A Chinese man has received a nine-month prison term for selling virtual private network (VPN) software designed to evade the government’s repressive internet restrictions.
Deng Jiewei of Guangdong province was recently convicted and sentenced for “providing software and tools for invading and illegally controlling the computer information system,” the South China Morning Post reported Monday, citing documents published by the Supreme People’s Court.
China imposes some of the world’s strictest internet censorship laws and for years has targeted commercially available VPNs, one of the easiest methods for bypassing its “Great Firewall” and accessing regionally banned websites such as Google, Facebook and YouTube.
Deng, 26, began selling software in October 2015 that let users “visit foreign websites that could not be accessed by a mainland IP address,” the verdict said.
He was apprehended by authorities the following August and was formally sentenced in March, but court documents concerning his case only began circulating Saturday, the Post reported.
Along with an unidentified business parter, Deng allegedly earned nearly 14,000 yuan, or about $2,136, before being busted, according to the report.
Millions of Chinese residents and citizens use VPN software and similar technologies to circumvent the government’s repressive internet restrictions in order to access any of the thousands of websites barred by regulators, and the subject of Dengs’ arrest dominated discussions afterwards on Weibo, a regional blogging website, the Post reported.
“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?” one Weibo user asked, the report said.
“I am scared we could all be arrested now,” wrote another user, the Shanghaiist reported.
Bloomberg reported in July that China’s three largest state-run telecommunication providers have been ordered to ban all VPNs effective February 2018, but the Ministry of Industry and Information has since called the claim into question. Apple, meanwhile, recently removed dozens of VPN apps from its regional App Store amid pressure from Chinese authorities.