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709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’

Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018


My name is Xie Yanyi. I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years. In 2003 I was the first person to bring a lawsuit against Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by continuing as the chairman of the state Central Military Commission. From that point forward, I attracted the attention of the authorities.

In June and July 2015 — around then — due to the Qing’an case and a number of other rights defense cases, numerous rights lawyers and citizens were called in and interrogated by the authorities, some were arrested and paraded on state media.

The Qing’an incident was the fuse that lit the 709 crackdown.

In the early morning of July 12, 2015, I heard a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw three men. Two of them were Domestic Security agents that had long been watching me. The other one, as I later learned, was a Domestic Security agent in Beijing. They came to my door in the morning and said they wanted to have a chat. So I went with them to the local neighborhood committee office.

Come around midday, all of a sudden over a dozen unidentified men charged in. The leader came right up to me and flashed his ID badge. They handcuffed me, and then escorted me downstairs. They then shoved me in a vehicle, and we sped off in three or four vehicles to the Chengguan police station.

As they were interrogating me, I worked out that they were also raiding my home, and they had asked me for my wife’s cell phone number. By nightfall, when their raid was done, they hooded me, cuffed me again, and put me in their car — this time an SUV. There were three of us in the back, with me in the middle. There was an officer on either side of me. And there were two in front. At that point we were leaving Miyun, Beijing. I had the hood on, so I didn’t know where we were headed.

They drove for an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, and I felt that we’d entered a kind of compound. They told me to get out, and two people came over and pulled me out of the car. We went into a room on the second floor.

They took the hood off, and I surveyed my new surroundings. The cell was about a dozen square meters. The walls were padded. There was a desk in front of me, and a bed to my left. There was a window on the far wall, but it was completely closed, covered with thick curtains. The room seemed air-tight. It was in this cell that my detention began.

Life in captivity was like this: there were a dozen or so armed police, guarding me every day, spread across five shifts. Each shift was two hours, with two police per shift. They stood to the immediate left and right of me. Even when I was asleep, one was at the head of the bed, the other at the foot, watching me 24/7.

The detention location was in Beijing, likely at an armed police base.

I was taken away on July 12; on the 13th I began a hunger strike. My wife was pregnant at the time, and I was really preoccupied about her. I demanded that the special investigating team handling my case give me pen and paper so I could write a letter home. In the end I was able to achieve this goal — they gave me pen and paper, and I wrote a letter to my wife. Although, after I was released I discovered that my wife never did receive this letter.

It seems that around September 8 we were transferred to another military base in Tianjin. I was again put into a roughly 10 square meter detention cell. Again, the walls were padded, and the window was completely sealed.

During the detention, I was put through some gruelling interrogations. That is, they wouldn’t let me sleep. Also, they starved me — giving me a tiny little bit of food. This went on for about one to two months. They put me through a form of punishment: they made me sit on a block with nothing to lean on. You sat straight like a military man  every day for 15 or 16 hours. This went on for a month. They don’t let you move a muscle. When you sit that long at a stretch, your lower body loses all feeling.

At the same time they submit you to all kind of psychological and emotional pressure. They once threatened me that they would detain my wife too, and they also menaced me, saying that they might harm my child in some fashion.

By January 2016 I was formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ and was transferred to the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. When I got to Tianjin No. 2, they wouldn’t use my own name. They gave me an alias — Xie Zhendong.

In the detention center they continued to punish me. The prisoners in this detention center were all serious criminals. In the cell, the person to my left had been given a life sentence; on the right was someone with a suspended death sentence. There was a death row inmate. All of them were recidivist, hardened criminals. They were ordered to surround me – in front of and behind me, to my left and right. These four were assigned to sandwich me and exercise control over me. Every move I made, every individual freedom and right I had, had been stripped of me. Even going to the toilet or drinking water required permission.

I was released on bail ‘pending trial’ in January 2017. On January 5. Even while I was supposedly on bail, they detained me in a hotel room. Only on January 18 did they let me go home and reunite with my family.

The third day after I got out, I exposed to the world the torture I had suffered — in particular [I wanted to expose] the abuse of my brothers along with me. Especially the torture that lawyer Wang Quanzhang and Hu Shigen may have been subjected to. I was in cell no. 8 in this location in Tianjin where we had been put under “residential surveillance” in the detention center. Between October 1 and October 8, 2015, in the depths of the night in my cell I very clearly heard the sound of someone falling down on the floor above me, along with the sounds of anguished wailing, groans, and electric baton shocks. In my judgement that was either Wang Quanzhang or Hu Shigen being tortured.

During this period, not long after I was detained, my mother passed away. When I first heard the news, I didn’t feel that much. I didn’t cry, nor did I feel loss. A bit over a month after I came out, I went to offer sacrifices for her, and as I held her urn of ashes, this ice-cold box of ashes, I ran my fingers along it. It was like I was making contact with my mom. It was at that point only that I really for the first time, at that point the emotions truly came out.

Over this 18 month period of forced residential surveillance, and arrest and detention, the most painful part of it all was the squandering of life. That is, they completely stripped me of every freedom. They didn’t let me engage in any form of communication. And I had no access to any information. Just like this, days become months, months become years. This kind of life wastage, after it goes on long enough, makes you crazy. During that period of residential surveillance, I even started to contemplate suicide.

So the question is how to overcome this dread, this total desperation? I silently told myself stories in my head. I recounted history, contemplated my beliefs, human nature, historical anecdotes. When I got to the detention center, in order to overcome the mental and physical imprisonment, I started to meditate. I sat cross-legged in meditation every morning and every afternoon, for two hours, every single day. This is how I got through it.

[When I got out] I rested up for two or three months. I then spent another three or so months writing “A Record of the 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China.” And then after I published this “Record of 709,” I also published an open letter to Xi Jinping. I told him to release all political prisoners, love your enemies, and start China on the path to peaceful democracy.

This January, 2018, is just when they formally ended my period of bail pending trial. But the authorities are still engaged in illegal infringements and investigations of my right to practice law.

They have committed political persecution against me; they have illegally held hearings on me to disbar me; and they have illegally deprived me of my political rights and a series of due process rights.

The 709 incident has really catalyzed the awakening of the Chinese public. So, we feel more and more that the collapse and crumbling of the totalitarian system could happen at any point. We now need to think through what happens in the post-dictatorship era. What should we do? I think that making peaceful democracy the consensus of the entire Chinese people — that this is extremely important.

Thank you, everyone.


Related:

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’

Xie Yang, July 6, 2018

 

 

 

My name is Xie Yang. I’m a lawyer at the Gangwei Law Firm, in Changsha, Hunan.

On July 9, 2015, I immediately got word of the arrest of Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, and their son.

On the morning of July 10, when I was interviewed by an overseas media outlet. They asked me: What do you think of Wang Yu’s whole family getting taken away? I frankly told them my opinion: I said that this is the beginning of the Chinese authorities’ purge of human rights lawyers. I said that a tempest would soon be upon us.

The following afternoon, on July 10 — it was a Friday — I went to Huaihua City in Hunan to take care of a case related to internal migration, a result of a large reservoir construction. This was a big class action case. Around 40,000 people had been harmed.

At about 5:00 a.m. on July 11, before the sun had come up, I heard an urgent knocking on the door.

The door was quickly kicked open. They flashed their ID badges, though they didn’t  produce any legal documents.

They escorted me downstairs and packed me into a vehicle — it wasn’t a police car.

What they first asked about was the China Human Rights Lawyers Group; they asked me when I joined. I said that as far as I see it, that’s just the name of a WeChat group, called the ‘China Human Rights Lawyers Group.’

Then they said to me: Party Central has designated this Human Rights Lawyers Group an illegal organization.

By around 6:00 a.m. on July 12 the door opened and seven or eight police stormed into my room and presented me with the formal notice of arrest. The crime I was being charged with had been changed; it was no longer ‘disturbing social order,’ but was two charges: the first was ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ while the other was ‘disrupting order in the court.’ Then they grabbed me and put me in their car and drove me back to Changsha.

Actually, there were a few things that happened while I was detained under residential surveillance [in a guesthouse] and later in the Detention Center.  But as for those happenings… Later, myself and the authorities made a deal. Given that a deal was made, I will abide by the terms of it. So, as for that aspect, I won’t say anymore just now.

What was this deal? It was that they would return my lawyer’s license to me, and I would forfeit a number of reasonable demands I had. After that, my case proceeded through the court fairly smoothly.

My trial  was held on May 8, 2017, and the next day, May 9, was my 80-year-old mother’s birthday. They brought me back to my parents’ home.

Due to the terror of the environment at the time, my wife and two daughters decided to flee China. On March 22, 2017, they arrived in the United States.

On May 10 my wife called me from the U.S.; of course, for me, when I was able to hear their voices, I felt a great sense of relief.

On April 4, 2018, they said my case was no longer ‘pending investigation.’ But on the same day, they declared that I was a threat to national security, and that I would not be allowed to leave the country for one year.

In addition, there are some obstacles when I do my work.  Whenever I fly out Huanghua Airport from Changsha to other cities in China, I’m always stopped and questioned. What’s their reason for stopping me? Illegal petitioning. This makes me really furious. They do this almost every time.

Also on the employment front, they’ve established a number of artificial obstructions.

They would come and speak to me directly and tell me that the cases I take on are sensitive, that I can’t keep accepting them. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to listen to them, because these demands are unreasonable. They’re hindering my right to practice.

As soon as I was released, I got involved in a series of sensitive cases. For instance, the Wang Quanzhang case, the Yu Wensheng case, and a number of other citizen activist cases. I was proactively involved in all of it. I wanted my license to practice law, but I don’t want to live a compromised life. I’m going to use to use my lawyer’s license to serve society.

We don’t accept the Communist Party’s attempt to instill terror in us and threaten us, or its imprisonment of lawyers. The use of these methods [of repression] will simply make Chinese society more unhinged. As legal practitioners we hope that everyone will resolve their problems within the framework of the law.

China is part of the world, and the deterioration of human rights in China is the deterioration of human rights around the world. If you simply connive at the CCP, then you’re harming the interests and human rights of the vast majority of the Chinese people.

The country needs to change; let’s work together toward it.

 

 


Related:

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.

 

 

 

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’

Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018

 

 

 

Hello everyone. I’m lawyer Sui Muqing from Guangzhou. I practiced law in Guangzhou from 1998 to 2017. On July 9, 2015, in the early hours of the morning — I happened to still be online — Wang Yu live-broadcasted her arrest.

I was arrested the following night, on July 10.

At 11:00 p.m. the property management people rang my doorbell and said that my car had been hit. I suspected a ruse, so I ignored them.

A little while later they came back, and again said that someone had hit my car. The problem now was that the sound of the doorbell was extremely loud. My wife and kid were already asleep. It was really loud, you know? So I had to go down and deal with it. Once I got downstairs, a gang of police surrounded me.

I think it was on July 11 at 8:00 p.m. that they announced I was being held under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place.’ They charged me with ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ They put me in a place not far from my home, in a police training center in Dashi, Panyu District.

During the detention they questioned about what I’d been doing from the 1989 student movement all the way until now.

They focused on my contact with Guo Feixiong and other activists. For instance, our meal gatherings, salons, and all the human rights cases I had taken. They also questioned my contact with foreign embassies, as well as my trips overseas for conferences. They questioned me on all of it.

After about a month, one day they wouldn’t let me sleep. They didn’t announce this. At the time I didn’t even realize that the torture had begun. You know?

They deprived me of sleep for about five days and five nights.

By the fifth night, I fell apart. I felt that this body of mine, ah. It was done for. I blacked out. I lay down there, and I remember it was a very hot day, the room was still very hot even with the AC on. But oh, I had a thick blanket on me, but I felt freezing cold. At that point my mind was losing its grip. I thought I was about to die.

On about the 147th or 148th day, on December 2, [2015], they let me go home. But at home, I was still under residential surveillance.

I was under residential surveillance until January 10, 2016. On that day they came and said my case would be ‘pending investigation’ for a year.

The crime I had been held for was ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ It had no basis, simply no basis. Whatever they say goes. You’re guilty of whatever crime they say you are. If they need a basis for their actions, they’ll just make one up and slap it on you. When you’re a lamb in the mouth of the tiger, then you’re guilty of whatever crime they say. If they say you killed someone, then you’re a murderer; if they say you committed arson, well then you’re an arsonist.

People are the same everywhere. Of course one would be terrified. Merely for representing certain cases… it’s like what lawyer Zhang Kai said to me: “We’re just lawyers, but you take on a few cases and all of a sudden, you become Liu Hulan [a Communist martyr]. You face the test of life and death.

But man strives to overcome himself, to conquer fear. How does one beat this dread? Actually, none of us knows how.

All you can do is forge ahead — to overcome the fear through action. Once you’ve committed, there is no use being fearful. Fearful as you are, you forge ahead, like what Aung San Suu Kyi said: While your legs shake with fear, you nonetheless forge forward, and that counts as courage.

Over a period of about four years, I took on around 40 human rights cases.

Maybe the authorities have their statistics. Maybe they didn’t like the way I handled the cases. For example, I posted pictures online, I wrote and published updates on my cases, and I gave interviews to foreign media. The authorities believe that publicizing the cases has a very bad effect.

Though it seems that my disbarment [in early 2018] was sudden, I thought about it later. It was an overall reprisal for all the human rights cases I’ve taken on over the years.

As for the future, I’ve always wanted to leave China and be a visiting scholar abroad. I have long been interested in how the English and American legal systems took root in other countries.

But this wish of mine may be hard to realize. It’s been four years since 2014, and I’ve been banned from leaving China the whole time. They say I’m a threat to national security.

I noticed that some of the lawyers who were disbarred or had their licenses cancelled in earlier years have run into financial difficulties. So, I think this is something I first need to resolve.

I think that for my generation, my aspiration in being a human rights lawyer wasn’t as high, grand, and lofty as all that. I really think it’s for our children. We don’t want them to grow up being brainwashed, full of terror, surrounded by corruption, in a country with no rule of law. So, we need to do whatever we can to promote progress in China.

I hope that the international community, and the American and European governments in particular, will speak out about this. Fundamentally, human rights problems cannot be separated from economic issues. When you deal with a country with no regard for human rights, you cannot guarantee that your economic interests will be protected; you can’t protect the economic interests of your citizens [when dealing with these countries.]

 

 

 


 

Related: 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018

 

 

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’

Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018

 

 

 

Hello everyone. I’m lawyer Wen Donghai (文东海) from Changsha. In the early hours of July 9, 2015, we first heard Wang Yu’s call for help. She said that unidentified men had charged into their home and were going to take her away. For a long time following that, we didn’t hear any news.

In the evening of July 10, the next night, I received a phone call. The caller identified themselves as coming from the police station, and said they wanted to speak to me. After I got there they began questioning me. Their main line of enquiry was about the arrest of Wang Yu and Zhou Shifeng. They said that we shouldn’t pay any attention to them. [I said:] You go and brazenly snatch people up like that, yet you’re telling me not to pay it any notice, or figure out what the situation is? There’s a problem with that — that’s for sure. I was quite forceful about it at the time. I said that I would for sure be giving attention to their case. I said that if their family got in touch with me, I would act as their lawyer.

In August of 2015 I accepted the commission of Wang Yu’s mother and became Wang’s defense attorney. After Wang Yu was released from custody, the people in our local judicial bureau warned me: You’ve done quite enough; you can’t keep going, and in particular, you’re not permitted to write anything.

My family members were obviously very concerned. They’d never encountered this sort of thing before, and didn’t know how sinister it gets in this field. Nor do they know the enormous press one faces when doing these things. Sometimes my wife would complain, saying: Stop getting yourself involved in all this danger. When you’re out and I’m home, as soon as I can’t reach you on the phone, I get scared to death. The thing with my family is that I’m the primary breadwinner. My wife doesn’t work, and we have two small kids, one six years old, the other eight. So there’s a certain family pressure there.

It’s all because I took on the 709 cases, and also some dissident cases later on, including those of Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃), Xiao Yuhui (肖育辉), and Mi Chongbiao (靡崇标) in Guizhou. I did a lot of cases like that, and also some religious freedom cases. The reason I got so furious is because the authorities just don’t follow the law.

A year after I finished up on Wang Yu’s case, in July 2017, the Hunan Lawyers’ Association opened an investigation on me, accusing me of disrupting court order. In late 2017, they transferred the case to the Hunan Provincial Justice Bureau and said that they were going to cancel my license to practice law. The superficial reason was that I’d taken on some Falun Gong cases and got into arguments with judges. They said I’d disrupted court order.

What I think is that, the 709 incident may represent a systematic suppression of lawyers over the last couple of years. This campaign of suppression has personally affected so many people. When 709 just took place, they carried out massive arrests of lawyers — this is the most direct, commonly known ‘709.’ But the deeper meaning of 709 is much greater than that. For instance, many people have come out and defended 709 lawyers, which involved about 60 lawyers at the most.

But just the campaign to arrest 709 lawyers wasn’t enough to satiate the authorities, who didn’t yet feel they’d achieved their objective. Their policy goals and the broader objectives they want to reach against this group hadn’t been realized.

So in early 2017 they began planning things out — how to carry out further suppression. In this case, they primarily set about using administrative sanctions, which they also augmented with a few arrests.

By late 2017 and early 2018 their focus turned to the disbarment and administrative punishment of 709 lawyers and the lawyers who defend them. Targets included lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) from Guangdong, Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) and Li Heping (李和平) in Beijing, Ma Lianshun (马连顺) in Henan, Qin Yongpei (覃永沛) in Guangxi, Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) in Hunan, and me. All were either 709 lawyers, or defenders of 709 lawyers.

So I think the narrow definition of 709 is the arrest of lawyers, while the broader meaning of it is this campaign of encirclement and annihilation of the human rights lawyers. This takes the form of administrative punishments, criminal arrests, interrogations and warnings, and some other measures — all of it is part of the suppression. I’ve been questioned by them numerous times and have had my freedom restricted for short periods.

As a defense lawyer for 709 lawyers, my own license was canceled in June 2018. According to the logic of their laws, I’m no longer a lawyer.

If this country can’t even tolerate lawyers, then it’s lacking a key feature — which is whether or not the rule of law you have is genuine. Even though I’ll never be a lawyer again, I’ll still be involved in different sorts of legal work.

I hope that the international community, every friendly country, human rights organizations, and others, can all pay a great deal of attention to the persecution currently taking place in China, as well all the attacks the authorities are making on civilized society. I hope they can also take some concrete actions, and improve the situation for the victims.

Perhaps the affairs of state are not as clear and black-and-white as I’ve said — yet the human rights persecution and the harms dealt to individuals, all these are truly existing facts.

I think that only if we study from the path that Western countries have successfully walked, and draw positive lessons from their experiences, will our country be able to actually realize the hopes in the slogans that we’re so used to shouting.

Thank you, everyone.

 

 


 

 

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’

Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018

 

Following is an excerpt from Jiang Tianyong’s interview with the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, published on July 12, 2016, a year into the 709 Crackdown and four months before his own arrest. Also following is a short video his wife, Jin Bianling, who shares the latest news about Jiang, who is now serving a two-year sentence in Xinxiang Prison, Henan (Henan No. 2 Prison). It is believed that Jiang was severely tortured during custody. The excerpt has been edited for brevity. — The Editors

 

 

Jiang Tianyong 在长沙看守所外

Jiang Tianyong in front of Changsha Detention Center, the day he was detained in November, 2016.

 

 

A Patriot By Himself, a Subverter by the Chinese Government

The education we receive from childhood to adulthood is that people must be patriotic, must be involved in politics, and must have a sense of social responsibility — but that is false. Once you are truly patriotic, truly safeguard the rule of law, and once you really do something good for the country, in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) eyes you’re the greatest threat to the regime. When you truly love this country, you may be committing a crime. So-called “inciting subversion,” is not to subvert state power, but to subvert the rule of the Communist Party.

In my early days of practicing law, when I was summoned to ‘drink tea’ with the domestic security police (guobao, political police), I tried my best to make them understand that what I was doing was to help build the rule of law in China, and that this was a good thing. It really was not for personal fame and gain. But I was wrong; the Party attacked those who were precisely doing good deeds. It’s afraid of the people who are not after fame and wealth, but have a sense of social responsibility! If you aren’t after fame and gain, it’s most troublesome to them, because it’s difficult to bribe people like you. If you are not taking a case to make money, the Party thinks that your sole purpose is to oppose the Party. It’s more dangerous; the Party likes people to do things for money. It built this nation not for the country, and not for the people, but for the Party’s own benefit.

I am a Christian. I know that behind the Party is an evil spirit. It exists to destroy — destroy your goodness; it exists to do evil.

60 Days of Secret Detention During the Imaginary ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in 2011

To this day, I still don’t know where I was detained in 2011. A very small room with a window; the curtains and door were tightly closed so I couldn’t make out whether it was day or night. I didn’t know the time; I didn’t have a single piece of paper, nor a single thing to read. Information was completely cut off; I was prohibited from chatting, there was absolutely no language at all.

After I came out, I realized that this kind of mental abuse caused quite a bit of damage. My memory seriously declined, and I became forgetful. I forgot the password for my Twitter account and the password for Skype, which I had used continuously for many years.

Every day I got up at 6:00 am and after washing my face and rinsing my mouth, I had to sing Red songs. I said, “I can’t sing.” “Then recite! Recite the lyrics!” I said, “I can’t recite them.” “Then you must read them in a loud voice!” “Read Red Lyrics!” “Towards a New Era,” “The Party is Our Beloved Mother,” and “Five-Star Red Flag” It was so disgusting! Every morning, I had to read the lyrics and read them in a loud voice! It was mandatory!

Having to sing Red songs is also torture. The whole thing is brainwashing. The purpose of their disciplinary actions is to change my way of thinking, to brainwash me.

Then there was “facing the wall” — that was sitting on the floor with my knees against the wall, and maintaining a fixed position for a long time; or legs stretched out straight with my feet against the wall, my legs affixed to the ground and straightened to 90 degrees. It was like my back was broken; I was unable to continue sitting in that position. Another method was to curl the legs; when I couldn’t hold that position, I would just hug my legs. Every day I had to sit, it was called “reflection” …

When they interrogated me, they punched and kicked me. Bang! Bang! Bang! They said, “We can handle things in accordance with the law or not, because we have the authority to work illegally.” Once, I asked one of the thugs: “You are human, I am also human, why do you do these inhuman things?” He froze for a few seconds, and then another punch came. He said: “You are not human!” I stood up and looked at him; he hit me again, and I stood up again; he beat me so hard that my mouth was foaming. They interrogated me during the night, and deprived me of sleep. There were five days that I never shut my eyes. As a Christian, along the way, there are many things in which I feel truly that God was with me.

The beatings and the verbal abuse – this was not the worst to bear. The worst was that you had to be subject to the brainwashing. It forced you to say that black is white. It really makes you fall apart! You think it’s white; but in the end, they make you say, from your own mouth, that it’s black. Furthermore, it’s not enough for you to just acknowledge that it’s black; you must dig deep into the roots of your thinking; you must state the logic behind why it’s black, and why it’s not white. You can’t use neutral words. You must use their words. The brainwashing process forces you to accept the Party’s ideas, and forces you to change your mind about a particular thing. That process will drive you crazy. The man talked, and talked and talked, nonstop. I didn’t listen; I just watched his mouth move, I looked at the wall. At that time I understood why, during interrogations, people might think about committing suicide by jumping to their deaths.

I looked around and saw that the windows were firmly sealed. I endured. I couldn’t go crazy. Crazy or not, I couldn’t jump, nor could I jump up and hit him. But who could guarantee that an hour later I wouldn’t jump up and hit him? Or that I wouldn’t suddenly jump off from the building or hit my head against the wall? At that time, I understood, that it was no wonder that some Falun Gong practitioners would break or go insane even after just a short time in a “brainwashing class.” They were completely and totally not treated as human beings. My situation was a little better. They were afraid that I would commit suicide, but they didn’t know what I might do the minute-by-minute, and how long I could resist, or whether I might go crazy. Beatings and verbal abuse were not the worst to bear.

Family

When they kidnapped me in 2011, the police knocked my mother to the ground, and also beat up my brother. They stuffed me into a car; they secretly locked me up for two months. My mother lost 20 or 30 pounds; she couldn’t eat. We were forced to move many times. In 2009, one day when I was about to take our daughter to school, the security police blocked me. We got into a scuffle, and in one blow they knocked my wife to the ground. Our daughter cried beside me. Going to and from school every day, my daughter could see how I had been put under “soft detention,” and not allowed to leave home.

Regarding the education of my daughter, I didn’t really care much about it at first. One year, on Children’s Day [June 1], she happily returned from school wearing a red neck scarf [signifying membership in the Young Pioneers]. There is a movie called “Revelation,” which says very clearly that the Communist Party oath, or wearing its items, including the Party emblem, the Youth League’s emblem, the flag, Mao Zedong’s image, the red neck scarf, is like branding an animal. It appears to be a harmless thing, but actually there is evil in it.

But if you don’t let your child wear a red neck scarf, and everyone else is wearing them, your child will be isolated. That thing is touted as a symbol of progress, how much can you count on the child to understand? So the best thing to do is flee. In 2013, my wife and child left China. There was no other way; my wife was also badly harassed. At that time, they also used my wife and daughter to threaten me: we couldn’t get you, so we’ll get your wife and child. This was a direct threat. There were also some veiled threats, like, they frequently asked, “what grade is your daughter in? Which school are you planning to send her to?” In short, such conversations made me feel like they were threatening my child. They said, “if we wanted her to go to school, then she would be able to go to school; if we don’t want her to go to school, then she won’t be able to go to school. If you cooperate with us, then that’s an easy matter to take care of; she can go to the best school and she can take the college entrance examination in Beijing. That’s a simple matter for the government; isn’t it just a matter of one word and it’s taken care of?!” This was both a threat and a lure, so I realized that my child must leave; if she didn’t leave China she would be a hostage. It was only after they left that I could go all out and do my work.

I didn’t want to leave China. As a lawyer, if I were to go abroad, it would just be a waste. It’s here in China where I can really do things.

However, in July 2013 I was blocked from leaving the country. I couldn’t visit them. Now my child is an adolescent, it’s a crucial time in her education. I’m very anxious. In any case, I’m not a good husband or a good father. I’ve failed in my duties.

 

 

Falun Gong Cases

When I first read Gao Zhisheng investigation of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in Northeastern China, I thought that, while the facts were likely true, the specific details must have been somewhat exaggerated, because they were just unimaginable. It was only in 2008, when I personally handled a Falun Gong case, that I discovered that the persecution of Falun Gong was truly wicked. Our imagination falls far short of what the Party can do.

In 2009, I testified before the U.S. Congress: the Chinese government has special, dedicated personnel, dedicated sites, special methods, and special funds to exclusively do bad things: how to seize people, how to make them suffer, including the flow of the torture process –– all of these things were specialized. Moreover, the way they seize Falun Gong practitioners is different from how they grab other people. When public security officers seize other people, they still treat them as human beings. But with Falun Gong practitioners, as soon as the police burst in, they would take anything they wanted: bank cards, jewelry, money in their pockets, etc. The police brazenly steal these things and put them in their own pockets. They don’t show any restraint; in their eyes, Falun Gong practitioners are not human. They have absolutely no rights; they don’t have any opportunity to state their case.

If you’re a murderer, if you’re a rapist, or if you incite subversion, the police wouldn’t dare to act in this way. The rights that murderers have, Falun Gong practitioners don’t even have. It’s unbelievable.

A Proper Lawyer in China Is Inevitably a Rights Lawyer and Will Inevitably Faces Suppression

As a lawyer, it’s not that we intentionally oppose the government. The so-called lawyers who aren’t suppressed, or who haven’t yet been cracked down upon, must have on many occasions, amid pressure, given in. Such a lawyer not only doesn’t fight for his own rights as a lawyer, but he also sells out the rights of his clients. For example, if public security officers won’t let you meet with your detained client, you don’t insist, then your client has also been stripped of his right to meet with his lawyer. In court, you demand to put on a defense, but the chief judge won’t let you speak, so you just don’t speak? He won’t let you defend your client’s rights, so you just obey? What about your professional ethics? Therefore, as long as a lawyer insists on doing his work according to the law, he will inevitably be in conflict with the public security bureau and courts, because the overwhelming majority of public security officers, prosecutors, and judges completely disregard the law in doing their work.

This is true for all ordinary cases. There are also some cases in which an order from a certain official or an office instructs what should be done. For example, if a local official invokes social stability, if you don’t listen to him, then you are in opposition to him. He will then accuse you of opposing the Party. When you further defend your rights as a lawyer, you’ll be retaliated against. You’ve offended the Justice Bureau, which then will not let you pass the annual renew of your law license.

What Propels Me

It’s actually very simple: it’s not completely altruism. I don’t want to live like this. I can’t stand it. I don’t want my child to live like this. My parents’ generation swallowed it. I often say, “If you can take it, you take it, but I’m not having it, nor will my child. There are still things for me to do. I still have hope. When I no longer have hope, then I’ll leave. If I can’t leave, then I will just have to wait to die. If we want change, we must remain here and work hard with others to bring about change. We must change it; we must. Although it’s difficult, but no matter how difficult, you have to ask yourself: Do you want this? Are you going to let this continue? If you think it’s difficult or dangerous, and you give it up, then it will be like this forever. There will be no hope at all. If you don’t have hope, then you are in the throes of despair. We must have hope; people have to come together. In the beginning, there are only a few, then over time, there will more and more people joining. That’s when it will be finished.”

I hope that there will be a government that is transparent, democratically elected, and which the public participates in. Individuals will not be accused of inciting subversion because they participate in public affairs. I can say whatever it is I want to say, and the police won’t come looking for me and take me into custody because of something I said. What grounds do they have for treating us like this?

I do my work diligently according to the nation’s laws. What I do is good work. Why are human rights defenders in other countries so dignified, and live so elegantly? Unlike us –– we human rights lawyers, are poor and struggling. There’s no country that treats lawyers like this –– not the United States, not Europe. Even Taiwan and the Philippines also support their lawyers. In China, the government not only doesn’t support us; on the contrary, it specially cracks down on us. However, the more the government suppresses us, the more we realize that these mechanisms, as long as they exist, it’s a world in which good is punished and evil prevails. In such a society, there is no way for people to live a normal life. All of this must change, and it must come to an end!

 

 


Related:

Disappeared Lawyer a Long-time Target of Surveillance, Detention, and Torture, China Change, November, 2015.

‘A Notice to Foreign Forces: We’ve Captured Jiang Tianyong!’ — Video Denigrates Human Rights Lawyer, December 22, 2016.

 

 

 

 

The Might of an Ant: the Story of Lawyer Li Baiguang (2 of 2)

Yaxue Cao, March 21, 2018

Continued from The Might of an Ant: the Story of Lawyer Li Baiguang (1 of 2)

 

Li Baiguang 2005, 与刘晓波等自由知识分子、维权律师一起

Front row from left: Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), Li Baiguang (李柏光), Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟); back fron from left: Teng Biao (滕彪), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Wang Yi (王怡), Mo Shaoping (莫少平), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Yu Meisun (俞梅荪), and Wang Guangze (王光泽). 2005.

 

Rights Movement Spread All Over the Country

By 2004, Zhao Yan and Li Baiguang were under constant threat. Fuzhou police told the village deputies that Zhao and Li were criminals, and demanded that the deputies expose the two. The Fujian municipal government also dispatched a special investigation team to the hometowns of Li and Zhao to look into their family backgrounds. A public security official in Fu’an said: “Don’t you worry that Zhao and Li are still on the lam — that’s because it’s not time for their date with the devil just yet. Just wait till that day comes: we’ll grab them, put them in pig traps, and toss them into the ocean to feed the sharks!”

On September 17, 2004, Zhao Yan was arrested by over 20 state security agents while at a Pizza Hut in Shanghai. At that point he had already left the China Reform magazine and was working as a research assistant in the Beijing office of The New York Times. He was accused of leaking state secrets, denied a lawyer for several months, and eventually sentenced to three years on charges of fraud.

On December 14, 2004, Li Baiguang and three lawyers, while on their way to Fu’an to handle a rights defense case that was likely a trap, were hemmed in by police vehicles and arrested. Li was accused of illegally providing legal services, because he did not possess a law license. On the evening of December 21, a dozen police officers from Fu’an broke into Li’s apartment in Beijing, pried open his cabinets, and confiscated his hard drives and documents related to dismissing officials.

Thanks to the efforts of his friend Yu Meisun and a host of liberal intellectuals and journalists, Li Baiguang was released on bail after 37 days in custody. December to January are the coldest months of the year in Fujian, and there was no heating. In a cell with dozens of people, Li Baiguang recalled later, “I wore a suit, and it was cold. As a form of punishment, they told the cell boss to make me bathe in freezing seawater every day. I lost a lot of hair, and lost so much weight that my cheekbones protruded. When I came out my nephew hardly recognized me.”

The removal of officials between 2003 and 2004 was one of the key campaigns that initiated the rights defense movement, and one of the largest-scale rights defense activities in China. Around the same time, rights defense initiatives took place. During the Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) Incident in March 2003, three Peking University law PhDs, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Yu Jiang (俞江) and Teng Biao (腾彪) wrote a letter to the National People’s Congress, demanding that they conduct a constitutional review of the law “Administrative Measures for Assisting Vagrants and Beggars with No Means of Support in Cities” (《城市流浪乞讨人员收容遣送办法》). He Weifang (贺卫方), Xiao Han (萧瀚), He Haibo (何海波), and two other well-known legal scholars demanded that the NPC conduct an investigation into how the ‘administrative measures,’ commonly known as ‘custody and repatriation,’ were actually being implemented. Gao Zhisheng began defending Falun Gong practitioners in court, demanded that the government respect freedom of belief, and called for the torture against practitioners to cease. Numerous other lawyers and legal scholars also began taking up human rights defense cases, bringing them to public consciousness. Other notable cases of the period included the defence of Hebei private entrepreneur Sun Dawu (孙大午), who was accused of ‘illegal fundraising’; the case of injured investors in the Shanbei oil fields; the case of Christian Cai Zhuohua (蔡卓华) who was arrested for printing the Bible; the Southern Metropolis Daily editor and manager Cheng Yizhong (程益中) and Yu Huafeng (喻华峰) who were punished for reporting on the Sun Zhigang case and broke the news of SARS; the ‘Three Servants’ religious case that involved hundreds of believers; the libel case against the authors of the Survey of Chinese Peasants (《中国农民调查》), and other incidents.

In fall of 2003 Xu Zhiyong, Teng Biao, and Zhang Xingshui (张星水) founded the organization Sunshine Constitutionalism (阳光宪政) in Beijing, later changing its name to the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟). Gongmeng, as it’s often known per the Chinese title, became a hub — and incubator — for human rights lawyers and legal activists. They held a meeting nearly every week, and Li Baiguang was one of the regular participants.

In the winter of 2003 there was an upsurge in the participation of independent candidates in People’s Representative elections in Beijing, and a number of these candidates were successful.

Many independent NGOs focused on environmental protection, AIDS control and prevention, women’s rights, and disabled rights, had sprung up in Beijing and other cities. They used the law and advocacy to propagate rights awareness.

 

Li Baiguang, Taishi village

In Taishi village in Guangdong, Guo Feixiong assisted the villagers’ effort to village head for embezzlement of public fund.

 

Entering 2005, the dismissal of officials in Taishi Village (太石村), Guangdong Province, as well as the Linyi Family Planning Case in Shandong (临沂计生案), became public events involving lawyers, public intellectuals, and citizen activists from around the country.

At the end of 2005, Hong Kong’s Asia Weekly magazine highlighted 14 human rights lawyers and legal scholars, including Li Baiguang, as 2005 People of the Year.[1] It said that “these 14 rights defense lawyers aren’t afraid of power; they wield the constitution as a weapon, harness the power of the internet, and work to defend the rights of the 1.3 billion Chinese people granted in their own constitution, while pushing for the establishment of democracy and rule of law in China.” In the ensuing years, with the exception of one or two, these 14 lawyers and scholars would be arrested, tortured, disappeared, disbarred, or forced into exile. Still, the grassroots rights defense movement they helped to kick off would continue to expand, and gain new energy in the age of social media. We shall not elaborate on that here.

‘Turning into an Ant’

In late July 1999, after publishing Samuel Smiles’ “The Huguenots in France” (issued under the Chinese title “The Power of of Faith” 《信仰的力量》) , Li Baiguang went to a church in the Haidian district of Beijing, bought a copy of the Bible, and began to read it. In January 2005 after he was released from prison, he began attending the Ark Church in Beijing (北京方舟教会) to study the Bible and pray. The Ark Church was a meeting place for many dissidents, rights lawyers, Tiananmen massacre victims, and petitioners — and for this reason the house church suffered regular harassment by the police. On July 30, 2005, Li was baptized in a reservoir in Huairou (怀柔), Beijing. He loudly proclaimed his witness, telling of the several times in his life when he brushed shoulders with death. He spoke of the time that an inner voice told him to stop, as he was considering plunging to his death from a building at university. He told of the catastrophes he escaped in 1998, 2001, and then in 2004. He spoke of the cumulative impact that Samuel Smiles’ books had on him, and, finally, he expressed his gratitude to Jesus.

He began to tremble violently as he read, and only after the baptism was complete and he had sat down a while did it subside.

 

Li Baiguang, 2005, 受洗前宣读《爱的见证》

Li Baiguang read aloud his testimony before being baptised in July 2005.

 

For Li Baiguang, the freedom of the mind and soul and political freedom are simply two sides of the same coin. In 2000, while translating Smiles, Li wrote an essay titled “The Fountainhead of Modern Freedom is the Freedom of Individual Conscience” (《现代自由的源头是个体的良心自由》). He came to believe that only faith can shape and form conscience, and further, that the emergence of individual conscience is the origin and basis of freedom. This also makes it the source of the courage and motivation to fight for freedom and against despotism. He doesn’t believe that the widespread failure of Chinese to distinguish right and wrong, and the country’s moral decay, can be laid entirely at the feet of the Communist Party’s dictatorship.

In April 2006, in a session of “The Middle Forum” (《中道论坛》) with Fan Yafeng, Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗), and Qiu Feng (秋风), Li said he was tired of liberal intellectuals’ decades-long discussions of grand themes like constitutional governance, reform, and future China. He described his own turning point of involvement in actual, real life rights defense work. Of the eight years between 1997 and 2005, he said, he too spent the first five focused on all sorts of macro abstractions. “Recently I’ve had a realization: I’m willing to become an ant. I want to take the rights and freedoms in the books and, through case after case, bring them into the real world bit by bit. This is my personal stance. The path to this is legal procedure. In summer, the ant gathers food. Today, I’m also transporting food under the framework of rights defense, and in doing so accumulating experience and results for the arrival of the day of constitutional government.”

“According to the principles of political mechanics, it’s impossible to change minds overnight in such a large system. All you can do is loosen the screws one by one and turn the soil over clump by clump,” he said. Li held high hopes in the future of the nascent rights defense movement, and the gradual dismantling of autocracy from the margins. He thought that the rights defense movement would be crucial to China’s future establishment of a constitutional democracy.

This was the first time he proposed the ‘ant’ idea. In the years afterward, this is how he characterized his work and it became very familiar to his friends.

In May 2005, the Midland, Texas-based NGO China Aid, as well as the Institute on Chinese Law & Religion[2], invited seven Chinese rights lawyers and legal scholars to join a “China Freedom Summit.” Among those invited, Gao Zhisheng, Fan Yafeng, and Zhang Xingshui were blocked from leaving China; Li Baiguang, Wang Yi, Yu Jie, and Guo Feixiong were able to make it to the United States. Li Baiguang delivered a speech at the Hudson Institute titled “The Legal Dimensions of Religious Freedom: Reality and Prospects in China.” It proposed a systematic approach for defending religious freedom according to the law in China, and included the following actions:

  • Submit an application to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for constitutional review of laws, regulations and policies related to freedom of religious belief, and demand the annulment of unconstitutional laws that infringe upon religious freedom;
  • Apply for religious services for prisoners in detention centres, prisons, and re-education camps in China who believe in God, or have come to believe while in detention, and send the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of the above detention facilities;
  • Provide relief to Christians whose religious freedom has been infringed upon by agents of the state;
  • Provide restitution to Christians who have had their persons or their residences illegally searched by agents of the state;
  • Provide restitution to Christians who are being subjected to re-education through forced labor;
  • Provide restitution to Christians or Christian organizations who have been punished with large fines;
  • Provide restitution for those who have been harmed by the dereliction of duty of state organs.

On May 8, while at the Midland office of China Aid for one week of Bible study, the group learned that they would be granted a meeting with President Bush in the White House. On the morning of May 11, President Bush met with Yu Jie, Wang Yi, Li Baiguang, China Aid director Bob Fu, and Institute on Chinese Law & Religion director Deborah Fikes, in the Yellow Oval Room.

Li Baiguang, Bush meetingLi Baiguang presented President Bush with a gift — a copy of a proposal to make a documentary titled  “American Civilization.” It was exquisitely designed by the artist Meng Huang (孟煌). In 2003, Li and his intellectual friends in Beijing designed together two major documentary projects. One of them was a 30-episode series that would introduce the democratic experience in 30 countries. Another, “American Civilization,” would be a 100-episode documentary series that would provide Chinese people a comprehensive introduction to the establishment of America, including its political life, its judicial system, education system, and religious beliefs. “I want to make it a television special for the education of the public,” Li said. He established the Beijing Qimin Research Center (北京启民研究中心) to push the plans forward, but in the end the two ambitious projects were aborted.

The three Christians from China being received by President Bush was, at the time, a major news story. But for the ten years following, the meeting with the U.S. President was remembered more for a controversy that surrounded it: the so-called “rejecting Guo incident.” This is a reference to the fact that Guo Feixiong was excluded from the meeting, purportedly by Yu Jie and Wang Yi, who argued that the meeting was for Christians only and Guo should not attend because he was not a Christian. Later, Li Baiguang expressed his regret that this had taken place. He told rights defense lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) that if it didn’t occur, along with the enormous acrimony around it, the different groups in Chinese civil society might have been more unified and stronger.

Also during this trip to the U.S., Li was invited by Bob Fu to be China Aid’s legal consultant. When Li returned to China, he said in a 2010 interview, apart from his regular rights defense work, he “traveled across the country to provide legal support to persecuted house churches.” Li partnered with China Aid in this fashion until his death.

During that same period, Li sat the bar, passed, and became a lawyer. In December 2007 he hung his shingle with the Common Trust Law Firm (共信律师事务所) in Weigongcun, near Peking University.

In June 2008, Li and six other Chinese dissidents and rights lawyers were awarded the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award.

Law Career

Li Baiguang was among the 303 initial signatories of Charter 08. But after that point he gradually retired from the media and public spotlight. “Although the substance of my rights defense work has not changed,” he said in the 2010 interview, “my methods are more low-key and moderate than before. I no longer write articles attacking and castigating the authorities; all I want to do now is actually see implemented the laws that they themselves wrote, and win for victims the rights and freedoms that they should enjoy.”

Li Baiguang, 阅卷

Reading case files with colleagues in Fuzhou, 2017.

Over the following years Li, as a lawyer, left his footprints in every Chinese province except Tibet, acting as defense counsel in several hundred cases of persecuted Christians. The cases he was involved in include: the Shanghai Wanbang Church in 2009 (上海万邦教会), petitioning for Uighur church leader Alimjan Yimiti (阿里木江) in 2009, the 2010 Guangzhou Liangren Church case (广州良人教会), the 2010 Shuozhou Church case in Shanxi (山西朔州), the 2012 Pingdingshan Church case in Henan  (河南平顶山) , the 2014 Nanle case (南乐), and the Cao Sanqiang (曹三强) case in 2017, among others.

As for the result of defending house churches, Li Baiguang summed it up in 2010 as follows: “If we look at the outcome of the administrative review of every rights case, the judgment has ruled against the church almost without exception. But later, I found a very strange phenomenon: after the conflict dies down, looking back a year later, we find that the local public security and religious bureaus no longer dare storm and raid these house churches, and congregants can meet freely. Using the law as a weapon to defend religious freedom works. Where we’ve fought cases, churches and religious activities in the area have since been little disrupted.”

Li Baiguang_Photo_手拿材料During the same period, Li also defended numerous dissidents, rights lawyers, activists, petitioners, and peasants entangled in compensation disputes. These include Guo Feixiong’s appeal in 2009, the Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫) case in 2011, the lawsuit filed against the government in 2013 by Wang Xiuying (王秀英) for being sent to re-education through forced labor during the Olympic Games, the defense of lawyers Zhang Kai (张凯) and Liu Peng (刘鹏) in 2015, as well as the defense of 709 lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) in 2015, the mass arrest in Wuxi on April 16, 2016, the commemoration of the June 4 massacre by seven citizens in 2016, the mass arrests in Fuzhou as well as Suzhou during the G20 in 2016, and the defense of lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) in 2017.

While he was engaged in all this, Li also held rights defense training sessions for house churches around China. According to Bob Fu, director of China Aid, over the last roughly ten years, Li has trained several thousands people; the most recent was in January 2018 in Henan — conducted while he was lying on his back after he injured his leg, as church leaders from the local district gathered around to hear him discuss how they should defend their rights according to the law.

 

Li Baiguang, Urgent Action training session

Training barefoot lawyers.

 

Between 2011 and 2013, Li taught in a number of training sessions for “barefoot lawyers” under the aegis of the “Chinese Urgent Action Working Group” (中国维权紧急援助组). In 2016 he also helped with a workshop for independent candidates for People’s Deputies elections. The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group is an NGO founded by the Swede Peter Dahlins, American Michael Caster, and rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang in 2009, offering legal training to rights defense lawyers and funding cases.

Li was extremely dedicated and hardworking, according to Dahlins. He focused on details, followed guidelines, and was always a long term thinker. Dahlins often joked with Michael Caster that Li Baiguang, who had met presidents and prime ministers, dressed and looked like a peasant.

Li also took part, with other human rights lawyers and activists, in trainings on the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms in Geneva under the aegis of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (维权网), an NGO that promotes human rights and rule of law in China.

Li Baiguang, 得撒豆腐村In around 2009, the 40-year-old Li, who had been single his whole life, married his former college friend Xu Hanmei (徐寒梅). In around 2010 they moved to Jurong (句容), a small city near Nanjing in Jiangsu Province, and settled down in a village called Desadoufu (得撒豆腐村). The name Desa comes from the Hebrew “Tirzah,” a Canaanite town mentioned in the Old Testament; the village, originally known for its stone mills used to grind soybeans for tofu, got its name from a church established by Western missionaries. It’s since become a tourist attraction for its pseudo-classical building complexes meant to recall the past.

Most residents in the town are Christians, Li Baiguang told friends. The community built its own kindergarten and elementary school, vegetable gardens, and sports pitch. “I felt like they built their own little Shangri-La,” Yang Zili said.

The Jianxi Church (涧西教会) that Li was associated with is the largest in the area, with around 200 stable congregants, most of whom were like Li: well-educated, having moved permanently to the village from elsewhere in China. For weekend church service, parishioners and catechumen (gradual converts) came from Zhejiang, Shanghai, Anhui and elsewhere, packing the church to the rafters. For these reasons, the church came to be watched closely by local religious affairs officials.

‘The night is nearly over; the day is almost here’

Li Baiguang was not part of any of the public incidents that have been brought to national attention by activists and netizens since 2008. In the mass arrests during the Jasmine Revolution of 2011, Li was not among them. When the New Citizens Movement became active between 2012 and 2013 and activists held regular dinner events, Li did not get involved. He wasn’t even part of the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group (人权律师团), founded in 2013. The 709 mass arrests of human rights lawyers didn’t implicate him, though for a while he signed up for being a defense counsel for 709 detainee lawyer Xie Yanyi. Numerous human rights lawyers have been barred from leaving the country; Li, on the other hand, traveled back and forth to America at will from 2006 to 2018.

Even when he was given trouble by police and state security, he did his best not to go public with it.

Per his own assessment in 2010, the authorities were “tolerating me to a much greater degree.” But his state of hypervigilance tells another story. A friend, Zheng Leguo (郑乐国), said that whenever he was with Li Baiguang in public places, Li would quickly scan his eyes over everyone in the vicinity to detect anything out of order. He was extremely careful about what he ate. When they ate at McDonalds, Li chose a table near the door,  that way he could see people coming in and going out, and he could also escape at a moment’s notice if need be.

For Li Baiguang, 2017 was a disturbing year.

In January, he traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 15th anniversary of China Aid held at the Library of Congress. It was an invitation only event. During his remarks, Li said that apart from the suppression of civil society and human rights lawyers, attacks against house churches were also getting more severe. “From this point forward, human rights in China will enter its darkest period.” He added that rights defenders in China would use their God-given wisdom and intelligence to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; he also called on the international community and NGOs to do what they could to help. “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here,” he said, citing Romans 13.

Li Baiguang_China Aid 15th Anniversary

Li spoke at the 15th anniversary of China Aid in January, 2017.

Li’s remarks were somehow leaked, according to Bob Fu, and reached the Chinese authorities — when Li returned home was treated “with severity.”

On October 17, 2017, a case Li was defending, involving seafood farmers in Wenling, Zhejiang, suing the government for malfeasance, went to trial. In the evening as Li was returning to his hotel, he was abducted by a dozen unidentified men. They took him to a forest and worked him over. They slammed their fists into his head and ordered him to leave the city by 10:00 a.m. the next morning, or else they would decapitate him and cut off his hands and feet. “When he mentioned that kidnapping,” Bob Fu said, “it was the most frightened I had seen him. The incident shook him badly.”

Another case Li took on in 2017 involved the apparent murder of a certain Pastor Han, of Korean ethnicity, in Jilin, northeastern China. Han was a pastor in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement who provided aid to North Korean refugees, and encouraged them to return to North Korea and spread the Gospel. It appeared that he was assassinated by North Korean operatives.

Towards the end of the year, Li met with the Beijing-based AFP journalist Joanna Chiu. After they met in a Starbucks, Li led her out into a small alley, across the street, and into another coffeeshop in order to avoid surveillance. He told Ms. Chiu how he’d been beaten, and also the suspicious death of the pastor.

In early February 2018, Li was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event dedicated to the discussion of religion in public life, attended by thousands, including the U.S. president, policymakers, and religious and business leaders. Bob Fu, in an interview with VOA after Li’s death, said that when Li was in the U.S. from February 5-11, the pastor of Jianxi Church was questioned about the whereabouts of Li and what he was doing in the United States. After he got back to China, he spoke with Fu twice, explaining that he was being investigated, and that danger felt imminent.

At 3:00 a.m. on February 26, 2018, Li Baiguang died in the Nanjing No. 81 PLA Hospital. In response to the widespread shock and suspicion, his family announced that he had died of late-stage liver cancer.

Coda

The death of Li Baiguang, like the death of Liu Xiaobo seven months ago, brings with it a momentous sense of ending. The PRC’s neo-totalitarian state grows more complete by the day; the discourse of political reform represented by Charter 08, and the rule-of-law trajectory sought by the rights defense movement, have hit a wall. Neither have room to expand. One by one, little by little, opportunities for further progress have been sealed and nixed. Truly, a ‘new era’ in China has begun.

The night is long; the worst is yet to come. Li Baiguang has died, like Liu Xiaobo, like Yang Tianshui, like Cao Shunli and all those who have fallen in the dark, but they live on; they are sparks of fire in the journey through night.

 

[1] They are Xu Zhiyong, Gao Zhisheng, Teng Biao, Pu Zhiqiang, Mo Shaoping, Li Baiguang, Zheng Enchong, Guo Feixiong, Li Heping, Fan Yafeng, Zhang Xingshui, Chen Guangcheng, and Zhu Jiuhu (许志永、高智晟、滕彪、浦志强、莫少平、李柏光、郑恩宠、郭飞雄、郭国汀、李和平、范亚峰、张星水、陈光诚以及朱久虎).

[2]  The Institute on Chinese Law & Religion was registered in Washington, DC. It is now inactive.

 

Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao

 

Read it in Chinese 《蚂蚁的力量:纪念李柏光律师》