China sentences Ren Zhiqiang, tycoon who criticized Xi, to 18 years in prison

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This month, Beijing police arrested Geng Xiaonan, a businesswoman who runs a publishing house. Ms. Geng had supported Xu Zhangrun, a law professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University, who had condemned Mr. Xi’s harsh policies in a succession of trials. Mr. Xu was detained by police for about a week in July, and Ms. Geng came to his defense after investigators said he used prostitutes, a charge he vehemently denied.

Police said Ms. Geng and her husband were suspected of illegal business activities. Their supporters say Ms. Geng was targeted for aiding Mr. Xu and other dissidents who wronged the party.

Ms. Cai, the former party school teacher, was expelled from the Communist Party last month after scathingly denouncing Mr. Xi’s policies in speeches and essays. She now lives in the United States.

“This is political persecution, outright,” Ms. Cai said, referring to Mr. Ren’s case. “I think this lawsuit was not due to economic crimes, but to his political views.”

Mr. Ren was arrested in March after criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak that has spread across China and the rest of the world since late last year. Months later, the Communist Party announced that Mr. Ren had been deported and had been the subject of a criminal investigation.

The businessman had published an essay that denounced the Chinese government’s initial mismanagement of the outbreak, which emerged in Wuhan, a city in central China where officials withheld information about the infections.

Mr. Ren said the party’s tight controls on free speech exacerbated the crisis by deterring whistleblowers. He also obliquely referred to Mr. Xi as a “clown.”

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