Last weekend, the Guangzhou-based dissident and activist Guo Fengxiong (郭飞雄, real name Yang Maodong 杨茂东) was reported missing for several days. A local source later tweeted that he was safe but on Saturday, August 17, Guo’s sister, as well as his lawyer, confirmed to the media that he had been criminally detained since August 8th for allegedly “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” according to the detention notice his sister received.
His lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) said the direct reason for Guo Feixiong’s arrest has to do with his involvement in the street demonstration in support of the Southern Weekend at the beginning of the year, but the lawyer also pointed to the recent wave of arrests of dissidents and activists.
In a video interview on the protest scene, Mr. Guo told people that all political reform must start by allowing people to exercise their political rights, and allowing them to demonstrate and protest. But he said the first step should be freedom of expression that liberates people’s voices. He told onlookers that democracy is sovereignty by the people who elect their leaders on all levels. He said China’s censorship is the most reactionary system of thought policing and should have long been abolished. He said that we came out to support the Southern Weekend not just because they were repressed, but to fight for the universal right of freedom of speech that enables us to check power and put it in a fish bowl.
Ironically, at the beginning of the video, he praised a young man called Liu Yuandong (刘远东) who, in the background, was giving a speech. He told the audience that this group of young people had been active on Guangzhou’s streets for two years and had been repeatedly detained and tortured, but they carried it on without giving up. He even praised the government for tolerating them and expressed optimism over the advanced development of civic awareness in the south. But one month after Guo Feixiong’s comment, in February, Liu Yuandong was arrested on trumped up financial charges. While he is still in jail waiting for trial, which is long overdue according to China’s own law, others in his group have been, over the past months, detained (Yang Tingjian 杨霆剑, Sun Desheng 孙德胜), arrested (Huang Wenxun 黄文勋), or driven out of Guangzhou (several of them).
Beginning in 2003, Mr. Guo has been engaged in online activism and offline social movements. He was a seminal figure in the rise of China’s rights movement along with Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), living under house arrest for a long time, and Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), now serving a three-year sentence in the remote Shaya prison in Xinjiang after being disappeared for several years and subjected to the most horrendous tortures.
In 2005 Mr. Guo provided legal assistance to villagers of Taishi (太石村) in Panyu District of Guangdong province who wanted to impeach their village officials for corruption. He was criminally detained for his involvement and staged a hunger strike in protest.
After that, he was active in many rights struggles, sustaining more detentions and physical abuses. In 2007, he was convicted of “conducting illegal business” and sentenced to five years in prison. The international community and human rights groups roundly condemned the sentence and the Chinese government’s political persecution through trumped-up non-political charges.
Mr. Guo Feixiong was released in 2011. Since then, he has been involved in the Wukan elections and the investigation of Li Wangyang’s death. In March of this year, he was one of the initiators of a signature campaign calling for ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Over the years, he has been repeatedly summoned by police, restrained in his freedom of movement, including living under secret house arrest.
Mr. Guo’s lawyers are on their way to meet with their client.
Activist Wen Yunchao (温云超), now living in New York city, believes that the wide-spread arrests are far from being concluded, and that the Chinese government probably has long determined who to arrest but, to divert attention, it probably is taking people in intervals.
Last weekend, Shanghai-based activist Li Huaping (李化平), a key figure in the New Citizens’ Movement and a close associate of Xu Zhiyong, was criminally detained in Changsha. On August 2, Liu Jiacai (刘家财), an organizer of the same-city citizens’ dinner parties in Yichang, Hubei (湖北宜昌), was detained, and earlier this week, his family received notice of his criminal detention and learned that he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Since Xi Jinping came to office, Chinese authorities have already detained or formally arrested over 100 citizens for exercising their political rights (not including arrests in Tibet and Xinjiang for information scarcity), more than the total number during the ten years that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were in power.
Of the extraordinary number of arrests, Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) commented: “Comparing to the two waves of large-scale crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights citizens in 2011 during the Jasmine Revolution and this year, their methods have become more refined. They have been taking down their targets one by one in careful steps, and they have aimed at particular forms of activities. Beyond that, they have to some degree succeeded in dividing the pro-democracy camp.”
Dissident intellectual Mo Zhixu (莫之许) is quoted as saying, “The wheels of the neo-totalitarianism are rolling fast toward us. Private think tanks, rights lawyers and house churches will be hit next. It’s inevitable. Harbor no illusions, but don’t despair either.”