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Jeff Rambin, December 11, 2018
“There is no word for the pain, sadness, humiliation and anger I feel in my heart.” After six years and four months of tweeting, Wang Jiangsong was forced to delete his account. Wang calls himself a “labor scholar,” but he is too modest. William Nee of Amnesty International calls Wang “arguably the most prominent labor academic in China.” This is due not only to Wang’s scholarship, but also to his connections, and most importantly, his compassion. Wang’s perspective has been relied on by the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, and Reuters. Last year, Wang became part of the news himself. As reported by Radio Free Asia, officials in a Beijing neighborhood used a November fire as a chance to evict migrant workers. With winter effectively underway, Wang and others not only set up shelters for the workers, but also penned an open letter condemning the evictions as illegal.
In a farewell tweet, Wang said that the deletion was “due to force majeure which you all understand.” Though he said that “the sun will continue to rise,” Wang spoke of the deletion of his account as an “obituary.”
5,614 tweets to more than 23,300 followers will be gone in a few hours.
[As of now Prof. Wang’s handle is still alive, and he’s subsequently tweeted an account of the police visit.]
This happened on Tuesday, December 11, 2018, the day after the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
As followers of ChinaChange.org are aware, Wang Jiangsong’s story is far from isolated. It is part of a recent and accelerating crackdown on the use of Twitter by Chinese authorities. On November 9, 2018, Wu Gan’s Twitter account was deleted. That deletion carries concerns of its own, because Wu has been in prison since 2015. What is more, the deletion was unannounced. Yaxue Cao just happened to be online at the right time to see it go down. As with Wang Jiansong, Wu Gan used his Twitter account for the cause of the oppressed. Time and again, Wu rallied support to those who were ignored.
30,277 tweets from 2009 to 2015. Erased as though they never existed.
The list of names is rapidly growing. The campaign against Chinese Twitter users is being followed with increasing alarm on Twitter itself. It has been reported by outlets including Beijing Spring, the Epoch Times, the Hong Kong Free Press & Agence France Presse, and Human Rights Watch. As reported by Eva Xiao of AFP: “Despite being blocked in China, Twitter and other overseas social media sites have long been used freely by activists and government critics to address subjects that are censored on domestic forums — until now.” More and more Chinese Twitter users are receiving invitations to “drink tea” at the police station. To put it mildly, this is a consent issue. These accounts are not being deleted voluntarily.
What Wang, Wu, and so many others are up against is the “People’s Republic of Amnesia,” as described by former BBC and NPR reporter Lousia Lim in her book by that title. Indeed, the first rule of imposed political amnesia is that there is no amnesia; China has banned novelist Ma Jiang’s book China Dream, in which he describes both the efforts to erase memories, and the way those memories come back to the surface like a ball which has been held under the water.
The systematic campaign to erase history is now reaching out to Twitter users. Not via technological means, but by the knock on the door in the middle of the night.
This is loss on a staggering scale, and the worst of it is that there’s no way of knowing exactly how bad it is. How do you account for the damage done by severing the connections of someone like Wang Jiansong? How do you assess the impact of the collective body of free-minded people tweeting everyday acts of individuality? We can get some idea of their value from the extent to which oppressors are going.
Has the next Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel, or Martin Luther King, Jr., been formulating ideas tweet-by-tweet? Purists might laugh, but I wonder if today’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, or at least its existence and how to access it, wouldn’t be spread via Twitter. Imagine such tweets permanently disappearing.
Imagine that the perpetrators of the June 4, 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square had the ability to delete every image of Tank Man. No doubt they would.
That is not an armchair historian’s counterfactual. Through the deletion of Twitter accounts, we are losing the record of what is happening right now in the Xinjiang camps. We are also losing the record of non-Uighur Chinese who are trying to stop that atrocity. In other words, this is not only about a historical record. Twitter users are trying to save lives in the here and now.
The “Dual Key” System
What is Twitter going to do about this? Twitter may not have the resources to investigate consent in so many cases. Besides, determining whether a deletion was voluntary or under duress could embroil Twitter in political issues. Same for issuing a blanket order that no deletions will be permitted from China, or any other country. Twitter is by-and-large, what the users make of it.
Given what is at stake, though, Twitter should find a way to do something.
The point of a dual key system would be to protect the dissenter, the dissenter’s tweets, and Twitter. Twitter would not be involved in assessing consent.
The second key would be held by a person of the primary account holder’s choosing, most likely in another country. The second key holder would have no ability to tweet, only the ability to approve or veto deletions. The conditions under which deletion would be permitted would be determined up front between the keyholders.
Such a program presents moral quandaries. To state but one: If the ground rules between key holders are to never delete no matter the circumstances, do you abide by that as a second key holder?
The thing is, we are already in the moral quandary whether we acknowledge it or not. As things stand, when the knock on the door comes, Chinese Twitter users are alone. And we’re letting that happen, pretending that none of the responsibility falls on us. To my mind, though, as I’ve gone about my daily business, I’ve been a free rider on what Wang Jiangsong and so many others have done and are doing to fight darkness in this world. So in some way I owe this to him — even though we’re a world apart and we’ve never met. Perhaps others see things the same way. Perhaps Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or others would be willing to coordinate this with volunteers from around the world. Electricians, teachers, retirees, college students – the variety of volunteers will be surprising.
This is about connection and shared burden. When a Twitter user is sitting in an interrogation room facing a demand to delete their account, they should not be alone. The very existence of a second key holder changes the dynamic in that room. If a deletion request is made, the notification to the second key holder will be a pre-arranged call for help. A dual key system turns the table on the interrogator by shining a light into a dark place.
Please, Twitter, do something. Brave dissidents are already risking punishment by speaking. Give them the option of a dual key account to preserve their words. In these trying times give us reason to sing “All people become brothers where your gentle wing abides.”
Jeff Rambin is a father and attorney from Tyler, Texas. He is a lifelong student of history and politics. Years ago, he served as the chairperson of the foreign-policy focused Wiley Lecture Series at Texas A&M. Memories of 1989 have stuck with him. At some point he grew sick of reading books and watching the news and decided that he had to do something.
He can be followed on Twitter at @RespectHope.
China Steps up Nationwide Crackdown to Silence Twitter Users – the Unmediated Story, Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018.
Yaxue Cao, December 5, 2018
If you have been with Twitter’s simplified Chinese community long enough, you know it’s nothing new that handles disappear and in some cases the persons behind them go to jail – it’s a freedom tunnel that the Chinese Communist regime is leery of.
But over the last few months, and still ongoing, we keep hearing mainland tweeps reporting that they have been summoned by police who ordered them to delete tweets or accounts altogether. AFP’s Eva Xiao and Human Rights Watch’s Yaqiu Wang reported on the trend early on. I myself reported one particular instance – the deletion of Wu Gan (吴淦)’s account.
As of today, I collected 42 tweets from users themselves tweeting about what had happened to them. Some are well-known journalists, dissidents and intellectuals. Others are average tweeps who may or may not be anonymous. Some have been on Twitter for several years, others are new to it. In a few cases, tweeps were given administrative detention of 10 or more days; in at least one case, a user in Chongqing has been criminally detained awaiting charges. Some faced the run-in with police with composure, and others with defiance; still others were scared and quit, or made to quit. Together they tell the unmediated story.
The tweets are arranged chronologically. A few are excerpted for brevity. Necessary explanatory information is provided in [brackets and italic]. A link to the original tweet in Chinese is embedded in the last two words of the translation. If the link is broken, it means, in most cases, that the police came back to the tweep pressuring him or her to delete it.
Today I was summoned to my neighborhood police station for retweeting political rumors. I was reprimanded, and made to write a statement of repentance and another statement guaranteeing that I wouldn’t do it again. They deleted my tweets. This handle is going to be abandoned. Goodbye friends. I love you all.
Just moments ago, a policeman from my hometown (Chengshuang Township police station, Dangshan county, Suzhou municipality, Anhui province) called me and said they are going to come to Shanghai to look for me again (they did during June 4th). I guess it’s about my Twitter. Now, since they are monitoring my posts, let me tell the internet police and the domestic security police right here and now: It’s impossible for me not to speak. Speech is my last line说话是我的底线. You can come to arrest me if you want to charge me for my expressions. It’s no use to come to talk to me. Why don’t you save the money and use it on keeping people safe.
Beijing tweep Quan Shixin (全世欣 @Sarah_chinaBJ) has been administratively detained for 10 days for “attacking leaders of the communist party and the state.” She was released around noon and returned home on September 21.
On October 1, 9 am, two guobao police summoned me to the neighborhood police workstation for a talk, which was transcribed and also video recorded. Their key points are: 1). Recently I posted too many original tweets and retweets on Twitter as well as WeChat, and the content is all negative; 2) Who called for the group trip to Tiananmen Square on Sept. 20? 3) They once again issued a warning and criticism.
[He Depu (何德普) is a veteran dissident and served an eight-year sentence during 2003-2011 on charges of inciting subversion.]
A police officer from my hometown called, asking me to delete tweets. He said the higher authorities investigating internet speech found my posts. I was somewhat puzzled because I had hardly said anything. The call was made to my father’s house, so my old father, who is in his 70s, was frightened once again. Feeling so bad about it, I called home to comfort him.
[Li Xuewen is a Hubei-based dissident writer. He was detained for taking part in the seaside commemoration of Liu Xiaobo in Guangdong in 2017. ]
On the afternoon of October 27, three police officers from the neighborhood police station made a surprise visit. The guests and the host quickly exchanged views about Twitter. The police asked me to “delete account” and stop using Twitter. I said that is unacceptable, but I voluntarily promised to self-censor what I say in order to reduce the waste of police resources and avoid upsetting loved ones so frequently. After communicating for an hour, the meeting ended in an awkward but still friendly atmosphere. For the record.
[Wen Tao (文涛) is a journalist who was disappeared for 83 days and subjected to torture in 2011 for his association with artist Ai Weiwei.]
Per appointment, I met with Shenzhen guobao this afternoon, and the subject was not to badmouth the Party and state leaders. We also exchanged views on international and domestic affairs. This must be a nationwide operation. Now, my question is: what move is this preparing for?
[This is one of the earliest Chinese Twitter users – since May 2009.]
October 21, 2018, lunar calendar Sept. 13, was my birthday. It was unforgettable! Goodbye, Twitter.
[Wang Yajun describes himself as a “renowned joke teller, independent commentator, Taobao store owner, and internet Big V verified by CAC.” He’s been an active presence in Beijing’s intellectual circles for years. He was detained in Keshan county, Heilongjiang province, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 30 for “provoking disturbances. A couple of days after he posted this tweet on Oct. 31, his account was deleted. ]
Liu Jichun (刘继春, @wugefy1) is formally arrested this morning after being detained for 30 days. Lao Liu ran a small, 40 square-meter eatery in Shapingba area in Chongqing. He was the chef and his wife the assistant. A lawyer has met him a couple of times, and found out that the charges against him have to do with him retweeting various news. Request for bail was denied by the public security bureau, and a request for dismissal was denied by the prosecutors. It’s pretty clear that his is speech crime.
How do you speak freely on Twitter from the evil Communist-ruled land without being summoned by the police for ‘drinking tea’?
I drank tea just two days ago.
[Zhan Lifan is an independent historian and commentator in Beijing.]
Hometown police called and said I cursed the leaders on Twitter. I only have a few posts and they were not posted on Twitter. I hereby state: I have not cursed them!
For the last year or so, I have posted nearly nothing on Twitter. Lately there have been tweeps I know who were summoned and forced to delete their Twitter, including quite a few of my friends. So I’m compelled to talk again. Throughout history, in China or elsewhere, the tyrants always think the day will not break if they kill all the roosters that crow at the dawn; everything will be fine if they could make people too afraid to speak. No matter how long the night, we will live to see the dawn.
[Ye Du is a dissident and writer living in Guangzhou.]
I was detained, and made to sit through the night in the cold. Goodbye, Twitter, be safe. Maybe I should just be one of those people who think life in China is peace and quiet.
[I spoke to @zwitterion2018. He lives in a central province. “I don’t know how they found me,” he said. “They came all of a sudden. They asked me questions, took me, and detained me for a night. Then they investigated me and found that I had no associations. So they let me go. At the same time they deleted my Twitter feed.” He said they threatened him that if he tweets again he’d be put in jail. They also explained that they were local police carrying out an order from the national security, and they themselves don’t want to detain him. “It was my first time,” he said, “I’m very afraid.” I asked why he was still on Twitter, he said the worst that could happen to him is jail.]
This was end-of-the-world maniac: I received a call from guobao who demanded that I pledge not to get on Twitter anymore. How is it possible for me not to get on Twitter? They may as well kill me.
[This is a new tweep joined in May, 2018. In another tweet, he said that, to avoid being harassed by the “Zhao family’s dogs”, he took out his sim card and uses only Wifi to surf internet.]
Officer Zhou, of Donghu police station in Chaoyang District, Beijing, do you call yourself the ‘people’s police’ when you prohibit people from speaking out about their thoughts, their grievances, their call for justice so that you can serve the Party you belong to and its leaders with all your heart and mind? When you shut people up, how are you different from the Nazis during 1937 – 1945?
Lately Chinese tweeps have encountered a widespread crackdown. No wonder they went to my former employer to look for me in early September. Thank goodness I have left.
[This tweep seems to be living in Florida now.]
Guobao had an appointment with me this evening. I was forced to pledge that I would not post any political expressions on any online platform anymore. The fact is I haven’t for the past year or so, but still there have been so many eyes staring at me. Huh, we all know it anyway. So I’ll just leave it now.
Friend said to me privately that the whole country is campaigning to extinguish Twitter. Guobao twice asked me to delete all my tweets. I promised I won’t retweet anymore and deleted retweets of the last two days. Guobao said I ought to pay attention to my own safety. I said, “Unless you physically cut off the internet or put me in jail, or I’m going to follow the teachings of Deng Xiaoping. That is, the horse will run as usual, the dance will go on, and the one-country- two-systems will be upheld.”
[Shen Liangqing is a former prosecutor and dissident living in Hefei, Anhui.]
I have written more than 4,000 commentaries of current affairs over the past 15 years using my real identity. But now, to live on, I have to give up writing and thus bid goodbye to hundreds of thousands of readers in China and beyond. I don’t know when I will be writing the most timely and accurate commentaries again. I hope it won’t be too long, won’t be too long; I hope the night will pass soon.
@419041838: “They deleted all my tweets. Several thousands of them. While deleting, they also videotaped the process. They had talked to me twice about it, and almost took me to jail.”
@419041838: Deleting all was not enough; they took it to the municipal government for their superiors to check in person.
@oubiaofeng: When? What were the reasons they gave?
@419041838: You guys still don’t get it: using Twitter is very dangerous, more dangerous than street demonstrations.
@419041838: Not me; they did the deletion. They took it away for a night. A few days ago. Several people came from higher level government.
Sun Desheng (孙德胜 @sds8964 )’s tweets were all deleted. The Party-state have never relaxed control of online expression, but recently it has become even more pronounced. Weibo was once a bustling platform but it’s no more. Deletion of post or account has become a commonplace on WeChat. Lately a lot of tweeps have been summoned by police. Some announced quitting Twitter, others were forced to delete their tweets, and still others went silent. There are more than a few who have been detained for tweeting!
[Sun Desheng is an activist who was jailed for 2.5 years from 2013 to 2016.]
According to the latest news, Xiamen tweep Pan Xidian (潘细佃 @congweiyonghu) has been given 15 days of detention for refusing to delete his account. He’s in Houxi Detention Center, and his account has been deleted.
Around noon, I drank four liang (两) liquor. In the evening I drank again. When I got to six liang (两), I heard knocking on the door. It was cold, so I opened it promptly. What should come would come – three police officers from Shuangjing police station, Beijing Chaoyang District, came for a talk. Officer Gao alone asked questions; another videotaped the entire visit, and the third one stood aside. I said I hadn’t attacked the Party and state leaders since March last year, nor had I defaced the image of the country. I forgot to say that I hadn’t even registered a Twitter account March last year. They didn’t beat me, nor threaten me. I was much relieved. After they left, I finished drinking the remained two liang (两). Now I can sleep in peace. [Edited for clarity. Links are here and here]
That was a fright. Next time I will remember to video record them and also ask to see and photograph their police ID and search warrant. (What about governing the country according to the law that you have been touting?)
[He Jiangbing is a Beijing-based economist who came to Twitter in July 2017 and has been commenting on the Chinese economy since then.]
The storm has come indeed. I was asked to delete a total 802 tweets.
[Ye Du told Deutsche Welle that, “Guobao showed me a form with 802 tweets of his that have been put together by internet police. They were categorized into ‘promoting western democracy,’ ‘concerning June 4th,’ ‘inciting social movement,’ and etc. Very detailed. They demanded that I delete these tweets. Ye Du said that he was not the only person who was asked to delete tweets.]
Ms. Wu Huaiyun from Huoshan County, Anhui Province was given 10 days of administrative detention on Nov. 1. The Public Security Bureau’s written decision on the punishment said, “Since May 2018, Wu Huaiyun used her mobile phone and computer to publish statements defaming our Party and major national leaders on the overseas social platform ‘Twitter’ via her account, @xybaiyun2018. The remarks are serious.” The following is Wu Haiyun’s own account of the event, which she published on Twitter after her release.
On October 31, 2018, the Ministry of Public Security and the Anhui Provincial Public Security Department issued an order, and twenty or thirty domestic security police officers (guobao) from Liu’an city came to my home and duped me into handing over my mobile phone. Then several of them forcibly put handcuffs on me and took me away; they also beat me in the police car. Then I was taken to the Liu’an detention facility, where I was detained for 10 days. The police also searched my home, took my computer’s hard drive, pried open my suitcase, and even the mattress on the bed was turned upside down. I hereby request help from international human rights organizations and caring people!
They also found the password for my Twitter account on my computer hard drive, and deleted all the content from my Twitter. After I was detained, they only notified my family by phone, no written notice of detention was given. My family members asked the police for the detention notice, but they refused to provide it. I obtained this written punishment decision by insistence. If they’re reasonable and lawful, then why were they unwilling to give a written detention notice and written punishment decision? And detain me without trial? I never mentioned the names of national leaders on Twitter, how could I have defamed anyone? If I disappear again, it’s them–– it’s what they do.
I said that my Twitter content was basically all retweets, and that I just had a few original tweets, which did not involve the content they claimed. They said that reposting is also illegal, especially when retweeting Guo Wengui’s posts–– that was even more unlawful. I asked them, doesn’t the law stipulate that false information must be retweeted at least 500 times before the security punishment regulations apply? Not one of my retweets reached the “500 times” threshold. They actually said that mine were different.
During the interrogations, they assumed I used Twitter on my computer. The written punishment decision also stated that I used Twitter on my computer. When I said that I used Twitter on my mobile phone only, and not on the computer (my computer could not scale the Great Firewall), they all seemed a little surprised! This shows that they found me (on Twitter) by monitoring my mobile phone; the whole thing was a fucking trick!
A few days ago, I received a threatening text message from someone claiming to be the police, demanding that I delete my Twitter account.
The day before yesterday [on Nov. 17], both Chairman Hua @wxhch64 and I were summoned for a “chat” by authorities in Wuxi and Henan for our use of Twitter. I think this big Twitter cleanup is nationwide, not specifically targeting us, so I didn’t say anything. [“Chairman Hua” is Wang Yi’s husband.]
Recently, there’s less and less information on Twitter, mainland Twitter users have either left Twitter, or they’ve been silenced. I was also required to delete more than 500 tweets, and now I dare not post any new tweets. We don’t know the scale, and at every turn the police want to meet; we still have to work, no?
A few days ago, the domestic security and Internet police came and asked me to delete the relevant posts from Twitter, saying that I couldn’t target national leaders. They were really proactive about this; the Internet police held a screenshot and had me delete tweets from the designated date.
Recently I caused a lot of trouble for my friends and family because of my use of Twitter; therefore, I probably will not be on Twitter again for a long time. To my friends who have consistently shown me their concern and care, here I can only offer my apologies. Goodbye, friends.
Lately a number of tweeps have been visited by police who demanded them to delete tweets or not post or retweet anymore. In Hunan, I know there are tweeps in Zhuzhou, Changsha, Shaoyang and other cities who have been summoned by police. Most of them kept quiet afterwards.
I thought only Big Vs were qualified to be summoned for interrogation, but finally it was my turn. I thought this would just be a little intimidation before [Guo Wengui] ‘s press conference and that would be all, because last night the police summoned me but then I was able to return home after only one hour, which didn’t interfere in my watching the live broadcast of Guo’s live broadcast. However, I just now received a phone call from a police officer in the district, who said that the higher ups were not satisfied with our discussion yesterday and that the bureau would send people to have another talk with me. They were somewhat polite, and we agreed to meet at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. It won’t interfere with drinking, so it’s OK.
[Later, reply to self] Just came back, it was nothing. It had nothing to do with Mr. Guo. It involved political commentary. The domestic security officers’ attitude was good. During the interrogation, there was a moment when we clashed, but we circled back. They had a stack of printed and bound tweets, and the evidence was undeniable. I wrote a letter of guarantee that I would delete sensitive posts on my own. Done. It’s time to feed the stray cats…
The domestic security police stopped by today, mainly because of what I said on Twitter. What is certain is that Twitter is no longer a place where you can freely express your thoughts. I don’t know what other communication tools are available abroad to replace Twitter? Which are more private and safer? It has been several years since [human rights lawyer] Pu Zhiqiang was convicted for his Tweets. Twitter has never been a safe harbor for speech, and we are now in an era of total repression.
[Tweep @asn_213 gave a friend the following account in DM, and the later published it.]
I’m back. Yesterday it was the Guobao who summoned me via neighborhood police. They printed all the stuff from 5-6 years ago regarding the same-city meal gatherings [part of the New Citizens Movement], and they also printed all of my tweets and retweets. They said these were evidence of my criminal activities. At 10 pm, their political officer interrogated me again, giving me a notice for 15-day administrative detention. It describes me as defaming the national leaders and attacking the current political system on Twitter. They asked me to sign it. I wrote my dissent on it: I have never used my Twitter handle to defame anyone; expressing views on events and people is a citizen’s most basic freedom of speech, and it’s ridiculous that this is even happening in the 21st century. Then I signed it. …… He talked a lot more, finally he tried to use my daughter as a leverage. He said, “Look, at our age, who is going to do what we like to do that make our own daughters suffer. Now I’m going to give you a way out. As long as you stop tweeting or retweeting and delete your Twitter account, we will withdraw this penalty.” I said okay. So he let me go home. I might not be able to keep this account anymore.
I just found out that the Twitter account of 陈年老酒 @old_wine has been deleted. He was taken away by police on November 7, and it probably had to do with Twitter. I don’t know how many more tweeps have simply disappeared without a peep. We don’t even notice when @old_wine, a sage on Twitter, took leave.
This month I have been coerced to delete about 1,250 tweets. The darkest moment has come before the dawn breaks. No need to say more.
In Shandong, Jinan, Hui poet An Ran (安然) was taken to Dongguan police station by five policemen (two of which were Guobao) on November 27, 2018. He was interrogated for his Twitter expressions. He was ordered to delete his Twitter account, but he refused to do so, stating that his Twitter feed is personal property and it is sacred. (Read his tweets here and here.)
He also posted Page 2 of the three pages of interrogation transcript that concerns the part about his Twitter:
Q: How do you get on Twitter?
A: It’s my privacy; I don’t want to reveal.
Q: Do you often post on Twitter?
A: Almost everyday.
Q: What do you post there?
A: A lot of different things – my own takes on current affairs, photo and video sharing, and etc.
Q: Have you posted lately on Twitter?
A: There are a lot. I can’t remember each one of them.
Q: In what language have you been posting/
Q: You posted that “Religion and traditional culture have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), then the morality disintegrated. Now the Chinese Communist Party began to strike down on religion again.” You also posted that “China’s suppression of Hui Muslims is worsening.” Correct?
A: I posted these this year (can’t remember the exact time) in English.
Q: Why were you posting these?
A: I saw in the news that a new Mosque in Weizhou Township, Tongxin County, Ningxia was ordered to be demolished. It was a grand Mosque built by local believers who had raised 100 million yuan. The government ordered its demolition because it said the dome did not meet the Sinicization requirement. The Mosque was saved only because local people protested in large scale.
Q: What’s the purpose and motivation of posting these two tweets?
A: I wanted to stop the local government from demolish the Mosque, because it was built with believers’ contributions, and it’s such a new, magnificent Mosque…..
Today my parents in Xinjiang called, and fearfully they asked me to shut up in the U. S. “If you talk anymore,” they said, “the higher-ups will make sure that you will never be able to speak to your parents again.” CCP bastards, come to get me, leave my parents alone! Stop threatening my family! I hate to shut up, but they have turned my loved ones into hostages. For their safety, I decide not to get publicly involved in politics anymore for the time being.
The Shenzhen-based dissident and businessman 陈年老酒 @old_wine, whose name is Xu Lequn (许乐群), posted an account of his encournter with police on another platform on December 1:
At 10 am, Nov. 7, I was taken from home by policemen in Shenzhen to a police station where they photographed me, took my finger prints, and tested my urine. From 3-4 pm, they interrogated me about my expressions about Xinjiang on Twitter, and they demanded that I delete my Twitter account. I was released at 10 am, Nov. 8, after sitting on a metal bench for the night.
At 5 pm, Nov. 10, I was again taken from home to the police station. At 6:30 pm I was interrogated. They chastised me for still using Twitter the past few days. I again was made to sit on the metal bench for a night. At 9:30 am, they released me saying they’d gotten the wrong person.
On Nov. 26, they called and said their surveillance found that my Twitter account was still alive, that my name is still on the list they’d received from the higher-ups, and that I must get rid of my account immediately. I didn’t know how to delete my account; so I deactivated it.
[Note: His account appears to be active though there have been no new tweets since Nov. 7.]
This morning I was summoned to the neighborhood police station. I was asked to delete two retweets, one of which is about Guo Wengui. I refused to write a repentance statement.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao and China Change @ChinaChange_org
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
China Change, April 4, 2018
Between February and March this year, rights activists from provinces around China were summoned, questioned, and threatened by secret police who demanded that they withdraw from the ‘Rose chatgroups,’ also known as the ‘Rose team.’ These chatgroups have attracted relatively large numbers of internet users on different portals such as QQ, Skype, WeChat, Telegram, and WhatsApp. The intervention by Chinese police took place following the criminal detention of Xu Qin (徐秦), a leading activist and a spokesperson among these online groups, on February 9. She was accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble.’ Prior to this, the initiator of the Rose chatgroups and Wuhan dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) was detained on January 9, 2015.
Between March 2013 and December 2014, Qin published a series of 12 open letters demanding that the government open a dialogue with the citizenry, that it safeguard human rights, and that it initiate a peaceful transition towards democracy in China. By the end of 2014, nearly 2,000 people had signed this appeal, the vast majority of them petitioners who had for years been suppressed and denied access to justice. Naming his movement after the rose, Qin set up chat groups on QQ, Skype, and WeChat, eventually resulting in a series of Rose groups online. Each group elected its own chat administrator through competitive elections and voting; altogether the initiative became a virtual gathering ground for like-minded petitioner-activists.
On June 4, 2014, Qin and his group set up the ‘Rose China’ website. It had 13 sections, including ‘Rights Observer,’ ‘Focus News,’ ‘Major Issues of Public Welfare,’ ‘Learning Center’ and more. The site also began holding online lecture series and meetings. Qin Yongmin tried to set up an organization called ‘China Human Rights Observer,’ though the authorities refused to register it as an official civil group.
Rose China’s website, hosted on servers outside the country, went offline for a short period recently, but is back up and running now.
In June 2016, the Wuhan Municipal Procuratorate indicted Qin Yongmin with “organization, scheming, and carrying out [a plot to] subvert the state regime.” It wasn’t until August 2017 that Qin saw his lawyer for the first time. His trial has been postponed again and again, and is now set for May this year. The indictment cited his organizing the Rose Group, among other things, as evidence of crime.
Qin, 64, is one of China’s most veteran political prisoners. The earliest years of his activism go back to the 1970s. In 1981 he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for participating in the ‘China Democracy Party,’ and was freed in 1989. He spent 1993 to 1995 in a forced labor camp after initiating the ‘Peace Charter’ (《和平宪章》). In 1998 Qin established the website China Rights Observer in Wuhan, as well as the Hubei branch of the China Democracy Party, for which he was charged with subversion of state power and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He completed the sentence in November 2010.
Xu Qin, 55, got into activism by the need to defend her own rights — but she soon began defending the rights of others, and became an active participant in the Rose chatgroups. After Qin Yongmin was arrested in 2015, Xu took up the mantle of leadership of the Rose groups, and began to speak publicly about China’s human rights situation, in particular to foreign journalists, making her one of the few active voices in the now largely dormant China human rights scene. On February 9, 2018, before the Chinese New Year, Xu Qin disappeared while visiting her hometown of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. It was soon confirmed that she had been arrested. In March she was placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ and the initial charge of ‘provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble’ was upgraded to ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ She has not been allowed access to a lawyer.
Since February, a number of activists have been summoned and questioned by state security officers, including Ding Yu’e (丁玉娥) in Shandong, Guo Chunping (郭春平) in Henan, Wang Jiao (汪蛟) in Anhui, Huang Genbao (黄根宝) in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, and Fan Yiping (范一平) in Guangzhou. State security agents demanded that they leave the Rose chatgroups and threatened “If you don’t listen, you’ll bear the consequences yourself.” Guo Chunping was beaten by police while in custody.
Even human rights lawyers have been questioned about their possible connections with the Rose chatgroups. On March 30, Friday, the recently disbarred lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was visited by two police who wanted to ask questions “about WeChat Rose chatgroups.” Lawyer Sui wondered why the Rose groups have become the target of such widespread action and concluded that the interrogations and arrests had to have been ordered and coordinated by a central organ in Beijing. He declined police’s request for questioning.
Separately, the whereabouts of at least two activists (Yang Tingjian [杨霆剑] in Jiangxi and Xu Kun [徐昆] in Yunnan) are currently unknown. But their disappearance is believed to be connected to crackdown on Rose chatgroups.
The Rose activists that were interrogated by police were told that these chatgroups have been designated an ‘illegal organization.’ Police said that 51 people have been arrested so far in connection with the groups, though there is currently no way of independently corroborating the figure.
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (民生观察网), a Chinese human rights website, on March 29 published a statement that said: “From the limited information revealed by the media, it is clear that the Chinese communist authorities have launched a national, large-scale suppression of the Rose chatgroups, in order to, 1) crush the chatgroups by conducting mass summonses, threats, and arrests of participants, and 2) gather ammunition for bringing false charges against Rose chatgroup leaders Qin Yongmin, Xu Qin, and
China Change understands from activists in China that many people have already quit the Rose chat groups, and that some chat rooms were long ago suspended, shut down, or had no administrators. Some activists say, however, that a few groups are still active. The chief editor of the Rose China website quit the Whatsapp Rose chat group for activists in Hubei.
The targeting and attempted obliteration of the Rose chatgroups indicates that the government in Beijing is methodically dismantling activist groups, including even loose or casual connections between activists. In the past five years, it has first taken out the leading activists across the country and imprisoned them, including with the now infamous 709 incident against human rights lawyers. Having done that, it is now engaged in a second and third round, to purge any continuing human rights activities.
Members of Petitioners Group ‘Rose China’ Detained, Yaqiu Wang, January 18, 2016.
Zhuang Liehong, January 17, 2017
“Soon after, a dozen public security agents came to his house and forced him to sign his name to a document they provided, under the watch of three SWAT officers in his living room, who had their submachine guns pointed at his chest and head.”
On December 26, 2016, the Haifeng Court in Guangdong sentenced nine villagers from Wukan (six men and three women) to between two and ten years imprisonment, punishing them for participating in protests that swept Wukan for the second time, from June to September 2016, in response to the imprisonment of their democratically-elected village head Lin Zulian (林祖恋).
The protests were repressed by armed police and SWAT teams, and scores of villagers were arrested, including my father.
The trial and sentencing threw all procedural requirement out the window. The villagers were never indicted, the families not notified of their right to retain counsel. Nine villagers were tried during the course of one day on December 17, 2016, and sentenced in less than 30 minutes on December 26. Thirteen more villagers await trial.
Since the sentencing, I have been working with lawyers on appeals. None of the nine villagers plead guilty and all said they would appeal in court. Given that villagers are very afraid and Wukan has been under lockdown since the protests were put down, I felt that I must do everything I can to not only appeal for my father but also help others lodge appeals on behalf of their loved ones.
Of the nine villagers, Wei Yonghan (魏永汉) received the heaviest sentence — 10.5 years. On January 1, I contacted Wu Jijin (吴吉金), a young Wukan villager working at a coffee shop in Futian, Shenzhen, through the secure messaging application Signal, and through him reached Wei Huizhuan (魏慧转), Wei Yonghan’s niece. Her father, Wei Yongjian (魏永监), is the younger brother to Wei Yonghan. He initially believed that appealing his brother’s case would be tantamount to going against the government, and said: “It’s impossible to resist the government in Wukan now; otherwise we risk going to prison.” I spoke with Wei Yongjian about Wei Yonghan’s rights for three days, finally convincing him that appealing is simply the legal right of a defendant, that it’s the duty of the family, and that it’s entirely in accordance with the law. Wei Yongjian agreed to appeal on Wei Yonghan’s behalf, and he signed a power of attorney letter as well as a letter authorizing defense counsel, and sent them to the Bai Juming Law Firm in Guangxi Province (广西百举鸣律师事务所).
The very same day, Qin Yongpei (覃永沛) of the Bai Juming Law Firm was summoned for questioning by local security police and advised that “it would be best if you didn’t get involved in the sensitive Wukan affair.” On January 7, Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿) of the same law firm had his phone and computer hacked. All the case files were deleted, and he wasn’t able to access any of his social media accounts either.
The following day, after the sons of Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠) and Li Chulu (李楚卢) heard the news, each of them contacted me separately and prepared their own papers — powers of attorney and letters authorizing defense counsel. But before the documents could be sent off, that same night Hong Yongzhong’s son was hauled into the local police station where he was interrogated and intimidated. The outcome was that none of the documents were dispatched.
Then, just two days ago, the son of Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), who was of the view that the sentence given to his mother was simply preposterous, went to the Haifeng County People’s Court upon the direction of his lawyer and requested the official judgement. He was refused. He then went to the Wukan market asking villagers to attest to the innocence of his mother. This met with his immediate arrest by public security officials. He was threatened and forced to write a “guarantee statement” that he would not appeal. Yang’s son then took his father and left the village. The word is that they went back to Tianjin where he’d previously worked, and that before they left he said “history will be the judge of all this.”
Before I made contact with these family members, Wu Fang’s (吴芳) son had reached out to me and said that he was looking for a lawyer to appeal on his mother’s behalf. Soon after, a dozen public security agents came to his house and forced him to sign his name to a document they provided, under the watch of three SWAT officers in his living room, who had their submachine guns pointed at his chest and head.
On the afternoon of January 10, my cousin Zhuang Bing (庄冰), who attends university in Foshan, had her coach to Wukan intercepted. A dozen public security personnel came aboard and hauled her off for questioning, threatening her to the point of tears. Her computer used for schoolwork and cellphone were searched, and only after they established that she’d had no contact with me did they let her go.
Later that evening the young Wukan villager Wu Jijin, who had helped me to connect with Wei Yonghan’s relatives, contacted me on Signal: “Brother Zhuang! I’m in trouble. I have to make myself scarce for a while. From now on you’re not to send me any messages.” I assumed that Wu had been summoned by the police. It’s already been four or five days and Wu Jijin’s whereabouts are still unknown. His family hasn’t received any news from the police.
A few days ago, a dozen public security agents and government people came to my family home again. They walked around, covertly took some photos, and left. My mother said that since my father was arrested this has happened countless times. The purpose appears to be to create an atmosphere of terror. Previously, my mother, along with my brother who has physical and cognitive disabilities, were tricked into signing and thumbprinting a document whose contents they were not apprised of. The government personnel had folded part of the paper down when getting the signature, and it was only a few days after she was forced to sign it that my mother realized that they had probably been duped.
Ever since myself and a few friends began trying to seek legal aid for the nine illegally sentenced Wukan villagers, the authorities have been extremely on edge. First the security police called the lawyers in for questioning, then they fooled or threatened the family members into signing documents, including statements terminating legal representation. These are identical tactics to those used in the first wave of crackdowns against Wukan, targeting Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮), Yang Semao (杨色茂) and Lin Zulian, who were given jail sentences of four years, two years, and three years and one month respectively. The authorities have been completely unrestrained, unscrupulous, and lawless in their trampling on human rights to repress Wukan villagers.
On January 8 myself and a number of friends inside and outside China began a petition on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app, to tell more people in China about what’s going on in Wukan and to support the lawful efforts of Wukan villagers to defend their rights. Two days later WeChat shut down the petition. By then 491 people had signed on in support.
As of the present, every one of the family members of the nine villagers who’ve been sentenced and who were prepared to appeal has been forced to back down. Wei Yonghan’s younger brother, who had already secured legal representation for Wei, on January 10 signed a “Statement on the Termination of Power of Attorney,” and withdrew from appealing. Currently we’re the only family who has persisted.
For the sake of my people in Wukan, I won’t be silent and won’t give up. I am currently the only involved Wukan villager who lives in a free country, and I’m going to use my freedom to keep speaking out, to let the world know what’s happening in my hometown.
Zhuang Liehong (庄烈宏)
New York City
January 14, 2017
Zhuang Liehong was one of the leaders of the 2011 Wukan uprising. He was elected a member of the Village Committee in March 2012. In early 2014 he left China to seek political asylum in the United States. He currently lives in New York.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Zhuang Liehong, January 5, 2017
Ten days ago on December 26, 2016, the Haifeng Court in Guangdong sentenced nine villagers from Wukan to between two and ten years imprisonment, as a means of punishing them for participating in protests. My father Zhuang Songkun (庄松坤) was among them. Through this article I hope readers outside China will gain an understanding of these arrests and the circumstances of the trial, and that the situation in Wukan will receive greater international attention.
From 2009 villagers in Wukan engaged in collective petitions and protests against collusion between government officials and businessmen, who were expropriating collectively-owned village land for personal profit. After years of being ignored by the government, mass protests broke out at the end of 2011. I was one of the organizers of the protests, and was arrested and temporarily jailed in 2011. Another protest leader, Xue Jinbo (薛锦波), was tortured to death in prison. Given the enormous international attention the protests attracted at the time, the then-Guangdong Party Secretary, Wang Yang (汪洋), made a number of positive overtures. He affirmed that the demands of Wukan villagers were legitimate and lawful, and promised that they would be resolved. In 2012, under the international spotlight, an election was held in Wukan to democratically form the village committee.
But retaliation was swift. From 2013 to 2016 the authorities arrested and sentenced respectively Zhang Dejia (张德家) and three rights defense leaders (Hong Ruichao 洪锐潮, Yang Semao 杨色茂, and Lin Zulian 林祖銮). As one of the seven elected village committee members, I fled China to the United States on January 27, 2014, to escape persecution and apply for political asylum.
Large-scale demonstrations erupted again in Wukan last year in protest against the authorities’ persecution of the head of the Wukan village committee, Lin Zulian. From June 19 to September 12, a total of 85 days, around 4,000 villagers took to the street every day in protest marches.
At about 3 a.m. on September 13, a large number of armed police moved on the village, raiding houses and arresting two dozen or so villagers that the government considered to be the most high-profile, including my father, Zhuang Songkun.
Come dawn, thousands of fully-armed People’s Armed Police locked down village street intersections, dividing the crowd and then crushing the protest. They fired countless rounds of rubber bullets, and volleyed canisters of tear gas and shock grenades into the unarmed villagers. Then they began surrounding and violently beating villagers, without regard to whether they were old, women, or children. Faced with this violent, armed suppression, villagers resorted to throwing rocks and bricks. Hundreds of villagers were injured during the conflict.
A few days later my mother received a “notice of criminal detention,” pertaining to my father. Twice my family sent cash and clothing to him, but they weren’t allowed to see him. Other detainees reported similar treatment. The nine have been detained in Haifeng County Detention Center (汕尾市海丰县看守所).
On December 14, a member of the village committee led government agents to my family home, telling my mother that my father would be tried between December 16 and 18, and that only two relatives could attend. My family had not yet received any notice that he was being indicted, neither was he, or any of the others, allowed to secure counsel.
On the morning of December 17 the government ferried the dozen-or-so family members of the nine defendants in a bus to the Haifeng County People’s Court for the trial. The entire day was spent with the judge reading aloud laws and statutes and enumerating the crimes of the nine villagers. Court sessions were frequently adjourned and then begun again.
All nine villagers pleaded not guilty, and the court said it would announce a verdict at a later date.
On December 25, family members were told that court would be in session the following day.
On December 26 at 8:00 a.m., relatives of the defendants were once again bused to the Haifeng People’s Court. Arriving sometime after 9:00 a.m, they were brought into court around 10:00 a.m. As they were led inside, they were told to sit in the second and third rows, separated from each other by government personnel on each side. The first few rows were filled with government people.
Before the court session, a harsh voice could be heard from an anteroom bawling the names of the nine villagers. At 10:10 a.m. the villagers were separately escorted by two police into the court. My mother could catch only the faint outline of my father’s head, given how far back she was sitting. When she craned her neck to the side and leaned in to try see him more clearly, immediately one of the government staff sitting beside her stopped her with his hand and ordered her not to move or say a word.
None of the nine defendants were allowed to speak through the proceedings.
The judge then began reading out sentences (now available on the court’s website), and the entire session lasted less than 30 minutes:
The judgement of the court has determined that: the defendants Wei Yonghan (魏永汉), Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠), Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), and Wu Fang (吴芳), disturbed public order with severe circumstances, forcing the cessation of production and business operations, and causing great damage; the defendants Wei Yonghan and Hong Yongzhong were the leaders, the defendants Yang Jinzhen and Wu Fang were active participants, and their actions constitute the crime of gathering a crowd to disturb public order.
Defendants Wei Yonghan, Hong Yongzhong, Yang Jinzhen, Wu Fang, Cai Jialin (蔡加麟), Zhuang Songkun, Li Chulu (李楚卢) and Chen Suzhuan (陈素转) failed to submit their petitions to the relevant authorities according to the law and gathered an assembly, performing marches and protests, without permission; after the admonishment of relevant government authorities, they refused to comply with an order to disperse, dealing severe damage to social order. They are all directly responsible parties, and their conduct constitutes the crime of illegal assembly, marching, and demonstration.
Defendants Zhuang Songkun and Cai Jialin gathered a crowd to block traffic with severe circumstances, they were both leaders, and their conduct constitutes the crime of gathering a crowd to disturb traffic order.
Defendants Wei Yonghan and Li Chulu used violent means to prevent officers of the state to carry out their duties according to the law, actions which constitute the crime of endangering public affairs.
Defendant Zhang Bingchai (张炳钗) deliberately promulgated information online that he clearly knew was false, severely disturbing social order; his actions constitute the crime of deliberately disseminating false information.
Defendants Wei Yonghan and Li Chulu violently attacked police officers who were discharging their duties, committing the crime of endangering public affairs, which demands severe punishment.
Defendants Wei Yonghan, Hong Yongzhong, Yang Jinzhen, Wu Fang, Zhuang Songkun, Cai Jialin and Li Chulu have committed multiple crimes, and should, according to the law, be punished for them concurrently.
With consideration to the defendants’ crimes, the criminal circumstances, and the damaging repercussions, the court makes the following sentences:
Wei Yonghan: Ten years, six months;
Yang Jinzhen: Six years;
Hong Yongzhong: Six years, six months;
Wu Fang: Five years;
Zhuang Songkun: Three years;
Cai Jialin: Three years;
Li Chulu: Three years;
Chen Suzhuan: Three years;
Zhang Bingchai: Two years.
After the sentences were announced, the judge asked the nine villagers whether they accepted the decisions and whether they would appeal. All nine said they would appeal. Then they were taken out of the courtroom. Again, their names were heard being called out loudly in the anteroom, while their relatives in the audience were taken to the hallway where they were made to stand and wait. The police siren sounded and the nine villagers were taken away. A bus then took the relatives back to Wukan.
From my father’s arrest to his sentence, my family received nothing from the authorities except for a notice of his criminal detention. The situation for the other eight was the same.
The Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) pointed out that the trial of the nine villagers violated procedural law in that: 1) based on relatives’ description of the courtroom scene, the trial was obviously not an open trial as it should have been; 2) it seems that none of the defendants had defense lawyers, and it was likely that the defendants were forcibly deprived of their rights to legal counsel.“Illegal procedure means an unjust trial,” said lawyer Sui Muqing. “I believe that the local authorities abused their power in trying the nine Wukan villagers, and similar to trials of Lin Zulian, Hong Ruichao, and other Wukan villagers, this trial is also a retaliation against the people of Wukan.”
In arresting and trying the villagers, the Chinese government once again demonstrated that it has no regard to the law when it comes to suppressing any form of dissent. It is unacceptable that such barbaric and fraudulent methods were used against the good people of Wukan. I will do everything I can to lead the relatives of the nine villagers to appeal the despicable sentences against them. We will do all we can to resist.
Thirteen more Wukan villagers are currently held at the Lufeng Detention Center (汕尾市陆丰看守所) awaiting trial.
Wukan nowadays is a ravaged place. The villagers have been facing more pressure on their livelihoods because they haven’t been able to recover their land lost to corruption. Since last September, Wukan’s streets and alleys have been patrolled by armed police day and night, and powerful floodlights have been set up around the entire village. Wukan villagers live in a big prison, and they need your attention and support.
I can be reached at email@example.com, or 1-(929) 500-1008
Special Report: Freedom fizzles out in China’s rebel town of Wukan, James Pomfret , Reuters, Feb. 2013.
For Over 36 Years, Grassroots Elections in China Have Made No Progress – An Interview With Hu Ping, China Change, November, 2016.
Translated from Chinese (《抗议对九名乌坎村民的非法审判》) by China Change.