A man has been sentenced to nine months in jail for selling VPNs to help Chinese internet users get around the country’s infamous internet restrictions, according to a recently unveiled court decision that is alarming all netizens who have ever snuck around the Great Firewall.
Deng Jiewei, a 26-year-old man from Dongguan, had been selling two VPN services on his website, making nearly 14,000 yuan from the software before being detained by police last August.
In March, Deng was convicted of “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system,” reports the South China Morning Post, citing court documents posted to the website of China’s Supreme Court which were only recently circulated on Chinese social media. For his crime, Deng was sentenced to nine months in jail.
The jailing has raised discussion and sparked fears online with many nervously wondering what kind of precedent this case has set, especially in regards to their own VPN use.
“If selling a VPN means a conviction for ‘providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system,’ then everyone here who uses a VPN to evade the Great Firewall can also be convicted of illegally invading or illegally controlling the computer information system, right?” reads one Weibo commented noted by SCMP.
What’s on Weibo points out similar worries among netizens with one Weibo user writing: “I am scared we could all be arrested now.”
As confusion over the sentencing reigns online, it at least appears clear that the Chinese government is intent on further tightening its already impressive internet regulations and censorship. Back in January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced a crackdown against unauthorized VPNs used to conduct business across borders. Then, in June, the ministry was forced to deny a report from Bloomberg which alleged that China was planning to ban all personal VPNs by next February.
Meanwhile, the municipal government of Chongqing has published rules which state that internet users who profit from VPN connections could face fines of up to 15,000 yuan, one VPN service, GreenVPN has notified its users that it has been forced to shut down after “receiving a notice from regulatory departments,” and even Apple has kowtowed to Chinese censors, removing all foreign VPN apps from its China App Store.
Follow Shanghaiist on WeChat