Chen Guiqiu, Chen Jiangang, Yaxue Cao, July 28, 2020
Starting July 9, 2015, the Chinese regime commenced a sudden operation against human rights lawyers and rights activists, arresting scores in Beijing and multiple other cities around the country. In addition, around 300 lawyers were interrogated, issued warnings, or detained briefly during what soon became known as the 709 crackdown. One of those arrested and charged was Xie Yang, a lawyer based in Changsha, Hunan Province. From autumn 2016 to the beginning of 2017, his family members and attorneys exposed the torture he suffered, the first of such revelations that would be echoed later by other 709 detainees.
To deny the torture of Xie Yang and fend off international backlash, in March 2017, the Chinese state media launched a massive smear campaign against Xie Yang’s lawyers and his wife, who had fled to Thailand but was captured by Chinese agents…. It became clear that Beijing’s goal was to capture all parties involved in the revelations and make them “confess” that the torture claims were fabricated. These video interviews with Xie’s wife, Prof. Chen Guiqiu, and Xie’s defense lawyer Chen Jiangang (both now safely in the U.S.) present one of the most extraordinary episodes of the 709 crackdown.
Chen Guiqiu: I am Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), who was arrested during 709. After July 10, the day my husband was arrested, I spent two years fighting for his release; after that, I took our two daughters to the US. I now live in Texas.
Yaxue Cao: What were you doing when Xie Yang was arrested?
Guiqiu: Before I left China, I was a professor at Hunan University (湖南大学). I did research in and taught environmental science engineering.
It was summer break, so all the students were on vacation. But I was involved in a research project, a new agricultural construction aimed to help farming communities better use energy and coexist with the environment better. We gathered the relevant statistics and looked into plans for energy use, how to dispose of solid waste and wastewater, a whole series of suggested improvement plans for eco-farming.
I was out practically every day during that time, driving with my students around several towns in Changsha county.
YC: Could you speak about where Xie Yang was, when he was arrested, and what he was doing?
Guiqiu: Before he was arrested, Xie Yang told me he was travelling to Huaihua (怀化) to handle a case involving forced demolitions to build a reservoir that would have impacted tens of thousands of rural residents. He took an assistant with him to get familiar with the case details during the trip. After that I heard from another lawyer that he had been arrested.
The lawyer who told me was very anxious, making me concerned as well. He said, “Xie Yang’s been arrested, you’ve got to prepare some money and clothes to send to the Changsha Public Security Bureau, Xie Yang will need these things.” I was stunned: my husband went out for a trip and was arrested just like that, without any forewarning at all. So I panicked, I was really scared by the overwhelming uncertainty. That night I prepared the things, and went to the Changsha PSB the next day.
A lawyer accompanied me to the police. We went from one office to another, but nobody would tell us whom to ask to get information about Xie Yang’s case. Finally, after making many calls, lawyer Zhang Zhongshi (张重实) got confirmation that the PSB legal office was in charge of the case, so I left the money and clothes for him with them. But they didn’t give me any details about Xie’s situation. They only told me where to drop off the things I brought, and then asked me to leave.
YC: Did you receive any court documents pertaining to the arrest within the legally required timeframe?
Guiqiu: I did in fact receive the documents, which were mailed to my home, and said that Xie Yang was placed under residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL), as he is charged on suspicion of disturbing court order.
When I read the words “residential surveillance at a designated location,” I thought it just meant that Xie Yang would live under surveillance somewhere. So I later tried to have them disclose where he was held in RSDL, tell me the address, and let me meet with him. I put in a request to live with him. All this was rejected, or more accurately, I received no response whatever.
YC: After Xie Yang was arrested, what kind of difficulties did you face?
Guiqiu: I remember that [the authorities] would constantly send groups of people—never individuals—to come visit me; they were from the Hunan provincial public security department, the Changsha municipal PSB, the Hunan University security office, and the university administration, they would usually send people ….from these places, oh also, the Hunan provincial procuratorate, to interrogate me on campus.. These interrogations took place many times. Sometimes they happened in our department, sometimes in the President’s meeting room, sometimes in the security office.
YC: What kind of things would they ask?
Guiqiu: They asked me if I had been in touch with other lawyers arrested during the 709 crackdown or their family members, such as Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭) and Li Wenzu (李文足); whether I had been interviewed by overseas media; whether I had spoken or written about Xie Yang’s situation. They wanted me to do as they said; in exchange, they said they would protect all the rights of Xie Yang guaranteed under the law. For this I would need to cooperate. If I didn’t, there would be consequences, it would end badly for Xie Yang and he would be sentenced. They said, “we don’t want to see that happen,” and so I would have to cooperate with them.
YC: After Xie Yang’s arrest, what did you do other than send him clothes?
Guiqiu: Sometimes I went to various agencies several times a week, basically at least once a week. My appeal was this: I need to communicate with Xie Yang. He has the right to meet with a lawyer, and the lawyer must be informed about the details of Xie Yang’s case. Simultaneously, because the lawyers’ rights and my rights were infringed upon, I want to file a complaint with the procuratorate. This was my demand to the procuratorates and public security organs at all levels. What made the deepest impression on me during this process was that I was completely ignored, nobody gave any response at all. In the end, when you finally and after much trouble knock on an office door and ask the staffer, “who do I give this material to?” “Who is in charge here?” When you finally see someone, that person doesn’t say anything, promises no details, nothing at all, they didn’t guarantee any of my rights. No one gave me the right of communication, nor the lawyer’s right to meet the client they wouldn’t let the meeting happen.
That is to say, you end up spending a lot of time, energy, and emotion on it, and still never know if you actually made any progress in getting to the right people on the other side, you don’t know if you’re on the right track or if you found who you’re looking for. It’s the same at the procuratorate: they will take your materials, but never give you a response.
Once Zhang Zhongshi and I went to the legal office of the Changsha PSB to look for the person with authority over Xie Yang’s case.
I sent clothes and books, delivering a large package each time. I hoped to get some information about Xie Yang’s case from the legal office staff. I asked the person there about how long the RSDL would last, but he said that he had nothing to tell me specifically. I said, “He has been detained for over a month now, he should be let out soon.” The reply: “Almost out? RSDL lasts six months. Come back and check again in half a year.” I felt crushed. I thought that Xie Yang would be out soon, counting the days until his release. But now this person told me to come back in six months when the RSDL period was completely finished. I couldn’t take the blow and started weeping right in front of him. I left the room in humiliation, and cried even harder. That’s how it was.
YC: The first defense attorney for Xie’s case was Zhang Zhongshi. Which other lawyers represented him?
Guiqiu: At the beginning it was Zhang Zhongshi, from Xiangtan (湘潭), he went back and forth between Changsha and Xiangtan. But when he proved unable to secure our rights, lawyer Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) got involved.
Zhang Zhongshi truly worked hard. Sometimes he would come twice a week, this went on a long time: he would drive to Changsha, and we would go here and there. He never gave up. He would arrive in the morning. If we scheduled an appointment with public security, we’d meet at the public security; if it was an appointment with the procuratorate, we would meet at the gate of the procuratorate. Then we would just ask around the offices, knocking on doors, submitting materials, and talking to the staff inside—some of them were just receptionists —about our demands. Zhang Zhongshi knocked open these doors, and also aided my understanding of the law, the procuratorate, public security, and other such powerful organizations.
YC: What kind of incidents or scenes stood out to you?
Guiqiu: One day Zhang and I went to the Changsha Procuratorate to appeal. When we got there, we entered an office and Zhang handed our materials to a staff member, telling him that we needed to file a complaint, we need to have our right to a meeting [with Xie.] The young prosecutor skimmed over the documents Zhang gave him, and said, “You’re such an old lawyer, yet you still don’t know the legal statutes. These demands of yours are illegal.” That young man, around 30, reprimanded Zhang harshly.
I was incensed and filled with a kind of rebellious indignation seeing that young prosecutor, it was really unacceptable.
Zhang told him, “let me see the statute you’ve just interpreted.” Even after a long time the prosecutor couldn’t produce the relevant article, but all the while he was spouting a stream of ugly nonsense, like “such an old lawyer like you, you’ve done so many cases, yet you don’t even understand this legal clause; who taught you Chinese? Who taught you law?” He berated Zhang like this. Zhang didn’t get angry, and continued to calmly explain his interpretation of the law.
YC: Your life was turned upside down. What about your situation teaching at the university?
Guiqiu: The school put me under a tremendous amount of pressure. The dean even wanted to install a surveillance camera at the entrance to the building, specifically for me. Because there was one away from the entrance that could monitor me, they gave up. At the same time, they wanted to monitor my whereabouts 24 hours a day, have someone to live in my home, and follow me around the office. I opposed this vehemently.
Around Chinese New Year 2016, in January or the beginning of February, Wang Qiaoling and his son drove south from Beijing to meet several people, including me. This was a very important start for me, the start of my fight for Xie Yang. She prayed for me, which gave me strength. I learned from her that there are several wives in Beijing. They all believed as firmly as I did that we needed to rescue our husbands, so later on we were called the “709 wives.”
I also sought help from lawyers all over the place. Whenever I didn’t have classes and had finished my work, I’d take the opportunity and ride the train to visit lawyers like Chang Boyang (常伯阳); I also went to Guangzhou to see Sui Muqing (隋牧青).
Among the lawyers in Changsha, I got help from many of them, including Wen Donghai (文东海), who later had his license revoked because he’d represented Wang Yu, one of the 709 detained lawyers, and announced his withdrawal from the Communist Party, so was therefore suppressed. Hu Linzheng (胡林政) also gave me a lot of help. He was Xie Yang’s partner, the two of them jointly represented many cases. There was also Cai Ying (蔡瑛), another of Xie Yang’s partners.
There were many others, as well, whose names aren’t convenient to bring up here, but who offered me great support. I can safely say that if I didn’t have the support of local lawyers in Changsha each day, meeting up with them regularly, and receiving their greetings and encouragement from them — without them, I might have given up long ago, and wouldn’t have made it to today.
YC: In our earlier conversations, I remember you said that you’d received mysterious phone calls, someone called you at three in the morning. What was that all about?
Guiqiu: When Xie Yang had been detained for about a month, in the summer of 2015, August 2015 to be precise, I received a series of mysterious phone calls made to my phone for several nights in a row. I didn’t know the person or the number. When was I receiving these calls? In the middle of the night, around 3 a.m. Because during the day I took students out to collect data, I was always tired at night, and I would turn off my phone to sleep. On the first night receiving the call, my phone was off, but when I turned it on in the morning I saw a missed call from around 3:00 a.m. On the second day I didn’t turn off my phone, and received a call, but slept through it. I was called three times in a row, if I remember right. Then I called back, but no one picked up the first time.
I’d never run into this sort of person before, calling repeatedly in the middle of the night, so I thought there must be something going on. Later, I called back again, and this person said it was inconvenient to talk, but we arranged to meet up at a certain place before hanging up. I was very nervous; how could I meet someone I’d never seen before in the middle of the night, whom I’d only spoken to on the phone, in a place I’d never been? I was scared.
But if it was about Xie Yang, then I had to go. It was a big encouragement for me to receive such a call. I contacted a lawyer and a friend, well actually a relative. I said that I was going to do this, and wanted them to understand what was going on and support me, and accompany me to the meeting. Then, in the evening… the lawyer friend didn’t go, but he stayed by his phone. My relative worked in Changsha, and the two of us went. He also bought two cartons of cigarettes, high-end ones, put them in a black silk bag and brought them under his arm, and we went in.
We arranged to meet in a restaurant after eight in the evening, I remember. We went in, said we needed to meet someone, and then someone came out immediately.
He was thin, not very tall, and somewhat plain, in plain clothes. He told me he’d seen Xie Yang, and Xie had given him my number, hoping that he could contact me and that I could rescue him. I said, “Where did you see him?” He didn’t tell me. “Where do I need to go to save Xie Yang?” He dared not tell me this information. His speech was also veiled and unclear, he didn’t dare go into detail. It was obvious he was also afraid. Then we thought about what to do, how to save Xie Yang. Naturally, I was willing to give a guarantee, “I won’t shortchange you, I will pay you for the information.” We came up with a plan, but we decided it was no good. The whole process of talking to him was fraught with fear, including my own.What was I afraid of? Well, I feared that he was fishing for something. Did he come here to lure me into a trap? These were my thoughts. His fear, because we could clearly see he was afraid, though I couldn’t guess it at the time, now I know that his fear was that he would be discovered by the police.
YC: Did he mention torture at all?
Guiqiu: He didn’t mention torture, but he did say that Xie Yang needed help, that he was faring poorly there, so he was asked to pass this along to me and ask me to help. But he didn’t provide much detail. Looking back on it, I think he knew more details, but he didn’t dare discuss them, didn’t dare say that Xie Yang was being beaten or anything. And it was around that time that the torture was the worst. He was arrested in July, and it was in August that I met this person. At this time, Xie Yang was being deprived of sleep, as we learned later. His feet were swollen, he was made to sit on a stool for long periods, unable to move, and he was being beaten, all around that time.
After Xie Yang got out, I checked this information with him. Everything the man told me was true, but I broke off contact with him out of fear, and also because we weren’t sure how to plan for next steps.
I had a friend in the national security establishment, and I asked him how to deal with this matter. He guaranteed me that this sort of thing was impossible, and told me not to believe this person. I ended up not pursuing the matter further.
This friend was a close friend. Not a classmate, but our two families are very close. Before Xie Yang was arrested, we used to go out together, our children would play together, we were very friendly. But at this key point, when Xie Yang needed help, he stood with the Communist Party.
YC: In January 2016, Xie Yang was formally arrested and charged with “incitement to subvert state power” and “disturbing court order.” I remember that in the fall of 2016, you started to expose how he’d been tortured…
Guiqiu: At this time I had wide-ranging sources [of information], and I had more communication with the outside world. I also stopped believing the PSB, the procuratorate, or my friends in the Guobao and national security, so I didn’t stay in touch with them. I gained a lot of information at this time. You know I’m originally from Changsha, a native of the city. I was born there, went to school there for so many years, so I had classmates from grade school, high school, university, and my graduate and doctoral programs. I’d changed majors several times, from an undergraduate degree in chemistry to soil science, then to environmental engineering, so I had classmates in many fields, many of whom were still in Changsha.
Some of these people were very kind. The friend of mine who works for the Guobao, I got some information from him. In addition to information from friends, classmates, and friends of classmates, I also gained information from the detention center, where I also had contacts.
What I found out was that Xie Yang said he was being monitored in the detention center, he wasn’t allowed to use money, the people around him were all instructed to monitor him and prevent others from speaking to him. He also told me some details during Xie Yang’s six-month RSDL. Xie told him this.
We met at a restaurant. I was so angry. Honestly, I was in a fearless state where I didn’t care about losing my job anymore. No matter how the dean threatened me, I wasn’t afraid, because the job didn’t matter to me anymore.
YC: How did they threaten you?
Guiqiu: He didn’t say anything explicitly, but he would warn me: “Chen Guiqiu, don’t do this, if you keep it up, it’ll be difficult for us . Sometimes we have to obey the decisions made by those above us. People have been fired recently, don’t you know? If you don’t have a job, how can you care for your two children? Your husband is locked up, will you please consider how the rest of your life will go?” They said things like this; never that they would fire me now, nothing like that, their threats were more subtle.
What was I like at the time? Well, I was in a very agitated state. On the way to the detention center, I was yelled at the whole way by my dean, and was shivering uncontrollably, an involuntary reaction. I drove to the detention center on the highway and then met with the lawyers; or I went to deposit money for Xie Yang, and at the same time I posted the outcome of my visit to our WeChat group to update everyone. No matter how the school tried to control my speech or issue veiled threats, I was without fear. I felt, in my heart, thoroughly liberated, not restrained as before. In order to rescue Xie Yang, I wouldn’t consider money, nor work, none of these obstacles mattered.
YC: I remember there were reports that Mr. Zhang went to see Xie Yang, and personally witnessed him being beaten.
Guiqiu: In November 2016, Zhang reached an agreement with the Guobao, which permitted him to see Xie Yang. However, there was a condition; he had to persuade Xie Yang to admit guilt. Zhang promised this, and was able to see him. This wasn’t a guarantee of his right to meet with his client, as it was off the books. When he saw Xie Yang, he didn’t advise him to confess, but while he was there, he witnessed a scene. The guards in the detention center … Zhang was waiting for Xie Yang in the second floor conference room, when he heard Xie Yang crying out on the first floor. Why? The detention center staff were beating him with closed fists, demanding he obey. I don’t know what happened between them, but they were openly beating him.
When Zhang saw Xie Yang, he could see that he was bleeding in the head. Think about it; if his lawyer was able to witness this sort of treatment, what would Xie Yang have suffered with no lawyer present? Naturally, witnessing this made Zhang very angry. After he returned, he, the Guobao, and I met to discuss this. Of course, the Guobao didn’t admit that any such thing could have happened. Zhang said it did, and they promised to “look into it.” Well, looking into it led nowhere.
YC: By December 2016, you’d switched lawyers for Xie Yang, engaging Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), one in Beijing and the other in Guangzhou.
Guiqiu: I remember Xie Yang had gotten a letter into my hands, asking me to request that Jiangang take his case. It made sense to change lawyers at this time, as Zhang Zhongshi and Lin Qilei had been working for a long time, over a year, and hadn’t managed to meet with Xie Yang.
YC: Towards the end of summer or early in the autumn of 2016, you got new news from your sources in the detention center and the other friends you’ve mentioned already. At the time you announced several things, could you summarize what sort of information you gained at that time?
Guiqiu: The information we received was about his torture, which took place over two phases. The first was during the six months he spent in RSDL, and the second was the period he spent in the detention center. The RSDL period was horrendous. He was not allowed to sleep, eat, or move from a sitting position, and his leg had sustained an injury before the arrest. Without a chance to recover, it was greatly swollen. They also used cigarette smoke to torment him, several people would blow smoke in his face. He is not a smoker. The goal was to push him to his limits physically, to the point where he couldn’t take it anymore and his body would give out. Then, under those conditions, they would make him sign documents. They would write up whatever they wanted into a document and all he’d have to do would be to sign his name. Xie Yang struggled even to sign it, let alone ask that the false contents be changed, which wasn’t realistically possible.
There were also psychological tortures, including threatening him with the loss of my job, threatening my children’s lives and their places at school, and threatening our relatives, such as my brothers. They all have jobs. There were also a nephew and others, and the authorities would threaten them, saying this could impact their livelihoods.
So they tortured him both physically and mentally, trying to make him cave in, and after that they’d achieve their goal. What goal? To make him sign a confession, of course. Several 709 detainees had already given up and confessed, so they wanted him to confess as well. By the latter half of 2016, around August, I got this information, and at that point Xie Yang had not admitted guilt.
In the detention center he was beaten by Yuan Jin (袁进). Yuan arranged for people to monitor him, kept him from using his money, even denied him a toothbrush and toothpaste. He wasn’t even allowed to have toilet paper.
YC: One thing I’m very interested to know is, when did you find out where he was being held during the RSDL? What was it called? Do you know what street it was on, what kind of place it is?
Guiqiu: You’d never guess where it was. It was a retirement center for old cadres, the No. 1 Cadre Retirement Home of the National University of Defense Technology, on Deya Road, Kaifu District, Changsha. I started having an inkling in August 2015 when I got that mysterious call. After meeting that person, I had a gut feeling that he might be held nearby, but I never confirmed with him. Later, when someone told me, they told me specifically that he was being held at this location.Then I went there, but it was heavily guarded and I couldn’t get in. I asked a friend to go in my stead, but after entering he was unable to get to the second floor, as he was stopped by armed police at the entrance to the first floor.
A few nights, I went to that street and looked around. I did that several times.
YC: Please introduce yourself, and tell us about the events of 709: where you were, your experiences.
Jiangang: I am lawyer Chen Jiangang. When the 709 crackdown occurred on July 9, 2015, I was at home in Beijing. At the time, I was still handling a large number of cases, travelling constantly, so when the police came looking for me, I was in Anhui, at a hearing in the city of Mengcheng. It was probably the Guobao in Fuyang city that came to find me; after the hearing, they had me get in a car and took me to public security. The officers there didn’t mince words: they had received higher orders to seek me out for a talk.
After verifying my identity, they asked, “do you know lawyer Wang Yu in Beijing? She was arrested, how do you feel about that?” I said that I knew, that she was a good friend of mine. How did I feel? I said that I believed it was persecution. Wang Yu is a lawyer and didn’t do anything against the law. The officer then started to tell me, “We were tasked by the higher authorities to relay to you a warning, or an order, if you will: don’t speak out for Wang Yu or other detained lawyers, don’t write articles about them, don’t associate with them,” roughly.
YC: So did you represent anyone following 709?
Jiangang: I’d been commissioned by Xie Yanyi’s wife Yuan Shanshan to represent him. After I accepted her commission, I made two trips to Tianjin, demanding to visit Xie Yanyi, and such. It goes without saying that I wasn’t allowed to meet with him.
YC: I later learned that you and Xie Yang were very good friends. [Human rights lawyers] are a very close community, but your friendship with Xie is particularly strong. I remember that in winter 2015, you wrote an article called “A Man Named Xie Yang,” parts of which were translated by our site. The first paragraph left me with a deep impression. You wrote, “It’s gone from summer to fall, then from fall to winter, now it’s snowing outside, and I still do not know how my friend Xie Yang is doing …”
Since you and Xie Yang are such great friends, you’ve probably cooperated on cases together, and you miss him quite badly. Could you share a bit about Xie Yang and what kind of lawyer he is?
Jiangang: Xie Yang above all possesses a very clear-cut personality. He’s very valiant, to the point that it’s brash. I might even say that sometimes he can be reckless and rude.
In fact, he started to get connected with human rights lawyers and take these kinds of cases later than me. But because he met with suppression immediately after starting and quickly enlisted the help of lawyers around the country to fight to keep his license, so his situation was like, virtually everyone in our circle of lawyers knows about him, and they know of his bold character.
I’ll give you an example. He sued the Justice Bureau of Changsha so that he could keep practicing.
YC: Which year was that?
Jiangang: It happened roughly in 2013 or 2014. When he sued the Justice Bureau and went to court, lawyers flew in from around the country, and adding in the local activists from Changsha, more than 200 people went to attend the court session. Xie Yang himself told me that even if he wasn’t able to get his license back, [the court battle] would have still been worth it.
When facing down the Justice Bureau officials in court, Xie Yang said a line that became quite famous: “You guys aren’t sons of bitches; you parasitize on us lawyers.” There were many incidents of this nature, things that only he would do or say. I regretted very much not being able to take a flight over to attend court.
Two or three hundred people went to attend, the court had originally planned for a minor session, yet so many people showed up. The Chinese judicial system was much nicer than it is today; the judge actually agreed to let so many people attend and held the hearing in the biggest courtroom, so all two or three hundred people could sit in. After Xie Yang said that line, thunderous applause erupted through the court. The judge knew that there was no stopping it, so he didn’t even bother trying to order them not to clap. The Justice Bureau has been making trouble for lawyers basically since the lawyer system was introduced, so this kind of trouble is normal. Xie Yang had been so treated that it became impossible for him to practice. He took them to court for it and dared to say that line, in effect venting the feelings shared by many other lawyers. This was why so many people went to attend his court session. Xie Yang believes it was a crowning feat in his life, and we are inclined to agree.
YC: That is to say, from right after the 709 crackdown to December 2016, when you took on Xie’s case, you were still making trips to different areas to do human rights cases, right? Were there any cases in this timeframe that stood out especially?
Jiangang: One case that involved a lot of people and was in court for quite a while was the one in Fuyang, Anhui Province. It was a robber gang of deaf-mutes, whom the local government wanted to turn into a big important case, essentially “killing civilians to claim as slain enemies” by making this deaf-mute group into a dangerous mafia capable of the most ruthless acts.
A gang of deaf-mutes, the interrogation of one deaf-mute person from a single morning produces more than 20 pages of transcript s. One of the deaf-mutes confessed to having taken part in more than 2,000 thefts, and that he still remembered the exact locations, addresses, and which hotels they went to. This is impossible, just impossible. How could they obtain this kind of confession? The police made calls to public security bureaus all around the country, asking them if they had any unresolved cases of theft from hotels, and then saying “file them all with us, we’ll take care of them for you.” In this way, the theft cases from Shanghai, Beijing, Xinjiang, etc. cases from all over the country were all filed with this one public security bureau, and printed out, then they forced this gang of deaf-mutes to confess to all of them.
This case involved torture, and I’ll mention that some members of this gang were brutalized within inches of their lives. Among them, Defendant No. 3 was sent to the hospital for emergency treatment after being tortured, and he nearly died. Defendant No. 2 was a woman. In order to coerce her into agreeing with and singing off on everything the police cooked up, they rubbed menthol essential oils into her eyes, nearly causing her to go blind. Her eyesight suffered severely.
YC: How big was this gang?
Jiangang: More than 30 people were accused.
YC: How many were sentenced?
Jiangang: At least 20, with the longest sentence coming out to 12 years. Right, my client, the Defendant No. 1, was labelled as the group’s “mafia boss.”
YC: How old was he?
Jiangang: He should have been 50, if not, then roughly that age.
YC: Was he a rural or urban resident?
Jiangang: They lived in the city, and rented all over the place. Actually, if we get into detail about this topic, it concerns the plight of deaf-mutes and other disabled people in Chinese society.
YC: Mr. Chen, in December 2016 you were solicited by Xie Yang’s wife Chen Guiqiu to be his attorney. So what happened after that?
Jiangang: When I received Guiqiu’s request, I recall being in Dezhou, Shandong, for a court case. What else was going on at the time? The disappearance of [human rights lawyer] Jiang Tianyong (江天勇). The two events occurred roughly at the same time. Guiqiu sent me a message, saying “Jiangang, Xie Yang relayed a request for you to defend him, can you do it?”
I said of course I could, how could I say no? So while in Dezhou, we would secretly look at our phones while court was in session, then we saw lawyer Tang Jitain’s (唐吉田) message about how Jiang Tianyong had already disappeared for however many hours and that everyone should pay attention to the situation. We suddenly had a premonition that Jiang was in trouble. In court with me at the time were lawyers Liu Weiguo (刘卫国), Pang Kun (庞琨), Fu Yonggang (付永刚), and the late Zheng Xiang (郑湘), who was a good friend to us. We were saying, something may have happened to Jiang Tianyong. As we were discussing this matter, I said, “I may have to go to Changsha to defend Xie Yang.” This was the setting in which we received news. Guiqiu sent me another message. She said, “Jiangang, you should be prepared for a lot of pressure if you take Xie Yang’s case.”
On December 19, 2016, I arrived in Changsha and signed a power of attorney document with Guiqiu. I remember that day very clearly, because I checked it, it is written very thoroughly in my case notes. If not the 19th, it was the 20th. I took my documents and went to the No. 3 Detention Center in Changsha.
YC: The No. 2 Detention Center.
Jiangang: After I got there, it became apparent that I would not be allowed to meet Xie. This first trip was for submitting the documents to them. They said, “we’ll contact you within 24 hours,” and had me leave my phone number and name, as well as the materials. I remember they made a photocopy for themselves. Then I departed Changsha. This was the first trip to Changsha.
YC: They let you in on your second visit?
Jiangang: Yes. The date was December 22, 2016. We got there roughly two days earlier. And then, with Sui Muqing accompanying me, we went to the detention center.
YC: And what about lawyer Liu Zhengqing?
Jiangang: Old Liu also arrived in Changsha, because we had arranged so. I remember that he had already met Xie Yang before me. We split the work: he went to the court, I remember he went there to get the indictment, we basically split our forces.
On December 22, when I requested a meeting, I first went to the reception hall of the detention center, they took my materials and said, “We’ll take you to see our director, let’s go see him first.” The director told me … of course, I knew that their imposing so many requirements on me was actually the same as allowing me to meet Xie. If they didn’t want the meeting to happen, then they’d just say “You can’t have the meeting” and the matter would be closed. The reason they made all those demands of me was actually an indication that they would let me have the meeting.
So the demands they laid out were to follow the law and follow regulation, not to leak information about the meeting to the public, not to talk to others about it, and then I agreed.
YC: Mr. Chen, the first meeting you had with Xie Yang was in the morning of December 22, 2016, right?
Jiangang: That’s right, it was morning when I met him, around 10:30.
YC: Please explain in detail the Meeting Room 2 West that was set aside specifically for Xie Yang. I’m very interested in the details of the space, how large it was, how the room was configured. In particular, were there surveillance cameras, and how were you and Xie Yang separated? How did you speak to each other? These aspects are all of great interest to me.
Jiangang: It was like this: I believe that the meeting rooms, Meeting Room 2 West was similar to Meeting Rooms 1 West and 3 West. The difference was that Meeting Room 2 West had a special array of surveillance cameras, because there wasn’t such a dense concentration of them in the other rooms, only in 2 West. It’s probably a nationwide standard: a small room with a metal grating running through the center splitting it in two, both sides having their own doors. The detainee is brought in from the inside, the lawyer coming for the visit arrives from the outside. We come in from different directions via separate doors.
There was a surveillance camera directly above me, with its field of view directed at Xie Yang’s head and my face. Another camera was located above and behind me, maybe two, one at each corner. Another camera was situated behind Xie Yang, making at least three total. Those two cameras could see my head and Xie Yang’s face. Also, there was a black object on my table. I can’t say for certain what it was, but it looked like a large camera, the kind where the camera is inside and can rotate. I’m also unsure if it could listen to us as well; by law they are not allowed to eavesdrop on our conversations, but as we’re all aware, the Communist Party does not respect Chinese law.
YC: It was your first meeting with Xie Yang, and as good friends, your relationship was more than just that of lawyer and client. What were you and Xie’s reactions upon seeing each other?
Jiangang: Imagine it: from his arrest in July 2015 to winter 2016, already a year and a half had passed and we knew little about his circumstances, except that word of his being tortured had leaked to the outside. So after I met with him, I knew that he had been suffering, because us lawyers handling criminal cases, as well as sensitive cases like those involving human rights, we know that torture is common. So when I met him I felt very sad. By that point, Liu Zhengqing had already given him the case file, so when Xie came in he was holding a bunch of documents.
He was wearing the blue uniform of the detention center, his hair was long, and his face was covered with stubble. He was gaunt and haggard, and his complexion was quite dark to begin with, so when he came in it was a wretched sight, a man who had been tormented.
Seeing me, he said, “Jiangang, you’re here! I said, “brother, you’ve suffered.” The police then took his handcuffs, because he came in restrained, and took off the handcuff from his right hand, while keeping the left one on. They cuffed the right-hand one to the chair, allowing him to write. That was how we shook hands; when I said “you’ve suffered,” tears fell from his eyes. It’d been so long since we’d met, this was the first visitation.
YC: Were there police in the room during your meeting?
Jiangang: By law they could not be there, so the officers left after bringing Xie in. But behind the cameras they were there watching us. When we were talking, the police would burst in from behind Xie from time to time, saying “we saw a change in Xie Yang’s emotional state, is he crying?” It was like, as they surveilled us, they would come in like that to give a warning. Xie Yang would turn his head and say, “No, no, we’re fine.”
YC: Okay, now let’s talk about the details of your talks, the transcripts you produced.
Jiangang: In our first meeting, Xie Yang told me the gist of his story. I wasn’t able to transcribe, because though I was able to see him today, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be allowed to I see him again. So Xie Yang gave me a highly summarized synopsis of his experiences, and I typed it out in very quick notes as he talked. Also, I didn’t interrupt him, Xie Yang wouldn’t let me either. “I’ll just tell you as much as I can right now, let’s go over it later.” So I would type out a line and hit “enter,” keeping sketchy notes. .
YC: That is to say, when fortunately you were able to continue the visits, you had an outline of events with you.
Jiangang: Not really an outline, but I had a grasp of the rough situation.
YC: Right, I understand, it was a synopsis, like you haven’t seen the movie, but you know the synopsis. So over the next few days of meetings, Xie Yang spoke in great detail about the torture he suffered while held in RSDL. You’ve mentioned how the police would burst in periodically and ask if he was emotionally agitated. Could you describe some of these emotional moments?
Jiangang: Thinking about that initial meeting with Xie Yang, who’d already been imprisoned for a year and a half and suffered so much, he cried as he spoke. He cried when I saw him. Later, as we were talking, I said that Sui Muqing had come with me, he was waiting outside. When Xie Yang heard that he wept, he was crying. And as he went through his experiences, when I was making notes, he would break down in tears when he got to certain points in the story.
He’d been abused quite terribly, he could barely hold his head up. The way he’d been deprived of sleep totally drains one’s energy and spirit.
The police told him: “Your daughter is Xie Yajuan, right? We know where she goes to school. I’m telling you, we know exactly which college your wife works at. Xie Yang, you also know what traffic in Changsha is like, it wouldn’t be strange if they had a car accident. Your wife and daughter together, getting in a car crash…” The meaning was obvious, they could arrange an accident to kill them both. This kind of talk terrified Xie Yang. When I heard it, I was so enraged, slamming the table with my fist. Damnit, I wanted to kill these bastards!
YC: Mr. Chen, would you please tell us how “How Xie Yang’s Transcripts of Torture Came to Light” came to be written?
Jiangang: I created a total of three transcripts, of which I have released two. I am preparing to disclose the third on the 709 anniversary this year. The first two are now available online, so I’ll skip over the details. I met several times with Xie Yang, today, tomorrow, morning, afternoon. That was how the visits went. We’d just talk, and then I would take notes and sort them out at night at the hotel to create an electronic version.
In the process I met with some interference. The police noticed that I met with Xie Yang continuously, and that we talked for lengthy stretches. One day I went in the morning, and when I went back in the afternoon they made me wait. How long? A long wait. While I was waiting there, the guards were pressuring Xie Yang, saying things like, “Xie Yang, no one can save you, certainly not that lawyer of yours. Just obey, in other words trust the Party, trust the government, do what you are told to do, that’s the only way to get a lighter sentence.” They probably realized that I was coming all the time and wanted Xie Yang to know that I was no use to him.
In the three days from January 4 to 6, 2017, I remember it was Wednesday to Friday, I probably met with him six times. During these three days, I’ll mention that the last time we went, one odd thing happened. I still suspect that my meeting request forms were stolen. Liu Zhengqing’s bag went missing during an interview, and he lost many things along with it.
When we last met for an interview, I printed the transcripts of our meetings to have Xie Yang check and sign them, but that time my request forms were gone. I knew for a fact that I had enough copies in a file folder, so how were there suddenly none? I asked the receptionist officer if he had seen anyone move any of my materials. The officer, who had known me for a while, responded as though in a reflex, saying, “Don’t ask me! Go ask the boss! I don’t know anything!” As soon as I heard this, I knew what was up, so I just stopped asking. But I just happened to have an extra copy that wasn’t placed in the folder I normally kept blank documents in. I recall that I had been in Weihai, Shandong, and had put two copies of the request form in my bag. I used one in Weihai, and the other was left in an EMS envelope. If I’m right, and someone stole my forms, they didn’t know that I had a copy elsewhere. I found that last copy, and used it to see Xie Yang and get his signature and sign-off.
It was before the Chinese New Year when I got this done and secured the two transcripts. The third transcript was from meetings after the Chinese New Year. Afraid that they might not let me see Xie Yang again, I went back as quickly as possible; it must have been no later than seven or eight days after the New Year. I flew back to Changsha, interviewed him one last time, and then produced the third transcript.
According to my original plan, I didn’t intend to make these transcripts public immediately. When Liu Zhengqing and I, as well as several other lawyers in Hunan, settled on this plan, the idea was that the transcripts would be used as a deterrent. A threat in being, if you will. My idea was not to let them know how powerful it was, not use it, but use it in an exchange.
Because at that time Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) was released on bail pending trial, my idea was that I would make a deal with the Guobao to release Xie Yang, go the same route as Xie Yanyi, but if we didn’t have leverage, they weren’t going to let him go.
That night, I told Guiqiu to make a photocopy to the Guobao. However, after she returned, she didn’t do it as I had told her to; instead she gave the Guobao an excerpt of the transcript. She didn’t tell them where it came from. This dramatically reduced its power to wound, to deter. Guiqiu took her chosen excerpt and talked to the Guobao, saying “We now know that Xie Yang was tortured, we have the proof.” But the Guobao scoffed at it and didn’t take it seriously, so the negotiation failed.
At the time, I thought she’d given everything to the Guobao, and they had no reaction whatsoever. Did they think it inconsequential? I was angry, because according to my thinking, it shouldn’t have gone this way. I didn’t know that Guiqiu had watered down my plan.
In January 2017, at earliest January 18, I went to Xi’an on business. I was handling a case during the day, and at the same time I kept up contact with Guiqiu. I had heard that Guobao had no intention of releasing Xie Yang, didn’t react at all, something to that effect. So I was infuriated that evening, still unaware of what Guiqiu had done.
In the middle of the night on January 19, I said to myself, since we’ve gone this far, let’s bring out our knives and duel it out.
I published the two transcripts on my blog and reposted them on Weibo. That was it. I basically didn’t sleep that night, and when dawn came, on the 19th, I was suddenly flooded with phone calls until I lost my voice in the afternoon. So many calls came in from media organizations, from overseas, American, Hongkonger, Taiwanese, Japanese, British, French, German, etc. I fielded calls all day without pause, and felt the momentum building throughout, as I recall.
YC: Was this something beyond your expectations?
Jiangang: No, it wasn’t, it was what I expected. I had anticipated that exposing this account of torture would make big ripples, but to be honest I didn’t expect it would get this big, because I’d never seen this kind of media blizzard. Looking back at all the cases I know of, none of them got as much attention and media reportage as the publication of the torture transcripts.
YC: After publishing “Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang,” what was the reaction in Changsha?
Guiqiu: There was none. After several days of silence, one day, six policemen came to my door. When they knocked the first time, I asked who they were. They said, “Let’s talk inside.” I said “I’m not letting you in” and closed the door. They kept knocking nonstop. I opened the door again, and they said they were the Guobao and demanded entry. Before I could refuse, they were already inside, they’d gotten a foot in the door and me under control. They didn’t let me use my phone, they took my phone. That was around 8 in the morning, my younger daughter had just gotten up and was about to brush her teeth in the bathroom. My older daughter was also at home and still asleep, because she had been studying the night before and hadn’t gotten up. That’s how it was. The Guobao said, “we need to take you with us.” I asked where.” “To the Hunan University security office.” I said that my younger daughter was at home, and that day my father wasn’t at home since he’d returned to our hometown, so I said I had to bring my daughter with me. So I had her come with us. We got in their car and went to the campus security office. Once we got there I found two rooms full of Guobao officers. I was seated in one of the rooms. They did the same mix of coercion and coaxing, their aim was to have me persuade Xie Yang to confess, and they wanted me to stay silent myself, to compromise. I refused to compromise, I sternly rejected their ideas. I told them, “You must release Xie Yang, he’s committed no crime, you must release him.” My intention was to get him freed. The Guobao’s plan was to get Xie Yang to admit guilt, and sentence with probation. I said, “you can’t sentence him, only release him.” So we stayed deadlocked that day, for over nine hours.
YC: Did they say anything about the publication of Xie Yang’s torture account or the impact it had made abroad?
Guiqiu: Not a single word.
YC: After the transcripts were exposed, it seems you tried to go abroad, but were stopped at the border.
Guiqiu: Right. They had an exit ban on me, they didn’t let me leave China. I’d tried it once on April 4, 2016, I’d heard that others, like Qiaoling and their children, were unable to leave China. So I tried it for myself one day, on April 4, 2016, and I was stopped too. After that episode, I thought that maybe things would loosen up later on. So in February 2017, right, around February, I tried again. I was to take a train from Guangzhou East station to Hong Kong. But we were intercepted again at Guangzhou East station, they said we couldn’t cross the border. Not only that, they also detained my older daughter, separating her from me. That room had no cell phone reception, which made me very worried. Then they drove us away when I tried to stay close to my daughter, take a look at her. But they drove us away, the way you drive animals away. Those people were vicious, they also tried to confiscate my passport, and the identification of my daughters and I, ostensibly for verification. I didn’t give it to them, so there was a scuffle. I remained adamant, so they said “If you don’t give the IDs to us, we’ll kick you out of here.” That really made me angry. At the scene, such that my little daughter hadn’t seen before—she was 2 and a half, actually, four years old, anyway. Seeing her mom in a shouting match with strangers and getting driven out and cursed by them, my daughter started spouting blood from her nose, not a normal nosebleed, she was spouting a pool of blood on the ground.
YC: How long did they hold your older daughter for?
Guiqiu: She was held for more than three hours, as I remember.
YC: How old was she?
Guiqiu: In 2016 she was 14, not quite 15 yet.
YC: Did she tell you what they did to her?
Guiqiu: After being let out and seeing me, she hugged me and cried. First of all, my daughter is a shy and introverted girl. Think about it, that was a checkpoint at the border crossing, and though we were driven to a place further away, there were still a lot of people. Yet she cried in my arms loudly and uncontrollably. People around all stared at us, not knowing what had happened. After she calmed down a little, I asked her what happened, and asked why she had been held for so long. She said that they simply had her sit down in that room, and that nobody was allowed near her. She wanted to text me but found out that her phone had no signal, so all she could do was wait. She said that she’d asked them what was up, and said she wanted to see me. They replied, “we are handling your situation,” and kept her here all the while.
YC: So after that you probably got some idea of what kind of situation you were in, right? What was your plan?
Guiqiu: Yes, I made up my mind to leave China right there and then in Guangzhou East station.
YC: After Xie Yang’s torture was exposed, it ignited a wave of attention around the world, because in the one and a half years prior, observers could only guess at what treatment was befalling the human rights lawyers detained in the 709 crackdown. So when the torture was exposured, it’s like opening a curtain inside a dark room, saw such a brutal scene. I assume that after revealing the tortures meted out to Xie Yang, the pressure on you also followed. Please tell us about it.
Jiangang: Let me first add that the process of publishing the transcripts wasn’t smooth, because once I posted on my blog, it was deleted that very day. Then I’d republish it, they’d delete it again. But in 2017, they still hadn’t demolished my account altogether.
In the course of posting and reposting and fielding questions from the overseas media, I began to get phone calls from the Justice Bureau.
YC: From the Justice Bureau in Beijing?
Jiangang: Yes, at two levels: the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau and the Justice Bureau of Chaoyang District. The one surveilling us lawyers was mostly the municipal Justice Bureau, and the person contacting me was normally Zhu Yuzhu (朱玉柱).
YC: What was his rank?
Jiangang: He’s probably the director of the lawyer management office. The director before him was Chai Lei, who was responsible for disbarring Tang Jitian.
Zhu Yuzhu called me many times. “Jiangang, come to the Justice Bureau, there’s an important problem we have to discuss.” I would tell him I was out of town on business and could not go, I was in a hearing, and so on. “Then when will you be in Beijing, come as soon as you can.” The first time I was summoned to the Justice Bureau because of the Xie Yang transcripts was February 24, 2017.
YC: That’s slow, that was a month after you’d published the transcripts. Even considering the Spring Festival vacation, they were slow to act.
Jiangang: Indeed, it was a little inexplicable. At the beginning, even in Changsha, they didn’t expect something like this. Until… the Beijing Justice Bureau was unaware of the situation. How did they find out about it? Only when it got a storm of attention from the international media did the central authorities, that is, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, become aware of what happened and give the Justice Bureau a thorough upbraiding. This is what Zhu Yuzhu told me.
When I met him, Zhu said, “Jiangang, come Jiangang, tell me what you’ve been up to lately.” And then “My friend, the central government is furious now, the Ministry of Justice has been cursing us out, ‘How could you screw things up like this?’” This is what Zhu said, that the central authorities were very angry, and the justice ministry was hounding them on this matter. Having said that, Zhu took out a pile of documents, about this thick: “This is what we got from the Guobao. Have they checked in with you?” I said that they’d called. “Have a look, leaf through these materials.” It was the transcripts, the content of the transcripts, and reports by the international media, it had screenshots of me being interviewed by VOA. That’s what he had me look at, what the Guobao sent him. Next he said, “My friend, doing this kind of thing isn’t good for your family, you need to consider their wellbeing.” I said, “Okay, what do you want?” “Going forward, write no more articles, don’t inflame things, don’t speak out.”
Then I made a demand of my own. I said, “I haven’t really got much to ask. I can persuade Xie Yang and his wife. Xie Yanyi in Beijing’s already been released. Can your higher-ups communicate my request to the authorities in Changsha? They’ve been ignoring me. Could you do it for me? You do that, and I would cease talking about it, Xie Yang would too, and they let him go home.” Zhu Yuzhu accepted.
Do you know what they did instead? After our meeting, they sought out Xie Yang and had a talk with him, saying “How’s your health?” Xie Yang told them, “I’m doing very well,” they showed him climbing stairs and such, everything seemed okay. “Look, you said that Xie Yang was tortured. That’s ridiculous, Xie Yang himself said that he’s in good shape.” They prepared all these materials to attack me with. Later, in the night of February 28 and March 1 if I recall, I saw a message while I was on the train. I was on business, en route to Fujian when I suddenly realized that they would probably come to arrest me next.
Starting March 1, the Communist Party-run media, as well as a large number of bloggers supported by the CCP, began a full-on barrage against me. Xie Yang and Jiang Tianyong appeared on TV, as well as the Whatsapp conversation between Jiang Tianyong and Chen Guiqiu. Jiang suggested to Chen that she publish this information, gave her editorial advice on how to format it and so on. Jiang Tianyong apparently caved in under torture, saying, “I fed the foreign media whatever they wanted to hear,” and so on, while Xie Yang had simply been tricked. He never said he hadn’t been tortured. But when the reporter asked “How’s your health?” Xie Yang saying “very good,” they broadcasted this as “evidence” that Xie Yang hadn’t been tortured.
By the time I’d arrived, that is, when I got to Fujian via a combination of plane and then train, I was thinking, “Aren’t they generating this media firestorm in preparation to arrest me? I’ll be arrested for sure.” Even though they hadn’t mentioned me by name, but when they said lawyers produced documents regarding the torture of Xie Yang, the transcripts bearing my name were shown scrolling down the TV screen, I was certain my arrest was imminent.
However… Guiqiu never contacted me again after the Spring Festival, and during my trip to Changting city in Fujian, I began to sense that she was probably planning on leaving China, or I was waiting for that outcome, like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Around that time, let me think, someone contacted me, telling me that Guiqiu and her daughters had gone to Thailand. I was very pleased and sent out a WeChat message, saying that “the truth had been set free and was smiling with joy.”
YC: This had to be a very important development for you, because think about it, if they arrested you, and also arrested Guiqiu…
Jiangang: What I was thinking at the time was this: the four most important characters here were Jiang Tianyong, Xie Yang, Chen Guiqiu, and myself, with each person being one 90-degree sector of the circle. If we had all been arrested, the circle would be whole. Why? Xie Yang was the implicated party, he says “I wasn’t tortured”; Jiang Tianyong was the conspirator, who could be made to say anything under torture, so he said “I fabricated the torture story.” Chen Guiqiu is Xie Yang’s wife, and her conversations with Jiang about how to handle the information had been intercepted; moreover, being a mom, if they threatened her daughters to intimidate her, let me tell you, she’d say whatever they wanted her to say. It’s the same with me, if they use my son to threaten me, I’d also cave, no two ways about it.
I was in a state of great anxiety when I got to Changting because during the trip I’d gotten word that Guiqiu and her daughters had been apprehended in Thailand. March 1 was when I got the news. It was then that I suddenly realized why the CCP had begun its media barrage against us even before Guiqiu was taken back to China. The reason, I realized, was that China was already 100 percent certain that they had secured her repatriation. Two were already in jail, me in China with my every step under surveillance, and Chen Guiqiu arrested in Thailand. So the rest was just a matter of time: as soon as she stepped on Chinese soil, Chen Jiangang would be arrested. So by the time I got to Changting, my mind was flooded with this thought. I thought, perhaps right here, in the hotel I checked in, the police could come and get me, so I immediately made arrangements for that outcome, I handwrote a letter and then recorded a short video that I sent to my friends in case something happened to me. During my days in Changting,I would go to court for the trial, go out to eat during the recess, and back to court again, so on and so forth for several days. All the while I stayed in touch with friends, and one day as I was eating, I got word that the US government had rescued Chen Guiqiu. When I received this news in Changting, I was thinking that the reason I was not arrested there was precisely because Chen Guiqiu had not been sent back to China, or else I would definitely have been arrested.
YC: Guiqiu, please briefly describe your secret departure from China and flight to freedom.
Guiqiu: After returning to Changsha, it was the Chinese New Year. I had been considering how to leave China the whole time. They also had an exit ban on my older daughter, and though my younger daughter held US citizenship, I wasn’t sure if she was under a travel ban as well, as she’d last returned to China with a travel document. Given this situation, I started getting in touch with friends and planning how to get out. I got help from friends and was able to get to Thailand. I think I left before the 10th day of the Chinese New Year, around January 10 of the lunar calendar, that is, February 16. I remember it was March 17 that I got to the US, and had spent a month in between, yes, I got to America on March 17. I’d left China around February 16, and got to America on March 17. Between those dates, what I experienced in Thailand was like something out of a thriller.
YC: I seem to recall that Chinese agents took your relatives to Thailand, or they were made to send you messages asking you to return.
Guiqiu: My relatives were brought to Thailand, a whole bunch of them. My father had never been out of China, but that time he traveled abroad.
YC: Oh my God, the police took your father to Thailand to search for you, is that right?
Guiqiu: Yes. There were about 10 people in total, they arrived by plane. My father had never been out of the country, that was his first and it was under these circumstances. That’s right.
The Guobao did it this way, they planned things like this with so many people involved. When I was in Thailand, they got this team of 10 people, including my father, my younger sister, and people from my home village: the village committee members, cadres from my university and academic department, and of course the Guobao and MSS officers themselves.
I was discovered by Chinese agents, and they led Thai police directly to where I was staying, taking the three of us away. We were held in the Immigration Jail. Honestly, apart from my thanks to the US government and the friends who helped me get out, I have to thank God for leading us every step along the way to safety. After we were released from immigration jail with help from the US Embassy, we waited patiently for the opportunity to go to America.
It was only when we got to the US that I learned that when I’d been arrested—I was being arrested on March 2—on March 1 there’d been an all-out media attack, from CCTV, Phoenix Television, and …
YC: Phoenix Television, the infamous “fake foreign media” set up in Hong Kong but controlled by the CCP.
Guiqiu: Right. Global Times and these other state media claimed I fabricated the torture allegations, and I’d made everything up.
Jiangang: Since the CCP had carried out such a massive smear campaign against me, and I was the only one with detailed knowledge of this case, I would have to refute their lies if the world was to know the truth. So I thought—I’m used to writing things at night, I remember that I’d gotten your phone call in the afternoon, you recommended that I write an article. I said I was already about to do that, that I’d start that evening. You told me not to miss the window for media coverage. I said that I’d already prepared an outline and would write it that evening. I started that afternoon, how long was it, around 10,000 words?
YC: Yes, probably over 10,000 words.
Jiangang: “How Xie Yang’s Transcripts of Torture Came to Light” was the article, I’d written around 13 sub-headlines, an account of the whole process from start to finish. It served as a refutation of the Communist Party’s onslaught against me, this was my counterattack. Then I sent it. With the publication of this article, a new round of competition had begun.
I wrote multiple articles following this one. Pretty much every time I published an article, I would receive a phone call from the Beijing Justice Bureau within an hour. Zhu Yuzhu would say, “Jiangang, you’ve posted another article, right? My friend, delete it right away. When you get back to Beijing we’ll have a talk, but first you delete this.” That was how he said it. I was in Changting on my way to visit my client in the detention center, and got Zhu’s call while on a tricycle cab. I was outraged, and said, “Can’t you see they’re attacking me? They’re saying I made things up, they said my transcripts are fake; if I don’t refute them, the next thing I know I’ll be arrested. If you don’t let me speak out now, you’re forcing me to let them trample on me in whatever manner they wish. This will not stand, I must refute them.”
Later on as I recall, the Hunan provincial procuratorate launched a so-called “independent investigation” into the matter of whether Xie Yang had been tortured. Let me remember what the article I wrote was called… “Questions for the Hunan Procuratorate Regarding Its ‘Independent Investigation’ into Xie Yang’s Torture.” So, on March 2 I wrote “How Xie Yang’s Transcripts of Torture Came to Light,” then on March 5 I published the article scrutinizing the “independent investigation.” By March 7, I wrote another piece, “The Aftermath of a Political Lie.” Pretty much every time I published an article, I would get a phone call from Zhu Yuzhu within the hour.
Zhu Yuzhu told me that the central authorities were angry about this issue. The Ministry of Justice, Zhu said, slammed their fists on the table cursing them. He said, “At the Beijing Justice Bureau, we can’t do our work anymore, all because of you, our work is being messed up, we can’t carry on like this. The MOJ was irate, they are cursing at us every day. … ” Another line of his was, “Right now the entire Justice Bureau is held up by your one case.” Zhu would say this kind of thing every time.
YC: They didn’t do anything to your practicing license?
Jiangang: Of course they did! Threatening lawyers’ practice is part of their SOP. During the summons by both municipal and district justice bureaus, Zhu Yuzhu threatened me with regulations on managing lawyers’ practice, saying that I had violated discipline and regulations, and would face punishment. Also that my transgressions were so serious that they would impact my wife and children, and I wouldn’t be able to get out of this matter without consequence. I have all the texts from our conversations; I kept his texts.
They didn’t target just me, but my law firm as well. I was a partner of our small firm. The authorities went to our office and demanded all of the case and client documentation that I had worked on.
Threatening your family, yoru career, your law office, and then putting pressure on you via your colleagues; the next step would be to “rectify” the law firm, suspending the firm’s business.
YC: What case were you handling in Changting? Could you describe it briefly?
Jiangang: The client was an official accused of corruption. He was a public security bureau chief.
There are two points of note regarding this type of client, and I believe they apply in all cases of “official offense” in China. On the one hand, none of these people are innocent. To sentence any of them as guilty, let alone a bureau chief, even the director of a neighborhood committee or a village chief has committed some crime. They embezzle funds and take bribes, abuse their power; they get what they deserve, all of them. But at the same time, they have all been wronged. Why do I say this? Because the offenses attributed to them, the hundreds of millions of yuan they are charged with embezzling, is very often fictitious.
The vast majority of them don’t dare fight back. There are very few who engage us [human rights lawyers] to mount a defense. For the most part, they feel, “I’ve followed the Party and enjoyed my position for all my life, now the Party has abandoned me and pressed charges, but they’ve spared my life, if I spend 10 or 20 years in prison, so be it.” That’s how the vast majority of them take it. This is the state that Chinese officials live in, one of the fates that awaits them. The client I represented suffered extremely agonizing torture, the details of which I’ll expose in future.
YC: Could you give us a few examples?
Jiangang: Our audiences in civilized countries and societies won’t be able to imagine the ruthlessness with which the CCP’s Commission for Discipline Inspection handles these Party officials.
Once you’re in the hands of the CDI, it’s impossible to take your own life, so whenever you see any news from the Party media saying that so-and-so committed suicide while under investigation by the CDI, you can know using your judgement that it was not a suicide, but homicide.
To tell you an example of what kind of torture my client suffered, when the CDI cadres interrogated him, they would play on their cell phones, or flip through magazines or case materials, sitting in chairs in the room, while having my client crawl around the room in circles like a dog. Sometimes they’d have him crawl back and forth under the table. They had him crawl like a dog inside this small room for two hours, three hours, four hours nonstop at a time, with his back bent over, with sweat dripping everywhere. When the time was up, the CDI interrogators would bring ice water, with ice cubes inside a bucket of cold water, and pour the cold down his shirt from the collar. So my client had constant back pain. I recall that when we went to court, he was hunchbacked. He said his back was hurting chronically just because of this torture. And this method leaves no signs of abuse, and you couldn’t tell what kind of torture he’d suffered. There are many cruel tortures like this.
YC: Now let’s talk about the circumstances under which the “10-second questioning” came to be.
Jiangang: In March, on March 24—I have it recorded—on March 24 when I left Fujian for Beijing, as I was in the airport waiting to board the flight, I made the first short video called “10-second questioning.” WeChat only allows 10-second videos, just enough for two lines of speech. This was in March and the CCP’s media was delivering an all-out attack on me, denying the accounts of torture. I’d written many articles, and we had ample reason to refute these attacks. In order to have this issue gain more traction, to have more people see it and hear about it, I had this sudden idea and recorded a whole series of “10-second questioning” at the airport.
The CCP claimed there was no torture, but we cast doubt on this claim that Xie Yang wasn’t tortured. If he were not tortured, why doesn’t anyone ask him? Why not let him say it for himself? Why don’t they show footage of his interrogation? Why isn’t he allowed to meet his lawyers? If the Party was doing things legitimately… anyway, I scrutinized these things.
YC: How many people ended up recording 10-second questionings?
Jiangang: Perhaps up to 100 lawyers and citizens took part. When we compiled these 10-second videos, the result was quite impressive. Now, every time I see one of these online, I still feel rather excited and often laugh. Why? The lawyers came from all over the country and spoke different dialects in different settings and with different tones of voice. Some were in vehicles, some were topless, some were recording in the snow, and others were enjoying themselves at an amusement park.
YC: These battles of wit continued back and forth until around April. Now I remember that around this time, some people from Hunan arrived in Beijing. When did this happen, and what did it entail?
Jiangang: It was mid-April. I’ll put it this way. Since I began taking human rights cases, I had not seen such focused attention, a great wave of media attention from the international community, from so many countries. By February, ambassadors from 11 countries had written a joint letter, the ambassadors stationed in China wrote to the head of the Ministry of Public Security, I think back then it was Guo Shengkun (郭声琨). They expressed concern about the PRC’s arrests of lawyers, and the regime’s use of torture against them, they asked the Chinese government to investigate the matter. As for when exactly the letter is dated, I’d have to go look through my case records.
YC: A Canadian paper first reported on the letter in April.
Jiangang: We had presented this case to the most powerful grand jury by letting the Chinese people, the international media, and international community act as the grand jury, to have these people judge the matter, thus putting continuous pressure on the Chinese government.
Roughly April 12, I got a call. Zhu Yuzhu said, “Tomorrow, no matter what, you must come to the Justice Bureau, you must come.” Since I was indeed in Beijing at the time, I couldn’t refuse, and went the next day. The meeting was at the Chaoyang District Justice Bureau.
From Hunan had come two people who are well-known among the lawyers in Hunan, because these two individuals were the ones responsible for suppressing them. One was office director Tang (汤) of the Hunan Province Justice Department, the other was director Wang of the Changsha Municipal Justice Bureau, I think his full name was Wang Jian (王剑). Director Tang was thin and wearing glasses. He said, “Here’s the deal, Mr. Chen. Xie Yang is a lawyer from our Hunan, and we want to protect him.”
I thought, my God, he was treated so damn brutally for two years, and you guys have to gall to talk about “protecting” him. They said, “We’ve already done our work, now we want to protect his lawyer’s license. From now on, please excuse yourself from his case.” I said, “That’s not something you can request and expect me to follow without any reason.” They said, “Xie Yang has already decided to stop using your services.”
Tang said, “We have Xie Yang’s paperwork to stop engaging you, Xie Yang made the decision.” I asked to see it, and he showed me a photo of the document on his phone. I asked where the original document was. “I don’t have it,” he said. “Where did you get this photo then?” They said, “It’s like this, this document was photographed at the detention center.” I said, “If you got it from the detention center, then what you did is illegal. This is a pretty obvious mistake, it’s in breach of regulation. How can the Justice Department interfere with the detention center, to go meet an inmate suspected of endangering national security? Who let you in? This is an official crime, unacceptable.”
I then asked them, “What are you going to do from here on out? If you want me off the case, if I withdraw and end my involvement, what will you give in exchange? What’s the best you can do?” Director Tang, being from the Hunan Justice Department and thus higher in rank, said, “How’s this: we’ll do our job and make sure Xie Yang keeps his license. On your end, Mr. Chen, you withdraw from the case.” I said, “I’m afraid that may be difficult, given the nature of the case. If Xie Yang’s convicted, even assuming a reprieve sentence, the two crimes he’s charged with will still strip him of his license.” It was only later on that I realized that they had spent a long time looking into the workings of the law to find a path of retreat, to create an offense that could be labeled as a crime, but not require punishment. For a lawyer, not receiving criminal punishment was sufficient to keep his license. This was the condition they described to me.
So the conditions I gave them were that they would release Xie Yang in exchange for me quitting the case. That was April 13, they said it would happen at the end of the month.
Then I left. Outside the Justice Bureau I took a photo, and I said to myself: I will keep a photo of this victory.
* * *
On May 8, 2017, the Changsha municipal People’s Court heard the charges of “inciting subversion of state power” levied against Xie Yang. While in court, Xie denied that he had been tortured, “confessed” his “guilt,” and expressed “regrets,” allowing him to escape sentencing and be released that day. In a July 2017 interview with Radio Free Asia, Xie Yang said, “I was released after making a deal [with them], and prefer not to revisit the things that happened then.” Xie Yang continues to practice law in Changsha, but is still barred from leaving the country.
Jiang Tianyong was disappeared on November 21, 2016 and secretly detained in RSDL. On August 22, 2017, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court tried Jiang. In lieu of detailed evidence, the court described him as a proxy of “overseas anti-China forces.” Jiang was released on February 28, 2019, but remains in house arrest under 24-hour surveillance at his parents’ home in Henan Province.
Liu Zhengqing was disbarred by the Guangdong provincial Justice Department in January 2019.
After his role in the Xie Yang case, Chen Jiangang continued to suffer threats, harassment, and surveillance by the Beijing Guobao, and was prohibited from leaving China. Despite this, in July 2019 Chen and his family secretly left China and arrived in the United States after a difficult journey. They have applied for political asylum.
Chen Jiangang: “My career as a lawyer began in 2007 and ended in 2019. This is a great blow to me, as I’m still a lawyer developing and growing. In China, one’s chance to shine lasts for but a brief moment before the regime comes to extinguish your light.”