scapegoat.
Xiao Yanrui has mentioned that while it was impossible for Niu Tengyu to leak the information, he did join him on a trip in 2019 to see the Hong Kong protests and that this might be one of the hidden reasons the authorities are cracking down on him specifically.
With Xi Jinping’s influence, it is no surprise that no lawyer wants to represent and defend Niu Tengyu, for fear of repercussions and any lawyer willing to do so has previously been forced to withdraw from the original trial.
The world needs to stop turning a blind eye to China’s constant violation of human rights and needs to ensure that better international systems are set in place in order to support individuals like Niu Tengyu, as well as lawyers and journalists willing to defend people like Niu Tengyu and prevent situations like these from happening again.