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Woman jailed over Twitter joke

A woman in China has been sentenced to a year's hard labour after she used Twitter to repeat a message mocking anti-Japanese protestors.

According to a report from human rights charity Amnesty International, activist Cheng Jianping was sentenced to what the People's Republic calls "re-education through labour" for twelve months after she retweeted an allegedly satirical suggestion about attacking the Japanese Pavillion at the Shanghai Expo.

The report has shades of the Twitter Joke Trial, in which UK citizen Paul Chambers was found guilty of terrorist threats following a posting on Twitter that contained a frustration-fuelled reference to blowing Robin Hood Airport 'sky-high.' The difference in sentences, however, show a markedly different approach by the two countries: while Chambers got away with a £1,000 fine and a criminal record, Cheng disappeared for ten days before being sentenced by the courts to a year's hard labour.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's director for the Asia-Pacific region, said of the sentence: "Sentencing someone to a year in a labour camp, without trial, for simply repeating another person’s clearly satirical observation on Twitter demonstrates the level of China’s repression of online expression."

The original message, posted to Twitter by Cheng's fiance Hua Chunhui, read: "Anti-Japanese demonstrations, smashing Japanese products, that was all done years ago by Guo Quan [an activist and expert on the Nanjing Massacre]. It’s no new trick. If you really wanted to kick it up a notch, you’d immediately fly to Shanghai to smash the Japanese Expo pavilion," proving that 140 characters is a much more generous limit to messages written in Chinese.

The version re-posted by Jianping added "Angry youth, charge!" to the end, which appears to have been taken by the authorities as a call to arms - Hua has not been detained for his original message.

Amnesty International is claiming that Cheng may be the first Chinese citizen to become a 'prisoner of conscience' based on a single posting to Twitter, which is blocked by the Great Firewall of China but widely accessed regardless.