The founder of a Beijing public relations company which allegedly orchestrated some of China’s biggest internet scandals has been sentenced to four years in prison for “operating an illegal business”.
Yang Xiuyu, 41, had “hyped” scandals that have dominated Chinese public debate in recent years and profited from the celebrity of the starlets he created in his social media campaigns, a court in the capital said, reports South China Morning Post.
Among those online stars is Guo Meimei, 23, who caused an outcry in 2011 by flaunting her wealth and claiming to work for the Chinese Red Cross. The charity’s income from donations plummeted in the aftermath of the scandal.
Guo was detained in June for illegal bookmaking and has since been formally arrested. Another of Yang’s purported starlets is Gan Lulu, according to court documents, a car show model known nationwide for her appearances in risqué clothing.
In a last media campaign prior to his detention last year, Yang questioned the frugality of Lei Feng, a Cultural Revolution-era model worker. Yang spotted the possibility of profiting from China’s social media boom as early as 2008, before the advent of microblogs, the court said.
Yang operated through two Beijing companies, Erma Tianxian and Erma Interactive Marketing and Planning, the court said. The companies exploited the obscure content management environment of Chinese microblog platforms, where they were able to delete microblog posts detrimental to their clients’ image and hyping others.
While Yang is a minority shareholder in Erma Tianxian, the local company registry shows that he currently holds no stake in Erma Interactive. The court fined Erma Tianxian 500,000 yuan (HK$631,200) and Erma Interactive 250,000 yuan.
Erma Interactive had earned more than 10 million yuan over the past seven years, the People’s Daily claimed last year. Yang’s sentence is relatively light compared to that of Dong Rubin, a blogger based in the southwestern province of Yunnan, who was jailed for 6 ½ years in July on the same charges.
He was accused of profiting from social discontent by hyping outrage over cases of social injustice. Yang’s employee Qin Zhihui, better known by his cyber alias Qin Huohuo, became the first person to be sentenced in a widespread crackdown on internet rumours and dissenting voices online in April.
Qin was jailed for three years on charges of “slander” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Hundreds of others have been detained on similar charges, rights groups said. Yang was also fined 150,000 yuan. Another Erma employee was also jailed and fined. Neither of them immediately appealed the verdicts.