While Luo Daiqing was studying at the University of Minnesota, he enjoyed easier access to Twitter, one of a handful of foreign websites banned in China, only accessible from the mainland by using virtual private network software.
According to Chinese court documents obtained by Axios, Luo, 20, is in trouble in his native country for the stuff he posted while he was here. He allegedly “created negative social impact” by tweeting more than 40 comments “denigrating a national leader’s image and indecent pictures.”
What exactly does that mean? Allegedly, in September and October 2018, Luo posted a bunch of stills of Lawrence Limburger, a cartoon villain from the 1993 TV show, Biker Mice from Mars. Canonically, Limburger is an evil alien from the planet Plutark in the guise of a Chicagoan industrialist.
More importantly, some think the character happens to look a lot like Chinese President Xi Jinping. The images Luo is said to have tweeted, which put Chinese government slogans over images of Limburger, reportedly looked something like this.
Luo also allegedly retweeted some pictures of Winnie the Pooh. That sounds benign enough until you know that Pooh has also been banned in China because people keep comparing the bear of very little brain to President Xi.
It's #WinnieThePoohDay!— James Mendur (@JamesMendur) January 18, 2020
One of these images is Winnie the Pooh. The other is President Xi Jinping of China, who banned WInnie the Pooh because nobody can tell which is which. pic.twitter.com/wYuBfaY4yF
According to Axios, a court document says Luo was sentenced in November to six months in prison for “provocation.” Luo returned home to Wuhan after the spring semester, and he was reportedly detained in July. His last tweet was posted in June.
The court said Luo “confessed” to using a false identity and posting the altered pictures to attract attention, and to deleting them later after realizing they were “improper.” It’s probably best to take that with a grain of salt, as Chinese authorities have long been accused of obtaining forced confessions in exchange for the prisoners’ release.
A University of Minnesota spokesperson has told news outlets school officials know what’s going on, but don’t have any additional information on Luo's situation.
The case marks a continuation of the Chinese government’s attempts to control free speech, even outside the country. On Wednesday night, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) issued a statement calling the arrest “ruthless and paranoid totalitarianism,” and demanding Luo’s release.
“Don’t forget that the Chinese Communist Party has banned Twitter, so the only people who even saw these tweets were the goons charged with monitoring Chinese citizens while they’re enjoying freedom here in the United States,” he said.
On Twitter, people aren’t putting it as delicately.
“Fuck the Chinese government,” one commenter said.