Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Custody

China Change, February 5, 2021

Ding Jiaxi (right) and Xu Zhiyong. Photo taken in 2018 before their arrests. Lawyers are unable to take current pictures from virtual meeting.

On February 3, 2021, Beijing lawyer Peng Jian (彭剑) met for the second time with human rights activist and citizen movement advocate Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) at the Linshu County Detention Center in Shandong Province (山东临沭县看守所). The meeting was conducted by video, and unlike during the first meeting, the video equipment and the network at the detention center worked fine. The two spoke for about two and a half hours.

Ding Jiaxi was detained in Beijing on December 26, 2019, for convening and attending a gathering in Xiamen in early December of the same year. He was then taken to Yantai, Shandong Province (山东烟台), for “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). Three other individuals who had been arrested on the same day were released after six months in RSDL. After the arrests began, another prominent civic activist, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), fled and was apprehended in Guangzhou in February 2020. Xu and Ding were formally arrested in June this year after their RSDL ended in Yantai, and were transferred to Shandong Linshu County Detention Center. They are currently the only two people in custody in the Xiamen case and may face charges of “subversion of state power,” a more severe charge than “inciting subversion of state power.”

Ding Jiaxi had been held for 13 months incommunicado before seeing his lawyer for the first time on January 21 of this year.

The following are some details of the interrogation and torture Ding suffered during his detention, as related to lawyer Peng Jian.

Sleep Deprivation

When I was arrested, it was winter, and I was wearing only one layer of clothing. I was taken away with my arms twisted, barefoot and wearing slippers, they didn’t allow me to wear my coat. Once outside, I  was so cold that I felt as though all my joints were pricked by knives.

After the Spring Festival [Jan. 25th, 2020], they started to show me the propaganda film “Xi Jinping’s Strategy of Governance: The Last Five Years in China” (《习近平治国方略:中国这五年》) all day and all night, 24 hours a day, at maximum volume for 10 days.

During the six months under residential surveillance in Yantai, I held out for the first 103 days without giving a confession. On 73 days they interrogated me under sleep deprivation.

For the entire 6 months, I didn’t see a single ray of sunlight.

The fluorescent light in the room was lit 24 hours. I was not allowed to shower, and to brush my teeth. The space I moved about were two rooms opposite each other across the hall. The room opposite the interrogation room had nothing but a mattress. When I was not interrogated, I had to sit on the mattress. They put a black hood over my head whenever I was brought out to the hallway or to use the bathroom.

The Tiger Bench

After I was sent to the designated residence for RSDL, I held out and refused to confess all the way to the end of March.

From April 1 to April 8, I was strapped to a tiger bench (老虎凳), with a restraining belt on my back and a belt around my waist tightened to the limit, making it difficult to breathe. Four groups of eight people came in to interrogate me every day from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. the next day. Between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., I could use the bathroom, eat, and walk around, but was not allowed to sleep. I was not allowed to sleep for 24 hours for a week. Because of the long sitting on the tiger bench, my ankles were swollen like buns, and the pain was unbearable.

I missed my wife and children, I thought in a sudden sentimental moment. On the morning of April 7, I told the interrogators that I would no longer insist on zero confession; instead, I asked the public security bureau director to agree to four conditions before I spoke: 1) that I would only talk about the Xiamen meeting; 2) I would only confess to actions but not to crimes; 3) I would not accept government-assigned lawyers; and 4) I must be allowed to sleep.

They agreed at the time. But from April 28th to May 6th, they again began interrogating me in shifts, allowing only four hours of sleep a day, 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. This was Huang Yongming’s own decision [see below]. During this period, I had become so weak that I fainted twice and lost memory.

The Persecutors at the Yantai Public Security Bureau

During the six months of RSDL, the main people who tortured me were: Huang Yongming (黄永明), probably the deputy chief of the Second Brigade of the Criminal Investigation Brigade of the Yantai Public Security Bureau in Laishan District, police badge number 044286. At first, Huang got close to me, saying that he and I were of similar age, and that his daughter was of similar age to my daughter, and that he would not do anything unworthy of the national emblem on his uniform cap. But in reality he was a despicable person. Huang’s deputy is named Zhang Benqing (张本庆). The leader of the special case task force is Zhao Feng (赵峰), director of the Yantai Public Security Bureau. The decision to not allow sleep for 24 hours for 7 consecutive days was made by this director Zhao Feng.

In Linshu Detention Center

After being transferred to Linshu Detention Center in June 2020 at the end of RSDL, for three months, I was not allowed to spend money deposited for me by relatives. For each meal, I was given one mantou bun, sometimes plus a bowl of boiled vegetables. I was made to be hungry. It wasn’t until mid-September when they allowed me to spend money. 

From June to October, both lunch and supper consisted of boiled water spinach (空心菜). From October to now, it’s been boiled napa cabbage.

And more, during those first months, I didn’t have my own clothes and could only wear the jail clothes. I didn’t even have underwear. When an inmate bought underwear for me, the jail boss scolded the inmate, and the guard told him “you are forbidden to help this person!”

Now I’ve received all the money deposited for me. I spent 6,000 yuan in less than five months. Prices here are three times more expensive than outside. I live in Room 207 with 17 other inmates. My relationship with them has improved a lot because I often buy stuff for inmates who didn’t have money.  

There is no physical checkup nor any medical care. Because of severe calcium deficiency, my teeth are deteriorating, and a while ago I lost one tooth while eating, and I don’t expect to have a chance to repair it with a dentist.

I see none of the 21 letters Shengchun sent me. It’s impossible for me to write — there is no pen and no paper. No books, no newspapers either. The only TV I get is CCTV evening news and some boring soap operas that I would have never watched otherwise. So I don’t have any other source of information. I’ve been almost in an information vacuum the past year. 

The detention center authorities withheld my name, I was known only by my surname. When the guards called me, they would yell “No-name in 207, come out!”

Messages To Ding Jiaxi from His Wife and Two Daughters

During the meeting, lawyer Peng Jian read Ding Jiaxi  messages by his two daughters and wife.

Younger Daughter Shasha (Taft University sophomore):

Dear Dad, a lot happened last year. In March, all the universities sent us home because of the coronavirus, so I finished my freshman year at home and spent the summer at Alfred [New York], taking summer courses, and helping mom. I wrote an article about you and published it in our university newspaper.

In my sophomore year, I switched to chemical engineering instead of international relations. I’ve become an environmental representative, teaching fellow students about environmental issues. I made a lot of good friends in my dorm this year, and every week we cook food, dance, and watch movies together.

Dad, we are all rooting for you, you are not alone. Mom, sister, me, the people at Alfred, my classmates, we are all walking with you! We will do everything we can to help you and all the persecuted people and families.

You are my dad and I am very proud of you!

Love, Shasha

Elder Daughter Katherine (PhD student in applied physics at Stanford University):

Hey dad, it’s your wayward daughter here. It’s been a while. You know we have our differences, but I can still see that your cause is worthy, and what they are doing to you is a massive injustice. You know it, we know it, and your tormenters know it. So I’d like to say to you in the depths of your suffering: please don’t give up. You are not broken as long as you remember 2+2=4, not 5. Keep up the fight, since you must stay sane and stay alive to tell your story to the world one day.

Don’t give up.


Wife Luo Shengchun (project manager at Alstom):

Dear Jiaxi, I sent 21 letters to you with the help of friends in China. I know none of them reached you, but no matter, I’ve posted all of them on Twitter and friends read them instead. I’m very thankful to lawyer Peng Jian who is able to bring you these messages from the children and me. I learned that you had been tortured. It didn’t surprise me but it pained me all the same. I want to curse those bastards! Rest assured, husband, I will go after them, and I will make sure that they will pay for what they did to you.

The things you asked me to take care have been taken care of or will be. So no worries. About your car, Officer Li said they had given you the list of seized items, and we will take care of that too.

I’m still working at Alstom. During the pandemic, we quarantined for two months at home but resumed work wearing masks after that. As always, I work hard. I have been working on four projects at the company, speaking out for you has been my fifth project to which I’ve devoted every spare minute I have after work. I got to know a lot of people and learned a lot.

Do you remember Professor Emrys, Vicky’s husband? He wrote an article for you. And together we gave an interview to the local radio. At church, we have been praying for you. My neighbors and friends are all helping me and coming up with ideas.

You must not give up under any circumstances. You can prepare for the worst but you must look forward to the best. Remember what you wrote before? “There are many possibilities in the world, as long as we keep looking and trying, we will always find ways to do things.”

I look forward to the day when you will come back to Alfred, basking in the sun in our backyard, reading, writing, and researching. I look forward to the day when you will make good on your promise of accompanying me to travel around the world.

Love, Shengchun


From a Successful Lawyer to a Civil Rights Activist — An Exclusive Interview With Ding Jiaxi, March 19, 2020.

Ding Jiaxi and Alfred, Luo Shengchun, August 31, 2020.

5 responses to “Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Custody”

  1. […] Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Cu… […]

  2. […] Before being moved to the detention center, they were detained under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSLD) in Yantai, Shandong (山东烟台). It’s China’s euphemism for secret detention outside normal detention facilities. On January 21, a year after RSLD, the two were granted their first meeting via video with lawyers. The first meeting lasted for about only 30 minutes or so due to technical malfunction, and the second meeting lasted for about two hours. (We have previously reported on Ding Jiaxi’s meeting with his lawyer.) […]

  3. […] Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Cu…y, China Change, February 5, 2021. […]

  4. […] Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were not granted access to lawyers until after a year in custody. Ding Jiaxi told his lawyer during the first two video meetings early this year that, during the six months under RSDL, “on […]

  5. […] 许志永和丁家喜在被关押一年后才获准与律师接触。在今年年初的前两次视频会见中,丁家喜告诉他的律师,在被关押的六个月里,“有73天他们在剥夺睡眠的情况下审问我。在整个6个月里,我没有看到一丝阳光”。“房间里的日光灯24小时都亮着。不允许我洗澡,也不允许我刷牙。”2020年2月,审讯人员在丁家喜的监居房间里,以最大音量连续10天、每天24小时播放中共宣传片《习近平治国方略:中国这五年》。“从[2020]年4月1日到4月8日,我被绑在老虎凳上,背上的束缚带和腰上的皮带被勒到极限,使我难以呼吸。”  […]

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