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Safeguard defenders, September 19, 2017
Among the many revelations into the systematic repression of the human rights community to have come to light since the beginning of the 709 Crackdown have been accounts from those released about the access of police and state security to chat logs and emails, even communications and documents those people thought they had deleted.
This heightened awareness has certainly pushed the idea of taking digital security precautions in how to prevent sensitive information from falling into the hands of police in the event of detention. However, the focus of trainings and guidebooks is often directed in the wrong direction, namely on more advanced hacking and sophisticated intrusion. This continued focus on advanced threats actually has and will continue to harm human rights defenders’ safety. This is because it is not only nearly impossible to defend against such high level threats but that also in almost every case this is not the real threat. In the end, time is consumed trying to defend against a largely non-existent threat.
It is true that the capability of the Chinese Government concerning data forensics and hacking has developed like other aspects of the country, but those often limited resources are used against other bigger, and usually international, targets. On top of that, police and state security know well that the impunity with which they can act means that they have more direct, easier, access to whatever a human rights defenders’ computer or phone might hold; namely the use of direct threats, torture and intimidation against family, friends and loved ones. There are exceptions, but against these tools of repression, few people can stand up for long.
Real security must thus be based on the fact that a defenders’ computer and phone will be taken, and chances are that they will be forced to give up the information the police is after. The threat of torture or disappearance is sadly quite effective against even the best password or encrypted file. Any training and training material must be based on this reality. Digital security requires physical and behavioral changes in addition to passwords and applications.
The reality is also that digital security solutions that decrease the efficiency of our phones and computers are likely to be abandoned after time, regardless of the quality or number of trainings the rights defender or journalist has attended. Security solutions are only solutions if they are actually applied and maintained, something a lot of training material seems to gloss over when they offer solutions that are realistically not feasible for the majority of rights defenders.
Real security, that is sufficient and sustainable, can only come from finding the middle path, by focusing on real threats, while offering solutions that come from basic behavior rather than advanced technological solutions.
The newly released Practical Digital Protection self-study guide has been developed with these considerations in mind. It was developed over 12 months, together with journalists, lawyers, NGO workers and rights defenders across China, looking at their own experiences with security issues, detentions, interrogations and data forensic techniques applied by police and state security. The manual doesn’t only provide behavior-based solutions, but also real-life stories from defenders illustrating how their own best or worst case solutions have had a direct impact on how their technology has either been used against them, their partners, and coworkers, or prevented from being exploited by the State.
The following abridged story is one of several from the Practical Digital Protection manual.
A seasoned rights defense lawyer received a message on Telegram from a trusted colleague that the police had been asking questions about her and that she should expect to be detained or at least questioned. She had at this point already taken on many rights defense cases and worked with many other similar lawyers for several years. She was quite skilled in cybersecurity, having always been afraid police might detain her or take her computer and try to use her information against her. She rarely used WeChat, and never for work. She even knew how to use hidden encryption, not only to protect the data itself, but also to hide its very existence. Police can’t ask about what they don’t know exist she figured, correctly.
The information she had wasn’t just about her, but also about others. If this information fell into the wrong hands it didn’t just mean possible imprisonment for her, but for others. She had already been smart enough to realize that normal encryption would be of little help. If police knew what to ask for, she doubted that she would be able to resist for long, as she as a lawyer was well aware that the legal protections against torture and mistreatment in China are barely worth the paper they are written on.
When the police eventually detained her and placed her alone in a cell, to undergo more than a month of interrogations, they also seized her computer, several phones, and USBs.
After a few days in detention, she was very surprised when the police began to start each new day by showing her documents from her computer. She knew these documents had been stored in a hidden encrypted space that the police did not have access too, or even knew about. She was frantic each time the police produced one of these documents. These documents threatened to expose some of her sensitive rights defense work and provide evidence that would make it easy for the police to go after her clients or other lawyers she had worked with.
Before being detained she had agreed to a cover story with her colleagues who might also be detained. Some of the documents the police produced challenged their cover story, and severely increased hers and their risks.
The documents the police had were very random. Many of them were also just partial, a few pages of a larger document. How did they get these documents, she continued to wonder.
In the end, the police did not find the ‘smoking gun’ they were looking for, and even though she remains to this day under threat, having been released on ‘bail’, with police able to pick her up again any day they wish, the fact that most documents remained protected saved her.
Only after her release, with time and access to information online did she figure out what had gone wrong. File Recovery program it read. With this, she would learn of something that even many of those skilled in Cybersecurity fails to understand, or if they do understand it, fails to realize how big of a threat it is.
Data, she realized, are like memories. They linger for a long time, and even when they begin to fade, it happens slowly, and only parts of it disappear. Data, once ‘deleted,’ she realized, is not actually deleted, but continues to lie on the hard drive, only not visible to the normal user. It’s all still there, until the space holding the data is filled up with something new. The fact that most of data was in an encrypted space didn’t always matter, as many of the documents she had produced over the years had been created on the desktop (outside the encrypted area), before being moved to the encrypted space (which leaves traces of the original). An act of laziness. Many documents had also been deleted over time, she like most thus assumed they were safe. It had been deleted after all.
So what had happened? All those documents that had been on her normal hard drive, once moved to the encrypted storage, were readily available to the police using File Recovery, easy to use programs available for free online. All they had to do was scan her hard drive in detail, and step by step pieces of old data long ago deleted could be put together. This is because the documents weren’t properly erased from her computer. But there are solutions. Programs such as CCleaner for example, securely delete files to make sure nobody can ever recover them. Understanding how data deletion really works, and making secure deletion part of a normal routine will drastically increase security.
Safeguard Defenders new practical digital protection manual (English and Chinese editions) can be found at practicaldigitalprotection.com.
In addition to the current Chinese- and English language editions, other editions are being produced in collaboration with Reporters Without Borders, with a Vietnamese and a Turkish edition coming this fall.
Safeguard Defenders 的最新数字安全实用手册目前有英文版和中文版，可以在网站 practicaldigitalprotection.com 下载。
Also from Safeguard Defenders:
What to Make of the Explosive New WeChat and QQ Spying Revelations? September 10, 2017
Yaxue Cao, September 14, 2017
It’s said that when Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010, one of his friends wept. But he wasn’t shedding tears of joy. “He will never get out alive,” the friend said. At the time, the 55-year-old Liu had just begun his 11-year sentence at the Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province. The prediction that he won’t make it out alive was a difficult one to credit even for the most pessimistic observers of China’s political system (of which, in China, there is no shortage). Anything can happen in 11 years. Many more people — in particular Liu’s large group of friends — were able to bite their tongues until the day Liu was to be released, and the day on which a page in Chinese politics might, just might, be turned.
On July 13, 2017, the omen became reality.
Chinese internet users have employed the term “crush the bones and toss the ashes” (挫骨扬灰) to describe what was done to the remains of Liu Xiaobo. This phrase both expresses the sequence of events, and also most imaginatively captures the hatred and belligerence the Chinese Communist Party has toward Liu Xiaobo the person and Liu Xiaobo the symbol. As far as the Party is concerned, not only must Liu die, but he must also not leave behind anything that people can gather around and commemorate.
The Chinese authorities perhaps thought that a sea burial would be the most thorough method of expunging all traces of Liu Xiaobo — but not so, as memories are more about hearts and minds than materiality. “Wherever the ocean is, there is Liu Xiaobo.” The ocean itself became Liu Xiaobo’s tomb. From Dalian to Guangdong, the Chinese government has spared no effort to detain supporters who went to the coast to hold memorials for Liu. The signalling by the authorities is clear: no commemoration of Liu Xiaobo is permitted.
From when Liu Xiaobo was suddenly admitted to hospital with liver cancer on June 26, to when he died three weeks later, numerous social media users composed poems to express their shock and grief. Poet Meng Lang (孟浪) said: “On July 13, the night of Xiaobo’s death, poems of memory and dirges flooded forth from the internet. WeChat groups and public accounts widely spread many moving poems.” The poems, of course, were pounced upon and deleted by China’s armies of censors working overtime.
“The authors that made up this literary whirlwind,” Meng Lang said, “knew that when they read the news they were reading history; they were reaching through to history as they touched the present.” Editors and publishers had the same idea and reached out to Meng Lang: they invited him to pull the poems together to form a compilation.
The 49-year-old Guangzhou poet Langzi (浪子, real name Wu Mingliang 吴明良) and Meng Lang in Taiwan got to work editing the anthology. Meng Lang told China Change that the selection and editing of about 200 poems is already done. Authors range from anonymous internet users to famous poets; from the youngest, at 20 years old, to the oldest, at over 80.
On August 18, the Guangzhou police came for Langzi with an arrest warrant.
The anthology was originally scheduled to be published in September, but Langzi’s detention has put those plans on hold.
The Chinese authorities seem determined to find a couple of “criminals” among all who have commemorated Liu Xiaobo, thus “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys.” On June 26, after the news emerged that Liu Xiaobo was in hospital, Langzi added his name to a declaration calling for Liu’s release, and gave an interview to Hong Kong’s TVB. Shortly afterwards, police set up a surveillance camera outside his apartment entrance, then on June 30 summoned him for an interrogation. On July 1, Guangzhou police detained him for 10 days on the charges of “damaging a police bicycle.” Langzi explained to his lawyer that all he did was shove away a bicycle the police left blocking his doorway.
The police also wanted to know whether the poet was behind a group called Freedom for Liu Xiaobo Action Group (自由劉曉波工作組) that emerged soon after the news of Liu Xiaobo’s terminal illness.
If he wasn’t involved in editing the anthology of poetry, Langzi’s troubles might have ended there. But on August 8, personnel from the Administration of Press, Publication, Radio and Television of Guangzhou Municipality raided Langzi’s apartment. Last year the poet had published a personal collection titled “A Lost Map” (《走失的地图》), and going with it a collection of visual artwork from Chinese painters of various styles, “A Form of Beginning” (《一种开端》), and held a public exhibition locally. A year ago this wasn’t a problem, but all of a sudden it was an “illegal business operation” punishable by the law.
It merely illustrates, as countless cases do every day, how law can be gratuitously utilized for political persecution or personal vendettas in China.
On August 29 Langzi’s friend Peng Heping (彭和平), who had helped him print the catalog for the 2016 exhibition, was also criminally detained. It appears as though the authorities are doing their utmost to find a crime for the poet they have determined to punish.
On September 17, Langzi will have been detained for 30 days. According to Chinese law, the authorities must decide whether they’re formally arresting him or releasing him.
Liu Xiaobo’s thoughts have their roots in his training in literature and poetry. While he was better known for his commentary and politics, he was also a poet. He published an anthology in Hong Kong together with Liu Xia in 2000. In the 1980s he was closely associated with the rebellious poetry experiments that began in his days as a literature student at Jilin University.
In 2010, in “I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement,” Liu Xiaobo wrote: “I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.” It now appears that in China, the threshold for speech crimes is being constantly lowered, and the charges leveled in an increasingly arbitrary manner.
This much is for certain: in a calendar that is being filled with an ever growing list of “politically sensitive dates,” July 13 will be added, and in China’s practiced criminal code, there will be the “crime for commemorating Liu Xiaobo.”
A friend of Langzi’s worried on Twitter: “If I don’t finish my tea in the morning, I don’t feel at ease the entire day; in the evening, if I don’t finish my wine, I feel that life is unbearable. Langzi has the same habits, and I can’t begin imagining how he will get by in a prison cell.”
We Are Never Afraid of the Road Being Dark and Endlessly Long
We are never afraid of the road being dark and endlessly long
To set off smiling, even if empty-handed
Once gone, never returns. In the unknown city
We are as alone as the crowds, spreading
The leaked information, forests are chopped down
Wasteland is cultivated, the fiery heart and soul
Is once again sealed in ice. Braving with the wild youth
Or against the risk of being ruined, we possess
Something otherwise, but like a wounded wild goose
Who never knows where to fly and soar
What those incarnations reflect is, the song of freedom
Turning into a possible homebound journey, which in the darkness rises
And roams, letting out obscure somniloquism: We
Are never afraid of the road being dark and endlessly long
Translated by Chris Z.
by Meng Lang
Broadcast the death of a nation
Broadcast the death of a country
Hallelujah, only he is coming back to life.
Who stopped his resurrection
This nation has no murderer
This country has no bloodstain.
They did a sleight of hand at the scene,
Those doctors, a sleight of hand, benevolent
and full of this nation, this country.
Can you lose some weight? A little more?
Like him, alone, thinned down to bones
still buttressing the museum of mankind.
Broadcast the death of a nation
Broadcast the death of a country
Hallelujah, only he is coming back to life.
Translated by Anne Henochowicz
‘Riding on a Dream, We Push Forward’: A Statement on the Fourth Anniversary of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, September 13, 2017
Today, September 13, 2017, marks the fourth anniversary of the founding of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group.
Even though it is the obligation of government to respect and safeguard human rights based on international treaties and the Constitution, it is also the natural and professional duty of lawyers. Four years ago today, the China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded to provide an open platform for professional cooperation.
Over the past four years, we have set foot across the country and worked tirelessly against constant obstacles to protect freedom of expression, freedom of belief and other basic civil and political rights. Among us, some have lost their freedom and even their lives.
Since the 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers in 2015, the authorities have among other things unscrupulously employed TV confessions and imposed officially-designated defense lawyers against the wishes of family members. We embraced those who had come back after unspeakable ordeals, and we remain deeply worried about lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Wu Gan, lawyer Jiang Tianyong, and Li Yanjun, who are still in custody.
We pay close attention to judicial reforms, but the gratuitous use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location has led to countless cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, during which horrific torture and other forms of inhumane treatment have occurred. The reality is that Chinese law does not apply to certain enforcers, and the so-called judicial reforms are little more than a joke.
We are concerned with the promulgation of various laws. Over the past two years China has passed or amended the Cybersecurity Law, Anti-terrorism Law, National Security Law, National Intelligence Law, the Management of Foreign NGO Law, Charity Law, Regulations on Religious Affairs, and other laws and regulations. These laws are brutal and coarse in terms of their legislative purpose, procedure, and techniques; they do nothing more than provide legal cover for the ugly policies of the day. In implementing them, law enforcement authorities trample over human rights at will in the name of “anti-terrorism” and “public security,” and the tendency to do this is now spreading.
We are concerned that lawyers retain the right to do their jobs. This right is being undermined by government agencies in charge of the judiciary, who are manipulating lawyer associations — which by definition should be independent, professional organizations — to retaliate against and remove human rights lawyers at the forefront of defending human rights.
In today’s China, human rights lawyers are esteemed by many but also scrutinized by some, and it requires courage and a sense of responsibility for us to persevere. We might be limited in our strength, but we must do what we can to stop this long-suffering country from sliding ever deeper and further into a dictatorial and totalitarian quagmire.
The fall brings cold air and perilous waves. We hope that, as lawyers who take defending human rights as a personal duty, we have answered the call of our time; we hope that the country will prosper and the people will enjoy peace and happiness. Moreover, we hope that the flowers of human rights will flourish across China.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 2017
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Chang Boyang (常伯阳) 18837183338
Liu Shihui (刘士辉) 18516638964
Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) 18639228639
Tang Jitian (唐吉田) 13161302848
Yu Wensheng (余文生) 13910033651
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Hermann Aubié, September 5, 2017
During the eight and a half years that Liu Xiaobo spent in Jinzhou prison, only intermittent attention to both his fate and Liu Xia’s detention kept him from becoming gradually invisible, despite being the world’s only imprisoned Peace Nobel laureate. Now that Liu Xiaobo has passed away of liver cancer on July 13, 2017, there is an even greater danger that what he expressed and stood for will be either poorly remembered or completely forgotten.
In the absence of a comprehensive bibliography of his writings, I compiled this list of Liu Xiaobo’s texts that were found on various Chinese websites, magazines, journals and books that had mostly been published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as part of my dissertation that provides the first comprehensive academic study in English of Liu Xiaobo’s human rights struggle from a socio-historical perspective. In addition to several interviews with foreign media, Liu published eleven books and about one thousand articles covering an impressive range of topics. After translating all the titles of his texts into English, I added brief annotations and footnotes about the general topic of each text when the titles did not provide any obvious indication on their own.
Because only a few translations of Liu Xiaobo’s writings are available in English (in total less than 1% of all his writings), the discussion of Liu Xiaobo’s struggle for human rights in Western media and academia has often been limited to a small set of quotes that are not representative of what he stood for as a whole. As a result, there is still a gap of understanding between Chinese and foreign writings on Liu Xiaobo. Hopefully, this bibliography will inspire future researchers to look deeper into his work to improve the public knowledge and understanding of what Liu Xiaobo gave his life for.
A note on the hyperlinks: All the text that is hyperlinked in blue was originally linking up to the text of his articles or translations, but many of them might have changed since then. If the URL is no longer functional, a simple Google search will turn up valid substitutes.
About the author:
Hermann Aubié is a lecturer in sociology and policy at Aston University in Birmingham, England; he completed his PhD at the Centre for East Asian Studies of the University of Turku (Finland) in 2016 with a dissertation titled “Liu Xiaobo’s Struggle for Human rights: A Contextual Analysis from a Historical Perspective” which is forthcoming as a book.
After doing his BA and MA at the University of Western Brittany in France and the University of Glasgow, he spent five years working in China as a teacher, researcher and consultant for the EU-China Civil Society Dialogue.
His research focuses on contemporary politics, human rights, and civil society transformations in China and East Asia, with particular attention on how citizens use the law and media to promote socio-political change, and to redress injustice for individuals/groups who are persecuted and discriminated against.
From Brittany, in Memory of Liu Xiaobo’s Spirit and Voice of Conscience, Hermann Aubié, August 9, 2017
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
Safeguard Defenders, August 28, 2017
The Human Rights Tulip is an award by the Dutch government for courageous human rights defenders.
Wang Quanzhang (CHINA) is a lawyer, father and husband whose work to defend and protect persecuted religious groups, especially Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, has made him a target himself. He is also a defender who understands that broader change in China must come from developing a wider movement of rights defenders.
Since 2008, Wang has worked to develop institutions and mechanisms to train, teach, and offer support to the greater rights defense community, from other rights defense lawyers, “barefoot” lawyers working locally, or victims themselves. Wang is the co-founder of an NGO that established training programs, training many hundreds of lawyers and rights defenders around China. Wang has likewise led the development of several innovative guides and training manuals to assist the rights defense movement to achieve greater success in their work.
By the time Wang was kidnapped by Chinese police on August 5, 2015, he was one of the few remaining lawyers in the whole of China who continued to provide legal aid to those most in need and has continued his work despite threats, beatings and attacks. No one has heard, seen or spoken with Wang for over 700 days. Reliable sources have claimed that he has been subjected to electro-shock torture, amongst other forms of torture. Wang has refused to admit guilt or incriminate others. Wang’s defiance and refusal to disavow his beliefs, friends and other lawyers, has made him a target in the eyes of the Chinese communist party and their “war on lawyers.”
Wang needs your support and your vote. Public voting is open between August 28 and September 6. Go to:
https://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/wang-quanzhang and follow the steps.
The winner will be selected from the top 3 candidates by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Twitter hashtag #Tulip4Wang
Mo Zhixu, August 16, 2017
The Chinese original was first published in December, 2015.
The importance of Wu Gan “the Super Vulgar Butcher” has been widely recognized for some time, and the most direct testament to his importance comes from none other than the party-state itself.
On May 18, 2015, Wu Gan left for Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi, to support lawyers in the Leping wrongful conviction case.* That evening, he joined the lawyers’ sit-in at the gate to the Jiangxi High Court, demanding the lawyers’ right to access the case files. On May 19, in a performance typical of Wu Gan, he set two roll-up signs in front of the court calling out court president Zhang Zhonghou (张忠厚). Soon after, Nanchang police picked up Wu Gan, placing him under administrative detention for ten days.
On May 25, Xinhua published the story “Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan Put Under Administrative Detention by Nanchang Police.” Official websites across the board republished the article soon after. The next day, CCTV’s “Live News” (新闻直播间) aired a five-and-a-half-minute segment on “The Truth Behind the Detention of Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan.” This distorted report on the events at the Jiangxi High Court augured in the campaign to defame Wu Gan.
On May 27, Wu Gan was put under criminal detention and charged with slander and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On May 28, Xinhua published “Uncovering the Real ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’—Wu Gan Criminally Detained on Suspicion of Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble, Slander.” This was printed on page 11 of the People’s Daily—in the politics section. The same day, CCTV’s “Morning News” (朝闻天下) and “Live News” devoted over 5 minutes and 12 minutes respectively to the details of Wu Gan’s detention, while the China Police Daily led with Wu Gan’s story on page 1. These articles and videos were circulated all over the internet. For a time, Wu Gan the Butcher took over computer screens. Some people joked that only a few people had received this much attention since the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949.
People can’t help but ask, what’s so important about Wu Gan the Butcher?
Wu Gan is from Fuqing, Fujian Province. He formerly served in the border security force at the Xiamen airport. For family reasons, he settled in Yangshuo, Guangxi Province. He’s an avid internet user, posting mainly on the KDnet forums. “Super Vulgar Butcher” is his KDnet screen name.
When the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case shook the nation in May 2009, Wu Gan went on his own to the scene in Badong, Hubei Province. He managed to visit Deng in a mental institution where she was being held for stabbing to death an official who tried to sexually assault her at a public bath where she was a waitress. Working with lawyers, Wu Gan launched an online support campaign that was crucial to Deng’s release and the dropping of her murder charge.
At the same time, Wu Gan raised funds online for his trip to Badong. He was challenged on this, but also gained a great deal of support. As he rose to prominence in the rights defense community, fellow activists copied and improved upon his method of crowdfunding. It increasingly became common practice among human rights defenders and resisters in mainland China.
On March 19, 2010, as netizens around the country “surrounded and watched” (围观, a way of demonstration) the trial of the three netizens from Fujian, the authorities abruptly changed the date, followed by a few clashes near the court. The date of the trial was then officially set for April 16, 2010. About a week prior, Wu Gan set up a tent outside the gates of the Fuzhou No. 1 Detention Center and reported from the scene, stoking the fire of online excitement.
On April 16, more than 100 netizens from all over China managed to demonstrate at the Fuzhou Mawei Court. The success of the 416 demonstration in support of the three netizens tried for internet expressions marked a new high point for crowdfunding, online-offline activism, cross-regional networking, and frontal resistance. It was a breakthrough in both the scale and substance of resistance in mainland China, reaching a level that has not yet been surpassed.
The inspiration for and implementation of crowdfunding for the 416 demonstration came directly from Wu Gan. He also played a key role in the campaign from beginning to end.
On October 8, 2010, Wu Gan, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) held up signs at the east gate of the Temple of Earth in Beijing to congratulate Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after, everyone except for Xu Zhiyong were punished with eight days of administrative detention. Before the Nobel award ceremony, the Fujian police took Wu Gan back. His phone was cut off, and he went missing for over a month.
In October 2011, 30 citizens including Liu Ping (刘萍, a female activist in Jiangxi, now serving a 6 year sentence) decided to stay outside Dongshigu to support Chen Guangcheng. Wu Gan launched a crowdfunding campaign to support their effort, and by then this model of crowdfunding — online-offline, cross-province, frontal resistance — had matured, and it has been imitated by more and more human rights defenders.
Rights defense actions during the past few years — such as the observation of the unusual death of Xue Mingkai’s (薛明凯) father in Qufu, Shandong; of the black jail in Jiansanjiang; and of the congregation outside the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center — all follow the pattern cut by the April 16 demonstration. Even those actions in which Wu Gan had no direct involvement show his influence.
When Yueqing village chief Qian Yunhui (钱云会) was crushed to death under a truck on December 25, 2011, outrage exploded online. Once again, Wu Gan went to the scene, where he managed to obtain relevant video footage. Soon after, Wu Gan experimented to transform himself from the role of the first responder to that of behind-the-scenes operator focusing on gathering resources for the frontline and coordinating public opinion. At the same time, supervision of the crowdfunding account was transferred to Guo Yushan’s (郭玉闪) Transition Institute.
From 2011, Wu Gan introduced his rights defense experiences in a batch of Weibo posts he called “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》). According to the Guide, the rights defense movement cannot count on an enlightened ruler for its success, nor on positive forces inside the system. Instead, the movement must creatively deploy any and all means by which to plant psychological deterrents against the relevant officials, thereby achieving resolution to the issue at hand. Intrinsic to this view is the pursuit of a beneficial outcome for the party concerned. It was met with praise as the activists took things into their own hands, not waiting for a just official to arrive on the scene to solve their problems.
After 2012, Wu Gan devoted his energy more to the role of a fundraiser and public opinion coordinator. He raised money for certain rights defenders, victims of rights violations, and political prisoners, including Xiao Yong (肖勇) and Zhao Fengsheng (赵枫生) from Hunan, Fan Mugen (范木根) of Jiangsu, Liu Jiacai (刘家财) of Hubei, and Ren Ziyuan (任自元) of Shandong. Wu Gan kept a low profile, doing good without seeking recognition. A great deal of similar work of his remains unknown.
Starting in 2012, a band of lawyers known as “diehard lawyers” (死磕派) emerged, fighting the judicial system over procedural violations to advance the rule of law. This method resonates with the direct resistance in the Fujian Three Netizen case. Wu Gan started to interact, even cooperate, with the human rights lawyers. He became involved in cases such as the forced demolition in Huaihua, Hunan Province, and the case of wrongful conviction in Leping, Jiangxi. In November 2014, Wu Gan was hired as staff at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm.
Diehard lawyering emerged from the Weibo era as a form of rights defense. Wu Gan’s transformation signified the infusion of his model of resistance into legal rights defense and diehard lawyering, strengthening the movement’s ability to mobilize, propagate, and sustain itself.
In May 2015, the Qing’an case erupted. At noon on May 2, a peasant named Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) was shot dead by a police officer in the waiting room of a Qing’an County train station in Heilongjiang Province. The incident drew the attention and anger of netizens all over China. Wu Gan immediately started to investigate the truth of the case. On May 7, Wu Gan posted a 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) reward for citizens to collect videos of Xu Chunhe at the train station from eyewitnesses. When the videos were made public, they circulated widely on WeChat, Weibo, online forums, and in overseas media. One after another, rights defense lawyers and citizens from all over the country arrived in Qing’an to offer legal services and take action. Wu Gan’s actions made it harder for the government to manipulate the truth, giving reasons to the authorities to settle accounts with him later.
As you can see, Wu Gan was no superhuman with unusual abilities. His importance, first of all, lay in his place at the convergence of three burgeoning models of resistance: diehard lawyering, citizen and petitioners “surround-and-watch” strategies, online mobilization of public opinion, and online crowdfunding.
Secondly, Wu Gan’s years of activism and exposure turned him into a symbol of popular resistance. This is why, as soon as Wu Gan was detained and the propaganda machine’s smear campaign against him ran in full gear, insightful observers believed that the detention of Wu Gan and the ensuing top-level smear campaign by the state’s propaganda machine was a prelude to a larger attack on the diehard lawyers, human rights activists, and citizen activists. The strike against Wu Gan, they believed, was quite likely just the beginning of something big.
When Wu Gan was criminally detained, I wrote that “The all-out treatment of The Butcher (Wu Gan) by the People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV, a rare occurrence since 1949, is not targeted at Wu Gan himself, but rather is the start of an all-encompassing suppression of the entire model of dieharders (lawyers) + activists (citizens, petitioners) + public opinion mobilizers (online). Their next targets are human rights lawyers and the community of activists. With such a forceful start, the attack to follow could be worse than anyone can imagine.”
And so it went. One and a half months after The Butcher was formally arrested, on July 9, 2015, the all-out attack on human rights lawyers and their activist associates began. Twelve lawyers and similar number of activists were criminally detained and then placed under residential surveillance at a designated place — China’s term for secret detention. Over 250 lawyers were detained, summoned, and subpoenaed. This attack was not just sudden, but irrational and arbitrary. Five months on [this article was written in December 2015 — Editors], no 709 detainees have been allowed to access their defense lawyers. Even more fascinating, the authorities portrayed the Fengrui Law Firm as a criminal gang in order to hide the political objective behind the attack. But in reality, practically everyone can see what this attack is all about!
Nearly every lawyer and activist caught in the 709 crackdown had either worked closely with Wu Gan or was a good friend of his. Seven of the detained lawyers and legal staff worked at Fengrui: Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Wang Yu (王宇), Bao Longjun (包龙军), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), and Huang Liqun (黄立群). Others had worked with Wu Gan on the Huaihua forced demolition case: Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yang (谢阳), and Sui Muqing (隋牧青). The citizen activists Monk Wang Yun (Lin Bin 望云和尚，or 林斌), Hu Shigen (胡石根), and Zhao Wei (赵威) all had strong personal relationships with Wu Gan. For this reason, according to his lawyer, Yan Wenxin (燕文薪), Wu Gan’s case has since been merged with the 709 cases, he could no longer visit Wu Gan, and it’s possible that Wu Gan has been moved from Fujian to Tianjin [this turned out to be the case — Editors].
In the few years since May 2009, Wu Gan has transformed from an ordinary netizen to a legal worker and human rights activist. It is no exaggeration to call Wu Gan China’s most prominent activist, and his model of crowdfunding, online-offline activity, cross-regional networking, and direct resistance, combined with new elements like the diehard lawyers, has already reached a new height, and has become the standard for political activism. His “Guide to Slaughtered Pigs” publicized the concept of improving one’s well-being through opposition and resistance. It has spread widely and continued to gain recognition.
It is precisely for these reasons that Wu Gan was targeted by the authorities. To thwart the further influence of his methodology, they did not stint in using their propaganda to defame him. Months have passed without any news from Wu Gan and the many lawyers and activists detained on July 9 and the following days. Their misfortune confirms the righteousness of their cause, and the system’s increasingly arbitrary strategy against them puts into relief the value and importance of people like Wu Gan.
Looking to the future, China is entering an ice age for political activism under a form of money-infused totalitarianism. The government may ruthlessly stifle the resistance model of diehard lawyering + cross-regional networking + online mobilization. Still, the spirit of resistance Wu Gan and others have shown is destined to be passed down, and to become the fundamental strength in China’s transition to a democracy.
* The Leping case took place in Leping of Jiangxi Province (江西乐平) in 2000, with an incident of kidnapping, rape, and a dismembered body. Two years later police arrested four men in Zhongdian village of Leping county: Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Fang Chunping (方春平), Cheng Fagen (程发根), and Cheng Li (程立). Under torture, the four of them “confessed” to the crime; by 2015 they had been in prison for over 13 years and had been given death sentences twice. In 2011 local public security officers arrested a man who confessed to murdering and dismembering the victim in 2000. Lawyers representing the four victims then demanded that the authorities re-investigate the case, but the Jiangxi High people’s Court refused the lawyers’ access to the case files. In response, the lawyers protested outside the court for days. Eventually the Jiangxi High Court did retry the Leping case and on December 22, 2016, issued new verdicts: the four defendants were found not guilty and immediately released.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy. He currently lives in Guangzhou.
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.
My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.
Activist Who Rejected TV Confession Invites CCTV Interviewer to Be Witness at His Trial, Wu Gan, March 24, 2017.
To All Friends Concerned With the Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Wu Gan and the 709 Case, Xu Xiaoshun, father of Wu Gan, May 22, 2017.
Paying Homage to Liu Xiaobo from Behind Bars, Wu Gan, July 31, 2017.
Translated from Chinese by China Change 《莫之许：屠夫为什么如此重要？》