Prominent Dissident Xu Zhiyong Met With Lawyer After One Year in Detention

China Change, February 8, 2021

Linyi high speed train station, and Linshu Detention Center. Prisoners live in the building behind the two office buildings.

The high-speed rail station in Linyi (临沂), a third-tier provincial city, is gorgeous, and it speaks to the rapid economic development of China in recent decades. At normal times, it would be bustling with travelers going home for the lunar Chinese New Year. But this year, it’s deserted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beijing lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) was a lone traveler on February 5 arriving at the station. He was on his way to see his client Xu Zhiyong (许志永).  A ride of 25 miles took him to Linshu Detention Center (临沭县看守所), a facility in the middle of the countryside off a dusty road where Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), two prominent dissidents and citizen movement activists, have been detained since last June awaiting trial on charges of “subversion of state power.” They were taken into custody in February 2020 and December 2019 respectively for convening an informal, two-day meeting of twenty or so activists and human rights lawyers in Xiamen.

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 RSDL, 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.)

Li Qiaochu (李翘楚) Xu Zhiyong’s girlfriend and also a human rights activist in her own right, was detained again on February 6. Beijing police told her parents that she was being taken to Linyi “on suspicion of subverting state power.” Her parents refused to sign the detention notice. For four months from February to June 2020, she too was held under RSDL. After release, she wrote a detailed account of her 120 days in secret detention.  We have no further news of her whereabouts and status.  

Prison guards at Linshu Detention Center. Photo: from the web.

The following is a summary of Xu Zhiyong’s situation per lawyer Liang Xiaojun’s reports of his two meetings with Xu:

During RSDL, Xu Zhiyong was initially held in Beijing. He was subjected to sleep deprivation for about 10 days, sleeping four hours a day during the first five days, and two hours per day during the last five days.

Under RSDL in a guesthouse in Yantai, for about a week in mid-May, Xu Zhiyong was strapped to an iron interrogation chair, with legs and arms locked in, for over ten hours a day. He was strapped in so tightly that he could barely breathe. At the same time his tormentors restricted his intake of water, and for each meal, he was only given a small bun, making him thirsty and hungry.

Going between the interrogation room and the cell, he was hooded with a black sack and made to wear a heavy motorcycle helmet.

The detention center has no heating. On the coldest days, the room experiences subzero temperatures. He gets frostbite on his ears that is itchy and painful.

There is no hot water shower. He takes two or three cold showers a month.

The detention center purposefully reduced his food ration, allowing one bun only for each meal. But now he’s allowed to spend money deposited for him to purchase food and other items. He also confirmed that the prices in the detention center are three times more expensive than outside. Lawyer Liang Xiaojun said he had filed an Information Disclosure request with the center about meals at the facility.

The center allows about 15 minutes time in the morning and in the afternoon for inmates to go out into the yard for fresh air. But two days out of each week, the guards would deny the inmates’ yard time on the pretext of being busy.

Like Ding Jiaxi, the detention center’s computer system doesn’t have them on file under their real names. “But they had to call me by my name when they wanted me, because I wouldn’t answer them if they call me anything else but my own name,” Xu Zhiyong told his lawyer.

Xu Zhiyong (left) and Ding Jiaxi in 2018.

A Civil Society Leader, Xu Zhiyong Wants His Ideas Known

In the detention center, no paper or pen are available to prisoners. During the meeting, he talked about his thoughts on “a beautiful China” (“美好中国”), a theme or a framework he has worked on and refined for years.

When asked what he would like to tell people who are concerned about him, Xu Zhiyong said, “I once wanted to spend some time in the mountains to seek enlightenment, but the authorities give me the title of subversion. I accept the hardship and the glory with no grudges. Citizens, this is our glory, this is the sacred mission to bring rebirth to China.”

Xu Zhiyong was imprisoned for four years from 2013 to 2017 for the New Citizens Movement activities.


Who Is Xu Zhiyong (1), Who Is Xu Zhiyong (2), China Change, April 2014.

Change — A 2020 New Year’s Message, Xu Zhiyong, January 1, 2020.

Four Years Afar, Xu Zhiyong, September 16, 2018.

The Last Ten Years, Xu Zhiyong, May 16, 2013.

To Build a Free China, a Citizen’s Journey, Xu Zhiyong. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2017.

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