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Q & A with Peter Dahlin, the Swedish NGO Worker Who ‘Endangered the National Security’ of China

January 3, 2017

This Q & A can be read as a companion piece to the Guardian report. It focuses more on Dahlin’s work, the interrogations, and the legal features of his case. Given that China’s Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizationstook effect on January 1, 2017, we hope the conversation offers insight and perspective. – The Editors



Escorted to Beijing airport for deportation. Illustration by Nicolas Luna Fleck.


CHINA CHANGE: Peter, you are a Swedish national; on January 3, 2016, you were taken into custody by Chinese national security agents for allegedly “endangering national security.” It was not until nine days later that the international press reported that you had been disappeared on your way to the Beijing airport. Then, on January 15 and 19, the Global Times and the Xinhua News Agency reported your detention. On January 19, in a CCTV news section, you “confessed” that you “violated the Chinese law through your activities here, caused harm to the Chinese government, and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” While it was appalling and a pain to watch, people also laughed because everyone immediately recognized that these were forced words. On January 26, you were deported and barred from entering China for the next 10 years. A lot went on over this 23-day period, and we hope to unpack it for our readers. First of all, please tell us how events unfolded on January 3, 2016.

PETER DAHLIN: I was taken in a raid on my home in Beijing late that evening, not on my way to the airport as reported. The misunderstanding is easy to see, as I had notified a few people in the press- and diplomatic corps that I might not make it out, leading people to assume I must had been taken at the airport.

Earlier that day, I heard that high-up officials in the Beijing domestic security police were inquiring about me, following accusations against me made by individuals who had at that time been held in ‘residential surveillance’ from several months to half a year. Less than 10 hours after I heard about that, State Security showed up at my home, with search and detention warrants for both me and my girlfriend.

For a few weeks we had been in a ‘heightened risk situation,’ knowing that something could happen to me or others. We had been taking precautions, clearing out and processing paperwork, tying up loose ends, and doubling down in IT-measures. I had not only heard stories from those who had been through detentions before, but as a form of preparation also read books like the great but unfortunately-titled In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon with stories on interrogations, secret detention, torture etc. This was of course the first time I myself was taken, but over the years there had been many similar situations, and thus this procedure to prepare had been undertaken numerous times before.

In this case, I took the preparation a bit further than normal. Since similar situations of heightened risks had happened numerous times before, besides our normal organizational procedures, I also had my own. In those cases I would keep a small overnight bag packed next to the bed, with passport, some clothes, medicine, and money, along with shoes and a jacket, and more or less have memorized the night flight schedule out of Beijing – if I ever got the message or call that an action against us was being taken and would need to try to leave the country. In this case I was already scheduled to leave China just a few days after I was taken, but moved my flight up to that very same night, and packed as much as I could – knowing that if something happened and I managed to get away, I would not be able to return and would have to start anew somewhere. In the end, the raid on my home happened just a couple of hours before I was set to leave for the airport.

CHINA CHANGE: I admit that, even though I’ve been a busy human rights and rule of law advocate for the last three or four years, I had barely heard of your organization — Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (中国维权紧急援助组). So there is quite a bit of mystery around it. Can you describe your organization’s activities in China? A New York Times report mentioned seminars, legal aid work, and training sessions. The Chinese state media portray your activities in dark, conspiratorial and menacing terms. Help us demystify them. 

PETER DAHLIN: The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) was in operation from 2009 until early 2016, and it ran a number of different programs concurrently. It was largely unknown, as we operated quietly, and even though parts of the international rights community, and much of the press and diplomatic corps knew of us, we did not allow anyone to publicly speak about us, keeping our profile as low as possible while still being able to cooperate with others. A few reports linked on our dormant Twitter account are about the only public information available.

Since its founding, China Action has responded to attacks on lawyers, journalists, and other rights defenders, especially women defenders, but perhaps our main focus has been on training and capacity development for rights defenders. We have specialized in barefoot lawyers, with the goal of strengthening the legal movement and civil society, to develop the rule of law and improve protections for Chinese citizens.

Our founding program was the urgent action program, working to arrange lawyers for human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk and to provide needed financial assistance for victims’ families, ranging from support for housing, medical bills, or a child’s education. We paid special attention to women HRDs and grassroots activists who often lacked the network and support of more high-profile defenders. We did this both on our own as well as in partnership with international and regional organizations. Later on, for the last few years, we have also had a subsection of that program to specifically address and arrange help for those with mental health support needs after detentions, kidnappings, interrogations etc.

Although primarily about direct support, through the urgent action program we also engaged in limited advocacy measures around priority cases, which involved ensuring diplomatic attention in Beijing or foreign capitals and communication with relevant human rights special procedures of the United Nations, and participation in the Universal Periodic Review of China, both alone and in collaboration with international organizations.

Many people may not be aware that governments and institutions in the EU and other countries have been offering assistance to Chinese state actors involved in the judicial system, such as police, judges, or prosecutors, in developing the “rule of law” (rule by law really), which is important. At the same time, at least until recently, there was a growing number of international and in particular Hong Kong-based organizations that provide financial assistance and training for licensed rights defense lawyers who work on public interest and rights defense cases. Unfortunately this approach has left a key group without any support. Due to financial or geographic limitations, the majority of rights abuse victims in China must rely on unlicensed barefoot lawyers, and yet this is precisely the group that has been most left out of the majority of rule of law development efforts. This is why we focused on barefoot lawyers, and our work was more preventive than reactive, with focus on training and capacity development to address the gaping hole in access to legal aid, especially among rural or poorer Chinese citizens.


Arriving at the secret detention compound. Illustration by Nicolas Luna Fleck.


CHINA CHANGE: Speaking of barefoot lawyers, Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) immediately comes to mind. Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) was a barefoot lawyer too in his early rights defense activities. Another example is Ni Yulan (倪玉兰). These are citizens who are not licensed lawyers, but who seek to defend rights through legal means. This is fascinating. Tell us more.

PETER DAHLIN: Because they are not licensed, the barefoot lawyers can almost never take up criminal cases. But in China, the main procedures for defending rights against government abuse are administrative laws and regulations, and this is where any citizen can get involved (although legal efforts by the State to limit their ability to take on cases continue). Barefoot lawyers can thus be both self-taught legal activists as well as lawyers who have lost their licenses. The work takes the form of filing lawsuits against government bodies responsible for illegal behavior such as torture, arbitrary detention, or forced evictions and demolitions. Barefoot lawyers have also taken the lead in testing and pushing the use of China’s 2008 Regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information (《中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例》), scoring many successes. As a result, we have witnessed increased use of the Regulations in defending human rights.

In order to improve barefoot lawyers’ knowledge and practice of the Administrative Law, information disclosure regulations, and other procedures, China Action has run a number of different training programs since 2009. For example, our programs ranged from in-depth week-long training sessions in administrative law, shorter trainings on information disclosure, to specific legal issues, depending on the needs of target beneficiary groups.

To maximize the result and output of the main program, we designed the program in what we believe was both an innovative and cost-effective way:

A rights defense lawyer and an experienced barefoot lawyer would be responsible for each in-depth legal training session, selecting a group of participants from a cohesive area, along with guest teachers. Of those trained in these in-depth sessions, which would also include training in freedom of information (FOI) regulations, we would then select from the best of more suitable students, and arrange for them to, on a more local level, arrange their own shorter training in FOI or another specific legal topic. Thus the larger and more extensive trainings would give us a pool of local teachers for such smaller trainings.

When needed, a lawyer or barefoot lawyer in our network would attend those local trainings to assist. Finally, from the group trained in these shorter local trainings, the trainer would select the most dedicated participants and offer support for them to organize their own local trainings at the most grassroots level, to extend the output among the trainee’s friends and fellow barefoot lawyers.

This triple layer system allowed us to not only extend our results to the most local levels in a relatively low key and safe manner, but to ensure significant multiplier effects, all while keeping the costs very low.

Another key aspect of the training activities was about nurturing mutual trust among participants, which is part of the reason our training groups were never larger than 10 people, and always drawn from a coherent geographic area. This is especially important for barefoot lawyers who tend to have experience with only one or two particular legal issues. In this way, drawing a group of 10 barefoot lawyers from, say, Shandong to spend a week of in-depth study together would create new connections and expand their effectiveness, as they can build a mutual support network when dealing with issues outside their area of expertise. Each group would also get a direct connection to both the rights defense and barefoot lawyers arranging the training, greatly expanding networks for us as an organization, as well as for the participants, who would get a direct link to a mentor from who they could seek guidance.

The organization designed its own curriculum for these training and capacity development activities. A large part of that has included creating practical self-study guides with the beneficiaries, pairing the experts with the beneficiaries to create not only practical guides on, for example, information disclosure regulations or administrative detentions, but also manuals that deal with what the beneficiaries actually want. This approach would seem obvious, but looking at a lot of the material available, it often seems it’s produced by experts telling the readers/beneficiaries what they think they should know, instead of developing the material together with the group itself.

Finally, connecting the urgent action program and the training and capacity activities, the organization has also been working, on a small scale, to set up what we referred to as ‘legal aid stations’ around the country run by barefoot lawyers to enhance access to justice. This third core component thus consisted of barefoot lawyers who would receive training in issues ranging from arbitrary detention to information disclosure, alongside minor ongoing financial support, and they would then provide pro-bono assistance to victims in their respective regions. Many of these cases would have clear public interest components to them.

CHINA CHANGE: During your custody, did the Chinese security investigators tell you which of these activities are illegal and endangering China’s national security?

PETER DAHLIN: We always assumed that their key interest would be our work with urgent actions, and they certainly had a very strong interest in knowing which lawyers had been engaged for different cases, but their key interest turned out to be the barefoot lawyers we supported to provide pro-bono legal aid. They wanted to know about our ‘legal aid stations.’ When we first started, each station had several staff and an office, but beyond the very beginning stage, the aid was actually carried out by only one individual lawyer. However, we kept internally referring to them as ‘legal aid stations’, meaning State Security at first assumed that they were local branches of the organization, which of course was not the case at all.

They also had an interest in the various training activities, many of which over the years had been shut down by either local police or provincial state security. They found a few questionnaires from one of those trainings (distributed at all training activities for evaluation purposes), and found that some of the answers were rather anti-Party. That wasn’t helpful.

In general though, my own placement under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ was mostly because of the incompetence of State Security. They had been led, wrongly, to believe that I was personally involved in a list of activities, which I was not, and could easily prove I was not.

A key focus of my interrogations was lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who has now been held in secret custody for over a year. Wang and I worked closely for many years, but we parted ways and haven’t worked together since early 2014. Our work was regarding holding trainings, offering informal mentoring to local lawyers, providing criminal defense for those facing trial, and developing training materials. It would be a stretch even for the State Security to argue that any of these was bad for China, let alone being illegal.

CHINA CHANGE: You said that Chinese security organs had been monitoring your organization’s activities before your detention. Can you expand on that? How did they do so?

PETER DAHLIN: Beginning in 2013, a co-worker was repeatedly summoned by another branch of State Security for long sessions of questioning. Using carrots and sticks, State Security tried to make this person a ‘mole,’ who would continue working with us but report to the police on me, my co-founder Michael Caster, and lawyers we worked with, or any others who worked with us. State Security asked this co-worker to make copies of documentation the person had access to, and any work I gave this person to do. On several other occasions we found that either I or Michael Caster had come up in police questioning of rights defenders we had worked with.



The patted cell. Illustration by Nicolas Luna Fleck.


CHINA CHANGE: You were detained in what’s essentially a black jail for 23 days, and you said you were interrogated every day. I’m always interested in knowing the questions they asked. Do you think you can go into more detail about your interrogations?

PETER DAHLIN: Overall, the interrogations were made harder by two facts: They found almost no paperwork in their raids, and their disappointment was visible when they raided my home. But they had taken in up to five people in this operation (and I also assumed that these people had been taken, although initially I could not be sure) and they were getting (some) information from them, which they used as leads for their interrogation of me. Three earlier partners had at this point been missing for many months, placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’, and numerous other staff and partners, (then-) current and previous, had been detained and/or questioned throughout the summer, autumn and winter of 2015.

However, all core organizational aspects, details on projects, financing etc., have been the domain of only myself and Michael Caster. Others have been involved only in parts of a project or projects, without details on the organization as a whole. This was not what State Security had assumed early on. Making it clear that this was the responsibility of myself and Michael was imperative to lessen the burden on other staff and partners.

Michael was not in China at the time of the crackdown. I, being a Westerner with, I assumed, strong diplomatic support, felt a much greater sense of security than any Chinese national would. This, alongside with much information, accounts, banking etc., being based outside of mainland Chinese jurisdiction, also gave me a good position.

Thus, claiming to focus only on the administrative aspect of our work, and having poor Chinese language abilities, I could convincingly claim to only know the general outline of our work, but not the specifics for each project, and this approach allowed me to protect others.

I could, and did, also maintain the line, which is also true, that all our work had one thing in common, namely to enhance the practical application of law, that is, improve the enforcement of law, which is lacking greatly in China. We did not even involve ourselves in advocacy to improve the law itself, but focused on simply bringing practice in line with the law, especially on provincial and local levels. Even though the law is not meant to be followed to some extent, having this focus should logically decrease how and to what extent we are seen as a threat.

Despite this approach to limit what I needed to say, they did utilize extensive technical forensics on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, USBs, etc. Everything stored is done so in encrypted form, and they never got the passwords to access those. On the other hand, using file recovery programs they could access parts of documents that had been worked on, deleted, etc. What they could get was limited, but they were able to gain access to some new documents or parts of documents every day.

This meant that I had to plan my interrogation keeping in mind to limit information, remove details such as names, locations etc., while at the same time make sure not to say anything that might be contradicted by the document they might have the next day. Keeping this in mind late at night after hours of questioning was perhaps the hardest part, but due to preparation it went fairly well. Basically, I had to make sure not to directly lie, but also make sure to not give out information that could be used against me or others.

The first 24 hours, I was under detention and not residential surveillance, they asked about my background, family and education, a few coworkers, and they also brought up the names of Wang Quanzhang, Xing Qingxian (幸清贤) and Su Changlan (苏昌兰). The first three days were handled by a ‘bad cop’ interrogator, who overplayed his hand and made me uncooperative, since I don’t respond well to being forced. After that, a ‘good cop’ took over most interrogations. All along I knew my girlfriend, who has no connection to my work, was sitting in the same facility somewhere, unable to give them anything, which at least at first I assumed State Security would think of as being uncooperative and possibly take measures to try to force non-existent information out of her.

For the first two weeks there was, on average, one session per day, lasting usually five to six hours, often held throughout the evening and night, with some minor variation. Later on they would accompany those with what I came to think as ‘fireside chats,’ with the ‘good cop’ coming into my cell, opposite to the interrogation room, to have informal chats. He’d offer cigarettes and an occasional Nescafé. These fireside chats would allow for more philosophical discussions, and for me to offer more extended explanation on why I disagreed with this or that.

Later on, one interrogation session would also double as a lie detector test, or ‘psychological test to enhance communication’ as they framed it. They attached electrodes to my fingers and used specialist cameras on the pupils, asking me a combination of test and real questions. The guy brought in to administer it couldn’t quite get it working, and in the end they didn’t seem to get anything from it, and stopped it for the last part of that interrogation session.

They used an interpreter at the interrogations, but as time went on they started to shed that charade, since the interrogators had far better English than the interpreters.

Two weeks into my detention, they realized that neither I nor China Action was related to the alleged crimes of Xing Qingxian and Su Changlan. They also realized we did not work with Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所), and had had no partnership with Wang Quanzhang for years. On top of that, upon learning that the activities I developed and worked on with Wang were related to provision of legal aid, training lawyers, and developing training materials, they must have realized that these would not be all that useful to smear him or convict him of any national security crimes.

They also became aware of my medical condition and just how serious it was. Not wanting to have a dead Western human rights activist on their hands, they paid close attention to my condition for the rest of my custody, which limited what methods they could use against me. I also knew that media broke the story after the first two weeks, and it was quickly gaining momentum, as I had expected it would. I realized that media had broken the story because the interrogator asked me one day about the reporter, Megha Rajagopalan at Reuters who first wrote about it. The annoyance and anger was very clear.

It must be around this time that they decided to eventually deport me and move on. For the remaining days, they tried to get from me as much information about how NGOs work and about civil society in general. Of course I would also be used as a propaganda tool against foreigners, civil society, and NGO work. For the last week or so the amount of interrogations dwindled, and besides some more “fireside chats” I was just killing time waiting for the next step in the process. This mostly consisted of staring into the suicide padded wall, spending time doing some basic calisthenics, and trying to remember Bob Dylan lyrics. His song “Love minus zero / no limit” was especially helpful to keep my mind occupied for a few days. Each day and every minute was feeling longer, not shorter, and it started getting to me.

Many people who talk on the subject of solitary confinement mention that at some point your thoughts turn to suicide. It was never a serious consideration for me, but yes, at some point I spent hours analyzing the room and considering the possibilities for committing suicide. The padding and setup was so meticulous, though, that I realized it was not going to be possible even if I wanted to.

CHINA CHANGE: The reports said that your organizations received grants from various sources, the largest donor being EU, but the Chinese seem to have a fixation on NED – the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. How is that?

PETER DAHLIN: The EU was by far our largest donor, but my interrogators had almost no interest in this fact. Instead their focus was on NED, whose support to us, being crucial for one of our key programs and the organization as a whole, was nonetheless limited to a few hundred thousand dollars through the five years the program ran. To some extent they were also interested in rapid response assistance groups like Front Line Defenders. Me pointing out that the EU had supported numerous training activities for Chinese state actors, and that we were basically just doing the same for barefoot lawyers perhaps made them realize focusing on the EU angle would be more difficult in terms of painting it as a crime, a threat to national security, or in general play the ‘anti-China forces’ card. At this point they had also stopped trying to paint me as an EU spy.

Specifically, they wanted me to admit that NED was guiding us, that they were the ones giving orders on what we should do. I think this was partially because it’d fit their narrative, but also (to a lesser extent) because they don’t understand the grantmaker and grantee relationship. Likewise, they liked to refer to the barefoot lawyers we support as our ‘branches.’

Naturally they also inquired about other organizations, like International Service for Human Rights, who provides training on international law related issues (outside of China), and various groups based in Hong Kong. They however had very little information on our work with such groups, and it passed as a topic of conversation.

State Security became aware of our ‘legal aid station’ work from an internal NED document they somehow had access to, but the document did not contain names or exact locations, so a fair amount of time was spent on interrogating me about who these lawyers were. The names of some of the lawyers were provided by coworkers, and later documents they retrieve through file recovery work on hard drives etc. provided the legal aid station lawyers’ names. In the end, State Security gathered enough information about it, and it was the first program to be shut down as we started closing the organization after my deportation.

CHINA CHANGE: I have read a fair amount of interrogations of Chinese human rights defenders, and the interrogators always want to know whom they are connected to. I imagine they want to know every single person you have worked with or known in China.

PETER DAHLIN: They seemed to place a lot more interest on people than the work. They asked about a long list of people — some appeared in documents they had found, and others whose names had come up during interrogations of someone else. They wanted to know who attended our trainings, but they seem to accept that, due to the breadth and amount of our work, I could not have retained names of attendees of various trainings in my head, or even which teachers had been involved in what trainings. They also asked me about people simply because they are well known HRDs, key rights defense lawyers, and NGO workers. But I maintained, as I had done earlier, that my work focused on administrative issues and, having poor Chinese, I had very limited knowledge of most of these people, except for a few which they already had evidence that we had worked with directly.

They assumed that we would have connection with domestic NGOs, but that was in fact not the case. Likewise, our cooperation with international groups is limited to a handful of groups. They spent considerable time trying, but got very little on that topic. Same with the Fengrui Law Firm and people like Wang Yu and Li Heping, with whom we have had only limited contact.

They spent considerable time trying to convince me that some coworkers had ratted me out and I should respond in kind and come clean, basically that all blame was being placed on me, and if I didn’t defend myself my fate would be far worse. This mostly just triggered my Churchillian instinct. When they realized after repeated attempts that I would do nothing but defend them, they gave up. I remember repeating the same line over and over again: These people “not only constitute the best China has to offer, but people any nation should be proud to have as their citizens.”


“I’ve violated the Chinese law through my activities here; I’ve caused harm to the Chinese government; and I’ve hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”


CHINA CHANGE: The television confession — tell us what that was like.

PETER DAHLIN: Toward the end, when it became clear that deportation was likely, a late night final deposition was made in the interrogation room which basically summarized the key points they had learned from interrogations of me and others.

The focus was to try to find an angle to smear Wang Quanzhang. Considerable time had been spent on calling Wang a criminal, despite me pointing out almost daily that his case had not even been transferred to prosecutor, let alone having resulted in a conviction. Similarly, they refused to point out any activity by Wang that was actually a crime, except saying his work threatened national security, and that he has defended ‘evil cult’ practitioners and used his social media to highlight his work as a lawyer.

The next day, in the early evening, the ‘good cop’ walked into my cell. Cigarettes and small talk. He said a panel of judges would decide on my fate, whether bringing charges or deportation. The best way, he said, would be to record an interview on camera for them to review. Knowing that they already finished the active investigation and would not get any more information by an interview, that my girlfriend would be kept for as long as I would, and that only with my deportation would she be set free, and also knowing that time was ticking in terms of my medical condition (by that time I had already lost some 5-6 kilos), I said yes.

What followed is easy to imagine. He came back with a paper with both questions and answers written down, which in their mind ‘summarized’ our discussions over these weeks. Some arguments followed as they wanted me to call Wang, Xing and Su criminals, despite none of them having been tried. My refusal was finally accepted and some changes were made.

When I saw the final line on that paper, “having hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” I realized that the recording was obviously for CCTV, though they had never said so. Later, when I was led into a meeting room, also part of the same secure wing as the cell and interrogation room, I saw the CCTV ‘journalist’ and her cameraman.

The CCTV lady was about my age, perhaps slightly older, not overly friendly, but relaxed and someone with obvious experience as an interviewer. All the key State Security people, maybe 8 of them or so, were sitting in the back behind myself, the CCTV woman and the camera man. We ran through the questions and answers pretty quickly. The only hiccup was saying that final line on hurt feelings. After the 4th attempt the ‘journalist’ said to me, “you really don’t want to say this, do you?”

However, that line on hurt feelings is a key reason I agreed to do it despite knowing it was for CCTV and PR. It’s a well-known meme in the China community, and I knew that everyone would know the true nature of the ‘confession’ when they heard that line. Basically, including that line negated the whole purpose of it, from the point of view of the international community, and to some extent, inside China too.

CHINA CHANGE: Following your deportation, the Beijing-based lawyer and legal scholar Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) penned a commentary, taking issue with the legal procedure of your deportation. He said that the deportation order should have been made by a court if you were guilty of a crime, or by the PSB or national security agency if you were found to have violated an administrative statute but had not committed a crime. Your case had never been brought to a Chinese court, and yet the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced that you confessed to having committed “the crime of funding criminal activities that endanger China’s national security.” She, a government spokeswoman, convicted you of two crimes in one breath! I bring this up because the arbitrariness of the entire episode highlights precisely the importance of your organization’s work and the work of those barefoot lawyers and human rights defenders. It’s so basic – it’s the ABC of ABC of the rule of law, yet it’s not acceptable to the Chinese government and it’s demonized by state propaganda.   

PETER DAHLIN: As far as the law is concerned, I was placed under residential surveillance and investigated for violation of Article 107 — using foreign funding for illegal and subversive activities. But besides accusing me of supporting Su Changlan’s alleged protests and of me being the mastermind behind Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhishun’s alleged crime of taking Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, across China’s borders, they could not really pinpoint any activity that I had undertaken that would be illegal (besides illegal business operations, which is not a national security crime). And I had nothing to do with these two incidents anyway.

Their argument that actions supported by us would challenge national security, based on the National Security Law, is easily dismissible. They did spend time picking on our operating in the mainland without registration, and thus failing to pay tax, but that was not the crime I was accused of and it seemed just a minor issue for them.

In the end, I was deported under the new Espionage Law, but was not allowed to receive any documentation of any kind about any step in the legal process against me: the list of confiscated items, the house search, personal search, detention, residential surveillance, deportation, and the ban from entering China for 10 years — nothing.

Also, deportation under criminal charges would require a court decision, with notification to the embassy, myself, and the allowance of a lawyer, even if only a state-appointed one — but none of those things happened. That would render the process itself illegal, since deportation can only be decided by the police if it’s part of an administrative punishment, and if the latter is true I would first have to be released from criminal detention and moved to an administrative detention facility. Even with the world watching, China’s police and justice system couldn’t even operate, despite having such a wide range of tools and exceptions available, within their own law.

CHINA CHANGE: The way your case was dealt with, the Chinese law is apparently irrelevant despite all the rhetoric of the state media about the law being served. What do you think your real ‘crime’ is anyway? The Global Times said you stepped on a red line, what’s the red line?

PETER DAHLIN: Well, it’s hard to know who claimed I had participated or directed actions that led to “crimes,” as all of these people remain detained and incommunicado. So what led to the action being taken, I don’t know.

What can be said is that nothing that I was doing in 2016 was any different from, say, 2013. What earlier led them to want to monitor and keep tabs on us now meant they wanted to take us down. That would be in line with a general harshening of the climate, a greater focus on “anti-China” or “foreign forces” in their work to counter civil society growth, and also seeing an opportunity to use me as a tool concurrent with the new law and regulations on foreign funding and NGO operation.

CHINA CHANGE: Before and around the year 2008, the international community was euphoric about China embracing international norms. I remember there was a catchy phrase in those years in state media: “China and the World Joining Tracks” (“与世界接轨”), about China’s supposed integration into the world order. Today you don’t hear this phrase anymore and China’s outlook has changed. Many independent NGOs have been shut down over the past couple of years. You came to China almost 10 years ago as a young man, and 10 years later you were expelled as a national security threat. Do you have any final thoughts as we conclude this Q and A? 

PETER DAHLIN: Outsiders are slow to react and adjust their thinking, which I guess is natural. However, it will become harder and harder for outsiders, including politicians, to keep up the charade that China is continuing its peaceful rise and, if only incrementally, developing a system of laws, and therefore creating a better society. The longer Xi Jinping stays in power, the harder it will be to continue to pretend things are developing in the right direction — but few nations want to be the first to reverse course in how to develop ties and interact with China, especially if economic ties are threatened. Luckily, China is so inept at PR that their threats against sovereign nations who seek to change course are becoming clearer, with the UK being a good example. Not even the Tory party can pretend anymore, as seen in the report they released (The Darkest Moment).

Despite having my life’s work, in a professional sense, thrown into the garbage, and the fact that my lifelong medical condition came from my time in China, I’d still say it was worth every bit despite the risks. We cannot publicize the specifics of our work, especially on urgent actions, but knowing the results for myself was enough to motivate me to continue. Even if the positive results we saw as a result of our interventions were cut in half, I’d still say it was worth it all. Sometimes you’ve got to “put your money where your mouth is,” as they say, and I believe I did that.





China’s Shattered Dream for the Rule of Law, One Year On

Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 8, 2016



Photo: @chrlcg


Like the rest of us, they traveled around the country through rain and shine and choking smog, assisting the most vulnerable. Like the rest of us, they were exhausted looking after their parents’ health and finding a school for their children. Like the rest of us, they embraced the lofty China Dream, believing in “governing the country according to the law,” and stepping into the role of defending justice and human rights, committed and tireless.

But that dream was shattered on July 9, 2015.  

It began with the arrest of lawyer Wang Yu’s entire family in the early hours of July 9, 2015. Thereafter, the state’s machine of coercion shifted into full gear, raiding the homes of scores of rights lawyers across the country, and disappearing many of them. Hundreds more lawyers, scholars, and activists, known for their efforts in improving civil rights and political rights, were interrogated, threatened, and forcibly silenced. Some family members were punished by being driven from their homes, or prohibited from leaving China…

If this was the mere momentary convulsion of a police state armed to the teeth, perhaps we wouldn’t need be so shocked — after all, in China, this has become a fairly common occurrence. The Chinese people have never been free of fear. In fact, the opposite is the case: we live in a society in which one could become the next Xu Chunhe (徐纯合), or the next Lei Yang (雷洋) tomorrow — and this fear accompanies us every day. But this utterly brazen suppression of human rights defenders, the level of state hierarchy involved, the manner in which it was conducted, the extent of it, and its intensity, shows that it was planned and coordinated at the highest levels, a new development following the establishment of a certain powerful security organ. With this, we are witnessing a transition from spasmodic suppression to a permanent high-pressure state. No doubt, some people will be making history for such “achievements.”  

This year, human rights lawyers and rights defenders have been through six months of forced disappearances under so-called “residential surveillance at a designated place.” After they’re formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” or “subversion of state power,” they’re reportedly transferred to the Tianjin First or Tianjin Second Detention Center;

This year, they have not been able to receive legal help from counsel chosen by their families, nor have their loved ones been provided with the slightest information about their physical and mental well-being;

This year, despite complaints by family, protests by lawyers, attention by foreign media, concern and censure by foreign governments and NGOs, Chinese police have been cold-blooded, callous, and cruel. They manipulate the law as they wish, twist them any which way, appropriate the law maliciously, and are always ready to pull out a different marionette whenever the circumstances require it, as a way of cynically deflecting accountability and questioning.

The most bitterly disappointing and appalling characters of all are the other lawyers who have no sense of conscience. They cast aside what they themselves know is right, sell their souls to the devil, and do deals with the perpetrators. On the surface, they’re the defense counsel for the rights lawyers who have been arrested in the 709 crackdown, but in fact they’re the custom-made excuse by the police to explain why lawyers hired by the family had to be dismissed. But these lawyers don’t dare actually contact the family, nor even reveal their real names to the outside world. They don’t dare defend the lawful rights of their clients, but instead hide in the shadows. Though these questionable lawyers occupy high positions in the [government-controlled] associations of attorneys, have incomes to match, dress the part, and enjoy enviable social status, their actual role in this affair has been more like the decorative ceramic tile in a urinal.

One year isn’t long, but if it’s spent sealed up in solitary confinement, it’s enough to destroy a life. But one year isn’t short — it’s long enough for all to see that the pretense of “governing the country according to the law” has now been torn to shreds!

This year, they have been walled off in prison, bearing witness with their own bodies to the lies that lie beneath the gilded surface, and the cowardice of dictatorship. Outside prison, we are pleased to see that Chinese citizens continue to awaken, as incidents of collective protest increase and spread. China has not become quieter and more stable, as expected by the rulers when they tried to suppress human rights lawyers.

This year, their wives and loved ones have grown to understand their work better. Some wives have stood out bravely, declaring, “We’re leaving behind our makeup to beat the gangsters up,” continuing their husbands’ struggle for rights.

This year, they have never left our thoughts: their convictions, their determined actions, their love and grievances, their smiles and their voices… They travel far and wide in China with firm steps, casting a deep gaze around them. They have never left us, and they will never leave. They are human rights defenders who love this land and this people!  

History will remember them. For now, let’s read aloud their names:

Wang Yu (王宇), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Xie Yang (谢阳), Li Chunfu (李春富), Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Bao Longjun (包龙军), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Wu Gan (吴淦), Zhao Wei (赵威), Lin Bin (林斌), Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Tang Zhishun (唐志顺), Xing Qingxian (幸清贤), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Liu Xing (刘星), Zhang Weihong (张卫红), Li Yanjun (李燕军), Yao Jianqing (姚建清), Yin Xu’an (尹旭安), Wang Fang (王芳)……
Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group

July 8, 2016



The Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Contact persons:
Chang Boyang 常伯阳 18837183338
Liu Shihui 刘士辉 18516638964
Ling Qilei 蔺其磊 18639228639
Tang Jitian 唐吉田 13161302848
Yu Wensheng 余文生 13910033651



Breaking: This Morning in Beijing, One lawyer Gone Missing, Another Lawyer Kidnapped, and Fengrui Law office Visited by Police, China Change, July 9, 2015.

Biographies of Lawyers, Staffers and Activists Detained or Disappeared in the July 10 Nationwide Raid Against Rights Lawyers, July 23, 2015.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August 19, 2015.

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu explains why Chinese government is out to get them, China Change, July 23, 2015.

Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.




Relatives of Recently Disappeared Lawyers and Activists Write a Letter to China’s Minister of Public Security

On the eve of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (August 30)

Published: August 29, 2015


“Such fear and panic do not beset these lawyers and their families only; they beset the entire Chinese society.”



Photo: @chrlcg

Honorable Mr. Guo Shengkun (郭声琨),

We don’t know if you will be able to read this letter, but we are writing it regardless in the hope that you may. We do not want to let slip the slightest hope.

Since July 9th, our loved ones have been disappeared, and they include 17 lawyers, their assistants, and law firm staffers, as well as 6 rights defenders. Their disappearances all followed the same pattern: the people who took them away, either in Beijing or Tianjin, claimed that they were “Tianjin police.” They were taken away for allegedly “provoking disturbances” or merely for “committing a crime” without any specifics; and following their forced disappearance we have had a hard time to get them lawyers. Lawyers who expressed desire to represent them were visited by security police who threatened them against any involvement.

Those of us who have been able to hire lawyers for our loved ones have seen that when the lawyers attempted to meet their clients according to procedures, the Tianjin police denied that they had taken away our loved one.

When a terrorist attack is perpetrated, a terrorist group will come out and claim responsibility for it. When the police system of the People’s Republic of China disappears its citizens, shouldn’t it make a statement and say something?

On July 18, our loved ones appeared on CCTV’s morning news. We were flabbergasted to find that, while we still hadn’t received any written notice about them, they were already found guilty on TV without a trial. Is this a demonstration of “governing the country according to the law” emphasized by our General Secretary Xi?
Finally, as we searched tirelessly for our loved ones, there were words that a task force was in charge of our loved ones and that Tianjin police don’t know much about it. We managed to find out their alleged crime (or the vagueness of it), and we were told that an official notice would be delivered to us.

But 50 days have passed since the disappearance of our loved ones. So far, only relatives of 5 lawyers, their assistants and 2 rights activists have received notices from the police, and relatives of the rest of the 16 have received nothing. Where have the notices been sent? Even if they were sent to the hometown addresses on their ID cards, they should have long arrived. Those who received detention notice still don’t know where their loved ones are detained, and there is no knowing when they will have access to lawyers. Only one has met with a lawyer once and no more since then.

In short, 23 PRC citizens have been disappeared, some for as long as 50 days by now, and the public security apparatus you head have had no intention to honor our lawful rights to information.

Why? Since China has been flaunting “governing the country according to the law,” we wonder: Is the law the government acts on the same as the promulgated law? Words fail to express our anxiety and helplessness.

We wonder: whether it’s the high ranking public security officials or the rank and file police officers, don’t you have parents, a wife or husband, and children? You don’t know what it is like until the same thing happens to you? Forgive me for making such a connection, but it indeed has happened to members of your system.

Families and friends keep asking for news about our loved ones. And the only thing we can tell them is that we have received nothing from the public security.

Outside the gate of the Preliminary Investigation Squad of Tianjin Hexi Detention Center, the two-year-old son of lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) asked his mother: “Where is Daddy?” Bao Mengmeng (包蒙蒙), teenager son of lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) texted her mother’s colleagues who have not been disappeared: “When can I see my parents?” The five-year-old daughter of lawyer Li Heping (李和平) asked, “Why is daddy still not home?”

Faced with these questions from children, we hope you understand how we feel: “We don’t even know where they are, let alone when they will come back.”

Over the years, Chinese police are known to the world for extracting confessions through torture in the investigation stage. Even though China has long ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, we have little faith that the law will protect the safety of our loved ones when the authorities would not even acknowledge their whereabouts.

We grew up watching TV programming extolling the New China. Now we think about it and we cringe: What is this? To tell you the truth: At home we fear even knocks on the door. People at the door who claim to be checking our water meter, delivering a package, fixing water pipes are least likely robbers (if they are we can at least call 110), and most likely someone who is a disguised secret police of the People’s Republic of China, and a 110 call wouldn’t get you help.

Such fear and panic do not beset these lawyers and their families only; they beset the entire Chinese society.

We look forward to the public security system observing the law when handling cases.


1. Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), wife of Li Heping (李和平)
2. Zhao Fengxia (赵凤侠), mother of Bao Longjun (包龙军)
3. Wang Quanxiu (王全秀), older sister of Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)
4. Li Wenzu (李文足), wife of Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)
5. Liu Shengxian (刘圣贤), father of Liu Sixin (刘四新)
6. Bi Liping (毕利萍), wife of Li Chunfu (李春富)
7. Xie Yuanfeng (谢远凤), younger sister of Xie Yuandong (谢远东)
8. You Minglei (游明磊), husband of Zhao Wei (赵威)
9. Gao Liang (高亮), younger brother of Gao Yue (高月)
10. Fan Lili (樊丽丽), wife of Ge Ping (戈平)
11. Ai Huixin (艾回新), mother of Wang Fang (王芳)
12. Liu Yinchai (刘银钗), mother of Monk Wangyun (望云和尚林斌)
13. Tong Yanchun (佟彦春), mother of Wang Yu (王宇)

August 29, 2015, on the eve of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances (August 30).


List of Lawyers, law staffers, and rights activists who have been disappeared since July 9:

17 lawyers, assistants and law firm staffers:

1. Wang Yu (王宇), Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Taken away at 4:00 am on July 9, 2015. Held incommunicado for over 50 days already. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “provoking disturbances” and “inciting subversion of state power.”
2. Bao Longjun (包龙军), husband of Wang Yu, Beijing. Unreachable since 3:00 am, July 9. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power” and “provoking disturbances.” Police denied lawyers of meeting with Bao on August 28 and was told that Bao is “suspected of the crime of harm the national security.”
3. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Beijing, Fengrui Law Firm. Unreachable since 13:00, July 10, 2015. Criminally detained for allegedly “provoking disturbances” and “inciting subversion of state power.” Home in Beijing searched by Beijing police on August 5.
4. Liu Sixin (刘四新), administrative assistant at Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Unreachable since 8:45 am, July 10, 2015. Held in Tianjin Hexi Detention Center for allegedly “provoking disturbances.”
5. Xie Yuandong (谢远东), intern lawyer at Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Taken away from home on July 10, 2015, and placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” on the same day.
6. Li Heping (李和平), Beijing. Taken away at 14:00, July 10. Coersive measures used against him.
7. Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Beijing. Summoned for a talk in the afternoon of July 10, 2015. Taken away in the morning of July 12. Home raided on the same day around noon. Coersive measures used against him.
8. Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Taken away at 7:30 am, July 10. Criminally detained.
9. Huang Liqun (黄力群), Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Taken away at 8:30 am, July 10. Criminally detained.
10. Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Guangzhou, Guangdong. Taken away at 23:40, July 10, 2015. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power.”
11. Xie Yang (谢阳), Hunan province. Taken away at 5:40 am, July 11. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “disrupting the court” and “inciting subversion of state power.”
12. Professor Chen Taihe (陈泰和), Guangxi Autonomous Zone. Criminally detained on July 13, 2015, at Guilin Third Detention Center for allegedly “provoking disturbances.” Lawyer Tan Yongpei (覃永沛) met with him once on July 16 but has been denied of meeting since.
13. Zhao Wei (赵威), a.k.a. Kaola, Beijing, assistant to lawyer Li Heping. Taken away at 17:00 on July 10, 2015. Criminally detained in Tianjin Hexi Detention Center for allegedly “provoking disturbances.”
14. Gao Yue (高月), Beijing. Assistant to lawyer Li Heping. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “provoking disturbances” and “inciting subversion of state power.”
15. Li Shuyun (李姝云), Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Taken away by police at 11:30 on July 10, 2015.
16. Li Chunfu (李春富), Beijing, younger brother of Li Heping. Taken away by Tianjin police around 22:00 on August 1, 2015 and home raided.
17. Wang Fang (王芳), accountant at Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Unreachable since 8:30, July 10, 2015.

5 Rights Activists:

1. Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), a.k.a. Ge Ping (戈平), Tianjin resident, taken away in Beijing in the morning of July 10, 2015, by Tianjin police. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “provoking disturbances.” On August 24, the authorities changed allegation against him to “inciting subversion of state power.”
2. Liu Yongping (刘永平), a.k.a. Lao Mu (老木), Beijing. Detained on July 10, 2015. Placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for allegedly “provoking disturbances.”
3. Hu Shigen (胡石根), Beijing. Disappeared on July 10, 2015.
4. Lin Bin (林斌), a.k.a. Monk Wangyun, Fujian. Taken away around noon on July 10 in Chengdu airport. His temple Jiuxian Zen Temple in Fujian was raided on July 9, and on August 16, his mother was evicted from the temple.
5. Jiang Jianjun (姜建军), Dalian, Liaoning. Criminally detained on July 12 for “provoking disturbances” and released after 37 days in custody.


中文原文《13名被强迫失踪人士家属致中华人民共和国公安部部长郭声琨先生的公开信——写在8月30日国际强迫失踪日前夕》, translated by China Change.



What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’

By Yaqiu Wang, published: August 2, 2015


During the recent sweeping crackdown on rights lawyers, Chinese authorities placed lawyers Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and Xie Yang (谢阳), as well as activist Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定居所监视居住), according to official reports. Some observers of China’s human rights practices were relieved upon hearing this. The literal meaning of this coercive measure gives the impression that, compared with formal detention, there must be relatively fewer restrictions on movement under residential surveillance. Gou Guoping’s wife, upon learning that her husband was to be placed under residential surveillance, was, in her own words, “ecstatic.” But after calling the public security bureau to obtain more information, she was told: “The case is under investigation. The whereabouts of the person is a secret.”

There are two kinds of “residential surveillance” in China: enforced at the domicile of the suspect, or enforced at a designated place. Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law (刑事诉讼法) stipulates: “Where, for a crime suspected to endanger State security, a crime involving terrorist activities and a crime involving a significant amount of bribes, residential surveillance at the domicile of the criminal suspect or defendant may impede the investigation, it may…be enforced at a designated place of residence.”

The Criminal Procedure Law further stipulates: “Where a criminal suspect or defendant is placed under residential surveillance at a designated place of residence, his/her family shall be informed of the information related thereto within 24 hours upon enforcement of residential surveillance, unless notification cannot be processed.”

But the reality is that authorities usually refuse to tell the individual’s family or lawyer where they’re being held. As a result, the suspect’s lawyer goes from detention center to detention center, from police station to police station, as well as to the Office of Letters and Calls, in a vain attempt to find out where they are.

As Teng Biao (滕彪), a visiting fellow at US-Asia Law Institute, New York University, points out: “The essence of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is pre-trial custody in a place outside of legally designated places of custody. Because it does not need to be subject to the rules of formal detention centers, in reality ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is often a more severe form of detention. When a detainee is tortured, it is difficult to obtain evidence.” Furthermore, authorities are allowed to detain “suspects” under this law for six months—no other legal process required.

S.A.C.R.E.D. Photo credit:

S.A.C.R.E.D. Photo credit:

The best known case of “residential surveillance at a designated place” is probably artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) 81-day secret detention in the spring of 2011 in Beijing. At Venice Art Biennale 2013, the artist exhibited a set of six installations called S.A.C.R.E.D. that depicts the scenes of his forced disappearance.

During the pro-democracy protests, or “Jasmine Revolution,” in 2011, the Chinese government placed a large number of political dissidents under “residential surveillance at a designated place,” including rights lawyers Liu Shihui (刘士辉) and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵). Liu recalled: “The agents beat me. I had to get stitches. My ribs were in severe pain. I was deprived of sleep for five days and five nights. To be taken to a detention center actually became my highest hope at that time.” Tang Jingling was deprived of sleep for 10 days. It was not until “his entire body started to shiver, his hands became numb, his heart beat erratically, and his life was in danger” that the police allowed him one to two hours sleep per day.

At around the same time, dissident writer Ye Du (野渡) was placed under residential surveillance in a police training center in Guangzhou for 96 days. He told China Change: “I didn’t see sunlight for a whole month. I was interrogated for 22 hours a day. One hour for food, one hour for sleep. I was interrogated like this for seven consecutive days until I suffered terrible gastrointestinal bleeding. Then they stopped.”

Writing about his 85-days of “residential surveillance” in 2002, He Depu (何德普), a pro-democracy activist who also served eight years in prison for organizing the Chinese Democratic Party, gave this assessment: “I feel that China’s residential surveillance system is one of the cruelest systems of torture there is.”

“Residential surveillance” is also applied to other categories of prisoners. Hua Chunhui (华春辉), a dissident who was once criminally detained, recently tweeted: “A co-inmate of mine who was allegedly involved with a criminal gang was first incarcerated in a re-education-through-labor center, then he was placed under residential surveillance at a designated place. Several months later he was taken back to the detention center. He told me that it wasn’t a place for humans.” At that point Hua understood “the horrors of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place.’”


Yaqiu Wang (王亚秋) researches and writes about civil society and human rights in China.



Biographies of Lawyers, Staffers and Activists Detained or Disappeared in the July 10 Nationwide Raid Against Rights Lawyers, China Change, July 23, 2015.

The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.


A Portrait of a “Subverter”

First published by Human Rights in China in New York as a part of its press release, which also includes a translation of Chen Pingfu’s Indictment.

On Tuesday, September 4, a 55-year-old man was on trial for “inciting subversion of state power” in Lanzhou, the capital city of northwestern province of Gansu, China, and the evidence cited in the indictment (see below for translation) consists of a long list of blog posts and nothing else. So it is a case of the crime of self-expression. The sentence hasn’t been announced, and at the end of the trial, the court announced that he would continue to be “residing under surveillance” (监视居住) until the sentence comes.

His name is Chen Pingfu (陈平福). He was 20 years old when China, under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, reinstituted national college examination. He excelled in the exams, and entered Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou majoring in mathematics. Upon graduating he was assigned a teaching job at the vocational school of Victory Machinery Factory of Capital Steel (首钢胜利机械厂) in Gaolan (皋兰) on outskirts of Lanzhou. There he taught math for more than two decades.

In May 2005, he suffered a heart attack and was sent to a hospital. His employer, a Mao-era state-owned enterprise on the brink of bankruptcy, was unable to help him with funds needed for surgery, nor could he afford it himself. He had to leave the hospital. His father gathered his younger siblings, pleading help from them for their older brother. They pulled together more than 50,000 yuan [about $6,000 at the time] and Chen Pingfu underwent a successful heart bypass surgery.

He was anxious to pay the debt, losing sleep sometimes, not because his siblings were pressuring him, but because none of them were well-off. One of his younger sisters, a cleaning woman in a small town making 150 a month yuan [about $20], gave him what was likely her life’s savings: 10,000 yuan [about $1,212].

With few means to make money, Chen Pingfu decided to play violin on the street. On Saturdays and Sundays he traveled 30 miles from Gaolan to downtown Lanzhou to do that. It wasn’t easy for an educated Chinese man with a keen sense of “face.” On his first trip, he chose a site but paced for an hour before taking out his violin and spreading a sheet on the floor that read: “Employee of Victory Machinery Factory, deeply in debt due to heart surgery, have to perform on street for alms.”

He played the famous Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto (the musical retelling of the Chinese classical tale of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, the so-called Chinese Romeo and Juliet) and Robert Shumann’s “Träumerei,” among other pieces. To those who thought he was a fraud, he gave his employer’s phone number for verification. But mostly he met with compassion, encouragement, and generosity. Once, a five-year-old girl pulled her mother to a stop, listened, and handed him a 1 yuan [about $0.15] bill with both hands. Another time, a man stopped and listened, then disappeared into a hotel but sent a porter with 50 yuan [about $6]. Other musicians gave him tips on how to play better. Along the way, he improved his playing.

It went well, so well that, a major Internet service provider in China, interviewed him about his “success” and the positive social aspects of his story. It is from this interview, now available on Youtube, and the articles listed in his indictment that I learned his story.

In 2009, as his factory prepared for bankruptcy and he had no job to go to, he played violin on street in the afternoons. For one reason or the other, he didn’t talk about the dark side of his street experience in the interview. On the street he was scolded and threatened by liuguan (流管, migrant population administration) and jiuzhu zhan (救助站, relief station) workers who came not to lend him a hand but to get rid of him. They told him, “The government forbids performing on street for money!” They pressed him onto the ground to subdue him. An officer from the relief station shouted at him, “I’ll send you to your death if you dare be a nuisance! Who do you think you are? Making you die is nothing for us! Go with us if you dare, and see how we will tidy you up!” (Quoted from his blog post “Fight against Brutality and Pursue Civilization.”)

One time, a group of men from the Relief Station seized him and threw him into a truck with metal bars. In the heat of the summer, after struggling with the thugs, his heart beat faster and his chest tightened. He begged his captors to let him out, but they laughed at him, and one of them told him he was out of his mind.

On the street, he also witnessed other cruelties. A woman’s basket of peaches was snatched away from her by a chengguan (城管, urban management) officer; a middle-aged shoeshine man was chased away.

As he played violin on street, he also set up several blogs, pouring out his anger, his frustration, and his thoughts on the ills in Chinese society. Not surprisingly, he was summoned and warned by the authorities.

As 2011 began, Chen Pingfu found a teaching job in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Still in Chinese New Year holiday season, he took a flight, for the first time in his life, to Yunnan, some 1,500 miles away. He had had enough trouble playing violin on the street and writing blogs. His plan was to give up both and to teach children math and science and music. After all, he said, he needed to live first. Three days after he arrived in Yunnan, his former employer called, asking where he was. Soon after, the school’s principal, an old friend of his, received a call from police department in Gansu Province. The local police summoned the principal and interrogated him about Chen’s activities and their relationship. The principal pressed Chen about what he had done, and he didn’t want to be ruined for “hiding away a criminal.” Chen said again and again that he was not a criminal. The Yunnan police asked the principal to fire Chen and send him away within 24 hours.

He was back in Gansu Province in less than a week at his new job. This, despite repeated promises he had made to “relevant organ” that he would not write any more blog posts once he started working. Back in Lanzhou, he called the “relevant organ” to protest, and the person on the other end of the line burst out laughing.

In his blog posts, he told his stories, the humiliation and brutalities he had been subjected to. He reflected on the fundamental ills of the system, the lack of rule of law, and the abuses of power around him. He cheered the democratic revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. He expressed deep gratitude toward the ordinary Chinese who had helped him in one way or the other. He voiced his intense disgust for an education centered on tooling children according to the Party’s design. He hoped China would transition peacefully into a democratic country where traditional Chinese culture can be restored and a constitutional political system established, and where he can make a living and play violin freely without being persecuted by the authorities. Chen was determined to continue to speak out. He said in one of his blog posts: “As long as they don’t have an explanation or justification for me, I will continue to tell my story, expose the inhuman crimes perpetrated by the so-called people’s servants, and condemn this lying system.” (Quote from “I May Be Beaten to Death by Thugs, but I Will Not Be Cowed to Death.”)

On June 27, 2012, he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for his blog posts and subjected to residential surveillance. He would have been jailed if not for his coronary heart disease.

“At the hardest time of my life when I had to give up treatment and go home to wait for my death…when I needed relief the most, there was no government to be seen. But when I was deeply in debt, and jobless, and had no choice but to play violin on the street to help myself, the Relief Station of Lanzhou’s municipal government came with a barred jail truck,” Chen Pingfu wrote in one post. (Quoted from “Weasels Serve Chickens.”)

In another, he wrote, “Looking back at my life thus far, I found that I had lived meaninglessly for all these years without doing one worthwhile and meaningful thing. I cannot swallow the humiliation in silence; I have kept thinking and reading to break the cultural dictatorship so that my mind can go to a farther and wider world.” (Quoted from “I Cannot Bear the Humiliation in Silence.”)

But instead of a farther and wider world, he has found himself in jail—in China.

Looking for Song Ze

By Liang Xiaojun

This is the second article about Song Ze’s case following Dr. Xu’s, and it is by Song Ze’s lawyer Xiao Xiaojun (梁小军). –Yaxue

I first met Song Ze (宋泽) in late April. The weather was still cool, and he showed up following a call from Xu Zhiying, a bashful, quiet boy in a black leather jacket. Xu introduced him as a citizen volunteer, and I failed to remember his name. Later that day we went together to a dinner party of the Citizen team (e.g. OCI, the NGO Xu Zhiyong and others founded), and several well-known people at the table seemed very familiar with him. I became curious about him, wondering what he had done to endear himself to these online celebrities. All through the evening, he sat on the side and said little.

Then in early May I learned on Twitter that he had been criminally detained. Such an event had become so common an occurrence among friends of mine that I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I hardly knew him.

However, I became his attorney soon afterward. It was decided, over a similar dinner gathering that I should represent Song Ze because I lived close to Fengtai District detention center where Song Ze had been held. Xu Zhiyong believed that Song Ze was apprehended simply because he had visited black jails and helped petitioners. “They have no bottom line whatsoever!” Xu was indignant about authorities detaining Song Ze over these actions.

On May 14, the day I received the Power of Attorney Form signed by Song Ze’s parents in Hunan and his identification document, I went to Fengtai detention center to request for a meeting with Song Ze. I was referred to the officer in charge of Song Ze’s case, but he wasn’t there. An expressionless young female clerk told me to “come back tomorrow morning.” Helpless, I left after depositing 1,000 yuan for Song Ze.

I arrived next morning as soon as the Public Security Bureau opened. I found the officer behind a computer screen. When I said I was here to meet Song Guangqiang (宋光强, Song Ze’s original name), he found my request form with signed approval on his desk and motioned me to go to the meeting room without evening raising his head.

All the windows were occupied in the meeting room. So I waited. Song Ze had been taken out of his cell to meet me, now standing against a wall waiting too. He wore an orange prison garment. For some reason he didn’t have his glasses on. He looked sad.

Around 10 o’clock, we had our turn. Close, he recognized me and smiled a faint smile. I too took a good look of him. Though tired and listless, he was a good-looking young man.

I asked how he had been taken to custody and what the interrogation had been like. He spoke fast and clear: He was seized by policemen in the morning of May 4th while waiting in Beijing South Railway Station for a petitioner who had called and asked for his help in what now looked like a premeditated trap. He was then interrogated by policemen from Fengtai District Public Security Bureau and Beijing Headquarters respectively from the afternoon to early next morning. And as Xu Zhiyong predicted, it was about his visit to the black jail in Beijing set up by Chenzhou municipality, Hunan (湖南郴州) and his rescue of petitioners there, but also his online posts to help the petitioners. He was also asked his relationship with Xu Zhiyong—how he met him and how he became a volunteer for Citizen. On May 5, he was charged with “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事罪) and transferred to the Fengtai detention center.

When I told him about visiting his parents and getting them to sign the Power of Attorney Form, he smiled to my surprise. He said what he was afraid most was his parents’ knowledge of the event. He didn’t want his mother to worry about him. I tried my best to alleviate his anxiety.

Our meeting ended before 11am when policemen announced the morning hours were over.

After that I was taken up by other obligations. I felt that Song Ze would be released soon, because, legally I couldn’t think of anything that he could possibly be convicted with. His detention was based on charges of “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事) as defined by Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law. They refer to the followings: beating another person at will; chasing, intercepting or hurling insults to another person; forcibly taking or demanding, willfully damaging, destroying or occupying public or private property; creating disturbances in a public place. As far as I could see, Song Ze had simply done what a citizen should have done, and he displayed no behaviors punishable by law.

Looking back now, I was too optimistic.

Later on, Xu Zhiyong published an open letter to Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), director of Beijing Public Security Bureau, making Song Ze’s case known to the public. More people online have paid attention to the case.

Late May, Xu Zhiyong asked me to visit Song Ze again. He was afraid that Song Ze could be secretly sentenced to reform-through-labor. On May 28, I went to Fengtai District detention center again, and was received by the same expressionless female clerk. Once again, she told me that the officer in charge of the case was unavailable, asking me to leave my forms. But she didn’t say when I should return for the meeting. She requested my phone number and said she would call if a meeting was approved.

I waited for a whole day on the 29th, and nobody called.

In the early morning on the 30th, I went to the detention center again. The officer in charge of the case was there. Upon hearing my request to meet Song Ze, he asked who had sent me and how, while recording information about me on a notepad. Then he left the room with the approval form. When he returned shortly, he told me the lieutenant, whose signature was required, was unavailable, and I couldn’t meet Song Ze on that day. He told me to come back tomorrow.

I argued that, according to China’s Lawyers Law, meeting with client required no approval. He said, the new criminal procedure law wouldn’t take effect until next year, and it was good for a lawyer to obtain approval.

It’s impossible to conduct a conversation like that. So I said I would wait for your lieutenant. He said, well, do as you please. He then left the room, and I stayed in the hallway to wait while reading.

The lieutenant’s office was wide open with people coming in and out of it except for the lieutenant himself. At 10:30, as the hope for a morning meeting faded, I called the officer in charge of the case again, reiterating my right to see my client. He said he would arrange it as soon as he could.

The next day I went again. This time the lieutenant was there. He smiled broadly, saying he was busy yesterday but he had approved my request. With the approval form, he took me downstairs to the meeting room.

Song Ze was quickly brought out, and, without waiting for long, we had a window. Song Ze’s beard had grown, but otherwise he looked better than last time I had seen him. He was very happy to see me too. When we starting talking, the lieutenant pulled a stool and sat next to Song Ze to listen to us.

Song Ze told me that, over the last two weeks or so since our last meeting, he was interrogated four more times, the longest one lasting five hours. They asked the same questions they had asked before. They were rude and barbaric some times, but other times they played nice.

After talking about himself, he began asking me legal questions concerning his fellow inmates. The lieutenant interrupted him, “Just talk about your own case; don’t worry about others’ business.” To this, Song Ze said, “I have no more questions about my own case, nor do I worry about mine,” and went on asking me more questions.

Song Ze and I had a decent exchange even with the lieutenant present. Song Ze felt that it was a pity that he got himself arrested without even doing anything worthwhile; he worried about his parents, asking me to tell them that he committed no crime, and they shouldn’t feel bad for him.

We bid each other goodbye without a heavy heart. I would see him again whether he would be charged, given reform-through-labor, or released on probation. That was how I believed anyway.

Another week or so passed. The end of 30-day detention period, plus a 7-day review period, was approaching, but I had heard no words about Song Ze.

On June 12 I went to Fengtai District detention center again. The officer in charge of the case told me that Song Ze had been switched to residing under surveillance and taken away by people from Beijing PSB a few days ago. He said he didn’t know which department of the PSB they were from, nor did he know where they had taken Song Ze. All he could tell me was that Fengtai District was no long on the case anymore.

The officers said repeatedly that they were just implementers, and there was no use for me to argue with them. At that point I knew that Song Ze had been disappeared!

As a coercive measure, residing under surveillance is laxer than detention, mostly carried out in the residence of the suspect. If it is carried out in a location designated by the law enforcement, family or attorney should be promptly notified of the location. But since last year, residing under surveillance in designated location has become the authorities’ weapon of choice against rights defenders and dissidents. This year’s revision of the Criminal Procedure Law provides for more extensive stipulation on residing under surveillance. Article 73 in particular legalizes residing under surveillance without notification of family.

So I twittered that day that Song Ze had been Article 73ed in advance. (The revised Criminal Procedure Law takes effect January 1, 2013.)

We could not accept, nor tolerate, Song Ze’s forced disappearance. Xu Zhiyong and I planned to go to Beijing PSB to inquire about it, but on that day he was blocked at home by security police and couldn’t leave. So I went myself.

Beijing PSB is located in Qianmen East Avenue (前门东大街), enclosed by high walls and guarded by armed police. The reception window told me that this was the headquarters of the Bureau; to make inquiry about individual case, I must go to the specific unit in charge of the case.

The ball was kicked out, but nobody would receive it.

After that I went to Fengtai District PSB again, and they told me they no longer had any knowledge about the case.

Police break the law at will. Nothing safeguards citizens’ rights. Citizens themselves can be disappeared any time. Such is the state Chinese citizen rights defenders have to face.

All these days as I have looked for Song Ze, I feel helpless as a legal professional and as a citizen. I am deeply worried about Song Se’s status. My only hope is that he will stay strong in face of all these, and I pray for his early release.