By Yaqiu Wang, May 23, 2016
On April 26 when Yang Maoping (杨茂平), the sister of renowned Chinese rights activist Guo Feixiong
(郭飞雄), visited her brother in Yangchun Prison (阳春监狱), Guangdong Province, she found that his health had seriously deteriorated: he had blood in the stool, he mouth and throat were bleeding, and he couldn’t walk properly. She demanded that the prison authorities give him a medical examination, but was rejected. Guo’s compromised health condition is the result of the immense abuses and inhumane treatment he has suffered since his arrest in August 2013, including being denied yard time for consecutive 800+ days in a fetid detention center.
Guo Feixiong is a pioneer of the rights defense movement in China. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 2007, and in November 2015 again given a six year prison sentence. In both cases his treatment was naked political persecution aimed at forcing him to desist from his activism.
On April 27, writer Tan Zuoren (谭作人), who served a five-year prison sentence for his study into the engineering quality of the school buildings that collapsed, crushing students during the Wenchuan, Sichuan earthquake in 2008, posted a message online that he was going to engage in a hunger strike for one day in support of Guo Feixiong. He wrote: “A decade ago, to offer support for Guo Feixiong hunger striking in prison, our book study group in Chengdu all signed up for a hunger strike relay, one person fasting for each day. On the spot we gained over 30 participants who signed their names, joined the relay, and went on hunger strike in support of Feixiong. Today, in order to again rescue Feixiong, I am voluntarily hunger striking again for 24 hours.”
On April 29, 12 writers, activists, and dissidents initiated an “Urgent Call for the Medical Examination of Guo Feixiong,” a document to which over 1,000 people have so far affixed their signatures. In the current high-pressure political environment, seeing this kind of large-scale support for an imprisoned human rights activist in rare indeed. As expected, many of those who signed their names to the letter, or who fasted, were called in or threatened by police, but none of this dulled the momentum of support for Guo Feixiong’s case.
On May 2, a number of activists—including writers Tan Zuoren and Li Xuewen (黎学文), human rights lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), and activist Ou Biaofeng (欧彪峰)—published online the document “A Proposal for Supporting Guo Feixiong Though a Hunger Strike Relay.” The Proposal stated that its purpose was “to urge the authorities to handle Guo Feixiong’s case according to the law and offer timely, effective, and reasonable medical help, to ensure that he has the most basic right to life and health.” The initiators of this hunger strike relay called for people to participate. It requested that every participant in the relay fast for 24 hours, during which time they could only drink water, and were forbidden to consume any other type of beverage or food. The initiators encouraged participants to make a public statement that they were doing the fast in support of Guo Feixiong. The activist Wu Yuhua, based in Thailand, is coordinating the record keeping.
On May 13, Guo’s older sister said that under pressure from the outside world, the Yangchun Prison on May 9 took Guo to the prison hospital for a health examination. However, in her open letter to Party leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on May 19, Guo’s wife Zhang Qing (张青) revealed that the prison authorities gave Guo Feixiong a rectal examination by force without his sister being present, recorded the process on video, and threatened him with posting it online. Later, they shaved his head, and commanded him that every time he saw a prison guard, he had to squat down with hands clasped behind his head “like an insect.” Protesting the inhumane treatment, Guo announced on May 9 that he would be embarking on a hunger strike of indefinite duration.
On May 14, Wang Juntao (王军涛), the New York-based chairman of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of China, announced that members of his organization would begin a hunger strike relay outside of the United Nations Headquarters, and that each participant would fast for 24 hours as long as Guo Feixiong is continuing his hunger strike.
From May 4 to 22, at least 216 people inside and outside China have taken part in the hunger strikes relay.
Alongside all this, netizens from around China have been photographing themselves holding placards in support of Guo Feixiong, then uploading the images to the internet. Many others have sent postcards and monetary donations to Guo. “Have you sent a postcard today?” Activist Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) posts to Twitter every day. “Use postcards and donations showing your love to break down their doors!” Recently she and a group of others drove to the Yangchun Prison, but they were intercepted as soon as they got close.
Following is a selection of the statements by those who have taken part in the hunger strike relay so far:
Guo Feixiong’s wife, Zhang Qing, wrote: “I understand his resistance. What has happened to him is intolerable. I’ve determined to do everything in my power to see that Feixiong walks out of jail alive.”
Sun Yat-sen University professor Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明): “After Guo Feixiong gets out of prison [in 2011], he can come to my house, and I gave him the photographs taken by his young son when visiting in prison. I recommend that he leaves China and sees his wife and their two lovely children. He said, ‘Once I leave, I won’t be able to come back anymore.’ He’s willing to lay down his life so that China sees freedom and democracy. This is his choice. Guo Feixiong continues to use his own sacrifices to show that our generation loves freedom, and that every inch of freedom requires a pint of blood.”
Professor Ai continued: “I know that hunger striking for 24 hours isn’t an extraordinary achievement. You certainly won’t die from it. And furthermore, no system that is as inhumane as this one will be moved by the sacrifice. But at the same time, we all need to express our individual political stance, to show what we think is right and wrong; resistance needs transparency and openness. … You don’t want to die like Wei Zexi (魏则西) or Xu Chunhe (徐纯合), but what have you done about protecting your own rights and freedoms? You can emigrate whether or not you’ve become wealthy, but the freedom you enjoy over there isn’t your own glory—it’s the fruit of the struggle of others. I’m not going to leave. I’m going to stand right here on this piece of land and, with my brothers and countrymen, win over our own rights and freedom. I’m going to raise a flag for freedom right here in China!”
The poet Wang Zang (王藏) wrote: “As soon as I learned about the savage treatment of Mr. Guo Feixiong in custody I wanted to join in the hunger strike relay protest. But I hesitated, concerned about threats I would receive and the distress it would cause my wife and child. In the end, I decided that I still need to make my stance public. My wife was supportive: If we say nothing about even this, then we’re living a subhuman life.”
Rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a close friend and colleague of Guo Feixiong, also added his voice. The two of them have long worked together, first in the Taishi Village incident (太石村罢免村官, in which villagers sought to get rid of corrupt local officials) and a range of other public incidents, and both have, for their activism, been subject to shocking levels of brutal torture. Gao wrote: “Our concern for Guo Feixiong’s health is not a frivolous matter. This involves the man’s life. Everyone who is connected with Guo has ample reason to take this extremely seriously, and in so doing demonstrate one’s own connection to humanity.”
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), the rights lawyer, wrote: “Even though I know what Guo is going through, I worry that I’ll become numb or even forget, so I want to, through fasting for a day, ensure that I imprint this suffering in myself at every moment: and this goes for all others, too, including Yu Shiwen, and the rights lawyers and activists arrested on July 9, 2015, including Li Heping, Wang Yu, Hu Shigen, Liu Xing, and all others who like them are fighting for the freedom and dignity of myself, my family, and all of the Chinese people. I know that all of them have to take care of both their aging parents and young children, and they have worries and misgivings, fear and struggles, sometimes willing and sometimes not, they take it upon themselves, and they bear this for others. I hope that all people in the world with conscience an open hearts will learn that there is a group of people like this in China’s jails right now. We all call out and mobilize for Guo Feixiong, Yu Shiwen, and all others persecuted in the July 9 crackdown. When they’re free, we’ll have moved one step closer to freedom. Let’s struggle together.”
Rights activist Wang Lihong wrote: “Comparatively speaking, whose life is the more valuable? Whose occupies the brighter place — even if all this sacrifice is not known about, or even jeered at? We are using this seemingly minor act to express our hearts toward Guo Feixiong, and to send our goodwill to those activists and prisoners of conscience who have, are, or will be jailed so that society can progress. We’re resisting the evil that persecutes them! Please believe that this has power! Our voices will be heard, our perseverance will be witnessed, and the freedom that we are striving for will eventually come closer and closer.”
Tang Jingling (唐荆陵, currently in jail) wrote: “May 16 this year marks our second year of imprisonment (for myself, Yuan Xinting [袁新亭], and Wang Qingying [王清营]), and also the 50th anniversary since the Chinese Communist Party launched the Cultural Revolution, dragging the entire population into calamity. Hunger striking on this day has a special meaning: refusing to forget the suffering of our people! Let us join hands and remake China!”
Lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) asked: “Will Guo Feixiong’s case end in tragedy, like what happened with Cao Shunli (曹顺利)? Back then, lawyer Wang Yu also worried for Cao Shunli’s life, and I didn’t believe it would get to that point—but Cao still died a tragic death. The reason everyone is so anxious about Guo Feixiong is because the authorities have no moral bottom line.”
Chu Guoren (楚国人), a netizen, wrote: “I’m scared to write this statement — but when I think of all the rank unfairness and innumerable injustices happening all around, the vulnerable people who are suffering without help or attention, I can’t remain indifferent. This is another reason I want to hunger strike in protest for Guo Feixiong. Each Chinese person, please don’t be afraid: let’s support Guo Feixiong for ourselves, and for all of the ordinary people like us.”
Zhu Xinxin (朱欣欣) from Shijiazhuang wrote: “Violating the human rights of one person is violating the human rights of oneself. Those who persecute others and trample on their human rights are, at the same time, tightening the noose around their own necks.”
Yaqiu Wang researches and writes about human rights in China. Follower her on Twitter @Yaqiu.
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