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Yaxue Cao, October 15, 2018
On the morning of October 11, Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清) arrived in Beijing accompanied by a couple of supporters. Ms. Pu is 85 years old, a retired doctor living in Neijiang, Sichuan province (四川内江市). As soon as she stepped off the train at Beijing West Railway Station, she spotted six people who had followed her all the way from Sichuan. In China, they are known as “jie fang renyuan” (截访人员), or local government workers whose job is to trail, stop and take back to their hometown petitioners who have gone to the capital on a quest for justice.
That is what brought Ms. Pu to Beijing –she was seeking justice for her son. With the help of activists, Ms. Pu got rid of her minders, but they kept texting her demanding to know her whereabouts.
In the afternoon, she went to the Ministry of Public Security and stood in line, along the gray wall encircling the Ministry’s compound, to submit documents detailing how the case against her son was a miscarriage of justice. Then she went to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and did the same.
Ms. Pu’s son Huang Qi (黄琦) is a renowned human rights activist who runs the website 64tianwang.com (六四天网) which reports human rights violations and social injustices. This is not the first time the 55-year-old Huang was in jail. An electronics engineer by training, he founded the 64tianwang website in 1999. He was arrested in 2000 for his human rights activities and sentenced to five years in prison. Following the Wenchuan earthquake in May, 2008, Huang Qi worked to provide humanitarian assistance to victims and at the same time wrote articles exposing shoddily constructed school buildings that killed thousands of children. In June 2008, he was arrested again for “illegally possessing state secrets” and later sentenced to three years in jail.
This time around, Huang Qi was arrested on November 28, 2016, for allegedly “illegally providing state secrets to overseas.”
The incident that led to the arrest of Huang Qi, Yang Xiuxiong (杨秀琼) and Chen Tianmao (陈天茂), ostensibly anyway, went like this: in early April 2016, at the office of a Neighborhood Committee in Youxian District, Mianyang city (绵阳市游仙区), a low-level communist cadre showed Chen a report by the Party’s Political and Legal Committee about Chen’s petition, and asked him to photograph it. Yang Xiuqiong passed on the information to Huang Qi. In April, Huang Qi ran an article on his website citing what that document says about the authorities’ “plans to crackdown on 64tianwang and Huang Qi.”
Such are the ‘state secrets’ and how they were ‘provided’ to overseas — the server of the website is overseas to prevent government hacking.
The ‘top secret’ document, as Ms. Pu would point out over and over again, has no red official heading; contains no label of ‘Secret’, no official markings or document codes, and no signature or date. “They fabricated this document to frame Huang Qi and jail him,” she said.
The same night the police took her son, a swarm of 20 plus policemen also came to Ms. Pu’s home, literally carried her off and shoved her into a car that took her first to the rural guesthouse and later to the 15th floor of Neijiang People’s Hospital where she had worked as a doctor of internal medicine until 1991. About ten people watched her in three shifts, 24/7, for nineteen days. They told other patients that she was a ‘political prisoner’ so that no one would dare to talk to her. When she was released nineteen days later, she found that her doorway was fitted with surveillance cameras and she had to get a locksmith to open her sabotaged door lock. Every time she came back from outside, someone would poke in to see who else was with her. One evening she sneaked out of her apartment in the dark and stayed the night with a friend. The next morning she got into a taxi and went into hiding in Chengdu, the provincial capital.
She hired two human rights lawyers for her son.
For eight months, lawyers were denied permission to meet with Huang Qi. Police told them that Huang’s case was a special one overseen by a special team; they were the ones who decided whether Huang Qi could see his lawyers.
Ms. Pu, anxious about her son’s health and whether he had been mistreated, sent an information request to the Sichuan provincial Department of Public Security and the Mianyang Municipal Bureau of Public Security, but got no answers. She wrote an open letter to Chinese leaders asking for medical parole for her son who suffers from a host of illnesses, including chronic nephritis.
At the end of July, 2017, lawyers finally met with Huang Qi for the first time since his detention eight months ago and learned about grueling interrogations that had lasted long hours and night watch that required Huang Qi to stand on his feet for six hours. At lunch after the meeting, everyone ate, but the mother who had accompanied the lawyers on each of their futile visits sat quietly and didn’t touch the food. She was despondent.
In the fall when the weather turned, she went to Mianyang again to deposit warm clothes and cash for Huang Qi.
On November 6, 2017, when lawyer Sui Muqing met with Huang Qi, the latter told him how two inmates had beaten him.
Ms. Pu couldn’t take it anymore. She embarked on a train all by herself and went to Beijing, where she mailed letters, postcards and documents to the Minister of Public Security, to the Ministry’s office for supervising police enforcement, and to the office that monitors official abuses at the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. She demanded that they correct the abuses and discipline the perpetrators. She met with foreign diplomats for help, pinning her hope on President Donald Trump who was visiting Beijing that week. She gave an interview to Radio Free Asia: “Investigation has concluded with Huang Qi’s case, but an officer continued to interrogate him, illegally, a dozen times and threatened 12-15 years of imprisonment in order to force Huang Qi to confess. Instructed by detention center officials, two inmates beat Huang Qi repeatedly.” Huang Qi was denied treatment, and wasn’t allowed to spend money deposited for him by his mother and supporters – all to break him and force him to admit guilt.
He reportedly told the interrogators that if they forced him, instead of a confession, they would get his dead body.
On January 15, 2018, Huang Qi was indicted by the Mianyang municipal procuratorate. In the months followed, Ms. Pu filed requests with the court in Mianyang and the superior court of the province for an open trial. She supported her son in sueing Tencent – the company that provided Huang Qi’s private communication with Yang Xiuqiong which was used as evidence against both of them. When the CCP Central Committee’s disciplinary team visited Sichuan, she submitted letters to them reporting the misconducts of the police and prosecutors in Sichuan, and asked for the release of her son. She submitted an application for her son’s medical parole to the Mianyang Intermediate Court. On Mother’s Day of this year, she appealed to Chinese leaders to correct the wrongdoings of the local authorities.
By mid-year, the trial neared and still the lawyers were denied permission to see the so-called “top secret documents.” Ms. Pu feared that the authorities, with the intent to keep Huang Qi locked up, would convict Huang Qi without even showing the documents during the hearing. She requested that the Sichuan Public Security re-evaluate the “secret documents.”
The trial, scheduled for June 20, was canceled. By then Huang Qi has been detained for nearly nineteen months without trial, beyond the statutory limitation for pretrial detention.
In late June, Ms. Pu mailed a complaint to China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate in Beijing refuting the nature of the “secret documents” and asking the body to correct the mistakes of the local judiciary and release her son.
In mid-August, three officials from her former employer Neijiang People’s Hospital visited her. They told her that higher level leaders had asked them to come to check on her.
Scribbling on her cellphone laboriously, she wrote one open letter after another, arguing point by point what a sham the case against Huang Qi was, and how it was a deliberate act to imprison Huang Qi. “How is a petitioner’s letter to the government a top national secret?” She asked. “If the neighborhood director who had given the document to Chen Tianmao is still going to work every day and wasn’t charged with leaking secrets, how are those who received the document ‘leaking secrets?’”
It is indeed a deliberate act, and it is part of a broader campaign to wipe out rights advocacy websites in China. In June 16, 2016, Lu Yuyu (卢昱宇) and Li Tingyu (李婷玉) were arrested in Dali, Yunnan. They ran the 非新闻 (Non-News) website that searched, collated, and published information about mass protests across China. Lu has since been sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” In Suizhou, Hubei, Liu Feiyue, the founder and editor of minsheng guancha, or Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, was arrested in November, 2016. He was tried in August for “inciting subversion of state power” after 20 months in detention. No verdict has been delivered. Also in November, 2016, citizen journalist Sun Lin (孙林), known for videotaping human rights activism, was arrested in Nanjing, and has since been tried and sentenced to four years in prison for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” and “illegal possession of firearms.” In September, 2017, Zhen Jianghua (甄江华), the founder and editor of hrcchina.org website, was arrested. He has been denied legal counsel, and recently there were reports that he had been secretly tried.
In late September, lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) received a reply from the Mianyang Public Security, denying his request for Huang Qi’s medical records. The records, it reads, “do not fall within the scope of free government information.”
On October 8, lawyer Li Jinglin visited Huang Qi and learned that his condition had deteriorated. He suffers pain and swollenness and decreased urination. The detention center has kept the testing results from him. Based on her son’s description, Ms. Pu believes that Huang Qi is showing symptoms of late term uremia which is life threatening without treatment.
On October 9, Ms. Pu, accompanied by lawyer Li, went to see Judge Zhou who presides over Huang Qi’s case. At the entrance, court bailiffs grabbed her arms and prevented her from going in. She shouted, “My son Huang Qi is gravely ill! Give him medical parole!”
On October 11, she came to Beijing again with a renewed urgency.
On October 13, a decision by the prosecutors to bring more charges against Huang Qian was made public. It was mailed to lawyer Liu Zhengqing in Guangzhou via EMS and it was dated September 12. But one can never be sure that was the real date, and if it was, no explanation has been made as why the lawyers were not notified sooner. In addition to charges of “illegally providing national secrets to overseas,” Huang Qi is now also charged with “leaking national secrets.” “Given that Huang Qi is a repeated offender,” the revised indictment says, “he will be subjected to more severe punishment.”
So, what is going on? Instead of addressing the 85-year-old mother’s appeals, the Chinese government has just raised the stake higher for her and for her son.
They won’t release him, and they want to stop her.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao, or follow China Change @ChinaChange_org.
It was 2:28 in the afternoon when the 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck, it was felt as far away as Hanoi, but I didn’t notice it because I was running late to class. A few of the students who walked in late to class, still rubbing the sleep of their noon nap from their eyes, asked their classmates if they had felt the earthquake. Nobody knew what they were talking about, and so we continued our classes as usual.
After class the news started to come in slowly. I remember the sickening feeling when I realized that every time I checked CNN’s website the death toll had risen, it had started at 10,000, but we knew that it would be much higher. It wasn’t until the end of the week that it reached 80,000 dead, and then it stopped increasing, even though the rescue efforts hadn’t ended.
I called my friend from Mianyang (near the epicenter) and was relieved to hear that his parents had survived. It was a small comfort in the midst of one of the largest disasters in my lifetime.
The next few days were incredibly difficult. It was very hard to understand what was going through the students’ minds. They had started hearing the reports about the thousands of students that had died in Sichuan. Many of them had still been napping in their dorms at 2:28. It was impossible not to look at our rough cement building and feel grateful that the quake had struck somewhere else, few schools in China could survive an earthquake so powerful.
My friends in Gansu (a province bordering Sichuan) had been in their apartment when it struck. Their new building started to fall apart as they ran down the stairs. For the next three days they slept outside on the sports fields with their students. No one was allowed inside out of fear that an aftershock would collapse the rest of the buildings. The school put up a few shower curtains and marked them as bathrooms, my friends were certain that disease would soon spread through the makeshift camp. The local government soon removed them from the area, which was now off-limits to foreigners, but their students were stuck living like that for weeks.
The whole of China entered a period of mourning. Outdoor activities and sports were banned for three days and most of China’s online entertainment sites switched to black and white, and shut down their non-earthquake features. I remember one student being strongly criticized by her classmates for accidentally wearing red (a celebratory color) during this period. A few days after the quake there was a moment of silence with Chinese characteristics; all the taxi drivers honked their horns for several minutes.
Almost a full year later I visited Wenchuan. The destruction there was unimaginable. Where we stood an entire school had shaken violently into pieces, leaving many of its victims buried inside. On the far side of the river we could see that every single building had collapsed. It had been completely destroyed, the town was just piles of bricks.
Many of the families had already moved out of the area. Not into new, gov’t provided homes, but to other cities around China. What was left for them in Wenchuan? There were no jobs, and there would be no homes for at least another year.
And yet, the people who remained were anything but hopeless. Some had even transformed their temporary shacks into small restaurants and guest houses. Their smiles seemed to say, “This is my home, now and forever.”
For more on some of the controversy about the schools collapsing read my post about Ai Weiwei’s investigation
For an excellent documentary looking at the aftermath of the disaster read my review of 1428
Also read the translation of a now censored editorial published this morning