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Ren Zhiqiang - who called Chinese president a 'clown' - jailed for 18 years

China has sentenced an influential former property executive and critic of President Xi Jinping to 18 years in prison for corruption.

Ren Zhiqiang, the former chairman of Huayuan, a state-owned real estate group, was also fined 4.2m yuan, Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court said on its website on Tuesday.

The court verdict said the 69-year-old “voluntarily and truthfully confessed all his crimes”, and would not appeal the court’s decision.

Rights campaigners accuse Xi and the Communist party of using corruption charges as a way to silence dissent.

Ren, an influential critic of the Chinese Communist party who suggested president Xi Jinping was a “clown” over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, was put under investigation in April for “serious violations of discipline and the law”.

The retired property executive went missing in March after writing a critical essay about the outbreak. At the time, Ren’s friends told Reuters they had not been able to contact him, and they were “extremely anxious”.

His essay took aim at a speech Xi made on 23 February, and said it revealed a “crisis of governance” in the party. While it did not mention Xi by name, Ren reportedly wrote that he saw “not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes’, but a clown stripped naked who insisted on continuing being emperor”.

“The reality shown by this epidemic is that the party defends its own interests, the government officials defend their own interests, and the monarch only defends the status and interests of the core,” a translated version of the essay said.

In 2016, Ren was put on probation for a year as punishment for his public criticism of government policy. His social media accounts, which had tens of millions of followers, were shut down.

Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on civil society since Xi took power in 2012, tightening restrictions on freedom of speech and detaining hundreds of activists and lawyers.

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