On Tuesday, a court in Beijing found Ren guilty on multiple charges, including embezzling some $16.3 million (110.6 million yuan) in public funds, accepting bribes, and abuse of power that caused losses totaling $17.2 million (116.7 million yuan) for the state-owned property company that he once headed.
Judges sentenced him to 18 years in prison and imposed a fine of $620,000 (4.2 million yuan). The court said he “voluntarily confessed all of his crimes” and “was willing to accept the court’s verdict after all of his illegal gains were recovered.”
Ren’s conviction and heavy sentence appears designed to send a message to other members of the Chinese elite that any public criticism or defiance of Xi will not be tolerated, as Beijing continues to deal with the fallout of the pandemic and faces intense international pressure from Washington and others.
Born into the Communist Party’s ruling elite, the 69-year-old Ren had often been outspoken on Chinese politics, far more than is usually allowed in the authoritarian state.
His forthrightness earned him the nickname “The Cannon” on Chinese social media.
“I saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his ‘new clothes,’ but a clown who stripped off his clothes and insisted on continuing being an emperor,” Ren allegedly wrote of Xi’s address to 170,000 officials across the country at a mass video conference on epidemic control measures on February 23.
The essay went on to accuse the Communist Party of putting its own interests above the safety of the Chinese people, to secure its rule.
“Without a media representing the interests of the people by publishing the actual facts, the people’s lives are being ravaged by both the virus and the major illness of the system,” Ren allegedly wrote.
This is not the first time Ren ran afoul of the Chinese leadership for speaking his mind.
In 2016, he was disciplined after questioning on social media Xi’s demands that Chinese state media must stay absolutely loyal to the party. He was put on a year’s probation for his party membership and his wildly popular account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was shuttered.
This time, however, there appears to be no second chance for Ren. If he serves his full sentence, he will be in his late 80s by the time he is released.
CNN’s James Griffiths, Nectar Gan and Ben Westcott contributed reporting.