By China Change, published: June 26, 2014
Apart from Beijing and Guangzhou, the other Chinese city where large-scale arrests of citizen activists and rights lawyers have taken place is Zhengzhou (郑州), midway on the Beijing-Guangzhou transportation artery and the capital of Henan province (河南省). Between May 8 and June 21, twelve have been arrested for allegations either of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” or of “provoking disturbance” and they include two rights lawyers, two journalists, young internet activists, petitioner-turned-activists, and hosts of civil gatherings and activities, a typical array of China’s social activism in general.
One can say that the June 4th anniversary prompted the arrests that occurred across China over the last two months or so because the CCP was afraid of protest or commemoration by civil society. Three weeks have passed since June 4th, while some have been released (they cannot afford to try too many without paying a heavy price for it), those who haven’t been released and who could be facing indictment and trials really tell the story of what the CCP is after.
In Beijing, Xi Jinping’s sword has fallen on lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and journalist Gao Yu. The arrests and trials of the New Citizens Movement have aimed at smashing emerging networking and coalescing of citizens. Of those who have recently been detained as part of the knee-jerk reaction to the Tiananmen anniversary, the Chinese government singled out Pu Zhiqiang for persecution. It is a hateful reprisal against a prominent but also charismatic human rights lawyer (he has been a defense lawyer in many high profile cases, notably Ai Weiwei’s Fake tax case in 2012 and Sichuan writer Tan Zuoren’s case; and he was instrumental in pushing to abolish the barbaric and extralegal re-education through labor system in China through the Tang Hui case and the Ren Jianyu case among others). It also serves as a stern warning to the growing rights lawyer community in China. Gao Yu is an insider of the Beijing circle of CCP critics comprised of former senior advisors and policy makers such as Bao Tong, Yao Jianfu who center around the Yan Hung Chun Qiu magazine (《炎黄春秋》). The arrest, humiliation on CCTV, and possible trial of Gao Yu is meant to deal them a blow and warning.
In Guangzhou, Guo Feixiong (Yang Maodong)(link in Chinese), one of China’s rights movement pioneers and a veteran activist and two-term political prisoner, was indicted on June 20, according to his lawyer Zhang Xuezhong. Meanwhile, Tang Jingling, another rights movement pioneer and advocate of the civil disobedience movement, and two others were formally arrested on June 21 for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Aizhong, one of the initiators of the Southern Street Movement, was criminally detained on May 29, but in a good piece of news, he has been released today (June 25) “on bail pending trial.” In Xinyu, three New Citizens Movement activists Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua were given harsh sentences last week.
At first, the arrests in Zhengzhou looked like part of the June 4th spasm, but now it looks increasingly ominous. Beijing and Guangzhou notwithstanding, Zhengzhou has been one of the few second-tier cities in China where citizens’ activities have thrived, and the twelve who have been detained are some of the core members of the citizen circle in Zhengzhou.
Jia Lingmin (贾灵敏), who was arrested along with Liu Diwei (刘地伟) on May 8 was a school teacher-turned-activist. Over the last few years since 2009, she has undergone a transformation from a victim of forced demolition to a petitioner to a rights activist in Zhengzhou. She has devoted herself to help other victims of forced demolitions to defend their rights. She gave lectures and made videos to teach people how to use the law to defend themselves and how to fight abusive police power. For her activism, she has suffered the familiar spectrum of abuses from kidnapping to physical abuse, and from illegal detention to criminal detention this time around. She was helping a demolition victim to call 110 (China’s 911) when she was seized by police on May 7th.
Among the nine detained on May 26th and May 27th, Yu Shiwen (于世文) and Chen Wei (陈卫) are a married couple and were student leaders in Zhongshan University in Guangzhou during the Tian’anmen Movement in 1989. Both went to jail for it. This year, the two organized the June 4th Public Commemoration on February 2nd, one of the earliest June 4th-related events this year, in Hua County, Henan province (河南滑县), the removed Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang’s birthplace. Shi Yu (石玉, pen name for Shi Ping 施平) is a journalist with Time Weekly. He was a Xinhua News Agency reporter in 2011 but was expelled after he had visited Dongshigu during the Free Chen Guangcheng movement. Shao Shengdong (邵晟东) is the host of “Zhengzhou Ideas Salon” (“郑州思想沙龙”), a forum where civil rights activists meet and network in Zhengzhou. Dong Guangping (董广平), Fang Yan (方言), Hou Shuai (侯帅) are rights activists and internet citizens. Ji Laisong (姬来松) and Chang Boyang (常伯阳) are two locally influential rights lawyers. As a local friend of theirs pointed out, this group of eleven is very representative of China’s politically active citizens today.
All nine of them were detained for allegedly “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” but the police have not specified the event which constituted the allegation. Friends and observers believed that their arrest had to do with the public commemoration in February, but it is probably more than that. On June 14, more participants in citizen activities were interrogated. According to Duan Hanjie (段汉杰) who tweets using the handle @Wuyoulan, the “interrogation concerned with same-city dinner gatherings, protests in support of the Southern Weekend [in January 2013], even the banquet celebrating the first month of Shi Yu’s newborn son.”
In another tweet, he said, “the recent interrogations of several Zhengzhou activists covered a wide-range of questions to include pretty much all the activities of civil society, indicating that the case is really about combing through all the old scores in the name of June 4th crackdown in order to deter a large number of people by selectively persecuting a few.”
It’s worth noting that, in April 2013, ten some citizens were briefly detained for holding a dinner gathering with Xu Zhiyong who was visiting Zhenzheng, his home province.
By all indications, this might very well be the case. The detention of Yin Yusheng (殷雨声) on June 21, however, could be a sign that the June 4th public commemoration could be the “charge” with which the Zhengzhou police seek to indict the detainees. Yin Yusheng is a young journalist, a Henan native, not based in Henan but familiar with the Zhengzhou circle. He also participated in the commemoration in February. In as early as 2006 he accompanied prominent activist Hu Jia to visit Chen Guangcheng in Shandong. As a reporter for Chengdu Shangbao (Chengdu Business Journal), he broke the story “My Father Is Li Gang” in 2010 and was subsequently forced to leave the paper. In a heart wrenching account, he recorded how he was badly beaten by plainclothes policemen in Beijing not too long after the report made the rounds on social media. His more recent reports include the investigation into the case of another journalist Chen Baocheng who was arrested in his home village when trying to fend off a forced demolition.
Thursday (June 26) and Friday (June 27), nine of the Zhengzhou twelve will be detained for 30 days, the time allowed for police to decide whether to release them or to formally arrest them.
On June 17, plainclothes policemen raided the Zhengzhou Yirenping (亿人平) office, asking staff to “cooperate in the investigation of the gathering a crowd to disrupt social order case involving multiple people.” The police took away two computers and some financial documents from the small non-profit NGO that is dedicated to alleviate discrimination against the handicapped in China and also froze its organizational bank account. From the police inquiry of a project manager at Yirenping, the raid seemed to be aimed at lawyer Chang Boyang who is a shareholder and the legal representative of the organization.
In Zhengzhou, all indications are that the authorities have plucked out an array of the most active and influential citizens to punish, and they have been looking everywhere to build cases against them.
Over the last 30 days or so, more than 40 lawyers who represent the detainees have been to Zhengzhou to request meetings with their clients, but the Public Security Bureau in Zhengzhou has so far denied any of these requests on the grounds that their clients were involved in “crimes of endangering state security,” citing Article 374 of a document titled “Several Procedural Provisions on the Public Security Organs’ Handling of Cases Involving Criminal Crimes” （《公安机关办理刑事案件程序规定》）.
Some 120 rights lawyers across China have written a letter to the State Council calling for honoring China’s own Criminal Procedure Law and the right of counsel. But lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田), a signee of the letter and no stranger to China’s brutal punishment against human rights lawyer, is not optimistic about beating back the authorities’ willful distortion of the law. “There probably won’t be any serviceable change in the near future of the rampant abuse of power that illegally strips both the attorneys and clients of their lawful rights,” he said.
Update: Seven were formally arrested on July 2nd, and they are: They are: Yu Shiwen (于世文), Chen Wei (陈卫), Dong Guangping (董广平), lawyer Chang Boyang (常伯阳), Fang Yan (方言), Hou Shuai (侯帅) and lawyer Ji Laisong (姬来松). Shi Yu and Shao Shengdong have been released on the same day. Journalist Yin Yusheng was released on July 19.