Communist Party officials in Beijing have pledged to “seriously punish” a retired property developer who criticized President Xi Jinping’s attempt to bring state media to heel.
Former Huayuan Property Co. Ltd. chairman Ren Zhiqiang is being made an example for other party members to learn from, Bloomberg reports.
Ren “constantly issued illegal information and wrong opinions on the internet, which caused a baneful influence and seriously damaged the image of the party,” the party committee in Beijing’s Xicheng district said in a statement posted Monday on its Weibo account.
The tycoon, a friend of party discipline chief Wang Qishan, was known for airing outspoken views to his more than 37 million Weibo followers before China’s internet regulators ordered his social media accounts closed Sunday.
Ren published a post Feb. 19 criticizing Xi’s demand for the state media to “preserve the authority of the party” as conflicting with the duty of media outlets to the taxpayers who fund their budgets. He asked whether the media should serve the party or the people.
The Xicheng committee, which represents the district where Huayuan Property is located, said: “Any comment from a Communist Party member that is not in line with the party’s policy and direction, no matter if published on the internet or in the media, is not allowed by the party’s regulations.”
Ren stepped down as chairman of the state-owned enterprise in 2014.
The committee’s statement sends a message to top party officials from around the country who are gathering in Beijing this week for the National People’s Congress, the one time each year when many of them are accessible to the media.
Since taking control of the party in November 2012, Xi has waged twin campaigns against official corruption and public dissent, punishing more than 100 high-ranking officials for graft and jailing journalists and rights advocates.
In October, the Politburo issued regulations saying the party’s 88 million members “should not improperly discuss the central leadership’s policies and direction and destroy party unity”.
While China has been cracking down on influential web commentators for more than two years, Ren had so far been spared.
The former developer told Bloomberg News in an interview last year that he shared frequent phone calls with Wang, who is spearheading Xi’s signature anti-corruption campaign, and that they met a few times a year.
Ren’s comments about Xi’s media policies appear to have crossed the line.
On Monday, a news site affiliated with Beijing’s municipal party committee published a commentary accusing Ren of spreading “anti-Communist Party” thought.
The commentary on the site Qianlong included a cryptic comment that appeared to refer to Ren’s political connections: “For a person like Ren who loves to call leaders in the middle of the night, who gave him the courage to stand out to tear down the wall?”
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