Wang Qiaoling, May 26, 2017
This interview was conducted on May 5, 2017, three days before lawyer Li Heping returned home. – The Editors
Host: Hello everyone and welcome to “Surveying China,” (放眼大陆); I’m Huang Juan (黄娟). From July 9, 2015, for the next two months, about 300 lawyers, rights defenders, and dissidents were subject to mass disappearances; they were summoned by police, detained, and some have eventually been sentenced and jailed. This became the “709 Crackdown” that shocked the world. It’s been almost two years. Some victims have been imprisoned, others have been released on probation, still others have been given suspended sentences. It would seem that what family members want most is for the victims to be released, no matter what the circumstances. However, almost everyone who was released has fallen off the radar — they weren’t in fact truly freed. How can this be?
Today, we’re interviewing Ms. Wang Qiaoling (王峭嶺). Wang Qiaoling’s husband Li Heping (李和平) was disappeared about two years ago. On April 25, the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court suddenly staged a secret trial of Li; they announced the verdict on April 28: Li Heping had been found guilty of subversion of state power and sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, with deprivation of political rights for four years. From the verdict to May 5, eight days have passed, yet Li hasn’t been set free and allowed to return home. Lawyers hired by the family have gone to the court and the detention center, but Li was nowhere to be found. Wang Qiaoling, what was your reaction to the sentence?
Wang Qiaoling: First of all, I never expected they would carry out the trial in secret, and I never expected that the charges against my husband would be upheld. I heard from the secret police, the security police (国保), that he’d been sentenced. Then they told me that this was “the best news.” “A suspended sentence means he can return home.” But when I heard it, I was enraged.
As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t any sort of good news! I know exactly what sort of man my husband is. If one were concerned with enduring humiliation to save one’s skin, then of course it’s a good thing that he can come home. But he’s not merely an innocent man. He’s someone who goes out of his way to help others, to help those who are even more innocent, and tries to secure justice for them. It’s as though, if he went out and helped up an elderly person who’d fallen in the street, and for that was falsely accused of subverting state power — would you say his being sentenced in that case shouldn’t make me mad?
So I was really furious about it. With the entire 709 case from its inception to today, we’ve personally experienced China’s rule of law. It’s as worthless as a rag. There’s no rule of law. So we’re working as hard as possible to expose the truth. Myself and the other wives of 709 lawyers dearly hope that our husbands will be declared innocent and come home free. But the secret police tell me that he’s been convicted of the crime, given a suspended sentence, and then try to say it’s good news. They’ve used so many perverse, twisted methods to torment my husband, force-feeding him drugs, and all sorts of other cruelties. For 22 months his lawyers have been unable to see him. There’s been no news. So their declaring my husband a criminal makes me really mad.
Host: International observers were also rather astonished about this: Why was Li Heping put on trial without his family even knowing about it?
Wang Qiaoling: Exactly. It’s not only the trial we didn’t know about. We hadn’t even received the bill of indictment beforehand; and afterwards they didn’t show us the judgement. It was conducted in total secrecy. In other words, 22 months after my husband was arrested, we know nothing, and then at the end they tell us he’s a criminal.
Host: Though we did see the official news that they had designated Wen Zhisheng (温志胜), of the Tianjin branch of the Beijing Zhonglun Law Firm (北京中伦律师事务所), as Li Heping’s lawyer. But he didn’t inform the family of Li Heping’s trial or what was going on. Have you met this Wen Zhisheng?
Wang Qiaoling: The first time I met this lawyer named Wen Zhisheng was on April 28, the day that my husband was found guilty. Wen Zhisheng, though he was Li Heping’s defense lawyer, wasn’t with his client in the courtroom when the sentence was read, but was instead with the secret police waiting outside my apartment building, waiting for me to come downstairs. They didn’t dare come up, because they knew I wouldn’t let them in. So they just waited for me to come down, then stopped me, surrounded me, and prevented me from leaving. At this point Wen Zhisheng told me: “I’m your husband’s lawyer.” I said, “So you’re Wen Zhisheng? I call you and you don’t answer; I sue you and you don’t dare show your face.” He closed in on me and said: “I have a handwritten note from your husband to you.” I said: “You people have fabricated so many things, including letters to family members from prison.” We’ve been through too much over these 22 months. They’ve fabricated letters, signatures, and video recordings. They even came and told us family members not to appeal on behalf of our husbands, because they’ve already confessed. But when the victims emerged they said that they had never made those video recordings.
So when Wen Zhisheng gave me the letter, I simply didn’t believe him. I’ve never acknowledged that Wen Zhisheng actually represents my husband. We can pay for a lawyer ourselves, and we can get the best in China. I myself notified the court that I’ll be acting as Li Heping’s defense counsel. Li Heping and I studied law together at university, in the same class, so I’m entirely qualified to serve in that capacity. But my husband has been deprived of any news from outside, and the authorities forcibly assigned this lawyer to him. So when I saw this Wen Zhisheng, I told him: “I don’t believe you, and I don’t accept you as my husband’s lawyer.” I didn’t look at the letter he gave me. Then he went over and snatched the phone from another 709 wife, because she was taking photos of the encounter.
Host: What did it matter that someone was taking photos of him? Did he want to hide the fact that he had been assigned to be Li Heping’s lawyer?
Wang Qiaoling: I think he tried to seize her phone because he was terrified of being exposed. From when I learned that he was made my husband’s lawyer, I had tried to see him, but he never took my calls. So I sued him; the day before yesterday I received a response from the Tianjin Higher People’s Court, ruling that they would not accept my case. So I gave Wen Zhisheng a nickname: “The running dog of the Zhao family Wen Zhisheng,” “the Zhao family’s running dog.” He’s a disgrace to the term lawyer. Even though I don’t acknowledge his role, as the officially-appointed lawyer to Li Heping, how could he not be in Tianjin on the day that Li Heping is being sentenced? Amazingly, at 11:00 a.m. when I go out, he’s there outside my door. He must have had to get up early, at least, and spend three hours traveling from Tianjin to my home in Beijing. So from that you know just how he goes about acquitting himself as a lawyer.
Host: It’s quite strange. Given that he’s the officially-assigned lawyer, why not just follow the procedures and be in the court when the verdict is delivered?
Wang Qiaoling: He came to my house with the police to do one thing: fool me into going with them back to Tianjin to meet my husband. That way, they could put us both under house arrest. I would have lost contact with everyone, and there would have been no opportunity for the truth to be exposed. From the beginning of 2016, of everyone who has been released on probation — including those who were given suspended sentences in August, as well as those even later released on probation — there’s not a single one who has been truly free. This is the “709 Model.”
Host: You mean to say that everyone who has been released, to this day, has not really been free to speak?
Wang Qiaoling: That’s exactly what I mean.
Host: Has anyone gone to meet with them?
Wang Qiaoling: There have been meetings. People have definitely gone to visit them in secret, but no one dares take photos, or if photos were taken, no one would dare publish them. It’s got to that point. They were subjected to unimaginable torture inside. After they’re released they’ve not dared to speak to their own family members or society at large. When the police came on April 28, if they had succeeded in taking me away they would have brought me to my husband in Tianjin, and then used coercive measures to completely cut us off from any contact with the world. Without a phone, I wouldn’t be able to go online, and I’d have lost contact with the world. This is the 709 model. Every family has been dealt with in this manner. Look at the case of Wang Yu (王宇). No one has seen her.
Host: I haven’t heard any news.
Wang Qiaoling: Zhao Wei [赵威, Li Heping’s legal assistant] is the same; no one I know has seen her. Another assistant of my husband’s, Gao Li (高丽), has not been seen either. Over these last two years we’ve seen just too many family members who’ve been tricked when going in to visit. The relatives think that after they see the detainee, they’ll all be able to go home together. That’s what the police tell them. But then they go, and the result is that all contact is lost.
Host: You mean family members also get put under house arrest?
Wang Qiaoling: When we can contact them, the most we dare do is just ask how they’re getting on. They say “alright,” and don’t dare say more than that. When they get entrapped like this we really have no idea what has befallen them. Consider the entire 709 Crackdown — how many victims have really dared to come out and speak the truth? This leads me to Li Heping’s current circumstances. According to Chinese law, Li Heping has been given a suspended sentence. On that very day he should have been released to come back home. Why, at this point, have we heard nothing? Today Li Heping’s former defense attorney Ma Lianshun (马连顺) was commissioned by me to go to the Tianjin Procuratorate, the court, the detention center, and the Guajiasi (挂甲寺) police station to ask them: “Where is Li Heping?” They all say: “We don’t know. He’s gone.” So now you see what sort of situation Li Heping is in. He’s been disappeared. A new round of disappearance.
Host: Goodness — he’s been given a suspended sentence and they still won’t let him go.
Wang Qiaoling: Right. This is the 709 model.
Host: It’s been eight days now. What are they playing at? In the case of Li Heping, whether he’s given a suspended sentence as in this case, or if he was released on probation, if the authorities were determined to keep him detained, why bother going through the trial?
Wang Qiaoling: If they simply kept him detained indefinitely, it would set the Chinese government against the democratic countries around the world that cherish universal values and liberty. This is why, under intense international scrutiny and pressure, they have no choice but to release some people, let them out on probation, or give suspended sentences — as though these were really light punishments. It’s a show for the world, because the pressure was getting too much. It’s as if someone was abusing his children and wife. In front of other people, he’d say: “Look, I’m not hitting them anymore!” But now they’ve switched their methods of tormenting those they’ve detained. Just look at those who’ve been released on probation and are home now, or those given suspended sentences — who dares speak freely? This is to say that imprisonment has now become house arrest, so you can’t speak, can’t have any contact with the world, and it puts the victims under intense psychological pressure. That pressure falls not only on them, but the entire family. By giving Li Heping a suspended sentence, their goal is to use house arrest to stop him from helping those victims around him who need help. He’s also lost his license to practice law, because he’s been convicted. And now for the next four years, any move he makes will be scrutinized, and if the authorities think that he’s trying to “subvert state power,” they’ll haul him in and make him serve three years in jail.
Host: This method actually seems to closely resemble what they’ve done to Gao Zhisheng (高智晟).
Wang Qiaoling: Yes, it’s very like the approach they used before on Gao. In wrapping up the 709 cases, the Chinese authorities, on the surface, have adopted a lenient approach — but in actual fact they’ve used more underhanded, devious tactics to harm these lawyers and activists. None of the 709 victims dares to speak freely about what they went through. This itself is a huge psychological torment. On top of that, almost every day they’re going around frightening this lawyer and that — arresting someone while they’re on vacation, grabbing others when they’re in the middle of a meal. They’re continuing to foster an atmosphere of terror among human rights lawyers.
Host: I assume you’re referring to the recent detention of Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) in Yunnan, and the arrest of a number of human rights lawyers in the middle of a meal in Chengdu?
Wang Qiaoling: Right. And actually if you think back to Jiangang’s involvement in Xie Yang’s (谢阳) 709 case, all he did was his duty as a lawyer. If your client has been subjected to savage torture and you pretend like nothing happened, are you doing your job as a lawyer? In that case the authorities should simply scrap the entire legal profession and be done with it. If you’re a lawyer, then you have to defend the rights of your client — you expose the facts of the torture that your client was put through; this is one’s professional duty. If the authorities have the nerve to carry out this sort of torture, then they shouldn’t complain when it’s exposed. If they’ve got the nerve to act like scoundrels, then they should at least dare to proclaim themselves as scoundrels. You can’t act like a thug and simultaneously pretend like you’re a good person. I’m holding back on speaking too harshly in order to spare their feelings a bit.
Host: In these 709 mass arrests, there was another lawyer who received a lot of attention, Xie Yanyi (谢燕益). He was released a little while ago, but I don’t know what his circumstances are like now. It seems difficult to get any information about him.
Wang Qiaoling: Right — this is the “709 model” that I was talking about. Lawyer Xie was released on probation around the same time as Li Chunfu (李春富, Li Chunfu’s younger brother). Their families are really happy that they were allowed home. But they found that even after they came back home, they were unable to enjoy life in any normal fashion. Once home they made some announcements like “We need to rest,” etc. But have you heard anything about what they went through? No. What you’ve heard privately, or heard from so-and-so’s wife, hasn’t been verified by the person themselves, so you can only say that privately the news is that this or that happened. This is the 709 model. The authorities changed up their tactics, continuing to keep detained those they’ve “released.” If they dare to speak publicly about what happened to them in prison, the security police will appear once more and begin harassing and disturbing the family. So they can’t really live free lives.
Host: You just mentioned Li Chunfu, Li Heping’s younger brother. The news seemed to be that soon after he was released, his family found that he was mentally disturbed, but I haven’t heard the details of the situation now.
Wang Qiaoling: He indeed experience enormous mental suffering, and when he got out his mind seemed muddled and confused. He couldn’t identify his family members, and didn’t know whether he could trust and rely or them or not. He thought that the friends dropping by to visit were police. At the time, this was truly agonizing to behold. He said himself: I remember the day I left the detention center very clearly; the procedural aspect of the case had reached a decision-point: either I was going to sue the court, or else they were going to release me. But on that day the police were adamant to take me out of the police station.” He’s a lawyer; he said to them: “Firstly, you’re not my family; secondly, you’re not my lawyer, and you’re just taking me away like this. The detention center is under surveillance, but you taking me away like this means I can’t be certain of my personal safety.” So he was forcibly removed from the detention center, and even his signature on the probation documents was added later — the police forced him to sign them. There was also a bail bond of 1,000 yuan for the probation. He found it very strange, saying: “I don’t have any money. Who paid this?” The police said that his family paid it, but there was no family there, and no one knows where this money came from. So whether it’s Li Chunfu or anyone else arrested in the 709 crackdown, from their arrest to their release, there has been all manner of trampling on due process, official procedures, and the law. The police themselves say it: “There’s no law. There’s nothing you can do but confess.”
Host: It sounds like all these cases were blackbox operations. Ms. Wang, your husband has been locked up for nearly two years and has been unable to meet his lawyers. As his wife, how have you gotten through this?
Wang Qiaoling: I’m extremely concerned for his safety. Who can bear their husband’s absence, disappearance and separation for so long? Li Heping was vanished on July 10, 2015; when we received the notification of his arrest on January 20, 2016, my first reaction was: He’s alive; thank God that he’s still alive. Over the next grueling year or so, we received not a skerrick of news about him, until a few days ago when the police told me that my husband had been found guilty and was given a suspended sentence. My first reaction was again: He’s still alive. In China, detention centers are at least better than “residential surveillance at a designated place,” basically secret detention, where deaths can happen easily. I was very concerned that his body wouldn’t be able to take it, or that there’d be some sort of accident. My feeling on both these occasions was to thank God that he’s still alive.
How did I get through these last two years? I’m greatly fortunate because I’m a Christian. In the times of greatest trial, I pray. The most difficult times have been when I haven’t heard word about my husband. At these times, I’ve myself received a knock on the door and been taken to the detention center. Last August I accompanied another family as they went to apply to observe their husband’s court case. On the road in the middle of the night I was taken away by about a dozen men who shoved me into their car. No one knew who had taken me. I was locked in a room in the detention center for 24 hours. At this most difficult time, I got through it with prayer. As a Christian, I know that our human lives aren’t in our own hands — but in the hands of God. If one day, as I’m rushing about my business, I die — I believe that this will have been allowed by God. I know that upon death I’ll certainly be going to Heaven. That’s not because I’m so great, but because I have faith — we’re formed by our faith in God. So over these past two years, during the days of greatest torment, I’ve relied on prayer and faith in God to overcome. I know that God is a God of kindness and compassion. The 709 Crackdown over the past two years has pushed many families to the verge of destruction — but I always try to look at these affairs as they must appear in the eyes of God. In the midst of unrighteousness, you can often see love between people emerge and grow, and this love is conferred by God.
I remember some time ago that a foreign friend told me that China’s birth control policies are a horrendous violation of human rights; but because of these birth control policies, many baby girls are abandoned, and he and his wife adopted and raised three Chinese girls. Now he has three great loves in his family. And precisely in the midst of injustice, I found that my husband’s work was precisely about showing compassion toward and helping those around him — especially those at the bottom of society, like peasants, or those who have been wrongly sentenced to death, and so on. After my husband was arrested I met so many strangers who respected him, believed in him, and because of this loved our family. I also saw my children, throughout all this turmoil, go from being jealous of one another to showing concern and love for one another. I also saw that as our family went through these collective trials and tribulations, we not only withstood what was hard to face, but we were also willing to reach out a helping hand and support those around us. I have witnessed all these things over the last two years. When God opened my eyes and let me see all this, I felt that the burden of living became easier to bear.
Host: I remember there was a wife of one of the 709 lawyers — I think it was Li Wenzu (李文足, the wife of Wang Quanzhang)? — who said she cried for a long time, all the way until you reached out with a helping hand, wrote her a letter, and she finally had an ally and no longer felt isolated and helpless.
Wang Qiaoling: That was roughly what happened. In early 2016 when I received the notice of my husband’s arrest, I thought: God, what is it you want me to do? Right then, I said to myself with great clarity: Don’t linger in your own pain; you need to help those around you who are suffering in the same way. So during that Chinese New Year, I gave it a go, driving around to check in on the other family members of 709 victims. What we’re able to do is so feeble, minimal, and limited, but when you’re willing to do that little bit, you’ll find that love is like a seed that, when placed in the soil, can grow and grow. In the nearly two years since the 709 incident we’ve all been supported by one another. This is so precious. I feel that for all families — whether or not they fell victim to this shocking 709 incident — we all need to learn to not just look after ourselves, but look after those around us.
Host: When a lonely individual steps outside themselves, it creates a greater power. Over these last two years, in fact, the model of resistance we’ve seen from 709 families is completely different to the impressions we have and the circumstances of the past. Back years ago in Taiwan it was also like that — the families of those persecuted would display the tragicness of all, and thus gain international sympathy. Of course, this sort of suffering is indeed worthy of sympathy. But the way you went about resisting was original and creative, adopting a lot of new approaches, and this was what drew a lot of attention. I think in the future this will become a model that is worthy of study.
Wang Qiaoling: Someone will actually study this? Hah.
Host: I hope it won’t need to be studied much more!
Wang Qiaoling: For us it camel very natural — it was natural to go about it this way. That people want to study it, I think that’s quite amusing. I suffered clinical depression 17 years ago. I had just given birth to our eldest son and was suffering post-partum depression and was receiving treatment for in hospital. When I began believing in Jesus, and was in an environment where everyone was kind to one another, in a church, I gradually underwent a complete recovery. When I lived out in my own life the teachings of the Bible, I found that they brought benefits both to myself and the people around me. I experienced this as the work of God. You might have found that we’re very optimistic, proactive, and we don’t play the victim or indulge in sadness — this is just our normal manner. We’re just really optimistic people. If it wasn’t for so many years of the church helping me, I wouldn’t be like this.
China’s Hero Lawyers, WSJ editorial, May 22, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post Editorial, January 26, 2017.
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer,’ interview with Ai Weiwei in 2010.
Transcribed and translated by China Change.