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Chen Guangcheng’s Family under Intense Harassment Lately

光诚_逃离一周年时在德国

Chen Guangcheng in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin a year after his escape.

You would think life has moved on, and the Chinese government has gotten over Chen Guangcheng, the blind barefoot lawyer they had imprisoned and then placed under house arrest. But no, they haven’t. Exactly a year after Chen Guangcheng fled his heavily-guarded house in Dongshigu village on April 20, 2012, they are bearing down on him again by harassing and assaulting his family members in the village. Over the last year, the remaining family, and the village itself, have been carefully monitored, outside visitors were occasionally harassed, but it seemed nothing more than meanness on the part of local officials. Some of the pictures of the village brought to social media showed sunlight, trees, plain-looking farm houses, stone walls, and a general…. bucolic feel if you can forget for a moment the brutalities that have occurred there.

Over the past several week, Chen Guangfu (陈光福, CGC’s eldest brother and Chen Kegui’s father) and another of the Chen brothers have been under intense harassment. According to Chen Guangcheng’s own tweets and reports from Hu Jia, the prominent dissident in Beijing who maintains close contact with the Chen family, rocks, dead chickens and ducks have been thrown into Chen Guangfu’s courtyard in the middle of the night, and the latest “stone rain” occurred Tuesday night Beijing time. Fliers have been posted around the village denouncing the Chen brothers being “han jian” (汉奸, traitors of the Chinese people). Dozens of Guangfu’s young trees growing on his own land were pulled out, and no one responded to his calls to the police.  Miles away in another town, another Chen brother’s car was vandalized and all four tires punctured. Joss papers were scattered around the brothers’ houses to supposedly “curse” them.

Last week, on April 18, two artists from Beijing, who had gone to the village to film Chen Guangcheng’s house and his escape route, were beaten by the village’s Communist Party chief Chen Guangshan and the security officer Liu Changsheng. According to Hu Jia, they shouted, “Beat them to death! Smash their car! The state will pay for it anyway!” The two artists eventually were able to leave but not without being questioned by the police of the township, not without one of them hiding in a graveyard for a night.

克贵母亲传唤通知书

Notice of Summons for Ren Zongju, Chen Kegui’s mother.

Wednesday afternoon, Beijing time, prosecutors from Yinan county government and policemen from Shuanghou township public security station came to Chen Guangfu’s home and took his wife away. According to the Notice of Summons posted on Twitter by Hu Jia, Kegui’s mother was summoned for allegedly “hiding and sheltering a criminal.” Chen Guangcheng’s other brother Chen Guangjun received a similar notice around the same time.

Here the “criminal” refers to Chen Kegui. After confronting thugs who broke into his home on April 26, 2012, in an act of self-defense, Chen Kegui ran away fearing for his life. He went to his uncle Chen Guangjun for help. The latter was too scared to keep him; instead, he gave him some money and asked him to leave as soon as possible. After Kegui’s arrest, Kegui’s mother and uncle were criminally detained on the same charges of “hiding and sheltering” Kegui, but were later released “on bail awaiting further investigation.”

We believe that this wave of intense harassment and assault on Chen Guangcheng’s family are meant to retaliate against Chen Guangcheng in light of his overseas activities. He’s currently visiting Germany. He’s in the process of preparing a visit to Taiwan later this year. Chen Guangcheng testified earlier this month during the “Human Rights in China” hearing by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in which he reiterated the need for western countries to uphold their ideals and to take a tough stand against China’s human rights violations. He also submitted to the committee a list of 44 Chinese officials who should be barred from entering the United States, including Zhou Yongkang (周永康), a former chief of Politics and Law Committee, Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), a current member of the Politburo Standing Committee and former party secretary of Shandong province, and other high-ranking officials of Shandong province and local government officials.

Well-known Chinese activist Wen Yunchao (@wenyunchao) commented that “all of the harassment of course is meant to pressure Chen Guangcheng and to shut him up. You can infer where the instructions came from. They cannot be from Shuanghou township government, nor from Linyi, Shandong. They can only come from the central government in Beijing.”

(This New York Times report has more details about the summons.)

How Far off is the Court Verdict from the Facts?

By Chen Guangfu

Chen Kegui was tried and sentenced to three years and four months in prison on November 30th for “intentional harm.” Following the trial, his family received a statement, supposedly by Kegui, that he “abandons appeal.” Throughout his detention and trial, Kegui was denied access to his own defense lawyers. As someone who spoke to him shortly after the event that sent him to jail, I simply cannot stop marveling at how blatantly, and also how comfortably, power is abused in China. It’s sickening; it’s chilling. We translated his lawyers’ statement earlier, today we present a rebuttal by his father. 

The Beginning

On April 20, 2012, the blind Chen Guangcheng, risking his life, made an escape from his own heavily guarded home. After that, he passed through many hands that eventually ushered him into the US embassy in China. A week later, the local government in Shandong found him missing. For some in power, it was a bolt from the blue.

Through the grapevine

On the 26th of April at about 9:30 am, Kegui’s mother Ren Zongju heard at the village entrance a stranger make a phone call: “Guangcheng’s home only has Yuan Weijing and the old lady – Guangcheng’s not in sight.”  She notified me of this information over the phone as I was on my way home.

The men who scaled the walls enclosing my property and intruded my house

Despite the event, that day went as usual. Around midnight, as soon as I lay down and turned off the light, after taking care of my grandson who was ill with a fever, I heard a vehicle braking outside my yard. I knew they were here for us, so I got up quickly to get dressed. As I had barely pulled my pants on, a crowd of men who got in by scaling my walls, wrapped my head with the jacket I had not had a chance to put on, and took me away with them with my hands tied behind me. I heard that the court had recognized, during the trial, that these people scaled my walls and the gate was opened from inside. The fact is, they damaged the gate lock from inside, and they kicked the door to the house open. Zhang Jian’s testimony reads, “We told Chen Guangfu why we were there: we needed him to assist in the investigation regarding Chen Guangcheng’s illegal entry of the US Embassy.” This is a complete lie, and he said nothing like that. The fact is, the first group of men who broke into my property were officers of the Economic Investigation Team, of the Public Security Bureau of Yinan County, including their leader Xue Kewei. But none of them wore uniforms, nor did they present any warrant. Instead, they kidnapped me and then tortured me for a long time.

The sword that chops the devils 

After abducting me, not long after (approximately 20 minutes later), Zhang Jian brought numerous unknown wooden club wielding individuals to invade my home, and without any legal procedures began to ransack boxes and chests in various rooms, and search my home. They took cash, cell phones, the address book, and other items from the house, and began to savagely beat Kegui’s mother. Moreover, they smashed the TV set, sewing machine, furniture, and pried open locked drawers. The thugs who broke into Kegui’s room clubbed him as he moved from the backroom to the outer room, from inside the house out to the courtyard.  He was knocked down a number of times, and his face, neck, arms, legs, and several areas were all injured.  Kegui called out to his mother, and Kegui’s mother held Kegui to protect him.  Kegui said, “Mother, I’ve about been beaten to death, yet you’re still holding me.” At this time, these inhuman thugs grabbed Kegui’s mother by the hair and started to beat her violently.  In this extremely dangerous situation where if you don’t resist you will be beaten to death, Kegui picked up a vegetable knife but did not immediately strike back. At this time, Zhang Jian shouted at the numerous thugs he brought along: “Get him under control!”  These roughnecks rushed in like a swarm of hornets, and so Kegui had no alternative but to wave the knife in self-defense.  But their beating, smashing, and robbing were all euphermized in court as “looking for a cell phone.”  The fact is that Zhang Jian twice brought people to invade the residence and carry out illegal searches – which included beating, smashing, and robbing.  TV and sewing machine were smashed, Kegui’s mother now suffers from traumatic periarthritis in her shoulder, a wooden club was broken when a thug swung it at Kegui’s head and missed and hit the TV set instead, and Kegui was injured in many spots. The two cell phones I normally use, Kegui’s mother’s cellphone, and Kegui’s cellphone were all stolen, cash, goods, and materials all disappeared without a trace from the pried-open desk and locked drawers. Is there any question of the robbing, smashing, and stealing? In the face of unlawful infringement, in order to survive, a hot-blooded young man finally brandished a knife of justice. What crime is it to defend oneself legitimately and to protect family?  Zhang Jian didn’t lose his cellphone until this point, so it is a blatant lie for him to say the purpose of his visit was to look for his cellphone.

Additionally, when I was being tortured, the Secretary of Yinan County Politics and Law Committee and Head of Public Security Ma Chenglian said to me, “Your son knifed someone.”  I asked him, “Where did it happen?”  Ma said, “At your home.”  I responded at the time, “Just as long as it wasn’t out on the street.”  All of their crimes should have been recorded by HD cameras installed in the southwestern corner of our home’s courtyard.

Preposterous evidence

After Kegui left home, a mixed group of uniformed public security and party officials and hired thugs intruded my home for the third time and grabbed Chen Kegui’s mother by the hair while she was giving her grandson medicine, pulled her off the bed, and began vengefully beating her. Kegui’s mother kept yelling: “Help! Help! They’re killing us!”  The wild thugs kept hitting while saying: “Scream ‘help’ all you want! Go ahead, scream!” The neighbors all heard her yells.

As for Kegui mother’s testimony (she is illiterate), it was under police intimidation: “If you’re told to sign, then sign. If you don’t sign then you can die right here.  Anyway, you don’t have human rights. As a matter of fact, she told me (when hearing “her” testimony): “These are all lies, I never said these kinds of words.”

It’s not hard to tell that Kegui’s so-called recounting of events was pieced together by inducing him to make a confession. If what Kegui said is true, Zhang Jian shouldn’t have been cut only 20 times. It’s clear Kegui’s story doesn’t match up with the facts, nor could it be the truth he knew. Given that this completely-flawed narrative was accepted by the court and “confirmed” by Kegui during the trial, you can very well imagine, behind the scenes, how many secrets of extortion and torture there have been. Chen Kegui’s statement says, “At the time, Zhang Jian and the people he was leading were empty-handed.”  This account does not match the facts at all. How could Chen Kegui testify as such when the wooden club that hit him was broken?

The “public trial”

During the court hearing, media called to ask the Yinan Court about the Chen Kegui case. A court spokesperson said, “The trial is open to the public. Observation and interviews are welcome.” But here is the reality:

As Chen Kegui’s parents, Ren Zongju and I didn’t learn that the trial would begin at 2:00 pm until 10:30 am that day from an appointed lawyer. We immediately hurried to the Yinan County court, and arrived at 1:30 pm prepared to observe the proceedings. But lawyer Song Kuiyuan told me “You are a witness according to the case file.” I said “I am Kegui’s father. I want to observe the proceedings.” Song said “You won’t be able to get in.” I said “I will make a demand and see.”

But as soon as we approached the entrance of the county court, we were surrounded by many plainclothes policemen. With understanding, I took out my ID card and said “I am Kegui’s father. I have come to demand to observe the proceedings in the Kegui case.” Two official-looking people said, “Wait right here.” After waiting over half an hour, I didn’t see any court representatives, except for more than 10 plainclothesmen watching me.

Afraid that Kegui’s mother would worry about me, I followed the arrangement to meet with Kegui’s mother on the street across from the court. I found that she was also surrounded by over 10 plainclothesmen. Then we were held inside a government vehicle. If we tried to get out of the vehicle, the plainclothesmen would say “Why would you get out, get in quickly, get in quickly…” While waiting for over three hours surrounded by plainclothesmen like that, we didn’t have a single person from the court meet with us. Across the street from the court, there were over a hundred plainclothesmen around.

After the court hearing ended, I heard a siren. Through the vehicle’s glass window, I tried to have a peek at my son, but in an instant, the vehicle we were in was surrounded tightly by plainclothesmen. The trial ended just like that, and we were unable to take even one step inside the courtroom. How is that public? How is that just?

It was reported that there were checkpoints set up at all the intersections leading to the Yinan court. Pedestrians and vehicles were inspected before passing through. Even tens of kilometers away, checkpoints were set up at intersections leading to Yinan county to inspect vehicles from outside the county. Locals who had been concerned about the case were being “taken care of” by the government. Even as far as in Beijing, Hu Jia was put under house arrest illegally  starting on the evening of November 29 to prevent him from supporting Kegui and witnessing this unlawful trial.

Conclusion

In 2006, they charged Chen Guangcheng fictitiously and tried him with falsified testimonies. They have done it again with Chen Kegui.

Chen Kegui’s trial was a mockery and insult to justice and fairness. Chen Kegui’s sentence trampled the law and devastated human rights. It proves that the rule of law in China exists in name only.  Not only was the sentence passed in this case essentially illegal, but every step of the judicial procedures also fell short of the law. As Chen Kegui’s next-of-kin, we demand a public re-hearing of this case.

History is created by the people. Water can support a boat or capsize it. Are those in power not aware of a rule as plain as this?

December 6, 2012

Dongshigu village, Yinan county, Linyi municipality, Shandong Province.

Not all forced abortions require force

Last week, a photo emerged on weibo of a woman laying next to her aborted daughter*, and the Chinese Internet exploded in anger over how the One Child Policy was being implemented (The New Yorker has a good overview). I didn’t comment on this last week, not because of self-censorship or a disinterest in the story, but because I had failed to consider just how powerful that image was.

In the hospital where I work, dozens of abortions take place everyday in the name of family planning; I had assumed most people were aware of the practice, and as I’ve discussed before abortions aren’t usually seen as a moral choice. While most of these would be considered “voluntary,” if there were no policy, these women would be giving birth. In some sense, most of the abortions that take place in the Family Planning office are forced, even if they don’t require physical force.

A nurse told me last year that in some cases the child had reached maturity, and would have been viable had it been delivered. In one case, she had witnessed an infant taking its last breaths on the operating table, but it was in violation of the policy and was not to be treated as a life. The child took several minutes to die. The nurse waited until she got home to cry for her. Other nurses from the OB/GYN department have told me that they feel what is happening in their department is wrong, but they say it is pointless to question the policy. If they were to refuse to perform abortions they would be fired.

In response to the firestorm of criticism family planning officials were let go. These are scapegoats. What would have happened if these low-level officials had exceeded their birth quotas? Would these officials have taken such drastic actions if they thought they would be punished for them? As long as this policy exists this story will repeat, because it relies on the coercive force of local officials for compliance. The unquestionable power of officials and murky laws enable this kind of behavior.

As an unnamed local official said to the Wall Street Journal:

“Grass-roots comrades aren’t stupid, but this is what they’re forced to do. This is a problem with the entire system.”

Global Times tried to spin this story, saying that the laws to protect women from this treatment were already in place and that it was simply a problem of enforcement. I think most readers of this blog already understand that this is not the only law in China that is flouted by local officials. However the most despicable thing about this editorial was that just weeks ago the same paper denounced Chen Guangcheng as a criminal – his unspoken crime was opposing forced abortions in Linyi.

Similar stories have all been told before online, but none of them failed to draw the same amount of discussion as this single image. Perhaps we’ve given the Internet alone too much credit in the fight for global human rights. While it is an essential tool for spreading information, the ubiquitous camera phone has become the best tool for capturing abuse. Images are much harder to deny or condemn as products of the west, and more importantly, images haunt one’s conscience in a way that words do not.

Had the scene simply been described, it would not have drawn the visceral reactions that came from seeing the image. It forced people to confront the violent nature of the One Child Policy in a way that essays and editorials never could have achieved. Something is lost when we speak in terms of “400 million prevented births,” that only emerges when we see the effect on a single family grieving for the loss of their daughter.

*I don’t link to graphic images as policy on this blog, but the image is widely available on other China blogs

Chen Guangcheng has landed in the US

For seven years Chen Guangcheng has been silenced in China for his role in opposing illegal forced abortions in Shandong province, that ended today with his arrival in the US. Even after his escape from thugs in Linyi, the gov’t in Beijing kept him in a tightly guarded hospital room. Finally, he will have a chance to talk openly about his experiences and the situation facing hundreds of other activists in China.

I hope you will take a moment to reflect on the power of that image – a man once tortured and imprisoned, now is able to stand in front of the world.

I wanted to say that he was no longer afraid of the Chinese gov’t and their reprisals, but much of Chen’s extended family are still facing harassment from officials in Linyi. Even 10,000 miles away from Beijing, he is reminded that “opportunities and risk exist at the same time,” and is not yet truly free from the authorities.

Image is from NYT, read their full article here

Video of Chen’s speech in NY from New Tang Dynasty

The escape of Chen Guangcheng is not a victory

Last week Chen Guangcheng entered a US embassy for the protection that the Chinese gov’t had failed to provide the innocent man. According to Chen’s friends, it was a step that Chen did not want to take. Today we will be looking at three lessons Chen’s case teaches us about China’s legal system.

Chen as a free man in Beijing with activist Hu Jia

Chen Guangcheng would never call himself a dissident; he might hesitate to even describe himself as an activist. The incredible thing that we should keep in mind as representatives from the US and China decide Chen’s fate, is that he is a man who simply thought that the laws on paper should be enforced. Chen’s initial fame came from his efforts to protect the rights of the disabled and he fell afoul of the system when he sought to stop forced abortions which were beyond what the one-child policy called for (Yaxue’s profile of Chen back in November covered this in-depth). His case, even more so than Bo Xilai’s, demonstrates that China absolutely is not a country ruled by law.

When my wife mentioned this case to a few of her students, they were baffled that such a case could even exist. Surely, they thought, this was another instance of local governments acting out and the Central gov’t simply is unaware of the abuse. However as we have discussed before, the Central gov’t has been aware of Chen’s illegal detention for at least half a year. Also, Ge Xun’s extra-legal detention in February showed that silencing the story of Chen Guangcheng was a national priority that involved the upper levels of government. Chen’s escape illuminates the fact that the supposedly benevolent Central Gov’t was unwilling to protect the rights of the individual when it did not benefit the Party line. I know that this is in no way surprising to most of my readers, but to many of my Chinese friends who are not as involved in politics, it will be shocking.

Chen’s case highlights another interesting aspect that we should bear in mind, that Chen’s detention was only made possible by the involvement of hundreds of villagers turned thugs. I don’t believe these are bad people, I think they are poor and desperate people who saw an opportunity to escape poverty. In China, censorship, black-jails, and forced demolitions all rely on the participation of individuals in despicable acts. As China raises the standards of living I believe it will become more difficult to attract the number of people necessary to impose such plans (or at the very least, cost prohibitive).

Finally, it should be noted that Chen’s case is in no way a victory.

A victory would require some kind of reform or future promise offered to those who are trying simply to enjoy the protections enshrined in the laws of the People’s Republic of China. A victory would have been the Central Gov’t stepping in and stopping the abuses in Linyi instead of supporting them by cracking down on activists in other provinces. A victory would have been an acknowledgement of Chen’s case and a public denunciation of the practice (similar to what happened in Wukan). A victory would have been the removal of those who imprisoned Chen (they continue to enjoy the privileges of Party rank). There has been no victory yet, and it is doubtful there will be one as a result of Chen’s case.

After 5+ years of waiting, I think it is safe to say that Chen is a patient man, and yet he knew that at this point, escape was his only option for freedom. That Chinese law offered him no protection. This must have been a heart rending decision for a man who lost so much for his dedication to upholding the law. China is no closer to securing the rights of its people, which is what Chen was fighting for in 2006 when he was thrown in prison under false accusations (the China Daily account from that time is preposterous). Chen’s escape simply means that one less person is suffering from extra-legal detention, but does nothing to prevent it happening to others. I hope now that Chen has escaped his home turned prison, those who worked for his freedom will now take up his original cause.

Christian Bale visited Linyi – Does foreign pressure mean anything to the Chinese gov’t?

As a China blogger, it’s a pretty big week, open rebellion in Wukan has attracted a flock of journalist, and then Hollywood star Christian Bale/Batman attempted to visit blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng. The big question floating around at the moment is does foreign pressure mean anything to China?

Before I address that question I would first like to point out that Christian Bale has created one heck of a dilemma for China’s censors. The media gears have been spinning wildly to promote his new film, The Flowers of War, which opens today in China. I passed Mr. Bale’s image at least 4-5 times just on my way to work this morning. How are they going to block discussion of his trip to Linyi without limiting the reach of what has been called a propaganda film?

The film has been criticized overseas already for portraying the Japanese soldiers as monochrome monsters, and I am worried that the film will be fraught with historical inaccuracies (the Rape of Nanking is something I have spent a considerable amount of time researching). He also hasn’t given the most impressive answers to questions asked about the film.

That being said, his trip to Linyi is nonetheless heroic. The video of him being chased out of the village has refocused the spotlight on Linyi, at a moment when efforts from Chinese activists were waning. Both Yaxue and myself were overwhelmed upon hearing that a prominent westerner finally made the trip, knowing in advance what the result would be. I’m sure many other Chinese were moved by this as well.

So will Bale’s visit to Linyi and the media gathering in Wukan help or hurt the situation?

Many observers worry that foreign coverage will allow the Party to label these incidents the result of foreign involvement, but there is a growing gap between what the gov’t says and what the people believe (as evidenced by the air monitoring debate in Beijing). Claims of “foreign involvement” have already been made in both places, and have been soundly rejected by Chinese activists. In one case, a prominent commentator claimed that Chen had been funded by foreign forces and was met with a lengthy confrontation by a young woman wearing sunglasses, a symbol of Chen’s supporters, demanding proof that he couldn’t provide. The video spread quickly across Chinese forums.

In Wukan, foreign journalists are reporting that the villagers are very much aware of the danger that comes with communicating these problems beyond China’s borders, but they feel it’s the only way to get China’s gov’t to act. One journalist, Tom Lasseter, tried to buy toothpaste from one of the shops in Wukan, but the manager wouldn’t accept his money and thanked him for being present. In both places, Chinese villagers/activists have sought foreign attention.

In the situation of Wukan the villagers still firmly believe that the central gov’t will help rescue them from the clutches of the corrupt local officials. Activists in the Chen Guangcheng case continue to press the fact that his detention is illegal, and hope that the central gov’t will push the local gov’t to set Chen and his family free.

Both cases rely on action from the Central gov’t, which prefers to plead ignorance about problems caused by local gov’ts. Foreign media coverage will very likely force some kind of resolution, whether or not that is a positive is impossible to know.

This brings us to another one of the big problems with this question: it assumes China and its people are one homogeneous mass. Within China there are currently two factions competing for future control of the Party. One seeks to further liberalize the economy and promotes grass root efforts; the other urges the Party to reassert itself as the sole power.

While this blog often focuses on the activities of China’s netizens that are pushing for reform, it is important to remember that China’s internet is also home to a large group of Nationalists who would urge the Party not to appear weak in front of foreign cameras (remember what happened in a certain square in ’89).

The central government’s reaction to either of these situations could signal China’s future direction, and the Party prefers to communicate through drastic measures. A shift towards liberalization and democracy, might be shown with investigations into local officials, demotions and possibly executions. A shift back to centralized power could include investigations of local “agitators”, as well as lengthy jail terms and possibly executions.

There is also a third group to consider, perhaps the largest, that is indifferent when it comes to these issues; the side that doesn’t want to discuss “unhappy things” as a co-worker calls them. This group shrinks each time something happens in a place that reminds them of their hometown.

Ge Xun, an activist involved with Chen’s case, told me, “In my view all publicity will help. I am one who believes in openness (no face saving backroom deals), and that freedom is something that people are born with, it is not given or granted. No one can regain their freedom once it has been taken away by begging, it must be fought for.” Today that fight involves a man and his family in Linyi, and a village of farmers and fishermen in Wukan, struggling to regain what has been taken from them. Whether the Central gov’t decides to side with the people or the corrupt officials, we will be watching.