Zhuang Liehong, January 17, 2017
“Soon after, a dozen public security agents came to his house and forced him to sign his name to a document they provided, under the watch of three SWAT officers in his living room, who had their submachine guns pointed at his chest and head.”
On December 26, 2016, the Haifeng Court in Guangdong sentenced nine villagers from Wukan (six men and three women) to between two and ten years imprisonment, punishing them for participating in protests that swept Wukan for the second time, from June to September 2016, in response to the imprisonment of their democratically-elected village head Lin Zulian (林祖恋).
The protests were repressed by armed police and SWAT teams, and scores of villagers were arrested, including my father.
The trial and sentencing threw all procedural requirement out the window. The villagers were never indicted, the families not notified of their right to retain counsel. Nine villagers were tried during the course of one day on December 17, 2016, and sentenced in less than 30 minutes on December 26. Thirteen more villagers await trial.
Since the sentencing, I have been working with lawyers on appeals. None of the nine villagers plead guilty and all said they would appeal in court. Given that villagers are very afraid and Wukan has been under lockdown since the protests were put down, I felt that I must do everything I can to not only appeal for my father but also help others lodge appeals on behalf of their loved ones.
Of the nine villagers, Wei Yonghan (魏永汉) received the heaviest sentence — 10.5 years. On January 1, I contacted Wu Jijin (吴吉金), a young Wukan villager working at a coffee shop in Futian, Shenzhen, through the secure messaging application Signal, and through him reached Wei Huizhuan (魏慧转), Wei Yonghan’s niece. Her father, Wei Yongjian (魏永监), is the younger brother to Wei Yonghan. He initially believed that appealing his brother’s case would be tantamount to going against the government, and said: “It’s impossible to resist the government in Wukan now; otherwise we risk going to prison.” I spoke with Wei Yongjian about Wei Yonghan’s rights for three days, finally convincing him that appealing is simply the legal right of a defendant, that it’s the duty of the family, and that it’s entirely in accordance with the law. Wei Yongjian agreed to appeal on Wei Yonghan’s behalf, and he signed a power of attorney letter as well as a letter authorizing defense counsel, and sent them to the Bai Juming Law Firm in Guangxi Province (广西百举鸣律师事务所).
The very same day, Qin Yongpei (覃永沛) of the Bai Juming Law Firm was summoned for questioning by local security police and advised that “it would be best if you didn’t get involved in the sensitive Wukan affair.” On January 7, Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿) of the same law firm had his phone and computer hacked. All the case files were deleted, and he wasn’t able to access any of his social media accounts either.
The following day, after the sons of Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠) and Li Chulu (李楚卢) heard the news, each of them contacted me separately and prepared their own papers — powers of attorney and letters authorizing defense counsel. But before the documents could be sent off, that same night Hong Yongzhong’s son was hauled into the local police station where he was interrogated and intimidated. The outcome was that none of the documents were dispatched.
Then, just two days ago, the son of Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), who was of the view that the sentence given to his mother was simply preposterous, went to the Haifeng County People’s Court upon the direction of his lawyer and requested the official judgement. He was refused. He then went to the Wukan market asking villagers to attest to the innocence of his mother. This met with his immediate arrest by public security officials. He was threatened and forced to write a “guarantee statement” that he would not appeal. Yang’s son then took his father and left the village. The word is that they went back to Tianjin where he’d previously worked, and that before they left he said “history will be the judge of all this.”
Before I made contact with these family members, Wu Fang’s (吴芳) son had reached out to me and said that he was looking for a lawyer to appeal on his mother’s behalf. Soon after, a dozen public security agents came to his house and forced him to sign his name to a document they provided, under the watch of three SWAT officers in his living room, who had their submachine guns pointed at his chest and head.
On the afternoon of January 10, my cousin Zhuang Bing (庄冰), who attends university in Foshan, had her coach to Wukan intercepted. A dozen public security personnel came aboard and hauled her off for questioning, threatening her to the point of tears. Her computer used for schoolwork and cellphone were searched, and only after they established that she’d had no contact with me did they let her go.
Later that evening the young Wukan villager Wu Jijin, who had helped me to connect with Wei Yonghan’s relatives, contacted me on Signal: “Brother Zhuang! I’m in trouble. I have to make myself scarce for a while. From now on you’re not to send me any messages.” I assumed that Wu had been summoned by the police. It’s already been four or five days and Wu Jijin’s whereabouts are still unknown. His family hasn’t received any news from the police.
A few days ago, a dozen public security agents and government people came to my family home again. They walked around, covertly took some photos, and left. My mother said that since my father was arrested this has happened countless times. The purpose appears to be to create an atmosphere of terror. Previously, my mother, along with my brother who has physical and cognitive disabilities, were tricked into signing and thumbprinting a document whose contents they were not apprised of. The government personnel had folded part of the paper down when getting the signature, and it was only a few days after she was forced to sign it that my mother realized that they had probably been duped.
Ever since myself and a few friends began trying to seek legal aid for the nine illegally sentenced Wukan villagers, the authorities have been extremely on edge. First the security police called the lawyers in for questioning, then they fooled or threatened the family members into signing documents, including statements terminating legal representation. These are identical tactics to those used in the first wave of crackdowns against Wukan, targeting Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮), Yang Semao (杨色茂) and Lin Zulian, who were given jail sentences of four years, two years, and three years and one month respectively. The authorities have been completely unrestrained, unscrupulous, and lawless in their trampling on human rights to repress Wukan villagers.
On January 8 myself and a number of friends inside and outside China began a petition on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app, to tell more people in China about what’s going on in Wukan and to support the lawful efforts of Wukan villagers to defend their rights. Two days later WeChat shut down the petition. By then 491 people had signed on in support.
As of the present, every one of the family members of the nine villagers who’ve been sentenced and who were prepared to appeal has been forced to back down. Wei Yonghan’s younger brother, who had already secured legal representation for Wei, on January 10 signed a “Statement on the Termination of Power of Attorney,” and withdrew from appealing. Currently we’re the only family who has persisted.
For the sake of my people in Wukan, I won’t be silent and won’t give up. I am currently the only involved Wukan villager who lives in a free country, and I’m going to use my freedom to keep speaking out, to let the world know what’s happening in my hometown.
Zhuang Liehong (庄烈宏)
New York City
January 14, 2017
Zhuang Liehong was one of the leaders of the 2011 Wukan uprising. He was elected a member of the Village Committee in March 2012. In early 2014 he left China to seek political asylum in the United States. He currently lives in New York.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.