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Chen Jiangang, April 24, 2017
This article was written in December, 2015. Between then and now, the 45-year-old but youthful looking human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) performed a rare act of courage: revealing his torture in full detail while still behind bars, and despite the perpetrators’ repeated threats. The author Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), a friend, became Xie Yang’s defense lawyer in December 2016, recording the torture in a series meetings earlier this year. Then in an equally courageous action, Chen published them. The revelations caused an international stir, providing a rare but clear glimpse of the “709 Crackdown” on human rights lawyers, while also showing how the Chinese authorities routinely use unspeakable torture to extract confessions. “[Xie Yang’s] thought was that he wanted to maintain the final dignity for Chinese lawyers as a whole,” Chen Jiangang said in a home recording on March 7. “He also thought that right now a nationwide crackdown and persecution of human rights lawyers is taking place, and that he would spare no effort to fight his case and push back against the persecution. If they succeeded easily in Xie Yang’s case, they would unscrupulously harm and persecute other lawyers in the future. He was willing to use himself to ‘test the tiger.’ Today in Changsha, Xie Yang stands trial for “subverting state power.” — The Editors
When Xie Yang was imprisoned it was height of summer; now cold winter beats on our doors. In a flash, five months has passed and we’ve heard nothing. Over the past two years dissidents, online opinion leaders, journalists, and rights lawyers have been dragged onto state television and humiliated with forced “confessions.” Every few days there’s someone new on screen, crying bitterly, pleading guilt, accepting punishment, apologizing to the nation and the people… The scripts are pre-written, and CCTV news crews are on standby awaiting orders. Yet to this day there have been no “Confessions From Mr. Xie.” It looks like Xie Yang has not cooperated, and the producers had no actor for their stage play.
Whenever I think of Xie Yang, his smile always comes to mind. No matter the situation he’s in, there it is: a sunny, wide smile that brightens the day. Xie Yang’s smile is probably the first impression of him that many are left with.
Xie Yang, with his swarthy features and slow and careful speech, always seems to surprise. But everything he does comes from the heart, and is motivated by his deepest feelings. With Xie Yang, it’s never just for show.
Hunan Mule Versus the Bandits of Shandong
The phrase “Hunan mule” (湖南骡子) passes for a compliment for the Hunanese, along with sayings like “if your tooth is broke, swallow it with the blood.” “Hunan mule” is a reference to the unbending character of the people who hail from the region. They toil and suffer without complaint, and they’re strong of mind and full of courage. Sometimes, they’re also a bit excitable, and apt to “kick their hind legs.” Xie Yang is a classic Hunan mule, and thus earned the sobriquet “Xie Yang the Stubborn.”
In 2011, the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) had just finished a four year prison term, earned for exposing the Communist Party’s brutal birth control practices in the countryside. He was then put under house arrest in Dongshigu village, Linyi, Shandong Province. Keeping him under guard became a cottage industry for local thugs: some were in charge of watching the family courtyard, others for making sure every approaching road was sealed off, others for dishing out beatings to visitors, others for delivering food. They worked shifts, 24/7. It didn’t matter who came to voice support, whether netizens, foreign journalists, or movie stars — whoever approached was beaten and chased away.
When Xie Yang heard about it, he didn’t believe it, and decided to pay Chen a visit himself. But before he could even enter Dongshigu, he was caught. The thugs began slugging him, tore apart his clothes, took his money, then bailed him into a car and dumped him in the middle of nowhere, a few dozen kilometers away. Poor Xie Yang had no ID, no money, and hardly any clothes left. Later, he told me that while he was in the car, tied up, hooded, and being beaten, his captors told him again and again that they were going to drive him out and bury him alive. He said the fact that he lived to tell the tale felt like a new life. Later still, I came to learn that this technique used by the thugs had its own term of art: “tossing to the wild” (“野抛”).
Xie Yang told me that what happened to him in Dongshigu had a profound impact on him. It hit him so hard, he said, that it brought about an internal rebirth. On the soil of Shandong — the cradle of Chinese civilization — Xie Yang came to a deep understanding of the state of the rule of law in China. It was a turning point in his journey to becoming a rights defense lawyer.
Defending the New Citizens
In 2014, with international attention focused on the prosecution of the New Citizens Movement in Beijing, Xie Yang appeared in court as counsel for Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), one of the four defendants. Lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) did most of the talking for the defense, and Xie Yang didn’t have much occasion to offer an opinion. When it was his turn to question the evidence, that Zhang Baocheng held up a placard calling for officials to make public their personal assets, Xie Yang responded in thick Hunan vernacular: “My client’s done a belter job.” The judge didn’t get it, and again asked for him to raise any questions about the evidence. Xie Yang repeated his remark. The judge then began thumping his gavel, demanding he provide an opinion on the evidence. Xie Yang didn’t react, and again said the same sentence: “My opinion of the evidence is simply that my client’s done a belter job.” (i.e., “My client has done a great job.”)
The demand that officials make public their assets is common sense in a democratic country. In China, it’s enough to land one in jail. That was all Xie Yang had to say about the evidence.
In March 2014, four human rights lawyers — Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) and Wang Cheng (王成) — traveled to the remote, far northeastern town of Jiansanjiang (建三江), Heilongjiang Province, to represent a number of Falun Gong practitioners locked in a black jail. When they got there the lawyers were taken captive and brutally beaten, sparking lawyers and citizens from around China to begin traveling to Jiansanjiang in protest and support. To deal with the flood of supporters, local authorities stationed about a dozen vehicles and dozens of fully-armed personnel on the only road leading there. It was early April, but the region had been hit with sudden snowfall, and visibility was low. The road there was desolate, empty fields stretching out into the distance, with no villages in sight — so the dozens of defense lawyer and citizens who went to protest were easily captured. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) was hooded and had his head rammed into a wall; Wang Shengsheng (王胜生) was hooded and dragged away while still in his pyjamas; Li Jinxing (李金星) told me that he got so cold in Jiansanjiang that it damaged his internal organs and took months to recover.
Xie Yang had arranged to travel there with a few other lawyers in early April. He was the first to arrive in Harbin where they were to meet. He could have waited for the others and gone together, so at least if they were buried alive there’d be company. But instead, as he recounted later with a grin, he thought: “What am I waiting around for? Forget it. First to come, first to go!”
With his authorization letter making clear he was an attorney on a case, he traveled by himself through the snow. As expected, he was picked up halfway there and searched. He didn’t try to hide anything and told them: “Haven’t you boys arrested a big crowd already? I’m with them!”
‘I Want to File the Case!’
Human rights lawyers are the chief offenders in China’s “New Five Black Categories,” (新黑五类) because they often serve as the defenders and guardians of the other four (political dissidents, believers, free speechers, the disenfranchised). The state sees them as a threat. Lawyers are willing to forgo income and personal safety in order to seek redress for wronged citizens — but on many occasions even filing the case is a battle. As for those who have their homes demolished, or those beaten by urban enforcement officers, or those who have family members killed by them, or by police — how many can actually file their cases?
Once, Xie Yang went to file an administrative lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff who was treated unjustly by the state. If the administrative court doesn’t first of all even report the matter to their superiors, if it hasn’t contacted the defendants, researched countermeasures beforehand and is confident about the outcome, the court won’t even accept your filing.
Xie Yang, with his complaint and dossier of evidence in hand, again tried to talk to the judge, but the judge still wouldn’t register the case. If you won’t register the case, will you at least provide a “Formal Notification of Refusal to Register a Case”? Sorry — no. That’s just not how we do things. Why not? Why doesn’t the judge follow the law? Judge, have you seen the law?
The judge looks down at his cell phone, giving Xie Yang the cold shoulder: how amusing that this lawyer actually thinks the law is for real!
Everyone in the legal community, from veterans to rookies, has been through this. Everyone has their reservoir of pent-up rage.
Xie Yang the Stubborn tried to get his point across in every possible way, with no result. After being ignored and humiliated, he was ready to kick his hind legs. The story goes that Xie Yang the Stubborn stood in the court with his hands and legs pointed out, in the shape of a big “X,” and yelled at the top of his voice: “EVERYONE. BE. QUIET.” The court instantly fell silent. All eyes were locked on Xie Yang. Then, his face lit up with fury, he raised a finger toward the presiding judge, and bellowed: “I want to file the case!”
Even after all that, they still didn’t put the case on file for him. Instead, the bailiffs took their cue to rough him up.
I once asked Xie Yang about where this incident took place. He sniggered and said: “Don’t remember.”
In China, there are quite a few lawyers who don’t approve of Xie Yang’s way of going about things. Indeed, roaring at the judge in the courtroom isn’t known to solve problems. But that’s Xie Yang.
‘Who Pays Your Salary?’
The professional environment for human rights lawyers in China is terrible. Everyone knows it. The number of lawyers who’ve had to move firms, or who’ve even been persecuted and run out of the industry, is countless.
In October 2013, after Xie Yang began taking on sensitive cases, the firm he was under contract with in Changsha forced him to transfer out. He then filed an application with the Changsha Justice Bureau to work at another firm. The law stipulates that both the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice, as well as the Changsha Justice Bureau, must examine and approve his application within 30 days. If they approve, he receives a new lawyer’s license; if they reject the application, they must provide a written explanation. But after seven months, the two Bureaus hadn’t processed the paperwork. This amounted to stripping Xie Yang of his right to practice his profession. In May 2014, he lodged an administrative lawsuit, suing the Changsha Justice Bureau and the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice for failing to carry out their duties.
Xie Yang’s complaint became a cause célèbre in the rights defense community in China. Two lawyers with national profile represented him, and 200-300 lawyers and interested citizens came from around the country to observe the court hearing. Because of the number of attendees, the court had to change the venue three times, eventually using their largest — and rarely used — courtroom. The Furong District Court in Changsha (长沙市芙蓉区法院) had never seen this many observers at a trial before.
When it was plaintiff Xie Yang’s turn to speak, he made an exhaustive list of everything the two judicial agencies had done to harass, persecute, and humiliate him. Then, with righteous indignation, he said: “You justice departments aren’t sons of bitches, you’re sons of lawyers — we pay for your living!”
As soon as these words fell from his lips, the entire courtroom erupted in applause. The judge knew that the reaction couldn’t be halted, and didn’t try stopping it.
I was traveling at the time and couldn’t attend, but photos of the scene in the courtroom were circulated online. Xie Yang could be seen, his dark face set off by his white clothes, with his classic smile, standing in front of his peers, looking every part the victorious hero.
Xie Yang told me later that he saw this case as one of the biggest achievements of his life. He said: “Even if I can’t be a lawyer anymore, it was worth it!”
A Black Robe and Bent Knees
Xie Yang’s stubbornness is legendary. After the trial, there was no judgement. After multiple abortive attempts at trying to prod the court for a verdict, he once again struck out on his own, though this time attracting more controversy than support: Xie Yang announced that he was going to don his lawyer’s gown, plant himself in front of the courthouse, and kneel. He said he’d do this every week, 15 minutes each time. When the news came out, many lawyers were pained to hear it. His own defense lawyer publicly distanced himself from the initiative. When the number of people trying to talk him out of it grew, he stopped picking up his phone. But Xie Yang makes good on his word, so he did end up doing the protest once.
Of course, the gesture was by no means to signify that he had come to kneel down, begging the authorities to toss him a lifeline. It was because he thought that the sight of a lawyer in a black robe kneeling at the doors of a courthouse would turn into a news event, and shame the court into acting. But the system Xie Yang was facing doesn’t share these ideas of honor and shame. Fortunately he later did receive a new lawyer’s licence and was able to continue plying his trade.
Let the Bullets Fly a Bit Longer
There were around 10,000 households in Hunan who were forced to evacuate due to the construction of the Tuokou reservoir (托口水库). The migration destroyed the properties of many families, and they were left with no avenues to seek redress. Some villagers killed themselves in despair. Xie Yang organized a group of lawyers to begin defending the villagers’ rights. The hearing was no more than a show, as the defendant — that is, the government — had never found themselves at the losing end of a forced demolition lawsuit.
But something unexpected happened in the courtroom: contained in the dossier presented by the government was a record of a conversation personally prepared by two government officials. Participants in the conversation included a Party secretary, the Public Security Bureau leader, the president of the court, and the official in charge of demolitions. They were discussing how they were monitoring the two main lawyers in this case, Xie Yang and Luo Lizhi (罗立志), including their schedules and chats together. Each of the officials spoke, according to the meeting record. The public security leader explained how he was preparing to mobilize so many people and vehicles, ready at any time to apprehend the lawyers; they referred to the “important instructions” of the Party secretary; how the court president was going to wrap up the case, how he was going to sort out Xie Yang and the other lawyers and then report back to the Party secretary, and so on.
Friends: If you want to know why it’s so hard to get administrative lawsuits filed, why it’s so hard to win them, and why officials are so complacent and treat the people like dirt, then you should examine the meeting records revealed in this case. Is this sort of lawsuit fair? Has the world ever seen its like?
When these records were discovered, Hu Lizheng (胡林政), one of the lawyers, demanded the court recuse itself from adjudicating the case. The defendants went pale, and bailiffs dashed forward to seize control of the evidence. When the Tuokou villagers who’d come to observe the trial realized what was going on, they began shouting and weeping at how unjust it all was. They filled the courtroom with cries.
The court session was adjourned. What would be the next step? Xie Yang had a head for pacing and said: “Let the bullets fly a bit longer” — that is, to watch and wait. But before there could be any next step, Xie Yang was arrested on the grounds of “gathering a crowd to disrupt court order” (聚众扰乱法庭秩序罪).
The bullets fell to the ground as soon as Xie Yang was taken into custody. The court announced that the lawsuit was dropped.
Xu Chunhe, or When Human Life is Cut Down Like Grass
Another case Xie Yang was involved in was the shooting of Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) in early May, 2015. This case was one of the key factors leading up to the mass arrest of rights defense lawyers and citizen activists on July 9, 2015.
Xu Chunhe was a petitioner from the city of Qing’an, Heilongjiang Province (黑龙江省庆安). He was traveling by train with his eighty-year-old mother and three kids when he was shot dead by a police officer at the train station. The well-known activist Wu Gan (吴淦) exposed surveillance footage from the scene online, and what had taken place was clear.
Xie Yang traveled to Qing’an and was hired by the family to file the complaint. After he was commissioned, Xie Yang demanded that the police make public the full surveillance footage, and also that they begin an investigation into the matter. These demands met with no result.
At this point, Xie Yang and a few other lawyers stood outside the Harbin Railway Public Security Bureau and unfurled a big-character banner saying: “You’ve No Option But to Release the Full Surveillance Video!”
Following this, the citizens and lawyers who got involved in the case were jailed one after another. These included Wu Gan, who sought out the truth of what happened, and the lawyers Xie Yang and Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), who tried to obtain justice for the family of the man wrongly killed.
Xie Yang’s Tenderness
Xie Yang has two daughters, one about ten years old and the other a toddler. He often had to travel around China, from one case to the other, and hardly had the leisure to enjoy his girls’ company. When I was with him, on more than one occasion Xie Yang pulled out his cellphone and began watching videos of the girls playing at home, his face and eyes lighting up with cheer.
You can’t say he’s a good husband. He was hardly home; he took on cases that placed him in physical and political danger, causing his wife to fret about him and fear for the family. Though a loving father, he’s been detained for more than five months now, and I heard that his daughters have constantly asked: “When will daddy come back?” Does a good father put himself in such danger and risk letting down his children?
Having come to the end of my account, just what kind of person is Xie Yang?
The official indictment, on December 16, 2016, after he was detained for 17 months, charges Xie Yang with the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order.
Confucius, some 2,500 years ago, said that “men of principle are sure to have courage,” and that “to see what is right and not do it is want of courage.” He also said, “Men with aspiration and with benevolence do not sacrifice benevolence to remain alive, but would sacrifice themselves for benevolence.” Mencius said, “To live is my desire, and to be righteous is also my desire. If the two can’t be had at the same time, I’d give up life to achieve righteousness.” In our time of moral poverty, Xie Yang is such a man whose actions and choices befit the ideals of Confucius and Mencius.
Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) is a human rights lawyer in China.
Translated from an abbreviated version with author’s permission.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
Xie Yang, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, January 19, 2017
In a series of interviews, the still incarcerated human rights lawyer Xie Yang provided a detailed account of his arrest, interrogations, and the horrific abuses he suffered at the hands of police and prosecutors, to his two defense lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清). This revelation, and the extraordinary circumstances of it, mark an important turn in the 709 crackdown on human rights lawyers. This group, seen as the gravest threat to regime security, has not been crushed, but instead has become more courageous and more determined. This is the first of several installments in English translation. — The Editors
Date: January 4, 2017, 3:08:56 p.m. (interview start)
Location: Interview Room 2W, Changsha Number Two Detention Center
Interviewee: Xie Yang (谢阳, “Xie”)
Interviewers: Lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) (“Lawyers”)
Transcription by Chen Jian’gang
Lawyers: Hello, Xie Yang. We are Chen Jian’gang and Liu Zhengqing, defense lawyers hired by your wife, Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋). Do you agree to these arrangements?
XIE: Yes, I agree to appoint you as my defense counsel.
LAWYERS: Today, we need to ask you some questions regarding the case. Could you please take your time and describe the circumstances of your detention and interrogation?
XIE: I was picked up in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015, at the Qianzhou Hotel in Hongjiang City, Hunan (湖南怀化洪江市托口镇黔洲大酒店). As I was sleeping, a bunch of people—some in plain clothes and others in police uniform—forced their way into my room. They didn’t display any identification but showed me an official summons for questioning before taking me away to the Hongjiang City Public Security Bureau. Everything I had with me, including my mobile phone, computer, identification card, lawyer’s license, wallet, bank cards, and briefcase were confiscated. When they got me downstairs, I saw there were three cars waiting. They sent around a dozen or so people to detain me.
LAWYERS: What happened next after you got to the Hongjiang City Public Security Bureau?
XIE: It was around 6 a.m. when we arrived at the station, at the crack of dawn. Someone took me to a room in the investigations unit and had me sit in an interrogation chair—the so-called “iron chair.” Once I sat down, they locked me into the shackles on the chair. From that point, I was shackled in whether or not they were questioning me.
LAWYERS: Did anyone at the time say that you had been placed under detention or arrest? Why did they immediately shackle you?
XIE: No, no one said anything about placing me under any of the statutory coercive measures. They just shackled me right away, and that’s how I stayed for over three hours. No one cared—they just left me shackled like that.
LAWYERS: What happened next?
XIE: Sometime after 9 a.m., two police officers came in. Neither of them showed me any paperwork or identification, either. I could tell by their accents that they weren’t local police from Hongjiang. They hadn’t been among the group that detained me, so they must have come later.
LAWYERS: What questions did they ask you?
XIE: They asked me whether I’d joined “that illegal organization the ‘Human Rights LAWYERS Group’” (人权律师团) and some other questions about the Human Rights Lawyers Group. I said that as far as I knew there was no organization called the “Human Rights Lawyers Group.” They said there was a chat group on WeChat, and I said I was a member of that group. They said: “The lawyers in that group are anti-Party and anti-socialist in nature.” Then they asked questions about who organized the group, what sort of things it did, and so on.
LAWYERS: How did you answer them?
XIE: I said that almost all the members of this group were lawyers and that it was a group set up by people with a common interest. I said it was a place for us to exchange information and that there was no organizer—everyone was independent and equal and there was no hierarchy of any kind. It was only a group for exchanging information and chatting amongst each other, sometimes even cracking jokes and things like that.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: Then, one of the officers asked whether we’d publicly issued any joint statements or opinions regarding certain cases in the name of the “Human Rights Lawyers Group.” I said that we had and that this was an act we took as individuals and that we signed as individuals, voluntarily.
Then they asked whether I was willing to quit the Human Rights Lawyers Group. I said that, first of all, since I hadn’t joined any organization called “Human Rights Lawyers Group,” there was no way I could leave it. Then they asked whether I’d be willing to quit the “Human Rights Lawyers Group” chat group. I said that I had the freedom to be part of the chat group and that they had no right to interfere.
LAWYERS: What happened after that?
XIE: They told me the Ministry of Public Security had passed judgment on the chat group known as the “Human Rights Lawyers Group,” saying that there were anti-Party, anti-socialist lawyers in the group. They said they hoped that I could see the situation clearly and that I’d be treated leniently if I cooperated with them. This lasted for more than an hour. They finally said: “Leaders in Beijing and the province are all involved in this case. If you quit the Human Rights Lawyers Group, you’ll be treated leniently.” I asked what they meant by “leniently.” They said I should know that lawyers from the group were being questioned throughout the country and said that there was a possibility that I’d be prosecuted if I continued to refuse to come to my senses.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: At the time I thought they’d only brought me in for a talking-to and to see whether I’d agree to quit the group. But I continued to say that the group was only a chat group. They made me give a statement to sign, two pages long, regarding the chat group. The summons said they were investigating “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a work unit,” but there was no mention of that in the statement. They also asked me about some of the cases I’d been involved in, such as the Jiansanjiang case (建三江案) and the Qing’an shooting case (庆安枪击案). I told them I’d taken part, and they asked me who’d instructed me to do so. I said I went to take part in those cases of my own accord and that no one had instructed me to do anything. What’s more, I said that I’d been formally retained as a lawyer in those cases and that this fell within the scope of ordinary professional work. I’ve since seen my case file, and that statement isn’t in it.
LAWYERS: What happened after you gave your statement?
XIE: After I gave my statement, they said they were relatively satisfied with my attitude and they needed to report to their superiors. They also said that I should be able to receive lenient treatment. Then they left.
About 10 minutes or so later, sometime after 10:30, another police officer came in. He introduced himself as Li Kewei (李克伟) and said he was the ranking officer in charge of my case. I asked him how high a rank, and he drew a circle with his hand and said: “I’m in charge of this entire building.” I guessed he might be the chief or deputy chief of the Changsha Public Security Bureau. I later found out that Li Kewei was the head of the Domestic Security Unit at the Changsha Public Security Bureau.
LAWYERS: What happened then?
XIE: He told me he was not dissatisfied with my attitude. He said I’d only touched very lightly on my own actions and hadn’t “reflected” on things “deep enough in my heart.” He said: “You have to give a new statement, otherwise you won’t get any lenient treatment from us.”
I told him that I was disappointed in the way they were going back on their word. I asked what sort of “reflection” would qualify as “deep enough in my heart”—what was his standard?
He said: “We’re in charge of setting the standard.” I said that if they were in charge of the standard, then there was no way for me to assess it. I told him I was extremely disappointed by their lack of sincerity and that I was unwilling to cooperate with them.
LAWYERS: What happened next?
XIE: Another officer brought in my mobile phone and demanded that I enter the PIN so that they could access my phone. I told them they had no right to do that and I refused. I later found out that this officer was from the Huaihua Domestic Security Unit. He’s someone in charge of my case, but I don’t know his name.
LAWYERS: Then what happened?
XIE: Li Kewei said they weren’t after me and that he hoped I would change my attitude and cooperate with them. Then it was lunchtime. After lunch, there was no more discussion until 5 or 6 p.m. The police had an auxiliary officer stay with me. He didn’t let me sleep at night and kept me shackled like that up until daybreak. For the whole night, the auxiliary officer kept a close eye on me and didn’t let me sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes or nodded off, they would push me, slap me, or reprimand me. I was forced to keep my eyes open until dawn.
LAWYERS: What happened at dawn?
XIE: It must have been after five in the morning when five or six men burst in. Some were in plain clothes and some in uniform. They brought a faxed copy of a Decision on Residential Surveillance and had me sign it. After I signed, they brought me to a police car and took me away.
They drove me all the way to Changsha to a building that housed retired cadres from the National University of Defense Technology (国防科技大学). It was at 732 Deya Road in Kaifu District (开福区德雅路732号) — I saw this in my case file. I had no idea what sort of place it was when they brought me in. I only knew it was in Changsha, but I didn’t know where exactly.
In the car there was a police officer named Li Feng (李峰). I later learned he was from the Domestic Security Unit of the Hunan Provincial Public Security Bureau. He told me I’d already squandered one opportunity and said he hoped I would seize the next one and actively cooperate with them during my period of residential surveillance in a designated location. He said if I did, he’d report up to his superiors and seek lenient treatment for me. I thought that everything I’d done had been above board and I didn’t need to hide anything. I told them the PIN on my mobile phone and he was looking through my WeChat messages the whole ride over. He became very familiar with all that I’d done.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: It was about noon on July 12, 2015, when we got to the place in Changsha where they held me. They took me to that hotel and we entered through a side door. There were two police officers on either side of me, each grabbing hold of my arms and pressing on my neck to push me forward. They took me to a room on the second floor, which I later learned was Room 207. It was a relatively small room, with a small bed, two tables, and two chairs. There was a camera in the upper left corner as you entered the room.
LAWYERS: What happened after you went in?
XIE: After they brought me in, they had me sit on the chair. Three people stayed with me. None of them were police. I found out later that they were “chaperones” (陪护人员).
(The interview concluded at 4:54:45 p.m. on January 4, 2017.)
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others
Media coverage of the Xie Yang torture and the 709 crackdown:
Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China, New York Times, January 20, 2017.
Document of Torture: One Chinese Lawyer’s Story From Jail, WSJ China Real Time, January 20, 2017.
A broken lawyer and a hawkish judge cast deep pall over China’s legal system, Washington Post, January 21, 2017.
Beijing Breaks Lawyers, Wall Street Journal editorial, January 22, 2017.
‘Your only right is to obey’: lawyer describes torture in China’s secret jails, the Guardian, January 23, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post editorial, January 27, 2017.
January 11, 2017
Hunan Province Changsha Municipal People’s Procuratorate
Bill of Indictment
CS Proc Crim Indict  No. 85
Defendant Xie Yang (谢阳), male, [redacted], Han ethnicity, master’s degree education, was a practicing lawyer at Hunan Gangwei Law Firm, [redacted]. On July 12, 2015, he was put under residential surveillance by the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau on suspicion of the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order. On January 8, 2016 this procuratorate approved his arrest on suspicion of the crime of subversion of state power. The arrest was executed the following day by the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau.
The Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case and, on August 8, 2016, referred the case to this procuratorate for prosecutorial review of defendant Xie Yang’s culpability for the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order. After receiving this case, the procuratorate on August 10, 2016, notified the defendant of his right to retain defense counsel, questioned the defendant in accordance with the law, heard the defense lawyer’s opinions, and reviewed the complete set of documents in this case. Due to some unclear facts and insufficient proof, on August 17, 2016 and October 17, 2016, this procuratorate twice returned the case to the public security organ for additional investigation. After the public security organ completed additional investigation on September 17, 2016, and November 17, 2016, the case was again transferred to this procuratorate for review and prosecution.
It is found upon review by law that:
I. Crime of Subversion of State Power
Defendant Xie Yang had long been influenced by the infiltration of anti-China forces and gradually formed his idea of overthrowing the current political system. Since 2012, Xie Yang has published many speeches attacking and defaming the government, judicial organs, and the state justice system, and openly incited others to subvert state power. He has also traveled abroad many times to receive training by overseas organizations. Through WeChat, Telegram, and other online methods—and in the name of “defending rights”—he colluded with Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), who was sentenced for the crime of subversion of state power, and other people inside and outside China who intended to overthrow our government to interfere and stir up incidents and events that happened in China in recent years. He attacked and slandered our country’s current political system, incited others to overthrow our government and the socialist system by willfully distorting facts, incited others to unlawfully assemble in public to make provocations, and instigated people who did not know the facts to resent the government by making use of public opinion, severely harming national security and exacerbating social problems. Specific facts are as follows:
- Since 2012, defendant Xie Yang registered on Sina two microblog IDs: “Xie Yang lawyer 911” and “Lawyer Xie Yang 911.” Through both he posted a large amount of writing attacking our government and current political system, advocating “overthrowing the regime is a basic human right,” and inciting others to overthrow our government. Upon investigation, it was found that more than ten thousand posts were posted on the above two microblog sites, with more than ten thousand followers. All the microblog posts were reposts of negative news about the government, judicial organs and the judicial and political systems of our country or negative comments on positive news and reports. About 180 or so posts directly attacked our government and incited the subversion of state power. These were read or clicked on around 300,000 times, and some of the microblog posts were heavily commented on and reposted.
- In April 2015, defendant Xie Yang represented Xie Fengxia (谢丰夏) (aka: Xie Wenfei 谢文飞) in his case on suspicion of the crime of subversion of state power. During the review and prosecution period of this case, Xie Yang visited Xie Fengxia as his defense attorney at the Guangzhou Detention Center. He then drafted an article titled “Attorney Xie Yang’s Meeting with Xie Wenfei” and posted it online, openly advocating “inciting to overthrow state power is not a crime and calling on everyone to work hard to end authoritarian rule.” This article was reposted by some personal microblogs and overseas anti-China websites, creating adverse political effects.
- In May 2015, a police attacker was shot and killed by a police officer in the waiting room of the Qing’an County Railway Station in Heilongjiang Province. After this incident, Xie Yang, together with attorney Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), who was dealt with in another case on suspicion of the crime of inciting subversion of the state power, Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) and others, traveled to Harbin and Qing’an County of Heilongjiang Province to exploit this incident by gathering crowds to provoke trouble offline and encouraging confrontation online. At the same time, they gathered unlawfully and held signs and banners at the Heilongjiang Province Public Security Department, Heilongjiang Railway Administrative Bureau, the Qing’an County Railway Station square, and the Qing’an County government, proclaiming: “Heaven and the people are angry at the killing of a citizen,” and “Make Qing’an police accountable, exercise constitutional rights.” He later published online the above-mentioned photos showing signs of the appeal and making fact-distorting speeches and statements to incite people who did not know the facts to oppose government organs.
- On May 18, 2015, during his defense in a case involving an economic dispute in Nanning Municipality, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Xie Yang suffered a minor injury in his lower leg during a violent fight between people of both parties. The Nanning City Public Security Bureau promptly dispatched officers to deal with the situation. Xie Yang later posted on his microblog a speech on his being beaten to maliciously slander the Nanning Public Security Bureau, claiming that “Nanning police organized criminals to interfere with the economic dispute,” and “Nanning police were the assailant,” and hinting that he was being persecuted for his defense work in the Qing’an incident, and inciting people who did not know the facts to oppose the government by defaming the government. After the said article was posted on his microblog, it was reposted and commented on by many media and internet forums, creating an adverse effect.
The above criminal facts are supported by the following evidence:
1. Material evidence such as photos of cellphone and computer(s); 2. Written evidence such as records of entry and exit, deleted microblog printouts provided by Beijing Weimeng Chuangke Net Technology Co., Ltd., explanation of case situation, household registration material; 3. Testimony by witnesses Wang Xun (王勋), Xie Fengxia (谢丰夏), and others; 4. Statement and argument by defendant Xie Yang; and 5. Electronic data.
II. Disrupting Court Order
From 2014 — March 2015, villagers from Shuangtang Group, Lianhu Village, Yuhua District, Changsha, Hunan, filed an administrative suit with the Changsha Municipality Yuhua District People’s Court regarding their eminent domain home demolition matter. Defendant Xie Yang was hired as attorney to represent 17 of these villagers in the case. He told the villagers that even if they didn’t win the case, they could use the delay of the trial to pressure the Yuhua District government to increase their compensation. To achieve this objective, defendant Xie Yang deputized non-lawyers Wang Quanping (王全平), Fan Biaowen (范标文) and others to handle this case, and they asked the villagers to trust and support every action they did in the courtroom, and do everything they could to convene their relatives and friends to come to the court hearing. After that they used the Internet and telephone to gather many unrelated people to come to the court hearing to “surround and watch” (围观). On the morning of March 9, 2015, Changsha Municipality Yuhua District People’s Court began to hear the case, the court decided that because Wang Quanping, Fan Biaowen and others didn’t have the qualifications to represent the appellants as their legal agents, so it demanded that Wang and Fan leave the trial. Defendant Xie Yang slapped the table and abused and insulted the judge and used other methods to incite the litigants and trial observers to oppose the court’s decision. A mob gathered and made a lot of noise and charged the court. The defendant Xie Yang and others obstructed the bailiffs’ maintaining court order, seriously disrupting court order and causing the hearing to be delayed two hours.
Evidence substantiating the above crimes is as follows:
1. Cell phone and other material evidence photographs; 2. Notice to appear in court, observer register; court hearing transcript and other documented evidence; 3. Testimonies by witnesses Xiang Bin (向斌), Zhang Libing (张莉斌), Zhou Jie (周杰), etc.; 4. Defendant Xie Yang’s deposition and defense; 5. Video and audio material from court hearing; 6. Digital data.
This procuratorate maintains that defendant Xie Yang incited others to subvert state power and overthrow the socialist system, thus committing major criminal acts. He also assembled mobs to create chaos and attacked a court, seriously disrupting court order. These actions constitute a violation of Articles 105(2) and 309(9) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The facts being clear and the evidence reliable and sufficient, defendant Xie Yang should be held criminally responsible for the crimes of subverting state power and disrupting court order. Therefore, in accordance with Article 72 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, this procuratorate hereby submits its indictment and requests that punishment be imposed in accordance with the law.
To: Hunan Province Changsha Municipal Intermediate People’s Court
Prosecutor: Fang Hui (方惠)
Acting Prosecutor: Li Zhiming (李治明)
December 16, 2016
Notes and Attachments:
- Defendant Xie Yang is currently detained in Changsha Number Two Detention Center.
- Case file (14 volumes, 24 CD-ROM disks).
- Witness List
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, July, 2015.
China Change, November 29, 2016
“A lawyer who was born at just the right time; a lawyer who’s willing to take any case; a lawyer hated by a small political clique; a lawyer who wants to win the respect of regular folk; a lawyer who kept going even after being stripped of his law license.” – Jiang Tianyong’s Twitter bio
Lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) has been incommunicado for nine days as of today, and repeated attempts by his wife and lawyers to confirm his whereabouts and the circumstances of his disappearance have been met with obstruction. He’s believed to have been abducted by the Chinese government and fear is mounting that he is now, once again, being subjected to brutal treatment.
On November 21, after meeting with the wife of detained lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) in Changsha, Jiang notified his wife and friends that he was returning to Beijing by the D940 train, due to arrive at the Beijing West Railway Station at 6:30 a.m. He never arrived, and no one has been able to reach him by phone since the evening of November 21.
Jiang Tianyong has been a prominent figure in the struggle for the rule of law in China over the past decade. While he only practiced law for a little over five years before being stripped of his license, he continued his legal activism tirelessly. Of most recent note, Jiang led the campaign to free rights lawyers detained in the mass July 15 crackdown last year known as the “709 Incident.”
International media have reported his disappearance (AP, Reuters), over 60 lawyers in China issued a statement demanding information and explanation, and France, Germany and the United States urged the Chinese government to provide information about Jiang. German Vice Chancellor and trade minister Sigmar Gabriel, who visited China recently and met with Jiang and eight other lawyers and relatives of detained lawyers, was shocked to learn about his disappearance, and vowed to put pressure on Chinese leaders.
As Good as the Company He Keeps
Jiang Tianyong was born in Luoshan (罗山县), the southernmost county in China’s central province of Henan. “The area around our hometown was beautiful — the land of milk and honey surrounded by mountains and lakes. But from the time I can remember, we were very poor. We never had enough to eat or wear, and despite working long hours doing non-stop manual labor, year in and year out, we were always hard up.”
In 1991, Jiang enrolled in what’s now Changsha University and after graduation became a high school Chinese teacher in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. “Even though teaching is an important profession, I never found it interesting enough, and it never quite sated my curiosity. I was, on the other hand, deeply drawn to questions of power, the law, and democracy,” he told an interviewer in 2010. His high school classmate Li Heping (李和平), already a lawyer and one of those detained in the 709 arrests last year, encouraged him to take the bar exam. He did, and passed.
In 2004, Jiang moved to Beijing to practice law. He became a human rights lawyer inspired by the barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng. In 2005 when Chen was tried and sentenced to four years in prison, Jiang was there by his side defending him.
“It was only with the Chen Guangcheng case that I truly entered the ranks of the human rights lawyers,” he said. “Later on the Internal Security police came and spoke with me, saying: ‘Your problem is that you’re not careful enough about choosing your friends, and you’ve been led down a wrong path. If you didn’t make friends with people like Chen Guangcheng, Li Heping, and Teng Biao, you wouldn’t be in the trouble you are today.’ Haha.”
Soon after, Jiang ramped up his human rights work, representing a clutch of sensitive clients: Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a persecuted rights lawyer; private oil well owners in the Shanbei oilfields (陕北油田) who had their assets expropriated by the state; farmers in Taishi village, Guangzhou (广州太石村), who sought to sack local Party officials for corruption; and dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) who went on to receive the Sakharov Prize in 2008, among other cases. After 2008 Jiang began taking on Falun Gong cases. “I’ve been involved in more than 20,” he said.
In late 2005, at the height of a HIV epidemic in China caused by contaminated blood transfusions, Jiang was one of the lawyers who collaborated with an NGO to represent poor rural victims, according to a recent article by Wan Yanhai (万延海), the head of Aizhixing (爱知行).
In 2009, Jiang represented Jigme Guri, a senior monk at Labrang monastery in southern Gansu, who was arrested after providing a video recording of unrest on March 14 to Voice of America.
In late 2009, Jiang was one of the eight lawyers in Beijing stripped of their licenses to practice. The reason, he said, is because they had represented Falun Gong practitioners and been part of a campaign to directly elect the officials of the Beijing Bar Association, a Party-controlled body that regulates the profession. The experience of Jiang and others is portrayed in the film “Disbarment” (吊照门) by the documentarian He Yang (何楊).
Jiang says he has enormous respect for the legal profession. “History shows us that lawyers have played a crucial role in modern times: for instance, the role of lawyers was indispensable and its traces everywhere in the American declaration of independence and the War of Independence; the French Revolution, though given to an excess of violence, saw lawyers play a very significant role. There’s nothing more important for defending democratic rights than the law, and there’s no one more involved in that than lawyers.”
60 Days of Secret Detention
Jiang Tianyong is no stranger to secret, forced disappearances.
In February 2011, when an anonymous call for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China’s major cities made the rounds online, Chinese authorities detained hundreds of lawyers, activists, and dissidents across the country. Jiang Tianyong was one of them. He was released in April, but remained silent about what he went through. In September that year he decided to speak out, revealing the details in an interview with Voice of America.
On February 19, Jiang was dragged away and shoved in a car as he family watched on, then driven to a secret detention center for interrogation. He told his captors that what they were doing was illegal. After demanding to know the legal basis for interrogation, he found that “in that small room, the law of the People’s Republic of China had been annulled.”
In the two months he was detained, neither he nor his family were given any formal notification of his status, no one knew where he had been locked up, and his family didn’t even know if he was dead or alive. He didn’t see the sun once while in custody. The only light he was exposed to was the harsh glow of the bulb in his dark cell.
His interrogators pummeled his body hard with plastic bottles full of water, pinched his face, and screamed abuse and threats in a constant stream. On the third day, the police decided that Jiang would get out of bed according to their rules: He would be made to rise, yell “Report!” and then say “I am willing to be educated by the government!” Then, he had to recite from memory three so-called patriotic songs decided by his jailers. If he made an error, he had to start again.
He was deprived of sleep the first five nights in detention while being interrogated from midnight to 6:00 a.m.
He was also forced to “self-reflect,” which took the form of sitting in front of a wall, hands on knees, where he was attacked if he so much as flinched. He could be called in for “talks” by public security personnel at any moment, where they would try to brainwash him with what they described as “remedial education.” He had no choice but to listen as they went on and on. Jiang said he lingered on the cusp of losing his mind at any moment — he could have had a mental breakdown, leapt up and lashed out at his jailers, or anything, he said.
Wan Yanhai described the state Jiang was in over the months after his disappearance. “When I spoke with him on the phone he’d interrupt and tell me to stop talking, because he had to report everything back to the security police. I told him not to worry, and that I could help him write the report. So our interactions mostly resumed their normalcy. We didn’t have any particular secrets to keep anyway.”
Coming out with the details of his detention was also part of the healing process, if one can be “healed” at all after such traumatic experiences.
Ruptured Eardrum and Eight Broken Ribs
On May 4, 2012, after Chen Guangcheng made his daring escape from his village in Shandong to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Jiang went to visit him in the Chaoyang Hospital in the capital. For that, he was bailed up by at least five Internal Security agents, and in the course of the beating had his left eardrum ruptured.
On March 20, 2014, Jiang, along with his colleagues Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Wang Cheng (王成), and Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) traveled to a notorious “legal education base” (a.k.a. brainwashing center) at the Qinglongshan Farm, Jiansanjiang Agricultural Reclamation District (建三江农垦总局), in the far northern province of Heilongjiang, demanding that the Falun Gong practitioners illegally detained there be released. They also submitted a complaint to the local Procuratorate. The following morning they were all taken away by local public security authorities, and administratively detained for 15 days for engaging in so-called “heterodox religious activities.”
In an interview with VOA, Tang Jitian described the police torture and beatings he was subjected to. “They refused to show their police badges, explain our legal rights, or to have two police present when questioning, nor did they turn on their audio-video recording equipment. I was of the belief that the procedures violated the law, and refused to cooperate. Immediately a few police began thumping me in the ears and face, then used a plastic bottle full of water to start hitting me in the cheeks, knocking a tooth out. When they finished striking me they asked whether or not I’d sign the interrogation transcript. I said that it was illegal, and I wasn’t going to sign it. They cuffed my hands behind my back, hooded me, and dragged me to an anonymous room in the Daxing Public Security Sub-Bureau compound. Then they strung me up by the hands — still behind my back — and started punching and kicking.”
Tang Jitian continued: “About five or six police were involved. As they were beating me they threatened that they were going to cut out my kidneys while I was still alive. The main thing I remember is the pain of being repeatedly hit in the chest — it was excruciating. I immediately began sweating uncontrollably, and I felt darkness start to close in. In the end I had no choice but to promise to cooperate. So they dragged me back to the interrogation room and started slapping me in the face again and hitting me with the water bottles. Left with no other option, I signed their transcript. Still they left me handcuffed in one of the duty rooms at the Daxing Sub-Bureau until later that evening. From the morning of March 21 when we were put under police control, until that night, I was only given two steamed buns. On the evening of March 22 I was taken to the detention center, which was the first time I had a proper meal.”
All four lawyers were subjected similar brutalities and suffered injuries. Eight of Jiang Tianyong’s ribs were broken.
A Veteran Activist, Determined to Stay
Jiang Tianyong has been living in danger for years. Internal Security agents follow him nearly every day, and his door lock is glued shut by thugs with the government so often that he’s gotten used to replacing it. At his exhortation, his wife and daughter left the country — and he’s simply happy that they don’t need to live a life of fear anymore.
An individual close to Jiang recently wrote the following in a group chat on the secure messaging application Telegram: “Lawyer Jiang is truly one of the very few veteran activists to both stay in China and continue the work. Friends regularly tell him to leave and go into hiding, because there’s no hope for saving China at this stage. But he always says: As long as there’s room to do something, he doesn’t want to leave China and fritter his time away overseas. ‘Leaving is easy, but coming back is hard,’ he said. After the mass arrests of lawyers in July last year, many of Jiang’s friends were once again secretly detained, tortured, and tried. Political activists, rights defenders, lawyers, NGO workers, all vanished. Jiang was the fish who escaped the dragnet — but he hardly took heed of the danger, continuing to swim against the current, consoling 709 families and helping them however he could.”
When a close friend urged him to leave, he said, “Li Heping and the others are like brothers to me. How could I possibly leave at this point?”
Jiang told the Associated Press in June that he feared he could be detained at any moment, and rarely spent more than a few nights in one place.
Friends and colleagues describe him as warm, caring, and selfless.