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Liu Shuqing, May 16, 2018
Beginning last year as the 709 crackdown gradually petered out, the government’s hands were freed up, and they decided to do something about the ‘unconventional lawyers’ (非常规律师) they kept seeing. They have since been targeting these lawyers using a combination of methods that aim at terminating their professional lives. These include straightforward revocation or annulment of legal licences; forcing lawyers to transfer law offices but then gumming up the process so they end up with no place of employment; delaying lawyer annual assessments and more. The community has felt the blow and the sting.
The reason I place these targeted lawyers under the term ‘unconventional’ is because the scope of targets in this round of assault is fairly broad: there are the human rights lawyers like Sui Muqing (隋穆青), Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), Wen Donghai (文东海), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Chunfu (李春富), Huang Simin (黄思敏) and so on — the standard group on the receiving end of punishment from the government — and then there are those like Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), who has experimented with his own performative lawyering, and been called an unorthodox lawyer in the ‘diehard’ school (死磕派); and finally the orthodox diehard lawyers like Zhou Ze (周泽) and Wang Xing (王兴).
Of course, this taxonomy may itself be problematic. Many diehard lawyers have taken on human rights cases, and human rights lawyers are diehards when fighting in court for procedural justice. Moreover, rights defense lawyers and diehard lawyers have been constantly adaptive. Nevertheless, there is a difference in inclination between the two groups, and most importantly, in the political spectrum of lawyers as imagined by officialdom, the difference between these lawyers does exist.
These three groups have been simultaneously punished, but the degrees of punishment dealt differ. These moves against specific lawyers or certain tendencies are clear in their logic and precise in their degrees of severity, and they are entirely consistent with the general ‘stability maintenance’ ethos of the Chinese Communist Party. It is of a piece with the ongoing, gradual return to totalitarian orthodoxy.
In China’s current political climate, the demand of the authorities for ‘stability’ is rising — this means of course that the voices of political dissent, the voices of defense for freedom of speech, assembly, and belief, and the voices that criticize the torture of political offenders, are simply no longer permitted to exist. In particular when it comes to human rights lawyers, who have had the latent potential to form a social organization, the iron hammer must be brought down with even greater force to get rid of them. Thus, active human rights lawyers have come face to face with disaster.
The ‘diehard’ lawyers who constantly drag courts and judges through storms of public opinion also need to be appropriately attacked. The latter often have an extensive and deep network of contacts inside and outside the system; they share the same aspirations and enjoy mutual support from liberal journalists and scholars; and when they take on cases, whether it’s a corrupt official or an organized crime case, they’re able to portray their client as if they were as pure as the undriven snow. Yet for them, being of high repute is not enough — they want to be famous, make a lot more money, and conduct their defense cases without heed to China’s ‘national circumstances’ or established convention. They want to form a defiant style of defense different to models common among the vast majority of lawyers in China: cooperating with the government or even conspiring with the police, prosecution and the court. Their ‘diehard’ work has allowed them to frustrate the execution and image of even the Party’s shuanggui (双规) system [involving the extralegal detention and interrogation of Party cadres suspected of corruption] and anti-crime campaigns. Objectively, they’re also ‘deconstructing’ the Party’s system, so in the future they’ll also be disallowed. This is why lawyers like Zhou Ze (周泽) and Wang Xing (王兴) have been temporarily suspended from practicing, as a way of sending a warning to others like them.
As for the peculiar creature Yang Jinzhu, he’s a category in himself. He once had his day in the sun and had significant influence, but has become increasingly dramatic and vulgar, embarrassed courts and judges, and given lawyers a bad name by cursing and swearing. If the authorities wish to reconstitute the authority of the judicial system and enforce calm and order, those like Yang will also need to be thoroughly purged.
This is the logic behind the government’s actions.
As the authorities see it, this round of precision targeting is not only an intrinsic demand of stability maintenance, but a required house cleaning for future judicial reform that focuses on delivering ‘justice.’ Of course, this logic is self-serving — and the reality is that a sweeping out of lawyers that so departs from justice itself presages a result that will little resemble a just one.
As for whether or not the goal of stability maintenance can be achieved, it will depend on how things play out. The goal of stability maintenance is to preserve the political security of the Party, and all stability maintenance efforts are directed toward this end. Will the attack on lawyers serve to fracture the bonds between rights lawyers and their rights defense movement and thus lead to the decline of the latter, or will the rights defenders become more radical because they’re at the end of their rope? This is impossible to predict.
Now, back to the notion of Justice (正义) cherished by the legal profession. It is not just about the result of a case but also procedural justice. The process of achieving justice is itself a promotion of ideas and mindset, and it’s necessarily an awakening of civil rights awareness and enlightenment. Taken as a whole, the current campaign of purging and punishment deals damage to the cause of justice in numerous ways.
Firstly, this will never result in universal justice in individual cases. Punishing lawyers in this manner will result in court hearings being ‘harmonized’ once again, with no contention between the parties. What they pursue is order, but what they get will simply be ‘harmony.’ This is opposite to the judicial reform ideas pursued just a few years ago, named ‘the two sides contend, the court decides’ (两造对抗、法官居中裁断). In the current judicial system where the relative power of the two sides is not evenly matched, the work of diehard defense lawyers is able to mitigate the defects of the system by making the public security organs and the procuratorate more careful and pay more attention to protecting the legal rights of suspects. Giving more freedom to these lawyers also allows the judge to listen to both sides and thus see the full picture, rather than grow numb under a pile of bland documents. This will increase the chance that justice is obtained; the alternative will be justice randomly distributed, and the outcome, good or bad, will simply depend on chance.
Secondly, this purge campaign directly goes against Justice, because it seeks to stunt the natural growth of citizens’ consciousness of their own rights and the rule of law. Whether human rights lawyers or diehard lawyers, whether calling for protection of basic freedoms, or protecting and demonstrating the right to bring suit, it’s all a microcosm of social progress. When lawyers themselves modulate their participation in this enlightenment, things will progress gradually and with order, and over the long term it will have the effect of raising the general consciousness of the rule of law among the public, ultimately orienting it toward constitutional democracy.
Finally, if the authorities think that by first shocking and aweing lawyers, then rolling out some limited regulations protecting the lawyers’ professional rights and interests, they will be able to ‘bring things back to how they should be’ and re-establish the prestige of the judicial system, then they might as well climb a tree to catch a fish. The prestige of the judicial system does not arise from some sense of court ritual, or from a hypocritical authority that brooks no dissent. The prestige of the judicial system comes from the fair judgements rendered by independent judges, and this encompasses Justice of both procedure and outcome. Only by doing this will people feel that things are fair, and be satisfied and content, and respectful of the system.
Lawyers have played important roles in many countries’ transitions to democracy, and this has fueled the suspicion and vigilance of the Chinese authorities around the growth of human rights lawyers and diehard lawyers. Civil society has also put enormous hope in rights defense lawyers. During the suppression of political opponents in the ‘Kaohsiung incident’ in Taiwan, defense lawyers ultimately became a key part of the opposition movement. In Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, president from 2003-2008, also started as a defense lawyer before becoming an opposition political leader. In India, the leader of India’s movement for national self-determination, Mahatma Gandhi, was also a lawyer. And over 200 years ago when the United States was formed, nearly half of the participants in the Constitutional Convention were lawyers. The suppression of lawyers by the CCP is a preemptive attack against an imaginary threat.
The truth is, in a totalitarian society, there is simply no space for an independent sphere of power to grow. Although the spread of WeChat and QQ chat groups has led to a degree of fellowship among small groups in society, these are still communities centered around shared ideas or hobbies, and the difference between them and genuine civic organizations is night and day. Perhaps they will band together and offer comfort to one another in times of crisis, but they cannot truly grow into a political force. Thus, they are essentially still atomized. The community of human rights lawyers is no different.
In a state as massive as China, silence induced by political suppression comes with its own risks. Within the framework of Chinese law, the small number of rights defense and diehard lawyers have the effect of placing minor, appropriate restraints on the exercise of power. What the CCP could have done is respond flexibly to this group, and give them a small degree of latitude. But the Party is disproportionately obsessed with and terrified about its political security, with the result that its methods of rule become inescapably more and more rigid and brittle.
 A category of lawyers who “argue vehemently and uncompromisingly, but do not take on politically sensitive cases…” (as Eva Pils writes in ‘China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance’ (2015) p. 282 note 111)
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) is a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, His own law license was revoked in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive. In April 2018 the university announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January 24, 2018.
Human Rights Lawyer Wen Donghai Targeted in Continuous Crackdown, China Change, November 6, 2017
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.
China Change, November 6, 2017
Wen Donghai (文东海) is a 43-year-old lawyer in Changsha, Hunan Province. He grew up in a mountainous village and became a policeman in the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau. Bored and unfulfilled, he quit his job, went to graduate school and became a lawyer in 2009. He came into contact with human rights lawyers in 2014, and in 2015 was a defense lawyer in the case of three Guangzhou activists promoting non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. That was the first human rights case he took on.
When the July 9, 2015 (709) crackdown on human rights lawyers began, he became the defense lawyer for Wang Yu, the first of scores of lawyers arrested that day and afterward. But he was not allowed to meet his client despite making numerous trips to Tianjin and lodging several complaints.
He has taken on Falun Gong cases as well as many other cases across China. “After becoming Wang Yu’s lawyer, I wanted to understand what Wang Yu had done and what kind of group Falun Gong was, so I started taking Falun Gong cases,” Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times in a recent interview.
‘Investigated’ for ‘Disrupting Court Order’
On July 14, 2017 Wen Donghai received a notice from the Hunan Province Lawyers’ Association. The Superior Court of Yunnan Province complained that during a trial held in a lower court in E’shan County (云南玉溪市峨山县人民法院) defense lawyer Wen Donghai “seriously disrupted the court order,” and that the association was asked to investigate.
On August 4 the Changsha Municipal Justice Bureau, the government organ in charge of lawyers, notified Wen Donghai that he was under investigation for “disrupting court order and interfering in court hearings.”
Wen Donghai has since learned that there was another “complaint” against him by a court in Guangdong Province.
What Happened During the Two Trials
Li Qiongzhen (李琼珍) is a Falun Gong practitioner in E’shan county, Yuxi city, Yunnan province (云南玉溪市峨山县) and was arrested with four others in 2016 for distributing Falun Gong materials. Wen Donghai was her defense lawyer.
Meeting with his client on January 24, 2017, Wen Donghai learned that the presiding judge of the case Bai Weiliang (柏为良) showed up at the detention center with two unidentified women and interrogated his client for three days in a row from January 11-13. The judge asked her to admit guilt in exchange for bail or a suspended sentence. He warned her not to mention the term “Falun Gong” during the trial. The judge also told Wen’s client that her lawyer took up the case in order to “stir up trouble,” and that if she dismissed him, the judge would find local lawyers for her free of charge. The two women, who had not identified themselves, told Wen’s client that she was forbidden to practice Falun Gong in prison.
Wen Donghai recorded his meeting with his client in detailed transcripts.
On February 13, 2017 Wen filed a complaint with the procuratorate against the judge’s illegal behavior. During the trial on February 16, 2017, he requested the presiding judge and the collegial panel recuse themselves, but his request was promptly denied.
He went on confronting the judge on his illegally pressuring his client to admit guilt and to dismiss her lawyer. The angry presiding judge and Wen had heated arguments, causing the trial to be adjourned twice.
Defending his client, who was charged with “using a cult to obstruct the implementation of the law,” Wen Donghai pointed out that there is not a single law in China that says Falun Gong is illegal; that thought, expression, and faith cannot cause the implementation of the law to be obstructed; that the Supreme Court’s judicial explanation of this crime is unconstitutional and illegal and can’t be used as the basis for a ruling; and that freedom of belief is a universal value.
The court handed out a particularly harsh sentence to Wen’s client: four years in prison for spreading Falun Gong materials.
The other complaint against lawyer Wen Donghai came from Jinping District court, Shantou city, Guangzhou province. Wen was the defense lawyer for Peng Peishan (彭佩珊), the owner of a hair salon and Falun Gong practitioner. Police suspected that she and her husband sold calling cards to practitioners to be used for spreading Falun Gong content. She was tried along with her husband and two others on April 11, 2017.
Wen Donghai said the court didn’t allow the defense lawyers to speak. He said to the court, “If you don’t allow me to speak, you may as well expel me from the court.” The judge did just that. Wen went to the procuratorate to complain about the judge, but was blocked by a formation of police at the entrance. The procuratorate didn’t accept his complaint.
Method of Targeting
Wen Donghai said that once you are identified as a crackdown target, they take the following steps: they go to different provinces to examine the cases you represented and find the “problems” they are looking for. Then in Wen’s case, the Lawyers Association in Hunan worked with the Superior Court in Yunnan that filed a complaint against Wen.
In Wen’s case, the director of Office for Management of Lawyers of Changsha Municipal Bureau of Justice had spent days in both Yunnan and Guangdong to collect information about Wen Donghai. Wen said that nobody paid attention, let alone working so hard, to look into it when he submitted complaints about the judge.
All of them are doing the bidding of the Justice Bureau. Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times: “When lawyers’ rights are violated, for example, when facing abuses by prosecutors or judges, no one accepts our complaints. But when we fight for the rights of our clients, we are accused of violating the rules for a little bit of heat on our part.
China Change learned from a couple of other lawyers that their local Justice Bureau also had sent officials to locations to collect information about their actions in the courts, the purpose of which is clearly for possible punishment.
‘The Law, Not the Judge, Dictates the Court’
In August, lawyer Wen Donghai issued a response to the ill-intended “investigation” against him. He wrote, “In both cases, whether in the E’shan county court in Yunnan or the Jinping District Court in Shandong, Guangdong, the court flagrantly infringed on the rights of the defense counsel and the defendants.” He continued to give an account of what happened in each case:
“Such a court is no more than a slaughterhouse that creates injustice and produces wrongful convictions. To maintain the order of such an illegal court is akin to committing a crime. My only trespass was that I was unwilling to cooperate with the court and trample on the law. I argued with the court because I hoped for a more normal trial. If there were any other channel for us to defend our rights, we would not have confronted the judge. This case is by no means an isolated one. In representing clients persecuted for their faith, I have repeatedly found myself in a situation where I have no place to lodge a complaint. In dealing with such cases, the nation’s judiciary seems to have turned into a rusted machine beset with problems at any given moment that we cannot solve.”
He argued that:
“The legality of the court is based on the law, not the judge. Thus, even though the judge directs the court, not all questioning of and argument with the judge constitutes disrupting the court order. On the contrary, oftentimes, the defense counsel and the defendant fight hard not to disrupt the court order, but to seek a just court whose order has been disrupted, a court that submits to the law. In doing so they are maintaining the normal working of the court and resist illegal court proceeding, at least that’s what they believe they are doing.”
Tools to Restrict Human Rights Lawyers
In China, from the early 2000s onward, more and more lawyers have engaged in so-called sensitive cases involving political opposition, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and other situations where citizens seek to redress injustice in the hands of the government. The Chinese government has kept close tabs on this small but growing group. Of the 14 human rights lawyers selected as the Persons of the Year in 2005 by the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Weekly (《亚洲周刊》), 13 were kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, disbarred, or exiled, with the exception of lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平).
Even though its number has been growing, the number of China’s 300,000 lawyers who are willing to take on cases to defend human rights is only about 1/1000.
The crackdown on human rights lawyers reached an extreme in 2015 when in a national campaign that began on July 9 China detained scores of them and activists working with them, and questioned more than 300 across China. In recent years the hostility toward human rights lawyers has worsened. They have been regarded as the top threat to the security of the totalitarian regime along with dissidents and activists, faith groups, internet opinion leaders and petitioners.
Almost all of the 709 detainees have been subjected to severe torture. Some of these cases have been exposed, shocking the international community. Those who have been released on bail or given suspended sentences have been closely surveilled and limited in their ability to speak and move. At least three are still in custody (here, here, and here).
The 709 Incident was meant to be a paralyzing blow to human rights lawyers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. They are persisting under incredible pressure, making immense sacrifices both professionally and personally.
Two years after the 709 Crackdown, the Chinese government has not lessened its intent to further restrict the space for lawyers defending human rights cases. But since 709, the authorities have resorted to “softer” and more insipid methods to contain them that may not draw international attention. These methods include: “complaint” and “investigation,” such as lawyer Wen Donghai faces, motivated by intent to punish; law firms being audited; lawyers annual reviews being postponed and denied; suspension of practice; or outright disbarment. In a recent case, a lawyer in Shandong Province was disbarred for defending a freedom of expression case.
Many human rights lawyers are barred from traveling outside China, whether for business or for leisure. The reason given to them is that they are a “national security threat.”
On October 30 lawyer Wen Donghai received a notice from the Changsha Justice Bureau. The investigation has concluded and “the facts and evidence are clear that you have allegedly disrupted court order and interfered with the court hearing, and administrative sanctions should be levied against you according to the law. Given the serious nature of your case, we have submitted it to a higher level of judiciary organ for decision.”
Lawyer Wen Donghai’s situation is a cause for concern. One by one, China is disqualifying its most courageous human rights lawyers and is testing the waters to see what kind of response this gets. So we are calling on the international media, governments, institutions, and legal organizations to pay close attention to the worsening professional environment that China’s brave and die-hard human rights lawyers face.
A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on, Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017.
Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee, China Change, July 7, 2017.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, by Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
Wu Gan, March 24, 2017
Well-known human rights activist Wu Gan (吴淦) was arrested in May 2015. After a brief period of custody in his home province Fujian, he was taken to Tianjin as part of the 709 arrests. According to a complaint filed by his lawyer, on August 1, 2015, Wu Gan was forced to participate in a video interview with CCTV host Dong Qian (董倩) in which he was supposed to confess his guilt. He refused to follow the script. Yesterday his lawyer posted online Wu Gan’s letter to Ms. Dong Qian, dated March 8. — The Editors
Dear Ms. Dong Qian,
I write this letter to you because I still have a thin thread of hope in your basic humanity. I hate all dictatorships, as well as those who help dictators, but I’m an optimist when it comes to human nature. For example, this is what the public thinks about the organization your work for: when the auxiliary building of CCTV headquarters, known as “big underpants,” went up in flames, people were ecstatic. When one of your evening news hosts got throat cancer, the public delighted in his misfortune — it seems fitting that a throat used to broadcast untruth everyday should become cancerous. Netizens nicknamed CCTV a den of debauchery where the likes of Li Dongsheng (李东生, former minister of public security) plied his trade as a pimp, sending CCTV women up to Zhou Yongkang (周永康, former security boss) to have his way with. The prime time Evening News is such a bore that netizens have turned it into a template for endless spoofing. When one day one of your own, Bi Fujian (毕福剑), made wicked fun of Maoism in his off-time, it shows what a schizophrenic place it is! I cite all of these to remind you just how CCTV is perceived by the people.
CCTV is despised not because people’s values are warped, but because this system has warped everything. It’s this system that has turned the media you work for into a tool for keeping the people ignorant, making it an accomplice for the worst evil. It’s now become a byword for lies and propaganda and a spokesperson for evil.
The only way to wash away the stain of associating with it, and to gain your own integrity and personal esteem, is to flee as soon as possible. When the anchor Du Xian (杜宪) demonstrated her own humanity after the June 4 massacre — wearing black, showing her tears on television — she received a silent national applause and respect from all. The public sees things clearly. I respectfully ask you: for such a beauty, why be a villain?
I have applied for you to be a witness in my case, and I hope you will appear in court and testify. I want you to tell the world about how I was hauled, a black hood covering my head, in front of you for an interview on August 1, 2015. Please gather your courage and conscience, and tell the public what you saw on that day. Tell everyone how I rebuked and exposed An Shaodong (安少东, security agent and interrogator) who sat diagonally from me. Tell the public what he did to me. Tell them about my back injury.
Tell them how actors were brought in to act out a script for the televised confession. I trust that you’ll show the kind-hearted side of your nature. I’m sorry that you didn’t get what you had come for because I refused to act according to their script. For my disobedience, I was punished badly by An Shaodong after being taken back to detention center.
An Shaodong sat diagonally from me to intimidate me. I experienced for myself the inside process by which CCTV makes its news pieces, and how the station and the public security organs work hand in hand to create the news they need. Amazing country, amazing media, amazing public security agents; together they produce amazing journalism.
Finally, allow me to express my gratitude to your television station. I am very grateful that CCTV joined in when People’s Daily and Xinhua slandered me with Cultural Revolution-style propaganda while I had no freedom to speak for myself. On the other hand, thank heaven I was slandered, not praised. Or it would truly have been a stain on my reputation. How could I have lived with my head up high if mouthpieces like you said nice things about me? In 2009, when your television station and a media under People’s Daily tried to interview me about the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case, I rejected it due to my germophobia. A man doesn’t keep company with evil, and this is the line I draw while going about being a human being.
Wu Gan (Super Vulgar Butcher)
March 8, 2017
Wu Gan: Urgent Request to Meet the Residential Prosecutors at the Tianjin Second Detention Center
I am Wu Gan. For over a year since my transfer to the Tianjin Second Detention Center on January 8, 2016, I have made countless requests to meet with you, the residential prosecutors from the Second Branch of the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate. The detention center told me that they had passed on my requests but that they could do nothing as you kept declining to see me.
I need to see you, not because I want to have nice chats with you about the beauty and meaning of life, but to complain about police violations in handling my case, including torture. There is something even more important: I want to report leads about a possible voluntary manslaughter case. But you are nowhere to be found. I am not the only detainee who has trouble meeting you; other detainees have the same problem.
You are supposed to carry out your duty, which is to meet with each detainee and learn if they have been subjected to illegal treatment. But you have abdicated your legal responsibilities. This is not a matter of being lazy, but a matter of negligence.
I’m requesting this urgent meeting because time is running out, and the death row inmate in question could be executed soon. For those who are sentenced to death for something they didn’t do, the truth can never be restored. So you must meet with me as soon as possible to hear my complaint. As for whether you investigate or not, or whether or not I will suffer retaliation, you may do as you please.
I will expose more details of these matters in the future, showing the public just how prosecutors in China go about their jobs.
March 24, 2017
Lawyer Ge Yongxi: Meeting with Wu Gan
Yesterday afternoon and this morning, I twice met with Mr. Wu Gan, who is being charged with “subversion of state power.” After we had discussed the case work, Wu asked about people and events outside, and he asked me to pass on his thanks to friends.
We also talked about the issue of compromising and admitting “guilt.” Wu Gan said that, during the Two Sessions (political meetings earlier this month), the government sent two female mental health counselors to speak with him. Over and over again, they attempted to coax him into admitting guilt. Wu Gan asked the Tianjin Second Detention Center to tell the authorities that they needn’t waste their resources by sending anyone else, because these two women had failed to convince him, with facts and universal values, that what he did was wrong. He said that the fact that they were using coercion and deception to make him admit guilt is enough to prove that what he did was right — that it was good for the country and the people, and could stand the test of time.
Wu Gan reiterated his two guiding principles: first, he would never do anything unscrupulous; second, he would never sack his own lawyers and retain lawyers designated by the government.
Wu Gan said that he has gained more than he has lost during the ordeal of the past nearly two years. He was able to reflect on many aspects of his past experiences; he learned how to triumph in the midst of devilish cruelty; he learned how to live close quarters and long term with all sorts of criminal suspects, but not sunk to their level.
We both enjoyed our conversation and wished we had more time. Around lunchtime we said our goodbyes and ended our meeting at the repeated urging of several police officers.
Ge Yongxi (葛永喜)
March 24, 2017
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July 22, 2015
Wang Qiaoling, January 17, 2017
Since Li Chunfu was released from the custody of China’s security forces on January 12, his family has been providing updates on his condition to the outside world. Their notes make clear that Li was left a broken man, suffering both physically and mentally. China Change calls on the United Nations to investigate the treatment of Li Chunfu in custody, and we call for immediate access on the part of legal counsel to Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, as well as Jiang Tianyong who has been held in secret detention since November 21, 2016. The circumstances of all these individuals are now of grave concern given Li Chunfu’s condition. — The Editors
These last few days I’ve been staying at Chunfu’s (李春富) house, worried that he might have another episode and hurt his wife. Last night we followed the doctor’s orders and invited Chunfu to sit on the sofa with us to chat about his treatment. Chunfu had sustained serious damage to his neck vertebrae and spine in custody, and his neck is a bit twisted. If the doctor hadn’t pointed this out, we wouldn’t have realized.
As we sat on the sofa and finished talking over medical treatment, Chunfu suddenly screamed: “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me!” I was struck dumb. I could only look upon Chunfu’s face, twisted up with a sinister expression, and his eyes, full of ominous glint.
I finally understand what my sister-in-law was referring to about his outbursts. Anxious, I mimicked his cry: “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me!” The doctor suggested that family members may repeat what the patient says. I felt highly insecure, but kept my eyes fixed on him: “Tell me! What are you hiding from us!” The malice in Chunfu’s eyes began to slowly dissipate.
Chunfu’s wife Bi Liping (毕丽萍), sitting beside us, was crying. “Chunfu, when I saw you at the police station I suspected right away that you had physical problems. I could have turned and left and not brought you home. But I brought you back, and that proves that we don’t want to hurt you. Why don’t you ever trust us? Sister-in-law and Yang Bo (杨波, nephew of the Li brothers) put aside their own affairs to stay with us, just so they could help with your treatment. You have to believe us.” Chunfu got that vicious look in his eyes again and started staring at me. I felt so crushed. I roared out once more: “Tell me! What are you hiding from us!” The menace in Chunfu’s eyes again slowly disappeared.
We told him to go wash his face and brush his teeth so he could go to sleep, but he was absent and confused, and asked: “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” After he finished brushing, he again queried his wife: “Which one’s my toothbrush?”
Before nodding off he called Bi Liping into the room, twice, in order to ask: “Are you sure you’re not hiding anything from me?”
The whole night at Chunfu’s was spent in fitful sleep. I was thinking over: why haven’t Heping and Quanzhang been allowed access to a lawyer? Xie Yang (谢阳) and Wu Gan (吴淦) can see lawyers now. Is it because Heping and Quanzhang are now the same as Chunfu? I tossed and turned through the night, and only got a few winks of half-conscious sleep in the morning. When I again saw Chunfu looking at me, with that tortured, fierce expression fixed on his face, I finally understood what my sister-in-law meant about his episodes, and why she’s been unable to sleep and now constantly wakes in fright.
709 lawyer family members,
Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭, wife of Li Heping)
Li Wenzu (李文足, wife of Wang Quanzhang)
Bi Liping (wife of Li Chunfu)
January 16, 2017
Addendum by lawyer Chen Jiangang: Li Chunfu is in a state of paranoia, dread, and alarm. He’s always fearful. Fearful of something going wrong, fearful of people coming to take him away. When he sees an old friend he’s a little better, but even when it’s a friend talking to him, he’s still full of suspicion, foreboding, and dread. For example, when we went to eat a meal together, someone asked him to order. He responded: “What’s that mean? Is something going to happen?” When asked whether he wants to eat dumplings or noodles, he responded by repeatedly asking what that question was supposed to mean, and “why are you making me choose?”
*Translator’s note: Several human rights lawyers and activists reported that “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me?!” is what interrogators frequently yell during interrogations.
An Update on Lawyer Li Chunfu’s Condition, January 14, 2017
A Third Update on Lawyer Li Chunfu: He Was Drugged in Custody, January 15, 2017
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
January 12, 2017
Tianjin Municipal People’s Procuratorate Number Two Branch
Bill of Indictment
TJ 2d Br Proc Crim Indict (2016) No. 10001
Defendant Wu Gan (吴淦), male, [redacted], identification card number [redacted], Han ethnicity, high school graduate, a native of Xiamen city Fujian province, administrative employee of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所), registered address [redacted], residence [redacted], placed under criminal detention by Public Security Bureau of Siming precinct of Xiamen municipality, Fujian province, on May 27, 2015, on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble and defamation. With the approval of this procuratorate, arrested by the Xiamen Public Security Bureau on July 3, 2015, on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power and picking quarrels and provoking trouble. His period of detention was recalculated on January 20, 2016, due to suspicion of the crime of subversion of state power.
Investigation of this case has been completed by the Tianjin Public Security Bureau. On August 17, 2016, it referred the case to this procuratorate for prosecutorial review of defendant Wu Gan’s culpability for the crimes of inciting subversion of state power and picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Upon jurisdiction was determined in accordance with the law, this procuratorate, on August 19, 2016, informed the defendant of his right to retain defense counsel, questioned the defendant in accordance with the law, heard the defense lawyer’s opinions, and reviewed the complete set of documents in this case. During this period the case was twice sent back to the investigating organ for additional investigation in accordance with the law, and the deadline for prosecutorial review was extended three times.
Having reviewed the case in accordance with the law, we find:
Defendant Wu Gan has long been influenced by the infiltration of anti-China forces and gradually formed his idea of overthrowing the country’s current political and judicial system. Since 2010, Wu Gan has used the Internet to publish his ideas about subverting state power and incited people who are unaware of the truth to oppose the government. He published the online articles “Guide to Butchering Pigs,”* “Guide to Drinking Tea,”** and “Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes,” and attacked institutions of the state. He accepted interviews by foreign media and posted online video lectures, promoted the so-called idea of “toppling the wall,” and willfully attacked the socialist system. He engaged in criminal activities subverting state power, such as unlawful gatherings and causing disturbances. In October 2014, Wu Gan joined the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm headed by Zhou Shifeng (who carried out activities of subversion of state power using the firm as a platform to hype sensitive cases and incidents, and who has been sentenced) and colluded with Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民 who, for a long time, carried out activities of subversion of state power by unlawfully organizing petitioners to make disturbances and has been sentenced), and Li Heping (李和平 who engaged in activities of subversion of state power by using funds from certain overseas non-governmental organizations and has been dealt with separately) to strengthen the idea of subversion of state power, concentrate on hyping sensitive cases and incidents, and carry out a series of criminal activities of subversion of state power and overthrow of the socialist system, severely harming the state security and social stability. Specific facts are as follows:
- In April 2010, Fujian Province Fuzhou City Mawei District People’s Court reviewed a case involving false accusation and framing. During this period, defendant Wu Gan maliciously hyped up this case on the internet, inciting people to gather at the court to make disturbances and antagonize the judicial institutions of the state. On the date of hearing, Wu Gan hung banners and shouted slogans with others outside of the court and posted video on the Internet, severely affecting the People’s Court in its examination of the case according to the law, smearing the image of the judicial institution, and creating bad political effects both at home and abroad.
- In April 2012, defendant Wu Gan was involved in a dispute in connection with relocation compensation in Jin’an District, Fuzhou City, Fujian Province. From April to August of the same year, Wu Gan several times organized many people to put up banners and set up tents in front of the Fuzhou Urban and Rural Construction Committee. He posted slogans on houses to be torn down, insulted and verbally abused the Jin’an District director on the Internet, and severely harmed the image of the government and of state employees and instigated people who did not know the facts to oppose the government.
- In September 2012, Fujian Province Fuqing City Public Security Bureau investigated by law a case involving official embezzlement. During the investigation, defendant Wu Gan stirred up trouble by holding up signs in front of the Fuqing Public Security Bureau, and online many times wantonly insulted and verbally abused the director of the Public Security Bureau and police officers, and called the martyr who died on duty a “protector of the criminal underworld.” Through these actions he severely harmed the image of the public security apparatus and people’s police, and instigated hatred against state institutions by people who were unaware of the truth.
- On March 22, 2014, the Heilongjiang Province, Jiansanjiang Wasteland Reclamation Public Security Bureau administratively detained people involved in disturbing social order. Defendant Wu Gan and others organized a so-called “Jiansanjiang Citizen Solidarity Rescue Group,” published a “Fundraising Proposal for Citizen Rescue,” and acted as the fundraising contact person and supervisor, and encouraged others to illegally gather in Jiansanjiang and create disturbances. Some lawyers and petitioners subsequently unlawfully gathered in front of Jiansanjiang Wasteland Reclamation Public Security Bureau and at Qixing Detention Center to sit in, shout slogans, display banners, and hype up the incident on the internet to defame and attack the institutions of state authority. Wu Gan then published on the Internet personal information of police officers, and asked people to do a “human flesh search” and issued a “most wanted reward notice.” He also insulted and verbally abused public security and police officers, and incited resistance to the state, creating a bad political influence at home and abroad.
- In May 2014, Hunan Province Huaihua City Intermediate People’s Court heard a case concerning gathering a crowd to disturb the social order. During the trial, defendant Wu Gan together with Li Heping attempted to hype the case in Mayang County, Huaihua City. From May 20 to 21, Wu Gan held up a sign in front of the Mayang County government headquarters, and submitted a letter of complaint to the Huaihua City People’s Procuratorate, slandering and defaming the county’s Communist Party secretary. He then continued to hype this case on the internet, inciting people who did not know the truth to resent the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.
- In May 2014, Henan Province Zhengzhou City Public Security Bureau conducted an investigation of related people involved in disrupting public order. Defendant Wu Gan, together with Zhai Yanmin and others, hyped up antagonism toward the case and numerous times sought fundraising support online. In July of the same year, some lawyers and visiting petitioners gathered illegally in front of the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center to sit-in and hold a hunger strike. They hung banners and shouted slogans, unreasonably demanding the release of the detainees. They maliciously publicized the incident online, slandering and attacking government organs. During this period, Wu Gan issued on the internet the so-called “Award Order” and “Wanted Order,” and carried out so-called “performance art” in front of the detention center to insult and slander the Public Security Bureau director and incite people who didn’t know the facts to resent state organs and thereby created an adverse effect at home and abroad.
- In September 2014, Beijing Municipal Changping District Justice Bureau held a hearing on an administrative penalty case. Defendant Wu Gan went online to encourage other people to gather illegally at the hearing. At the scene, he also held up posters insulting the Justice Bureau and Lawyers Association, verbally abused police officers on duty, and shouted slogans and blocked the entrance with others, creating serious chaos at the scene. Upon learning that related people had been administratively detained by the public security organs, Wu Gan maliciously published blog posts with a great number of photos humiliating police officers to slander and attacking the government.
- In December 2014, a civil case handled by the Beijing Fengrui Law Office was settled upon mediation by the court. On instructions from Zhou Shifeng, defendant Wu Gan and Xie Yuandong (谢远东 who was dealt with in another case) went to the Dali Bai Ethnic Minority Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, to publicize this case. Between January 7 and 12, 2015, Wu Gan attacked the judicial organs and defamed the judicial system by putting up big-character posters at the Prefecture People’s Government, People’s Procuratorate, Intermediate People’s Court, and other places, and by driving a vehicle with big-character posters inside and outside of the court to make provocations. He also maliciously stirred up trouble on the internet, attempting to incite people who did not know the truth to resent China’s socialism-with-Chinese-characteristics judicial system.
- On December 3, 2013, two people were killed during a home demolition in Huqiu District, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province. In January 2014, defendant Wu Gan attended a so-called “Suzhou Urbanization and Demolition Symposium.” It slandered this case, and attacked our country’s system, inciting hatred against the socialist system. From January-February 2015, Wu Gan learned that this and a related case were starting. He actively started organizing fundraising online, maliciously created a disturbance, and incited people who didn’t know the facts to come to Suzhou to illegally assemble, stir up trouble and oppose the government.
- In March 2015, Hebei Province Baoding City Mancheng District People’s Court heard the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm representative’s extortion case. During the hearing, defendant Wu Gan took instructions from Zhou Shifeng and fabricated a rumor about “Injustice Caused by the Baoding Municipal Communist Party Politics and Law Committee” and other rumors, and created a malicious disturbance online, stirring up resentment against China’s socialism-with-Chinese-characteristics judicial system among people who didn’t know the true circumstances.
- On May 2, 2015, a police officer was attacked in the Qing’an County, Heilongjiang Province Railway Station waiting room, and the officer then shot and killed the attacker. After this incident, defendant Wu Gan published many blog posts distorting the facts of this event, concocting rumors that the attacker was a petitioner and the police opened fire to prevent him from traveling to petition the government. Wu Gan incited others to come to Qing’an County to unlawfully protest. Afterward he published online a so-called “Qing’an Incident Investigation Report,” disseminated falsehoods, and instigated people who didn’t know the facts to oppose the government.
- In May 2015, the Higher People’s Court of Jiangxi Province convened a criminal appeal hearing. From May 18-19, defendant Wu Gan made a malicious disturbance online and afterward loudly abused and insulted the judge in front of the court and erected a “mourning hall,” blackening the image of judicial organs and vilifying and attacking the nation’s legal system.
On May 27, 2015, defendant Wu Gan was arrested and brought to justice.
The principal evidence of the above facts includes: 1. Material and documentary evidence such as big-character posters and criminal court judgment; 2. Testimony of witnesses Zhai Yanmin and Xie Yuandong, etc.; 3. Inspection reports and evaluative opinions; 4. Written notes of searches, detention, and examinations; 5. Video and audio material and digital data; 6. Defendant Wu Gan’s deposition and defense.
This procuratorate believes that defendant Wu Gan organized, plotted, and implemented the crime of subverting state power and overturning the socialist system. His actions violated Article 105(1) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The criminal facts are clear and the evidence is reliable and abundant. He should be held responsible for the crime of subverting state power.
Prosecution is brought in accordance with Article 172(2) of the Criminal Procedural Law of the People’s Republic of China. Please sentence in accordance with the law.
To: Tianjin Number Two Intermediate People’s Court
Prosecutor: Guan Ning
Acting Prosecutor: Sheng Guowen
Acting Prosecutor: Cao Jiyuan
December 23, 2016
*Guide to Butchering Pigs (《杀猪宝典》) is Wu Gan’s guide to confronting human rights violators, including collection of personal information, and strategies and techniques of effective activism. The Guide, first posted in 2012, has been very popular and its tactics widely adopted by activists.
**Guide to Drinking Tea (《喝茶宝典》) is Wu Gan’s guide to how to cope with police interrogations, which often is given the euphemism of “drinking tea.” He details strategies and tactics on how to overcome fear, and how to give as little information as possible.
***Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes (《访民杀猪宝典》). In this Guide, Wu Gan, who has worked with many petitioners whose homes have been demolished illegally and by force, instructs petitioners how to fight for their rights by exposing officials, making use of the law, and staging effective activism.
Wu Gan the Butcher, July, 2015.
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 Organizations” took effect on January 1, 2017, we hope the conversation offers insight and perspective. – The Editors
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.
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.
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.”
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.