Home » Posts tagged 'rights movement'
Tag Archives: rights movement
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 court 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.
By Yaqiu Wang, May 23, 2016
On April 26 when Yang Maoping (杨茂平), the sister of renowned Chinese rights activist Guo Feixiong
(郭飞雄), visited her brother in Yangchun Prison (阳春监狱), Guangdong Province, she found that his health had seriously deteriorated: he had blood in the stool, he mouth and throat were bleeding, and he couldn’t walk properly. She demanded that the prison authorities give him a medical examination, but was rejected. Guo’s compromised health condition is the result of the immense abuses and inhumane treatment he has suffered since his arrest in August 2013, including being denied yard time for consecutive 800+ days in a fetid detention center.
Guo Feixiong is a pioneer of the rights defense movement in China. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 2007, and in November 2015 again given a six year prison sentence. In both cases his treatment was naked political persecution aimed at forcing him to desist from his activism.
On April 27, writer Tan Zuoren (谭作人), who served a five-year prison sentence for his study into the engineering quality of the school buildings that collapsed, crushing students during the Wenchuan, Sichuan earthquake in 2008, posted a message online that he was going to engage in a hunger strike for one day in support of Guo Feixiong. He wrote: “A decade ago, to offer support for Guo Feixiong hunger striking in prison, our book study group in Chengdu all signed up for a hunger strike relay, one person fasting for each day. On the spot we gained over 30 participants who signed their names, joined the relay, and went on hunger strike in support of Feixiong. Today, in order to again rescue Feixiong, I am voluntarily hunger striking again for 24 hours.”
On April 29, 12 writers, activists, and dissidents initiated an “Urgent Call for the Medical Examination of Guo Feixiong,” a document to which over 1,000 people have so far affixed their signatures. In the current high-pressure political environment, seeing this kind of large-scale support for an imprisoned human rights activist in rare indeed. As expected, many of those who signed their names to the letter, or who fasted, were called in or threatened by police, but none of this dulled the momentum of support for Guo Feixiong’s case.
On May 2, a number of activists—including writers Tan Zuoren and Li Xuewen (黎学文), human rights lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), and activist Ou Biaofeng (欧彪峰)—published online the document “A Proposal for Supporting Guo Feixiong Though a Hunger Strike Relay.” The Proposal stated that its purpose was “to urge the authorities to handle Guo Feixiong’s case according to the law and offer timely, effective, and reasonable medical help, to ensure that he has the most basic right to life and health.” The initiators of this hunger strike relay called for people to participate. It requested that every participant in the relay fast for 24 hours, during which time they could only drink water, and were forbidden to consume any other type of beverage or food. The initiators encouraged participants to make a public statement that they were doing the fast in support of Guo Feixiong. The activist Wu Yuhua, based in Thailand, is coordinating the record keeping.
On May 13, Guo’s older sister said that under pressure from the outside world, the Yangchun Prison on May 9 took Guo to the prison hospital for a health examination. However, in her open letter to Party leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on May 19, Guo’s wife Zhang Qing (张青) revealed that the prison authorities gave Guo Feixiong a rectal examination by force without his sister being present, recorded the process on video, and threatened him with posting it online. Later, they shaved his head, and commanded him that every time he saw a prison guard, he had to squat down with hands clasped behind his head “like an insect.” Protesting the inhumane treatment, Guo announced on May 9 that he would be embarking on a hunger strike of indefinite duration.
On May 14, Wang Juntao (王军涛), the New York-based chairman of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of China, announced that members of his organization would begin a hunger strike relay outside of the United Nations Headquarters, and that each participant would fast for 24 hours as long as Guo Feixiong is continuing his hunger strike.
From May 4 to 22, at least 216 people inside and outside China have taken part in the hunger strikes relay.
Alongside all this, netizens from around China have been photographing themselves holding placards in support of Guo Feixiong, then uploading the images to the internet. Many others have sent postcards and monetary donations to Guo. “Have you sent a postcard today?” Activist Wang Lihong (王荔蕻) posts to Twitter every day. “Use postcards and donations showing your love to break down their doors!” Recently she and a group of others drove to the Yangchun Prison, but they were intercepted as soon as they got close.
Following is a selection of the statements by those who have taken part in the hunger strike relay so far:
Guo Feixiong’s wife, Zhang Qing, wrote: “I understand his resistance. What has happened to him is intolerable. I’ve determined to do everything in my power to see that Feixiong walks out of jail alive.”
Sun Yat-sen University professor Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明): “After Guo Feixiong gets out of prison [in 2011], he can come to my house, and I gave him the photographs taken by his young son when visiting in prison. I recommend that he leaves China and sees his wife and their two lovely children. He said, ‘Once I leave, I won’t be able to come back anymore.’ He’s willing to lay down his life so that China sees freedom and democracy. This is his choice. Guo Feixiong continues to use his own sacrifices to show that our generation loves freedom, and that every inch of freedom requires a pint of blood.”
Professor Ai continued: “I know that hunger striking for 24 hours isn’t an extraordinary achievement. You certainly won’t die from it. And furthermore, no system that is as inhumane as this one will be moved by the sacrifice. But at the same time, we all need to express our individual political stance, to show what we think is right and wrong; resistance needs transparency and openness. … You don’t want to die like Wei Zexi (魏则西) or Xu Chunhe (徐纯合), but what have you done about protecting your own rights and freedoms? You can emigrate whether or not you’ve become wealthy, but the freedom you enjoy over there isn’t your own glory—it’s the fruit of the struggle of others. I’m not going to leave. I’m going to stand right here on this piece of land and, with my brothers and countrymen, win over our own rights and freedom. I’m going to raise a flag for freedom right here in China!”
The poet Wang Zang (王藏) wrote: “As soon as I learned about the savage treatment of Mr. Guo Feixiong in custody I wanted to join in the hunger strike relay protest. But I hesitated, concerned about threats I would receive and the distress it would cause my wife and child. In the end, I decided that I still need to make my stance public. My wife was supportive: If we say nothing about even this, then we’re living a subhuman life.”
Rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a close friend and colleague of Guo Feixiong, also added his voice. The two of them have long worked together, first in the Taishi Village incident (太石村罢免村官, in which villagers sought to get rid of corrupt local officials) and a range of other public incidents, and both have, for their activism, been subject to shocking levels of brutal torture. Gao wrote: “Our concern for Guo Feixiong’s health is not a frivolous matter. This involves the man’s life. Everyone who is connected with Guo has ample reason to take this extremely seriously, and in so doing demonstrate one’s own connection to humanity.”
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), the rights lawyer, wrote: “Even though I know what Guo is going through, I worry that I’ll become numb or even forget, so I want to, through fasting for a day, ensure that I imprint this suffering in myself at every moment: and this goes for all others, too, including Yu Shiwen, and the rights lawyers and activists arrested on July 9, 2015, including Li Heping, Wang Yu, Hu Shigen, Liu Xing, and all others who like them are fighting for the freedom and dignity of myself, my family, and all of the Chinese people. I know that all of them have to take care of both their aging parents and young children, and they have worries and misgivings, fear and struggles, sometimes willing and sometimes not, they take it upon themselves, and they bear this for others. I hope that all people in the world with conscience an open hearts will learn that there is a group of people like this in China’s jails right now. We all call out and mobilize for Guo Feixiong, Yu Shiwen, and all others persecuted in the July 9 crackdown. When they’re free, we’ll have moved one step closer to freedom. Let’s struggle together.”
Rights activist Wang Lihong wrote: “Comparatively speaking, whose life is the more valuable? Whose occupies the brighter place — even if all this sacrifice is not known about, or even jeered at? We are using this seemingly minor act to express our hearts toward Guo Feixiong, and to send our goodwill to those activists and prisoners of conscience who have, are, or will be jailed so that society can progress. We’re resisting the evil that persecutes them! Please believe that this has power! Our voices will be heard, our perseverance will be witnessed, and the freedom that we are striving for will eventually come closer and closer.”
Tang Jingling (唐荆陵, currently in jail) wrote: “May 16 this year marks our second year of imprisonment (for myself, Yuan Xinting [袁新亭], and Wang Qingying [王清营]), and also the 50th anniversary since the Chinese Communist Party launched the Cultural Revolution, dragging the entire population into calamity. Hunger striking on this day has a special meaning: refusing to forget the suffering of our people! Let us join hands and remake China!”
Lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) asked: “Will Guo Feixiong’s case end in tragedy, like what happened with Cao Shunli (曹顺利)? Back then, lawyer Wang Yu also worried for Cao Shunli’s life, and I didn’t believe it would get to that point—but Cao still died a tragic death. The reason everyone is so anxious about Guo Feixiong is because the authorities have no moral bottom line.”
Chu Guoren (楚国人), a netizen, wrote: “I’m scared to write this statement — but when I think of all the rank unfairness and innumerable injustices happening all around, the vulnerable people who are suffering without help or attention, I can’t remain indifferent. This is another reason I want to hunger strike in protest for Guo Feixiong. Each Chinese person, please don’t be afraid: let’s support Guo Feixiong for ourselves, and for all of the ordinary people like us.”
Zhu Xinxin (朱欣欣) from Shijiazhuang wrote: “Violating the human rights of one person is violating the human rights of oneself. Those who persecute others and trample on their human rights are, at the same time, tightening the noose around their own necks.”
Yaqiu Wang researches and writes about human rights in China. Follower her on Twitter @Yaqiu.
Related articles about Guo Feixiong
By Qin Chenshou, published: March 1, 2016
On social media, lawyer Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), who now represents Zhang Kai, has provided us with an introduction to Zhang Kai’s biography and work. China Change is pleased to provide a translation. — The Editors
Zhang Kai is a practicing lawyer in Beijing and a Christian member of a house church in Beijing. His main areas of practice are criminal defense and administrative litigation.
Zhang Kai is a practicing lawyer and Christian who was baptized in 2003
In 2003, Zhang successfully passed the examination to obtain his legal credentials and began work as an assistant lawyer.
In 2004, he began to practice as an attorney.
From 2004 to 2006, he dealt with corporate and commercial issues and served as company legal counsel.
In 2006, he resigned all of his company legal counsel work and began working in the area of public interest and rights defense. His primary fields of practice were criminal defense and administrative litigation. The most influential cases he handled as legal counsel or defense attorney were:
Cases involving religious freedom:
(1) The Xiaoshan (萧山) religious case (one of the top three Chinese church cases of the past decade), which gained worldwide attention and coverage in the mainstream international media;
(2) The Linfen (临汾) church case (another of the top three Chinese church cases of the past decade), which also gained worldwide attention and coverage in the mainstream international media; and
(3) Zhang Kai participated in many house church rights defense cases, trying to rectify unlawful government action and mediate and promote positive church-government relations;
Defense of dissidents
(1) Zhang Kai successfully defended rental-rights activist Lin Dagang (林大刚) in his criminal appeal, resulting in a decrease from first instance sentence of two years in prison to exemption from criminal penalty;
(2) In the criminal case against Sichuan rural activist Liu Zhengyou (刘正友), Zhang Kai handled the defense in the first-instance trial of Liu’s wife, Hu Yulan (胡玉兰), resulting in a suspended sentence against her; and
(3) Zhang Kai handled the defense in the appeals case of Shandong rural rights activist Zhao Yuxin (赵玉新), who had his sentence cut by 10 months on appeal.
Public Interest Cases
(1) Zhang Kai was a member of the legal team in the melamine milk powder cases, in which he represented victims suing the Nanshan Milk Powder Factory;
(2) Zhang Kai hosted a legal seminar on the Shanxi harmful vaccinations case and gave legal support to victims; and
(3) Zhang Kai provided anti-discrimination legal support for carriers of HIV and hepatitis B;
Participation in high profile cases
(1) Zhang Kai represented the family of migrant laborer Cao Dahe (曹大和), who died in 2008 after being tied up by railway officials for unruly behavior as he was traveling on a train between Guangzhou and Zunyi. This case was covered extensively in the mainstream domestic Chinese media, with Southern Weekly reporting on it several times. Besides seeking state compensation and prosecution for the perpetrators, Zhang petitioned the National People’s Congress to abolish the railway system’s special legal and judicial institutions. Beginning in that year, China began to reform the railway police system.
(2) In the criminal case against lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), Zhang’s appeal defense led the court to change the verdict from three years in prison for intentional injury to 2-1/2 years in prison for unintentional injury. This case earned the attention of many fellow lawyers, and Zhang took part in petitioning the National People’s Congress to reform the railway judicial system.
(3) Zhang Kai represented the family of Wan Jianguo (万建国), a Nanchang man who was tortured to death in police custody. Besides seeking state compensation and prosecution of the perpetrators, Zhang Kai petitioned the Supreme People’s Court to issue a detailed judicial interpretation regarding the crime of “coercing confessions through torture,” the first petition of its kind.
(4) Zhang Kai represented the victim’s family in the “My Dad is Li Gang” hit-and-run case, one of the top ten cases of 2010.
(5) Zhang Kai defended Qian Chengyu (钱成宇), the first eyewitness in the Qian Yunhui case (钱云会案), another top ten case of 2010.
(6) Zhang Kai represented lawyer Yang Zaixin (杨在新) in the Beihai case in Guangxi.
The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’, August 31, 2015
By Eva Pils, published: January 10, 2016
Meeting people who could be disappeared anytime is a bit unnerving. You keep wondering if this is the last time you’ll see them. You want to ask what you should do in case something bad happens, but you don’t want to distress them by asking too directly.
As part of my research on human rights in China, I’ve spent the past several years interviewing Chinese lawyers. I meet with them in coffee-shops, parks, or in their homes, to discuss their work and their experience of repression. I’ve seen them disbarred, watched them being followed and harassed by the police, spoken to them when they were under house-arrest, and met some of them after spells of imprisonment or forced disappearance to ask them about their experience ‘inside’: What were the prison conditions? What was the mentality of guards and interrogators — and torturers? Six months ago, things started happening to many of them at once. They were taken away under various forms of custodial measures for investigation, or simply disappeared. As of this writing, several have still not come back, as detailed in this open letter. They have been held for six months without access to counsel, and there is good reason to believe that they have been tortured.
When I last met lawyer Wang Yu, she seemed most concerned about her sixteen-year-old son, Mengmeng. She worried that his passion for human rights put him at risk, especially with two human rights lawyer parents already in trouble. After an official news report denounced Wang Yu as a criminal and a fraud, she expected to be detained, or at least disbarred, but was not going to worry about herself as long as her son could leave to study in Australia. ‘I am really afraid they might detain him too. For myself, I no longer care if I am detained, I am not afraid,’ she said. As I looked at her sensitive and tired face and wondered how she could cope with being locked up again, she must have sensed my concern, and added, ‘I’ve been to prison. If I have to go to prison again, that’s fine, no problem.’ She also said, ‘[If I leave now] people will think that I have done something wrong, won’t they? But I haven’t done anything wrong, let alone anything illegal or criminal.’ And: ‘If anything happens, I hope that international society can pay attention and that someone will be taking care of our child.’
The next and last time I saw Wang Yu was on television. She had been taken away the same night that her son and husband were, on their way to the airport. Mengmeng, their son, was released after two or three days and sent to live with relatives. When some friends later tried to help smuggle him out of the country, the authorities caught up with him in Myanmar and returned him to stay with his grandmother, where he’s been kept strictly monitored. Perhaps they needed Mengmeng to control his parents. Perhaps they were afraid he would expose details of their crimes against him. Wang Yu and her husband have still not been released, but I saw them both, devastated – she was in tears – on national television when they were told that their son had been returned to China.
Some seven months after our last meeting, I wonder if Wang Yu now regrets her choice to stay. She will be asking herself if she could have somehow saved her son; and I wonder if I should have urged her more to leave while there may still have been a chance to do so. Yet I know that allowing these thoughts means falling prey to a particularly effective form of repression. Repressive systems exploit the guilt we feel towards friends in trouble, and our fear of feeling that guilt (infinitely worse, of course, in the case of a close relation, a child). They benefit from making us believe that we, not they, are in control; that we are responsible for the harm they do to others.
My other friends knew as well as Wang Yu how likely they were to ‘go in.’ They understand as well as anyone what systems for control and punishment the Chinese state has at its disposal. They also know that, as rights lawyers, they are constantly at risk of becoming their own clients. The shadow of state terror hangs over them all the time, and some, like serious, courageous lawyer Wang Quanzhang, have seen so much and been through so much that it has produced a kind of hardened numbness. In one of our exchanges, speaking of an experience of being beaten by a judge, he said this sort of thing had happened so often that ‘I no longer feel hate or humiliation.’ Most insist that fear, even fear of terrible things like torture, can be overcome. They prepare for it – for instance, by appointing each other as legal counsel just in case, and by learning to meditate to detach themselves from their physical environment. And instead of their fear, they try to focus on their victories.
In our last chat in June 2015, for example, veteran rights lawyer Li Heping, another friend of many years, took comfort from the fact that so many lawyers had met each other and bonded through joint advocacy efforts. He thought, and I think he was right, that this was of great importance to China’s human rights movement: ‘Society still keeps changing, but there is more pressure now. Citizens’ rights consciousness has risen and so has government repression.’ He also observed that repression was in some ways a great testimony to the rights movement’s successes. ‘Regarding us lawyers, more lawyers have gone to prison, but more lawyers are also supporting [the ones who have been taken away].’
Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Wang Yu are among the ones who have not come back yet, as have Zhou Shifeng, the head of the law firm where three of them used to work, and several other Fengrui employees. Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights movement; and I know that unfortunately, some part of a person who ‘went in’ may never be back. It is not their moral convictions, but the ability to be happy, perhaps, or some sort of basic trust in others. Still, for the reasons Li Heping gave, these absences also have effects the authorities cannot have intended; they trigger concern and support. The authorities can disappear him and others, but not the movement these lawyers represent.
Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).
— 中译如下 —
我上一次见到王宇律师时，她似乎非常担心她16岁的儿子，蒙蒙。她担心他对人权的热情置其于危险境地，尤其是他有两位已处于麻烦之中的人权律师父母。在一份官方新闻报道谴责王宇是罪犯和骗子后，她预料自己会被拘留，或至少是被吊照，但只要她的儿子能离开去澳大利亚学习，她便不会担心自己。她说:“我特别担心他（蒙蒙）也被抓…我抓不抓我都不在乎了，我不怕。” 当我看着她敏感而疲惫的面庞并问自己她要如何应付再次被关押时，她应该是感受到了我的担忧，便又说道：“我反正以前坐过牢…如果要坐牢的话，那也好， 没有问题。” 她又说：“[现在出国] 不太好， 这样会不会让人觉得我真有错。我一点错误都没有，不用说违法犯罪了。”“要是将来有什么事的话我希望国际社会也能够关注，对我们孩子有所照顾。”
之后一次，亦是我最后一次见到王宇是在电视上。她的儿子和丈夫在去往机场途中被带走的当晚，她也被带走了。他们的儿子，蒙蒙在两三天后被放了出来并送去亲戚家中。当一些朋友稍后试图帮忙将他偷偷带离这个国家时，政府当局在缅甸抓住了他，将他带回国送去姥姥家，并对他实施了严密监视。或许他们需要用蒙蒙来控制他的父母。或许他们害怕他会揭露他们对其犯下种种罪行的细节。王宇和她的丈夫尚未归来，但我在电视上看见他们两位，当被告知他们的儿子已被遣返回国时，悲痛欲绝 — 她满眼泪光。
我的其他朋友如王宇一样知道他们自己多有可能会“进去”。他们十分熟悉中国政府用于控制和惩罚的制度。他们也知道，作为维权律师，他们一直面临着成为自己所代理之人的风险。国家恐怖主义的阴影始终笼罩着他们；他们中的一些，比如认真而勇敢的律师王全璋，已经目睹和遭受了太多以至于产生了一种坚硬的麻木。在我们曾经的一次交流中，谈及被一名法官殴打的经历时，他说这类事情已经过于寻常以至于“我已经没有愤怒感和羞辱感。”他们大多数坚称恐惧，甚至是对于像酷刑那般可怕之事的恐惧，都是可以克服的。他们尽量对此作出准备 – 例如，相互聘请为代理人以防万一，以及通过学习冥想来使自身从所处的物理环境中脱离。同时，他们试着专注于他们的胜利，而非恐惧。
例如，2015年6月，在我们最近的一次交谈中，我的另一位多年的朋友，李和平律师从如此多的律师通过联合倡导得以见面并联系起来这一现状中获得慰藉。他（跟我一样）认为这对中国的人权运动非常重要。“社会还是在变，就是压力大了。公民的权利意识高了一点儿，政府的打压也严酷一些 …” 他还说到打压在某种意义上是对权利运动成功的伟大见证：“ 我们律师的话… 从律师进监狱人数来说还是多了，但是律师参与声援活动也多了。”
艾华 (Eva Pils)是伦敦国王学院潘迪生法学院的副教授，纽约大学亚美法研究所的客座研究员，China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014) 一书的作者。本文由 Cathy Xin 翻译成中文。
By Yaxue Cao, published: September 23, 2015
On March 31, when China’s youngest political criminal Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) heard that Xi Jinping was going to visit America, he wrote President Obama a letter. He had just turned 25, and had been held in a police lockup awaiting trial in Chibi, Hubei Province, for one year and ten months (as of this writing, it’s over two years and four months). In his letter, he told his own story and also tried to get Americans to “learn about a different China.” He seemed to truly believe his letter would make it in front of President Obama, and apologized for occupying the president’s precious time. But he reasoned: this could be counted as “a time for international moral responsibility,” and so wasn’t a waste.
The letter has been on my mind for months, because it’s my job to bring the voice of Huang Wenxun and those like him to the world. But his letter was too long, so I decided to transmit the essentials. Then I thought I would also include the accounts of two other “political criminals”: Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄).
I’m under no illusions that President Obama will read this letter, even though I sit just four miles from the White House as I write. “To Obama” is just the title of this essay.
Huang Wenxun grew up on the coast of southernmost China, in the city of Huizhou, Guangdong Province. During senior high school (around 2008) he and his schoolmates wrote down their aspirations in life. Huang’s was grand: “to establish a democratic China.” He launched a student club dedicated to drawing Manga comics that made light of contemporary politics. But soon before graduation he dropped out of school: “I could no longer stand that wretched socialist-communist political education.”
I’ve read his letter several times, and I became conflicted every time I get to this part. One half of me reproached him: why didn’t you go to college? (I’m old enough to be his mother, so my reproval is that of a parent.) The other half of me understands deeply his torment, having been forced to mechanically memorize answers for political class examinations. I scored very high marks on the political portion when I took the national college entrance exam, but failed it badly when I took exams for graduate school—the revulsion I felt was such that swallowing flies would be a more pleasant experience than memorizing the Party’s brain-dead dogma.
In 1990 when Huang Wenxun was born, China was still cloaked in the deathly stillness that followed the bloody massacre of students on the streets of Beijing in 1989. That enforced silence has since clung to the air in China, noticeable to anyone in the least bit sensitive. But having spent a couple of years in Guangzhou, this post-1989 young adult came to the firm belief that street activism was his mission in life. “There need to be people constantly taking to the streets, making more and more Chinese people aware of their rights and civic consciousness. A public that refuses to slumber anymore is the ultimate force for toppling a dictatorship.”
Indeed, a phrase has been circulated for years among China’s opposition circles: “A thousand complaints and cries does less than standing on the street once.”
But this young man gave me a scare. On March 10, 2013, during the Communist Party’s annual ‘Two Sessions’ (两会), Huang Wenxun took to the street in Shenzhen, holding an enormous placard overhead.
Have no fear!
Overthrow the Communist Party!
Topple the dictatorship!
Long live democracy, freedom, constitutionalism, human rights, and equality!
The year prior he and his friends staged a similar event in Guangzhou, though the message that time was considerably milder: “No vote, no future.” Every time he did this he would be detained for a short period. He once also handed out flyers on the street, making extemporaneous speeches about voting rights, democracy, and the disclosure of officials’ private assets. In May 2013 he was in Chibi, Hebei Province with a few friends when he was arrested. He had by then visited ten cities and seen and made many friends.
He said his fear didn’t recede despite doing more activities. But every time the police came to get him, he’d shout what he wanted to say, “enjoying an authentic feeling from the depth of my soul.”
On the day he was arrested and thrown into the detention center in Chibi, he was repeatedly shocked with high-voltage electric batons by police—simply because he kept questioning the legality of their procedures. That night he saw police officers beating a few female prisoners outside the fence, and yelled at them to stop. So the police came in and gave him another round of electrocution.
He told President Obama about life in the detention center: He was moved between two cells, the bigger one of the two is about 6×6 meters; the open space where he gets fresh air is about 4×4 meters. “Inside the four high walls, I could see the sky through metal bars.” Detainees were made to work over 10 hours a day, and in his prison, they make paper money used for worshiping the dead. In other prisons, he reported what he had heard, prisoners made Jack & Jones, Adidas, Metersbonwe, Camel and other name brands. Medicines were sold to sick prisoners at high prices, and if they didn’t have money in their accounts, they wouldn’t get treatment. “I have seen with my own eyes that prisoners with edema due to malnutrition working over ten hours a day without any medication. And those who have connections or money receive ‘humane’ treatment.”
Compared to jails in China, Shawshank looks like Heaven on earth.
Huang Wenxun requested that Obama tell Xi Jinping: “The Chinese people are going to wake up,” and “we hope the Communist Party abandons and ends one-party rule.” He said that he also hoped that the international community will always be vigilant when dealing with dictatorships. “Don’t rely on them,” he cautioned, “and don’t be kidnapped by profit!”
He wasn’t sure whether the letter to Obama would bring him retaliation, or more charges, from the authorities. But, “I’m not scared anymore. The longer I’m locked up, the more darkness I see, the little bit of fear in my heart should die away, especially when they grabbed from me the family letter notifying me of the death of my grandmother two days after the Mid-Autumn Festival. She wanted to see me on the holiday for family reunion.”
He “truly wishes that America will become stronger, and that its leaders, like in the past, adopt a clear and firm stance against dictatorships.” He also believes that “between the two camps of the free, democratic world and the dictatorships, freedom will ultimately prevail.”
At the end of the letter, he becomes elated as though he would fly free of his cage and out of the high walls. “Suddenly I thought of my hometown and my father… my yearning for light and freedom has never been this strong.” He propose that a World Freedom Day be established.
I can’t bear to tell him: there’s already a Human Rights Day, a Democracy Day, an Anti-Torture Day. Adding a Freedom Day won’t change anything. China and the United States hold human rights dialogues every year, but China’s human rights situation has gotten worse and worse. On Friday September 25, President Obama will welcome Xi Jinping to the White House with a 21 gun salute. Even if the American president and people shrug their shoulders at human rights in China, or at the large-scale arrest of human rights lawyers and activists, this is the head of a regime that has hacked the personnel records of millions of federal workers. It’s tantamount to a terrorist attack. I’m also American and I want to know: What is wrong with America?
This isn’t all. There are reports saying that when Xi visits, the White House is going to shut Lafayette Square adjacent to the White House, forcing protesters farther away. Lafayette Square, I heard, is hardly ever shut down for protesters; it’s the very symbol of free speech in the face of power, and it belongs to the people. Is White House enforcing a request from the Chinese government? What’s wrong with Obama?
Now let’s turn to Tang Jingling. In 2014 he was arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” and was brought to trial this summer. His sentence hasn’t been announced.
This year Tang turns 44, but he looks much younger, bearing all the traces of “a youth from the plains of the Yangtze River and Han River who was shy and proud.” He used to visit Twitter often, the earliest impression I got of him was from this tweet: “Has there ever been law in the eyes of the communist bandits? In late 1996 when I passed the bar exam and became a lawyer, determined to commit myself to social justice, I went to the Shantou court in Longhu, Guangdong, to attend a court hearing. It was my first time to a court hearing. There was a young man on trial, accused of rape. He painfully described how, in custody, he had his testicles smashed by police to force a confession. The judge interrupted him hastily. This was how I began my career as a lawyer.”
I was new on Twitter when I read that. As a short story writer, I was drawn to his story, imagining the feelings and thoughts passing through the newly licensed young lawyer sitting in the back of the courtroom. I wanted to interview him, and began to prepare. I even made a Tang Jingling folder on my computer where I saved his articles I found online.
But I got busier and busier. I was constantly dealing with more urgent things, and always felt that he wasn’t in imminent danger and the interview could wait. In the end, I never talked to him.
According to his self defense and final statement at trial, he was an early adopter in using electronic bulletin boards, emails, independent websites, online communities, and microblogging platforms to enlighten the public about democracy. He became an active warrior against the Communist Party’s constant campaigns to censor and destroy such information. He believed that the arrival of the Internet, coupled with the unstinting efforts of liberals to express themselves, “have redrawn the map of China’s political ideology, broken the monopoly of the Party’s mouthpiece media on China’s public opinion sphere, and created an opportunity for the next stage of China’s democratic transformation.”
In 2003 during the Sun Zhigang (孙志刚) case, netizens mobilized a signature campaign to abolish the Custody and Repatriation system (收容遣送制), and he was the legal adviser. In 2004, Tang and lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) provided defense for two shoe factory workers in Dongguan who led a strike. Both were among the earliest rights lawyers. He was the counsel for villagers in Taishi village, Guangdong, who revolted to impeach corrupt village heads. Soon he was disbarred and his short career as a lawyer ended.
But that was only the beginning of his struggle. Many in opposition circles were beset by despair and saw no viable path and strategy following the bloody crackdown in 1989 and cruel prison terms for those who tried to organize opposition parties in the 1990s. But Tang Jingling believed that “China’s democratization requires a strategy and it is possible.” He found inspiration in Gandhi’s idea of civil disobedience. In 2006, he started the “Buy-back My Ballot” campaign: In 2006 and 2007, China held the first county and township-level elections across the country that involved 900 million mostly rural Chinese. The campaign encouraged citizens to openly state that they would not take part in the local vote registration, nor would they vote.
There have been no real elections under the current regime, and citizens have never been given the right to elect their leaders. The campaign reminded people not to give up their rights silently; instead, protest the lack of meaningful elections by making a statement.
In the spring of 2007, he initiated “June Fourth Reflection Day,” hoping to activate the dormant seeds of the 1989 movement. In 2008, he started with friends the “April 29 Lin Zhao Cemetery Visit” in Suzhou. Lin Zhao was a student at Peking University when she was declared a rightist, and on April 29, 1968, she was executed in Shanghai. Lin Zhao’s name in today’s China has become a symbol of opposition, thanks to a wave of scholastic and documentary studies by liberal intellectuals and filmmakers.
The Lin Zhao Cemetery Visit lasted seven years, drawing more and more activists each year. It has become such a standard “pilgrimage” for many that the authorities have installed surveillance cameras over the tomb. When the visitors arrive, the road leading up to the tomb is flanked by black-clad police.
Tang discovered, with joy, Dr. Gene Sharp and his non-violent resistance handbooks. He and friends wore T-shirts with the words “democracy” and “freedom” in Baiyun Hills, a tourist attraction in Guangzhou, to “bring elements of democratic culture into daily life.” It didn’t work in China. Unsurprisingly each one of them was summoned by police and threatened. From 2009, Tang initiated social projects such as “my 583,” “the abolition of household registration apartheid” and the proposal of a “basic retirement plan,” to mobilize ordinary people to demand their basic rights to livelihood.
He was one of the 303 Chinese who first signed Charter 08, and was among those arrested during the Jasmine Revolution crackdown in 2011. The police held him for 6 months and tortured him. They also turned his apartment into a prison for his wife. In 2013, there was another round of sweeping arrests which continued into this year with the disappearance of scores of rights lawyers and activists—Tang Jingling was once again swept up.
In the detention center he was locked up with embezzlers, gangsters, smugglers, gamblers, con artists, murderers, and rapists. “More than 20 people are locked in a closed cell of a little over 20 square meters with one toilet and one cold water tap… Here it’s a luxury to see the sunlight, the clouds, the moon, the stars, or a blade of grass. Such ravages are beyond the imagination of those who have not experienced it first hand.” He continued: “It’s like being tossed into a fire pit, or trampled underfoot.”
Strictly speaking, what he and his colleagues have done is not that much, and the impact they had is also minuscule. He knows this. “My assessment of what I have done is just the first shovel of dirt the foolish old man dug to move the mountain in front of his house, or the first rock Jingwei dropped to fill a sea.” But the charge against him is grand: he is a subverter.
By comparison the careers of Gandhi and Mandela, two great freedom fighters, were luxurious. As lawyers, they were able to practice normally. As political leaders, they were able to organize. As activists, they could demonstrate on the streets. As “criminals” on trial, they could defend themselves eloquently. When I saw a photograph of Mandela doing carpentry in the open, sunny yard of a prison, I thought that compared to what goes on in China, his oppressors were rather merciful.
More than once I’ve heard China watchers dismiss China’s opposition movement. They shake their heads impatiently: “You don’t have to like the Communist Party, but there’s no viable alternative.” Listening to them, you get the sense that the opposition is incompetent and worthless—their reading of China barely conceals their unthinking acceptance and adoration of power.
The 49-year-old Guo Feixiong (A.K.A. Yang Maodong) is a product of the Western liberal thinking that surged through China in the 1980s. The genesis of his political opposition came from the 1986 student movement, which he took part in as a philosophy student in Shanghai, and the 1989 movement when he was a teacher in Hubei Province. He described the exploration of peaceful opposition during the 1990s as “the god of medicine tasting a hundred plants to determine their properties.” In the rights movement that was born and shaped between 2003 to 2005, he saw an expandable path for Chinese political opposition that’s “highly original, deeply rooted, and indelible.”
In the seminal Taishi Village incident (太石村罷免事件) in which villagers revolted to remove corrupt village heads, he became the brain and the nerve center. “We worked together within the law (which the government was obliged to pretend, at least, to recognize) to defend political and human rights and raise democratic awareness. Everything we did was completely open and procedurally proper. We supported landmark cases, including Cai Zhuohua’s (蔡卓華) imprisonment for printing Bibles and the collective efforts of Taishi Village residents to impeach corrupt officials. The impact of these cases was magnified by the Internet, where they won broad sympathy and participation from society at large.”
In his own words, he is “one of the earliest definers, makers, and foot soldiers of the rights movement.”
His prison career started almost as soon as his leadership in the rights movement. Since April 2005, he has been incarcerated four times, and the third time he was sentenced to five years in prison for “illegal business operations.” He enjoyed a short-lived, surveilled “freedom” from September 2011 to August 2013, when he was imprisoned again.
Because of his refusal to compromise, “my interrogators have used excessive force on me and have resorted to many forms of torture. They have tasered my head, hands, shins, thighs and private parts in sequence, yelling ‘You were offered parole and you said no! You prefer jail and making the Communist Party look bad! We’ll see who is tougher here – you or the Party!’ Their torture aims at coercing a confession in court, where they want me to admit that I am wrong to oppose the Party and that I will give up the fight for democracy of my own free will in exchange for parole and for getting my university job back. Their broader intent is to undermine the image of the rights defense movement and to demoralize civil society by getting a few ‘standard bearers,’ as they put it, to accept parole.”
“For thirteen days and nights, they put me through marathon interrogations and denied me sleep. For forty-two days, I was reviled, beaten, and shackled, with the shackles nailed to a bed. My hair was plucked out. Once my torturer applied a high-wattage taser to my groin. To defend my dignity as a man, I had to confess to the utterly groundless accusation of an ‘illegal business operation.’ I barely escaped the fate of my cellmate, whose penis was zapped to a blackened smear.”
Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, wrote about the Mandela trial in the paper’s obituary of him: “His legend grew when, on the first day of that trial, he entered the courtroom wearing a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin cape to underscore that he was an African entering a white man’s jurisdiction.” I don’t know what a Xhosa leopard-skin cape looks like, but I can imagine Mandela walking into the court, wrapped in a leopard-skin cape, noble, tall, and irresistibly charming.
But Guo Feixiong lamented: “In 2007, an honest commitment to promote democracy by going to jail was such an arduous thing to attempt.” In fact, more than stripping dissidents of their freedom, the Communist Party has always used extreme cruelty to strip them of their dignity.
This time around, Guo Feixiong has been incarcerated simply for urging the Chinese government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and for taking part in the call for press freedom during the Southern Weekend incident in 2013. He has been denied yard time for 776 days, since the Chinese authorities secretly detained him on August 8, 2013. Liu Yuandong (刘远东), who was arrested and tried without a verdict for his participation in the same incident, has not had yard time for 924 days. China’s tyrannical rulers use these methods to destroy the lives of dissenting citizens.
To fellow political prisoners who buckle under torture, Guo Feixiong has only tolerance and understanding. “We should save our condemnation for the perpetrators, the people who deny their opponents dignified prison time and a dignified death, who trample such dignity underfoot. We should never use philosophical contortions to rationalize the bestiality of totalitarian rule,” he wrote.
Guo Feixiong is a doer. “For those of us who are committed to this cause, action is imperative. Only through action can we prove to history that we did not surrender our dignity to dictators, and that we did not give up the purity we cherish the most… The chief and greatest punishment we have for totalitarianism is a thorough rejection of its rejection of justice and humanity.”
He also saw himself as “Sisyphus who rolls an immense boulder up a hill, Prometheus who steals the fire, the hero Kuafu who dies chasing the sun, or the foolish old man who is determined to move the mountain.”
The court statement he issued on November 29, 2014, following his trial thus concludes, “our exploration and toil have not been in vain. Our path is becoming ever clearer, and the horizons of our souls ever broader. To have had the opportunity to rush forward on the front lines of the movement for freedom, torturous as it has been; to have gone against the tide and borne the cost of doing so; and to have glimpsed the beauty inherent in my personal tragedy and in the sacred purity that is part of paying the price – these have been the immense good fortune of an ordinary man.”
Quite frankly, I cannot imagine how he could have written this in his prison cell.
“Why doesn’t China have a Mandela?” Following the passing of Mandela at the end of 2013, I asked Mr. Hu Ping (胡平) whose pamphlet “On Freedom of Speech” enlightened many young students during the 1980s. He said, “One of the greatest ironies of history is that the most famous freedom fighters were famous because, to a great extent, the oppression they revolted against was not tyrannical and cruel in the extreme.”
I also noticed that, on Twitter, many Chinese tweeps pointed out the opponents of Mandela’s struggle. “What formed Mandela’s greatness,” wrote lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, “apart from his belief and perseverance, was more importantly the fact that the rulers respected a bottom line: Mandela was almost never beaten in custody. Just think: having been imprisoned for over 20 years, he was still able to walk out of jail in good health and without having to confess to his ‘crimes.’ This is simply unthinkable in dictatorships.”
In other words, the Communist Party is so savage and despicable that any Mandela in China would be destroyed before they had the chance to become Mandela.
On the day of Mandela’s funeral, I turned on the television for once. President Obama was speaking. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.” All of a sudden, our president looked to me like an actor—saying the most beautiful words on an occasion that demanded no courage or leadership. I jumped up and turned the television off.
Of course, there is another part of Mandela’s funeral I remember: that the sign language interpreter next to President Obama, gesticulating vividly, was in fact an impostor.
Yaxue Cao (曹雅学) is the founder and editor of China Change. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao.
2015 Front Line Defenders Award Presented to Chinese HRD Guo Feixiong, September 11, 2015.
Albert Einstein Institution Statement, June 25, 2015.