Chinese authorities on Sunday shut down the social media accounts of a tycoon nicknamed “The Cannon” after he criticised the ruling Communist Party’s tightening grip on the media.
The move by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) against Ren Zhiqiang came just over a week after President Xi Jinping visited state media and ordered them to follow the party line more closely.
The Internet regulator ordered the microblogging platforms of Sina and Tencent to shut down Ren’s accounts “for spreading illegal information”, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“Cyberspace is not a lawless field and it should not be used to spread illegal information by anyone,” said CAC spokesperson Jiang Jun.
Ren’s accounts were closed after netizens reported that he had regularly posted illegal information, “resulting in a vile influence”, according to Jiang.
The spokesperson, vowing intensified efforts to monitor online content, told celebrity microbloggers to “shoulder their due social responsibilities, and promote ‘positive energy’ actively”.
Last Monday state media blasted Ren, an outspoken property tycoon, for criticising the party’s tightening media grip and Xi’s tour of official outlets.
Ren, nicknamed “the Cannon” for his provocative opinions and blunt defences of economic inequality, was the target of twin columns in the state-affiliated news portal Qianlong for questioning on social media whether public money should be spent on party propaganda.
“When did the people’s government change into the party’s government?” the commentary quoted Ren’s since-deleted post as saying. “Is their money the party’s? … Don’t use taxpayers’ money for things that don’t provide them with services.”
One of the Qianlong articles — headlined “Who gave Ren the confidence to oppose the Party” — accused the businessman of making capitalist arguments and pursuing Western constitutionalism.
The other castigated him for failing to defend the interests of the party of which he is a member.
The party tolerates no opposition to its rule and newspapers, websites, and broadcast media are strictly controlled. An army of censors patrols social media and many Western news websites are blocked.
Ren has previously drawn flak for calling state-run broadcaster CCTV “the dumbest pig on earth” and for his blunt statements defending the high prices of real estate, once angering an audience member so much that they threw a shoe at him.
He retired from his Beijing-based property company in 2014 and has a following on Sina Weibo of 37 million.