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Wang Yu, November 13, 2017
Wang Yu (王宇), born 1971 in Inner Mongolia, was a lawyer with Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when she was abducted in the early morning of July 9, 2015. The date of her detention marks the beginning of, and gives name to, the most notorious human rights event over the last two years – the 709 Crackdown. She was released on bail on August 2016, but until recently Wang Yu, her husband and son have been sequestered in an apartment in Ulan Hot, Inner Mongolia, under severe surveillance. The family returned to their home in Beijing recently. Below is an excerpt of Wang Yu’s account of her first two months in Beijing from July to September, 2015. She is currently writing the second part of her 709 ordeal in Tianjin. Her account is part of the book titled The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories From Inside China’s System for Enforced Disappearances that was just released this week on Amazon. While the book’s focus is on China’s practice of secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location,” China Change adds Wang Yu’s account to that of Xie Yang and Xie Yanyi, expanding our translation about the 709 torture. Section titles are added, minor edits made by China Change for clarity. — The Editors
So often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time. I became stuck many times in the process and couldn’t continue. I often had to stop and take a few deep breaths; otherwise I would become very depressed. — Wang Yu
The Break-in and the Abduction in the Morning of July 9, 2015
Shortly after 11pm on July 8 2015, I had just said goodbye to my son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), who was heading to Australia to study, and my husband, who was accompanying him. Initially I had planned to go with them to the airport, but since the flight was at midnight my husband worried about me returning home alone. They drove off in a taxi outside our apartment building without even waiting for me to come down to say goodbye. I called to ask them to phone again after they had passed security check. I couldn’t control my sadness and cried on the phone. Even though I was trying to comfort my 16-year-old son, I was the one choking. My husband couldn’t bear to hear our parting words, so he hung up. After the brief call, I went upstairs to prepare for a trial the following day. Later, after having changed into my pajamas and gotten into bed, I still couldn’t stop thinking about my son. I couldn’t fall asleep.
It was after 1am and I still hadn’t received a call saying that they had passed immigration. I tried reaching them but neither of their phones connected. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t have a signal, but I had called many times, up to and after their scheduled takeoff time, and it was the same. I was growing worried. I sent some messages to friends in WeChat and Telegram groups, hoping they could help with some ideas. I called the airline, but couldn’t get through.
Without warning, the lights in my house went out, along with the internet, and immediately I heard the sound of someone trying to force open the door. Frantically, I sent out a message on social media, and everyone expressed their deep concern. One person replied asking if my lock was strong. I said it was, that Bao Longjun (包龙军) had changed it recently, and selected the strongest available lock, worrying that I wasn’t safe alone at home. Another person replied suggesting that I put an obstacle in front of the door but I thought this wasn’t necessary. If they could get through the door, then any obstacle would be useless. However, thinking back, if I could have put an obstacle between them and me, then it might have delayed them entering the room, and given me more time to spread the information of my abduction on social media, or to contact trusted friends and alert them directly.
I walked to the door, demanding, who is it? The sound of forced entry stopped as suddenly as it had begun. There were no more noises for a while. I sent another message to the groups, telling them that whoever it was must have left. Maybe they had just wanted to scare me. This type of situation had happened to a friend of mine before; they had just come to harass and intimidate him. I told the people in the chat group to just go to sleep. It was already 3am. I was still worried that I hadn’t heard anything from my son and husband, and couldn’t sleep, so I continued trying to reach the airlines, but nobody answered.
An hour later, at around 4am, I was shocked by a piercing noise. It sounded like they were trying to force open the door with an electric drill. I shared this message to the Telegram group immediately, and jumped out of bed. I tried to phone for help, but before anyone could answer, someone had already broken through the door, and was instantly upon me. The light from his headlamp flashed into my face as he spoke, “Don’t move! We’re from Beijing Public Security Bureau.”
It had only taken a few seconds from the moment I heard the drill before they were inside.
“Who are you? How dare you break in? Show me your identification,” I demanded.
I hadn’t even finished speaking before more than a dozen people were inside, pushing me onto the bed, handcuffing me with my hands behind my back. In almost the same movement, someone was forcing a black hood over my head. He had a Tianjin accent.
Since I had already been illegally detained several times in the past by Public Security or court police during certain cases—you can imagine how much risk a lawyer with legal professional ethics faces in China—I wasn’t immediately too scared. I tried to struggle, but it was impossible to make any difference as a woman against such a large number of attackers.
Two women in the group dragged me out. I tried getting the neighbor’s attention, shouting loudly: “Don’t drag me. I can walk by myself!” After they had dragged me into the elevator, I started crying. I asked them to release my handcuffs, saying they hurt my wrists. I knew there was a camera in the elevator, and hoped my lawyer might later be able to get the video record of that day.
They dragged me downstairs and threw me into a van. From what I could see from under the hood, there was a person in the seat in front of me. He looked like a boss. I sat in the back seat, two women on either side of me. Another three or four sat behind us.
Soon, I heard the vehicle in front of us starting to move; we pulled out of the housing unit, and I heard a few more cars following behind.
I cried the whole way, repeating what I had said in the elevator. The handcuffs were too tight. I repeated that they were supposed to show me their identification. A woman behind me, growing irritated, told me to shut up. But as she spoke, I detected a sense of fear in her voice, as if she was even more nervous than I was. I replied that if she were bound in tight handcuffs, then she would also feel pain. She had a bad temper. Suddenly, she reached from behind me, pressed down on my head, and tried putting a gag in my mouth. But I shut my mouth tightly. Maybe because the car was moving and she didn’t have a good enough position to push me from behind, she gave up.
Afterward, I could feel that my hood was even tighter. I shouted: “I am suffocating. Someone give me some air!” A woman beside me adjusted my hood a little, and I could see a sliver of sky out of the side. The sky was just getting light.
Forced to Strip off in Front of Surveillance Cameras
This hidden location was where I would stay for the next month. Besides the roughly 20 girls who took turns monitoring me, and a few interrogators, I never saw another person.
They removed my black hood and handcuffs. I could see that we were in a cell built according to standard detention center layout. There was a long corridor, on the other side, another door, outside of which was the so-called exercise yard. Inside the room, on the right side, there were ten single beds close to each other, with a table beside the first bed. Bed sheets and pillows were stacked on several of the mattresses. There were two small plastic stools by one side. On the floor, a 40x40cm square was painted in red, and beside it another line painted in yellow; squares and lines presumably for controlling movement. A large sheet of glass separated the corridor from the bathroom, with a gap between for coming and going, but everything inside was clearly visible. There was a toilet, a sink, and a pipe with no nozzle for the shower. Three cameras lined the wall, with another camera in the bathroom. Later, I saw the label “207” written on a cup. I assumed that was my room number.
I asked if we were in a detention center and was there anyone else here. The room was so big for just one person, such a waste. They replied that I was the only one.
I was only allowed to sit in the square framed line they had painted on the floor. I wasn’t allowed to make any movement outside the red and yellow lines; otherwise the armed police had the right to take any action against me. Again, I was told I needed to ask for permission before doing anything.
Another girl came in and told me to remove all my clothes. She claimed it was a routine inspection. I pointed out that that morning they had provided the clothes I was now wearing, I had just arrived, and had been surrounded by their people the whole time. “What could you possibly want to check?” Looking at the mounted cameras in the room, I said we should at least go into the bathroom; otherwise it was just intentionally insulting me.
She said no.
I was told to take off all my clothes, stand in the middle of the room for inspection, and to turn my body three times. I objected to this insulting order. But these young girls didn’t care.
They rushed forward, pushed me against the floor, and stripped me. I was crying, and pleading with them at the same time. Why would they insult me like this? Why didn’t they have any compassion? Why were they so violent to a small woman like me?
Perhaps I am a very traditional woman. I think the violent stripping off my clothes was the cruelest torture I endured.
Iron Handcuffs and Shackles
I demanded to speak with their superiors, to address this violent insult. At first, I was ignored completely. Later on, a man came in; he looked brutal and tough. He introduced himself as the team leader in charge of the facility. I told him what I had just gone through, that the action they had taken was illegal, that there were rules about it in detention center regulations, that it clearly violated my rights, and that I wanted to issue a complaint with the procuratorate. As I spoke, he was observably angry. He left without saying anything or letting me finish what I had to say.
Moments later, he returned with an even meaner looking man following behind him. He looked like a monster, with big eyes that shined with a brutal and evil light, a dark face, and crew cut hair. He was holding handcuffs and shackles in his hand.
The team leader gave the order, “Put them on her!” That monster grabbed my hands and feet, and handcuffed and shackled me. The handcuffs were not the normal type, but designed specifically for torture, made of pure pig iron, with tough 1cm thick rings.
My wrists became swollen after wearing them for a day, and even more than one year later my wrists still look a little black.
The shackles were also made from pure pig iron, the two rings even thicker, and in between them was a long chain with more than a dozen flat round links.
After putting me in handcuffs and shackles, the team leader left with these harsh parting words: “Didn’t you want to meet the procuratorate? Don’t you want to follow the law? This is it! If you don’t behave well, we have something worse than this.”
The shackles were very heavy. I almost couldn’t walk as I was thin and small. The two guards appeared shocked. It seemed that they had never seen this kind of situation before. It was hard to accept the reality of my situation. I had acted calmly; reasonably pointing out their illegal behavior, and in exchange, I got this kind of torture.
Besides thinking about the heavy handcuffs and shackles, I was still reflecting on the moment that they had stripped me, and I still hadn’t slept properly. I felt dizzy; my stomach was brewing up a storm. I was going to vomit. I wanted to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t move. The two girls helped me. These two were the most compassionate of the many who took turns guarding me, but unfortunately, I never saw them again after that day, perhaps because they showed their softness.
Sleep Deprivation and Psychological Torment
It went on like that. I was forced to stay inside the small painted square during the day, suffering at the hands of these young girls. If my leg or a foot were out of the square, even by just a tiny bit, they would warn me or slap me. Sometimes they didn’t allow me to drink anything at all, even if there was water in the room. I never had enough water. And after it got dark, the three interrogators would return, and initiate another kind of suffering.
After three days passed like this, the interrogators changed their attitude. They no longer insulted or admonished me; instead they poured me a bottle of warm water as soon as they arrived.
Then, during breakfast and lunch on the fourth day, after having just had a few bites of my food, the two young guards told me that mealtime was over. I tried explaining that I had just started eating. They repeated that mealtime was over. I quietly put down my chopsticks. I am not allowed to eat, I thought. Okay then! I won’t eat. I would see what new tricks they were up to.
I was also considering another problem. Although they were all working together to hurt me, I was too weak to take them all on. I didn’t have enough energy to argue with them about their illegal behavior. This place was totally isolated: any law, report, accusation, procuratorate were all so far away.
That evening, I couldn’t stand it anymore. While they were still trying to persuade me to speak with them, I slowly felt my heart constrict, my breath became short, I felt dizzy. My body couldn’t hold out any more. It was so painful I felt like I was going to die. My consciousness was slowly slipping away. My body fell from the chair. The interrogator dragged me back onto the chair. To prevent me from slipping out again, he restrained my chin and shackled my legs. They called in a woman who looked like a doctor. She opened my eyes, said I was okay, and then walked out.
At that point, Chief Wang [the chief interrogator] said: “If you die here, you will just become another Cao Shunli.”
Indeed, I felt that I was dying. I had entered an empty state; a pain that is hard to describe. I couldn’t breathe. I felt pain in every part of my body. I felt that my soul had already drifted away. That day, I thought, I really was like a dead person. I spent another sleepless night strapped in the chair.
On the fifth night, three interrogators came to speak with me again. They were still trying to persuade me to speak with them. They mentioned my son, but in a way that they were obviously holding back some information. I asked them harshly, “What have you done to my son? He is just a kid. It is too shameless of you to threaten me by using my son!”
“We didn’t do anything to your son. He is good, just under our control. He didn’t make it abroad, but that’s okay. Once you get back, he can still go.” Maybe because I am so close to him, I couldn’t conceal my concern. This divulged a weakness for them to exploit. From that moment on, over the following year, they would often mention my son. When I did finally get back home after a year, I learned he had been under house arrest; that he had been prohibited from studying abroad; and had been monitored by more than a dozen guards every day.
He was so young. At just 16 years old, he had also become a victim of the regime. My heart was devastated. A regime that uses a mother’s son to threaten her is shameless to the extreme.
It was around 4 or 5 in the morning, nearly dawn, when I fell unconsciousness again. There were countless golden sparks flashing in front of my eyes, every time I opened them. I saw the vague outline of three deformed interrogators. I felt that my life was fading away little by little. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I told them, I would talk, but I needed to have a rest first, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stay alive.
I would only talk about myself. I would not answer any questions about other people.
At that, they finally left, and allowed me to sleep.
On the morning of the sixth day, the three interrogators came back. They didn’t wait until evening this time. Chief Wang looked very happy and smug. He told me, “I will ask them to undo your handcuffs so that you can have a good shower.”
After that my daily schedule started to improve a little. I was almost permitted enough sleep. But since I hadn’t slept at all for five days and nights, my sunken eyes and dark bags under my eyes never recovered. I still have heart problems now.
Chief Wang went out for a while and then came back with the team leader and the “monster” to remove my handcuffs. The team leader pretended to look very sorry for me, like he was doing me such a big favor.
“Normally, in here, once we put handcuffs and shackles on someone, we keep them on for at least 15 days. Today Chief Wang asked us to remove them for you, so we will remove your handcuffs first, and only keep the shackles on you for two more days.”
They took my handcuffs away. My wrists had become seriously swollen from the friction. If they hadn’t taken them off, my hands would have been ruined.
When they removed my shackles on the seventh or eighth day, all of a sudden I felt my body was much lighter, just like the Chinese idiom, as light as a swallow.
When I reflect back on those days, I think perhaps God was protecting me. Somehow I didn’t get sick. Normally, I easily catch cold and or otherwise get sick, but in the early days of my detention my vitality and resistance were so strong. When I reflect on Chief Wang’s words, “If you die here, you will just become another Cao Shunli,” it really makes me reflect on Cao’s death all over again. [Wang Yu was Cao Shunli’s lawyer]
Over the following 10 days or so, they interrogated me three times a day. The sessions would end only when the meal arrived, but the night interrogation lasted longer and later.
They began by asking about the cases I had represented, six in particular. They asked who had requested me to do the cases; how they had found me; who had introduced me; about the signing of the powers of attorney; and who had paid my lawyer’s fee; etc. I replied that the cases they were asking about were definitely the more important cases I had done but that I had posted all the details on my Weibo and Wechat, and that they could get the information they wanted from those platforms. I explained that because my Weibo had been blocked, they would need special access. I pointed out that there was nothing illegal about those cases because I had already made them public.
They asked about my few trips abroad. They asked who had invited me; how they had contacted me; how I had traveled; who had bought my tickets; how many days I had been away; who had gone with me; and what kind of activities I had done there; etc.
They also asked about the workshops and gatherings I had attended a few times inside China. I told them that normally I was busy with my cases, although I participated a few times in a workshop or rights defense gathering, but not often. I was always busy, so I didn’t have the brain capacity to remember these kinds of things.
Later on, they asked me to talk about my impressions of many people, such as Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Wu Gan (吴淦), Huang Liqun (黄力群), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰), and Hu Guiyun (胡贵云) [mostly 709 lawyers and activists]. I told them I was a very typical feminist and didn’t have much contact with these male lawyers, explaining that I didn’t know them well and so I had no comment. In an attempt to sow discord, they often told me things such as: “Zhou Shifeng already said others use you like a gun. There is someone behind you. Zhou also said that you are stupid and will do any case.”
They sometimes brought notes from Zhou Shifeng to show me, but I was not sure if they were real or not. Each time I told them that he had the freedom to say what he wanted, and that as a lawyer I would not allow others to tell me what to do. No one else has the right to tell me what to do. I take full responsibility for my own actions.
Toward the end of July, they tried persuading me to write a so-called confession letter and to deliver it on television. I refused without a second’s thought. I would not write anything and would never go on their TV to confess.
Transfer to Tianjian
On the morning of August 7, the team leader took me to the so-called “Beijing Tongda Hostel” (北京通达招待所). We could hear the sound of an airplane circling in the sky overhead every day. At first, I thought we were near one of the airports, but afterwards I learned from a base manager that it was the same location as my previous detention facility, on the edge of Beijing, inside a military base, in a small town in Hebei Province.
That day, Chief Wang came to tell me that the crime I was officially now suspected of was “inciting subversion of state power” and so they had changed my coercive measure to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location.
I was speechless.
Into September, they almost didn’t come at all any more. Before, there were five teams of guards, with two-hour shifts. Now I had three teams per day, with three hours per shift. Those girls worked constantly. Their faces looked sallow.
On the afternoon of September 8, Chief Wang appeared out of nowhere. He hadn’t come for a long time. The Tianjin interrogator was with him. He said that there was good news. He would not be in charge of my case anymore. The Tianjin interrogator was taking over. He told me to get ready. They would come back to pick me up and take me to Tianjin. I thought, how is this good news?
After I had had dinner, the team leader came in and told me to be ready to go once he came back. He took out his gun and waved it around. I didn’t know what he meant.
They put me in a black hood and two girls took me away from this so-called “Beijing Tongda Hostel” where I had lived for the past month. They handed me over to some Tianjin girls, who took me into a vehicle. We waited in the car for more than an hour. Then I heard many cars leaving one after another. After more than two hours, we arrived at the “Tianjin Jinan Hostel.” What fate awaited me there?
Since being “released on bail,” I have often wanted to write about my experiences. But so often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time.
I became stuck many times in the process and couldn’t continue. I often had to stop and take a few deep breaths; otherwise I would become depressed. It is a scar that has not healed for my family and I, even until today.
After I finished writing the story above, my spirits almost collapsed. Reliving these episodes was even harder than the moments I was actually there. I don’t know why. While I was experiencing it, I didn’t feel scared. Sometimes I had even adopted a “play” attitude in order to face it. It was almost fun to engage in a “battle of wits” with my captors and interrogators. But when I reflect back on these experiences now, it’s hard, and I can’t imagine how I was able to handle it. Sometimes, if I think about if it were to happen a second time, I ask myself: would I be able to handle it again? Perhaps this is what is meant by “secondary trauma.”
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 19, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation, January 20, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others, January 21, 2017.
A Record of 709, Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee, China Change, July 7, 2017
China Change, November 6, 2017
Wen Donghai (文东海) is a 43-year-old lawyer in Changsha, Hunan Province. He grew up in a mountainous village and became a policeman in the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau. Bored and unfulfilled, he quit his job, went to graduate school and became a lawyer in 2009. He came into contact with human rights lawyers in 2014, and in 2015 was a defense lawyer in the case of three Guangzhou activists promoting non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. That was the first human rights case he took on.
When the July 9, 2015 (709) crackdown on human rights lawyers began, he became the defense lawyer for Wang Yu, the first of scores of lawyers arrested that day and afterward. But he was not allowed to meet his client despite making numerous trips to Tianjin and lodging several complaints.
He has taken on Falun Gong cases as well as many other cases across China. “After becoming Wang Yu’s lawyer, I wanted to understand what Wang Yu had done and what kind of group Falun Gong was, so I started taking Falun Gong cases,” Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times in a recent interview.
‘Investigated’ for ‘Disrupting Court Order’
On July 14, 2017 Wen Donghai received a notice from the Hunan Province Lawyers’ Association. The Superior Court of Yunnan Province complained that during a trial held in a lower court in E’shan County (云南玉溪市峨山县人民法院) defense lawyer Wen Donghai “seriously disrupted the court order,” and that the association was asked to investigate.
On August 4 the Changsha Municipal Justice Bureau, the government organ in charge of lawyers, notified Wen Donghai that he was under investigation for “disrupting court order and interfering in court hearings.”
Wen Donghai has since learned that there was another “complaint” against him by a court in Guangdong Province.
What Happened During the Two Trials
Li Qiongzhen (李琼珍) is a Falun Gong practitioner in E’shan county, Yuxi city, Yunnan province (云南玉溪市峨山县) and was arrested with four others in 2016 for distributing Falun Gong materials. Wen Donghai was her defense lawyer.
Meeting with his client on January 24, 2017, Wen Donghai learned that the presiding judge of the case Bai Weiliang (柏为良) showed up at the detention center with two unidentified women and interrogated his client for three days in a row from January 11-13. The judge asked her to admit guilt in exchange for bail or a suspended sentence. He warned her not to mention the term “Falun Gong” during the trial. The judge also told Wen’s client that her lawyer took up the case in order to “stir up trouble,” and that if she dismissed him, the judge would find local lawyers for her free of charge. The two women, who had not identified themselves, told Wen’s client that she was forbidden to practice Falun Gong in prison.
Wen Donghai recorded his meeting with his client in detailed transcripts.
On February 13, 2017 Wen filed a complaint with the procuratorate against the judge’s illegal behavior. During the trial on February 16, 2017, he requested the presiding judge and the collegial panel recuse themselves, but his request was promptly denied.
He went on confronting the judge on his illegally pressuring his client to admit guilt and to dismiss her lawyer. The angry presiding judge and Wen had heated arguments, causing the trial to be adjourned twice.
Defending his client, who was charged with “using a cult to obstruct the implementation of the law,” Wen Donghai pointed out that there is not a single law in China that says Falun Gong is illegal; that thought, expression, and faith cannot cause the implementation of the law to be obstructed; that the Supreme Court’s judicial explanation of this crime is unconstitutional and illegal and can’t be used as the basis for a ruling; and that freedom of belief is a universal value.
The court handed out a particularly harsh sentence to Wen’s client: four years in prison for spreading Falun Gong materials.
The other complaint against lawyer Wen Donghai came from Jinping District court, Shantou city, Guangzhou province. Wen was the defense lawyer for Peng Peishan (彭佩珊), the owner of a hair salon and Falun Gong practitioner. Police suspected that she and her husband sold calling cards to practitioners to be used for spreading Falun Gong content. She was tried along with her husband and two others on April 11, 2017.
Wen Donghai said the court didn’t allow the defense lawyers to speak. He said to the court, “If you don’t allow me to speak, you may as well expel me from the court.” The judge did just that. Wen went to the procuratorate to complain about the judge, but was blocked by a formation of police at the entrance. The procuratorate didn’t accept his complaint.
Method of Targeting
Wen Donghai said that once you are identified as a crackdown target, they take the following steps: they go to different provinces to examine the cases you represented and find the “problems” they are looking for. Then in Wen’s case, the Lawyers Association in Hunan worked with the Superior Court in Yunnan that filed a complaint against Wen.
In Wen’s case, the director of Office for Management of Lawyers of Changsha Municipal Bureau of Justice had spent days in both Yunnan and Guangdong to collect information about Wen Donghai. Wen said that nobody paid attention, let alone working so hard, to look into it when he submitted complaints about the judge.
All of them are doing the bidding of the Justice Bureau. Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times: “When lawyers’ rights are violated, for example, when facing abuses by prosecutors or judges, no one accepts our complaints. But when we fight for the rights of our clients, we are accused of violating the rules for a little bit of heat on our part.
China Change learned from a couple of other lawyers that their local Justice Bureau also had sent officials to locations to collect information about their actions in the courts, the purpose of which is clearly for possible punishment.
‘The Law, Not the Judge, Dictates the Court’
In August, lawyer Wen Donghai issued a response to the ill-intended “investigation” against him. He wrote, “In both cases, whether in the E’shan county court in Yunnan or the Jinping District Court in Shandong, Guangdong, the court flagrantly infringed on the rights of the defense counsel and the defendants.” He continued to give an account of what happened in each case:
“Such a court is no more than a slaughterhouse that creates injustice and produces wrongful convictions. To maintain the order of such an illegal court is akin to committing a crime. My only trespass was that I was unwilling to cooperate with the court and trample on the law. I argued with the court because I hoped for a more normal trial. If there were any other channel for us to defend our rights, we would not have confronted the judge. This case is by no means an isolated one. In representing clients persecuted for their faith, I have repeatedly found myself in a situation where I have no place to lodge a complaint. In dealing with such cases, the nation’s judiciary seems to have turned into a rusted machine beset with problems at any given moment that we cannot solve.”
He argued that:
“The legality of the court is based on the law, not the judge. Thus, even though the judge directs the court, not all questioning of and argument with the judge constitutes disrupting the court order. On the contrary, oftentimes, the defense counsel and the defendant fight hard not to disrupt the court order, but to seek a just court whose order has been disrupted, a court that submits to the law. In doing so they are maintaining the normal working of the court and resist illegal court proceeding, at least that’s what they believe they are doing.”
Tools to Restrict Human Rights Lawyers
In China, from the early 2000s onward, more and more lawyers have engaged in so-called sensitive cases involving political opposition, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and other situations where citizens seek to redress injustice in the hands of the government. The Chinese government has kept close tabs on this small but growing group. Of the 14 human rights lawyers selected as the Persons of the Year in 2005 by the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Weekly (《亚洲周刊》), 13 were kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, disbarred, or exiled, with the exception of lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平).
Even though its number has been growing, the number of China’s 300,000 lawyers who are willing to take on cases to defend human rights is only about 1/1000.
The crackdown on human rights lawyers reached an extreme in 2015 when in a national campaign that began on July 9 China detained scores of them and activists working with them, and questioned more than 300 across China. In recent years the hostility toward human rights lawyers has worsened. They have been regarded as the top threat to the security of the totalitarian regime along with dissidents and activists, faith groups, internet opinion leaders and petitioners.
Almost all of the 709 detainees have been subjected to severe torture. Some of these cases have been exposed, shocking the international community. Those who have been released on bail or given suspended sentences have been closely surveilled and limited in their ability to speak and move. At least three are still in custody (here, here, and here).
The 709 Incident was meant to be a paralyzing blow to human rights lawyers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. They are persisting under incredible pressure, making immense sacrifices both professionally and personally.
Two years after the 709 Crackdown, the Chinese government has not lessened its intent to further restrict the space for lawyers defending human rights cases. But since 709, the authorities have resorted to “softer” and more insipid methods to contain them that may not draw international attention. These methods include: “complaint” and “investigation,” such as lawyer Wen Donghai faces, motivated by intent to punish; law firms being audited; lawyers annual reviews being postponed and denied; suspension of practice; or outright disbarment. In a recent case, a lawyer in Shandong Province was disbarred for defending a freedom of expression case.
Many human rights lawyers are barred from traveling outside China, whether for business or for leisure. The reason given to them is that they are a “national security threat.”
On October 30 lawyer Wen Donghai received a notice from the Changsha Justice Bureau. The investigation has concluded and “the facts and evidence are clear that you have allegedly disrupted court order and interfered with the court hearing, and administrative sanctions should be levied against you according to the law. Given the serious nature of your case, we have submitted it to a higher level of judiciary organ for decision.”
Lawyer Wen Donghai’s situation is a cause for concern. One by one, China is disqualifying its most courageous human rights lawyers and is testing the waters to see what kind of response this gets. So we are calling on the international media, governments, institutions, and legal organizations to pay close attention to the worsening professional environment that China’s brave and die-hard human rights lawyers face.
A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on, Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017.
Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee, China Change, July 7, 2017.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, by Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is one of the twenty or so 709 detainees during China’s sweeping, still ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists. He was held incommunicado from, July 12, 2015 to January 18, 2017, in Tianjin. As a human rights lawyers, Xie Yanyi’s career spans from 2003 to the time when he was detained, representing dozens of cases involving religious freedom, freedom of speech, forced expropriation of land and property, corruption, local elections, political prisoners, and more. Meanwhile, he has been known for passionately advocating democratic transition in China. During the 553 days of disappearance, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, and his mother died without him knowing it. In September he posted a book titled “A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China” in which he recounted his experience during the six-month secret detention and following year in Tianjin Second Detention Center. He is the second 709 lawyer, after lawyer Xie Yang in Hunan, who has spoken out about torture and other degrading treatments perpetrated on human rights lawyers and activists. On September 6, Xie Yanyi posted an open letter to Xi Jinping, the Communist Party, and fellow Chinese, calling for an end to the one-party dictatorship, releasing all political prisoners, and setting the course to transition China into a constitutional democracy. Predictably, he has been harassed and threatened by police. China Change is pleased to bring you translation of excerpts of Xie Yanyi’s recollections and reflections on 709 atrocities. — The Editors
The Police Are Here
I got home in the middle of the night on July 11, 2015 and fell asleep right away. The next morning, not long after I had gotten up, I heard a knocking at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw Captain Wang’s men from Domestic Security. I tidied up a bit and opened the door. They wanted me to go to the office of the neighborhood committee for a little chat. I went there with them, where Miyun District domestic security personnel had been joined by Beijing domestic security. They asked about the same old things. At a break in the conversation I went to relieve myself and discovered that people from Domestic Security were following me into the bathroom. It was then I realized the gravity of the situation. Our conversation continued until noon, when we had fast food in the office. We had just finished eating when ten or so plainclothes officers burst in. The first one flashed his badge at me. He said he was from the Tianjin Public Security Bureau and asked if I was Xie Yanyi. I said yes. I saw from his badge that he was surnamed Liu. Then he handcuffed me. I protested, but no one paid attention. They swarmed around me as I was led downstairs. We got into an SUV, where I sat in the backseat between two men. There were about two or three cars following behind us . We sped off. Soon we arrived at the Miyun Chengguan police station (密云城关派出所). There was an interrogation room equipped with an iron chair that the suspect could be buckled into. They made me sit there to begin my questioning. This was the first time in my life I had been handcuffed and interrogated. At first I was confused, but once I was sitting I calmed down. I had no idea that it was just the beginning of a long ordeal and contest.
The Black Hood
At nightfall I was taken out of the police station. Not only did they handcuff me again, they also put a black hood over my head. I was escorted to an SUV. It sped off as soon as it hit the highway. I naively wondered if they were just doing this to frighten me. Maybe they’ll just drive in a circle and then bring me home? But the car kept going at top speed, and there was no sign of stopping. I was cramped, wrapped in place by the people on either side of me. And I was nervous. I felt like they had tied the hood too tightly and that it would suffocate me. I asked them politely if they could take it off, promising I wouldn’t act out if they did, but they said it was an order and they had to follow. I then begged them to loosen it a little so I could breathe, but they didn’t pay any attention to me. Then I reasoned with them, trying to win their sympathy, and asked again if they could loosen it a little. The man in the passenger seat shouted, “You won’t suffocate to death!” When those words fell on my ears, I realized that pleading was no use. I should instead stay as calm as possible.
About an hour later the car reached its destination. I couldn’t see anything and had no way of knowing our exact location. They had me get out of the car and squat down. Soon a few people came and did what seemed like a handover procedure. As they talked, I sensed I was being handed over to army troops. They changed my handcuffs but didn’t remove the hood. After we had gotten into another car, I turned to the soldier on my left and mentioned my difficulty breathing. Would he mind loosening the hood a little so that I could breathe through the gap? This soldier pulled the black hood up a little bit. I took the opportunity to thank all of them profusely for their kindness. In response, the soldier on my right pressed a little bit less against me. Not longer after our car entered a compound. We were let in by the gatekeeper, then drove up to a building. After a bit, someone called me out of the car. The men on either side of me took me into the building and told me to watch my step. We went up to the second floor and turned right into a room, where they told me to stand facing the wall. Someone came and took the hood off my head, then told me to strip naked. Then I was asked to squat twice. They searched my body to see if I had hidden anything.
The Special Room
When they were done inspecting me they had me turn to face them, then starting taking photos. They took away my clothes and gave me two sets of soft, casual clothes. One man announced the daily schedule for me and informed me that the next day I was to study the prison rules and regulations posted on the wall. Everyone left except for two soldiers, who stood on either side of me. I asked them if I could rest. They said no, that according to the rules I had to wait until 10:30. So I sat down and read the rules. Then I sized up the room. It was not quite 20 square meters [66 square feet]. To the right of the entrance was a bathroom. A single bed stood against the outer wall of the bathroom. To the right of the bed was open space. Opposite the bed was a padded desk draped with a blue tablecloth. In front of that was a soft high-backed chair. At the far end of the room a heavy curtain was pulled over the window to keep out the light. The walls were completely padded. Even the corners of the desk, the foot of the bed, and the chair were padded and rounded. Around 10 they told me I could get ready for bed and gave me a toothbrush, a towel, and a spoon. Even the handles of the toothbrush and the spoon were rounded and made of rubber. If I wanted to use the bathroom or do anything else, I had to announce my intention and be granted permission before I could proceed. There were always two soldiers guarding me. When I slept at night one would watch me from the head of the bed, the other from the foot. It seemed all these measures were meant to keep me from killing or mutilating myself.
The Interrogation Begins
On the first day, I got into bed as soon as it was time to rest. I couldn’t fall asleep right away, as my mind replayed the events of the day and I considered what fate could be in store for me. Everything felt like half-dream, half-reality. Just as I was about to drift off, someone charged into my room, booming, “Get up and clean up. The special investigation team (专案组) wants to see you!” I had no choice but to get out of bed and get dressed. I moved the toothbrush and other things from the desk to the bed, then sat down and waited for the special investigators. I thought, “The grueling interrogation is about to begin.”
Two men came in. One looked to be over 40 years old, tall and strong. He said his last name was Jiang (姜). The other man was a bit shorter, bespeckled, a little fat, around 30 years old. Later he would call himself Cao Jianguang (曹建光). The first night they questioned me until four or five in the morning. I had just collapsed into bed when the on-duty soldiers woke me up again. After breakfast the interrogators came back. A tall, skinny man wearing glasses had replaced one of the others from before. He said his last name was Wang (王), so I called him Old Wang. (Nearly a year passed before I learned from someone else that Old Wang isn’t surnamed Wang, but Yan [严], so now I call him Lieutenant Yan.) The first two, if I’m right, were from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, while Lieutenant Yan is from the Tianjin PSB. I would see more of him after I was transferred to Tianjin.
They also asked me to confess, but I had nothing to confess. It was unbearable in the beginning. I became aware that I might not get out in the short term, and that I needed a plan, so I thought of writing a letter to my wife. My wife had just told me she was pregnant. We already had two boys and were supporting a large family, but our shared faith doesn’t permit abortion. She had secretly taken out her birth control ring. Then I was taken away, and that was where our conversation ended. I told the special investigators that I wanted to write a letter to my wife. At first they said no, then added that they had to ask for instructions. That evening I started to fast. Besides protesting my illegal detention and demanding the letter, I also hoped to make my psychological crisis a physical one, to divert my attention from the mental pressure through the pain of hunger, and to give myself some happiness when I did eat again. I fasted for over 72 hours, until lunch on the fourth day. They gave me pen and paper. The guard added that if I fasted again they would feed me through a tube.
The interrogations continued as usual every day. Sometimes they would question me three times in one day, morning, afternoon, and night; or else twice in a day.
Transfer to Tianjin
Just before noon on September 8, 2015, I was told to inventory the items they had confiscated from me and sign the list. That night I was informed that due to building renovations I was to be transferred. Right then we left the residential surveillance location in Beijing, and I was secretly transferred to a residential surveillance location in Tianjin. It must have been in a People’s Armed Police building, since I was guarded by armed police officers. (The place in Beijing must also have been a PAP building, too. I think it was in the Xiaotangshan area of Changping, Beijing. I remember when I was there often hearing the sound of fireworks nearby. Perhaps it wasn’t far from a cemetery or a crematorium?)
In Tianjin they took off the white gloves. They did all sorts of things to get me to confess: starving me, forbidding me to move my legs, beating me, intimidating me, forcing me to sleep in a fixed posture, disciplining me. For half a month I was made to sit on a block for 16 hours straight every day.
I was kept in Room 8, facing rooms 11 and 12. I saw these numbers once through the gap in my blinders when I was taken out for my room to be disinfected.
What Happened October 1-10 Above Room 8?
At about 9 a.m. on October 1, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From October 1 to 10, nearly every day I heard interrogations, howling, and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me. That was when I decided that I absolutely had to control myself, find a way to get out as early as possible, and expose this torture.
I guarantee this is not a hallucination. I hope the day will come when people on the outside can see the site of this terrible torture with their own eyes: the room above Room 8 at the 709 residential surveillance location must be a special room. I often heard them moving all kinds of equipment, dragging it here and there. There was the incessant sound of installation and adjustment, lasting for two months straight at least. I don’t know what happened up there. Just before the 709 residential surveillance came to an end—that is, in the last few evenings before the 709 detainees were formally arrested in early or mid-January 2016—from Room 8 I heard people organizing files, stacking papers on top of each other. It often sounded like meetings were being held up there, too.
Devils in White
After I was transferred to Tianjin, it was around October when they suddenly started giving me daily checkups. They would take my blood pressure and check my heart rate. I could tell they were nervous. Every other week or two they would bring in an electrocardiogram and check my heart. With this change I realized some among us must have started having health problems. There was a Director Zhou, and a doctor who I think was named Liu He, who examined me. Every doctor and nurse was expressionless and stony-faced, like robots. They did not interact with me beyond routine business, and I never felt a drop of good will from them. I had no way of knowing their names or identities. This was terrifying. They did whatever the higher-ups told them to do, regardless of how I felt about it. If I made a request of any kind, they either would ask the special investigators for instructions or simply not respond at all. You would think they were angels in white, but the more I saw them, the more they seemed like devils in white.
While in Tianjin, nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine. Every day a physician would bring the medicine, and every time they would shine a flashlight in my throat to make sure I’d swallowed. It was about four white pills each time. They said I had elevated transaminases and that it could be a problem with my liver. But I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m in good health and haven’t had any health problems. I’m also not in the habit of taking medicine. I think everyone’s body is unique. Even if a certain indicator is high for someone else, for me that same reading could be just fine. I tried reasoning with them several times and refused to take the medicine. Then the physician, the discipline officer and the warden had to come force feed the pills to me. I had no choice but give in. After about two months the medicine stopped.
Sitting on the Block
At first I had a high-backed chair in my room. Then it was swapped for a block with nothing to lean on when I sat down. I sat there for at least 12 hours a day, sometimes as much as 16 hours a day. When you’re sitting on the block you are not allowed to rest your hands in your lap for support, andthe on-duty soldiers carry out orders to the letter. You can all try sitting on a block, or a stool, without resting your hands, so that you only have the strength of your back to support you. An hour is fine. What about ten hours, a hundred hours, a thousand hours? Few of you will be able to imagine it. If you aren’t cooperative during an interrogation, all they have to do is to put you on that block, and you will succumb to their control.
I’ll give an example. Once I asked to revise an interrogation transcript. They beat me and boxed my ears. For more than ten days after they only gave me half rations, nothing more than a few bites of vegetables and one small steamed bun or a few mouthfuls of rice. For 16 hours, from morning to night, I had to sit, and when I slept I had to hold a posture as dictated by the guards. They asked me to sit on the block like a soldier: head up, chest out, back straight, hands on knees. Except for using the bathroom, I was not allowed to move at all from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. In the end I sat so long that my legs tingled and went numb. When I had to relieve myself, I physically couldn’t. They don’t have to beat you and they don’t have to curse at you. All they have to do is make you keep sitting like that. You’ll either die or be crippled.
Day after day the interrogations went on. Starting with my lawsuit against Jiang Zemin (江泽民) for violating the constitution and popular will by staying on as chair of the Central Military Commission in 2003, to the 2005 signature campaign to help lawyer Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), to advocating for direct election of members of the Beijing Lawyers Association in 2008, to signing Charter 08, to the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, to human rights cases I had taken on over the years, to rescuing fellow lawyers, to petitions, to letters of appeal I had written, like the one calling for Tang Jitian (唐吉田) to have his right to practice law reinstated, and the one calling for the release of Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) and the protection of his rights as a journalist; from raising funds at a seminar in Zhengzhou for the lawyers detained in Jiansanjiang (建三江), to Liu Jiacai’s (刘家财) incitement of subversion case, to Zhang Xiangzhong’s case (张向忠), to Falun Gong cases, to Xu Dong’s case (许东), to the Qing’an shooting (庆安), and on and on, and then to taking the position of legal advisor in Qin Yongmin’s organization Human Rights Observer (秦永敏，人权观察), to helping Qin Yongmin himself; from giving interviews to foreign media, to my participation in academic symposia in Hong Kong, to my compilation of Roads of Faith (《信仰之路》), to the articles on peaceful democratic transition I had posted online, and even to a dinner I had organized in Beijing in early 2015—they asked me about all of these.
When they asked about other people—who was at a particular event, who had participated—my default answer was: I don’t know, I couldn’t quite remember. I insisted on this during the endless interrogations, but as long they didn’t get what they wanted they wouldn’t stop. When they had tried everything, when they had asked me repeatedly and I wouldn’t comply, they brought printouts from the internet, my communication history, online records, to verify with me one by one. They were the ones who brought up theoe names, but in the interrogation transcripts, they made it look as though I had given these names to them. Later, they didn’t even bother to play this trick; instead they would simply type up “transcripts” and have me sign them.
But early on and often I vowed to them that I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I insisted that my actions had nothing to do with anyone else, that I’d take full responsibility for all my deeds, that I respect the facts and the law, and that I would not shirk my own problems.
They took great pains with me, because they also had to report to their superiors. If I didn’t sign, that meant I didn’t comply, and that would be their failure. They told me if I made it difficult for them, they wouldn’t let me go. If I had a bad attitude, they had all sorts of ways to torment me. Once you’re in the detention center, if you don’t cooperate, they punish all the inmates in the same cell and don’t let them have daily yard time. In short, they had a thousand different ways to force me to submit, but one thing is certain: during more than a year and a half of interrogations , I didn’t identify a single person, and I didn’t give them a single piece of information that would implicate anyone else.
Their method is to turn everything upside-down inspecting your computer, your phone, your books, your possessions, your contacts, all records of your life. From elementary to high school, your parents, your family, your relatives, your friends, everything about you is in their grasp. It is a boundless war (超限战), meaning there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want. For example, they showed me photos of my newborn daughter, videos of my son in class and playing the horsehead fiddle; and they threatened to detain my wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). That nearly broke me.
Walking was the only diversion I had. Except for when they forbade me to move at all, every day I asked the two soldiers for permission to walk back and forth the two or three meters between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand kilometers during my six months of secret detention. At first walking was one of the greatest pleasures, but later on I walked so much I hurt the ligaments in my knees. But still I told myself to keep walking. I was afraid that they would take away this one small freedom from me.
In February or March 2016, Lieutenant Yan and Officer Li came and had me inventory my credit cards, bank cards, ID card, household registration, and personal records, and had me sign a statement about my confiscated possessions. They said as soon as I signed they would send everything back to my wife. I noticed right away they didn’t have a laundry list of the items, yet this document I had to sign stated that “all of the above-mentioned items were on my person [at the time of my detention].” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I objected immediately. It was summer when they detained me and I was only wearing shorts. I had had nothing on me besides my keys and some loose change. In any case, it makes no sense for anyone to carry his or her household registration and personal files. But if I didn’t sign they wouldn’t send anything back. My wife had to care for our three children and she doesn’t work. She needed those documents. I had no choice but to sign. When I got out, however, I saw that hundreds of thousands of yuan had vanished from my bank account. I heard that Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), lawyer Xie Yang’s wife (谢阳), also saw all her savings evaporate overnight. To this day, the bank has been evading my inquiries about my account activities during my detention.
All of the 709 detainees wore red vests in the detention center. Ordinary criminals wear blue vests; death row inmates and people convicted in certain corruption cases, like the 2015 Tianjin explosions, wear yellow; and inmates who are ill wear green. Red is for the highest level of inmates, the ones dealt with most strictly. My vest number was 166. I know that Wu Gan’s (吴淦) is 161 and Xing Qingxian’s (幸清贤) is 169. I was in cell C5. One of them was probably in C6, the other in C7. We were all close by, but red vests were forbidden from seeing each other and were questioned separately. I had to ask permission to do anything, including drinking water or using the toilet. The HD cameras set up in the cell monitored our every move. Every day when I had to relieve myself, the on-duty cellmate would go to the intercom by the door and report this to the discipline officer. Once the discipline officer approved, two cellmates would lead me to the bathroom, one in front of me and one behind. I never spent a cent on anything in the detention center, both in protest of the substandard meals and of the unsightly one-upmanship that went on among my fellow inmates. I went on eating my ration of cabbage every day. It was true that, several times, the detention center sent me food and supplies (I suppose they did the same for the other 709 detainees, too), and on those occasions I’d have a share for myself and distribute the rest among my cellmates. And the moldy peanuts my cellmates threw away were my favorite treat.
People have asked me if I gave any oral or written confessions. In those 500 long days, I wrote at least two notes of repentance. For the first one I wrote the bare minimum. I didn’t use words like “confess” or “repent,” and I put the primacy of human rights, peaceful democracy, and the rule of law at the core of my self-criticism. They weren’t satisfied and forced me to write another note. In the second one I admitted that I had incited subversion by advocating for peaceful democracy in my writings. At last, when I had done what they had asked, they didn’t forget to make me title it “Note of Repentance.”
Let me explain my thinking at the time: First, I wanted to make things a bit easier in case I had to stand trial, the sooner to rejoin my family. Second, I told myself that I had to get out and bear witness to the torture we were suffering, to keep the public’s attention on my peers still in prison, to help others avoid this treatment, and to pave the way for this whole injustice to be reversed! Third of all, I was completely cut off from the outside world. They found all kinds of ways to keep me in submission: not letting the cell block out for exercise if I was uncooperative; telling me everyone else had been released except for me; showing me the videos of the trials of Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), and of Wang Yu’s (王宇) televised interview, and showing me their confessions and notes of repentance; playing me videos of my kids; showing me the photo of my newborn daughter; and on and on.
Once they dressed me up and taped me reading a statement they had prepared. They promised me up and down that the video was only for their superiors, not for the public. They made me write things and videotape things. I once told them in no unclear terms that all of this wasn’t about my own needs but about their superiors’. To me, whether I was inside or outside prison I would shoulder my responsibility just the same, and neither was easy.
As I watched Hu Shigen’s trial, I was stunned, and inspired, by the look in his eyes. I also made plans for the worst. In the court, Mr. Hu admitted that he was guilty of subversion of state power, but he also used the opportunity to lay out his political theory, turning CCTV and many other state media outlets into his podium. He expounded on the three factors of peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy and the five proposals. I thought that if the day came for me to stand trial, I would do the same as Mr. Hu and present to the public the concept of peaceful democracy and the policies to implement it. It was just like they say, seek and you shall find, a result befitting my years of devotion to the effort to realize peaceful democracy in China. I imagined the scene in the courtroom. If my family could be there too, I would also tell my children, “Daddy loves you. Daddy can’t go fishing or catch grasshoppers with you anymore. Daddy is doomed to miss your childhood. But Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price.”
The interrogators, I sensed, were not at ease doing what they did. From the highest to the lowest, they were beholden to personal interest, force, and power. They had no moral sense, each ready to jump ship if he had to save himself. The 709 case, I would say, was a hot potato from the very start. I was questioned by people who called themselves Old Jiang and Cao Jianguang (both from Beijing), Old Wang (who turned out to be surnamed Yan), Liu Bo (Lieutenant Liu), Officer Li (Tianjin), and two or three others whose names I don’t know. There was also one from the Ministry of Public Security who might have been surnamed Liu, who recited the Heart Sutra for me. They said that, year in and year out, they dealt with cases involving the big tigers, the highest-level officials. They were clearly not just ordinary public security bureaucrats. The thing is, though these insiders looked and acted strong, they knew full well that they were breaking the law and that this time they were facing extraordinary opponents. I could sense that nearly every one of them wavered at one time or the other, feeling tormented themselves and not knowing what to do. Then there were the armed police who guarded me. Except for the cruelty of the imprisonment itself, I clearly sensed their conscience, their natural goodness, and their disapproval of the atrocities perpetrated against me.
Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place
This coercive practice known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place” is probably rooted in intraparty struggles and corruption investigations. In recent years it has spread and been legalized. In Party parlance this form of custody is known as “double designation” (双规) or “to be isolated and investigated.” It can be perverse or straightforward, lax or strict. It all depends on the demands and preferences of whoever’s in charge. It is essentially domestic discipline—extrajudicial punishment.
When you are under residential surveillance at a designated place, such as I was, there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process, no channel for relief, not even a legal mechanism to protect your health or your sanity. Your family and your lawyers are left in the dark, unable to meet or communicate with you. No one even knows if you’re alive or dead. In the process abuse and torture are inevitable. This is why cases continuously emerge of unusual deaths, mental illness, and bodily harm occurring during the residential surveillance.
I Challenge You
Since I was released I’ve felt conflicted. I wanted to expose these crimes, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even the perpetrators. After much consideration, I still decided to speak what I know, because even exposing the criminals would benefit their children and their grandchildren. I would like here to address the head of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, Zhao Fei (天津市公安局局长赵飞), and his subordinates: I believe that yourselves and the special investigators all have the qualifications, as well as the duty, to stand up and explain the 709 case to your superiors, including the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Central Committee of the CCP, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the entire nation. What happened? What exactly did these lawyers and citizens do? Is what they have done legal or illegal? Reach into your conscience and tell us: Are their actions and conduct truly harmful to a country, a people, a society? Were they defending the rule of law and human rights, or were they committing crimes? Who exactly is afraid of them? Who ordered you to torture these lawyers and citizens? What were you trying to accomplish? Why did you pick Tianjin to handle the 709 case, as it went against procedural law? Who made that decision?
Director Zhao Fei, I demand that you stand up and tell your fellow countrymen why you let torture happen under your watch. What was going on in the room (the torture chamber) above Room 8 from October 1 to 10? What happened to Hu Shigen? What happened to Wang Quanzhang? What was the plan for 709 crackdown? Who planned the Cultural Revolution-style trials of public opinion and the media smear campaigns? How did you get government-appointed lawyers involved? Whose despicable idea was it to force some of us to confess and to televise the confessions? Who gave you the right to tape the 709 detainees? You didn’t even make exceptions for the young paralegals Zhao Wei (赵威) and Li Shuyun (李姝云). You labelled these 20-somethings subverters of state power. Who decided to turn everyone into an enemy of the state? Who decided to charge us with picking quarrels and provoking troubles first, then switch the charge to inciting subversion of state power, and finally to subversion of state power itself? As a law enforcer, did you give expert legal advice to your superiors? Who ordered the cruel and criminal treatment of the detainees—the secret detentions, the starvation, the sleeping postures, the ban on movement, the 16-hour sessions of sitting like a soldier? Who ordered that we be forced to sign the transcripts of our interrogations, deprived of our right to petition, deprived of our right to defense, forced to take medicine? Who ordered you to appoint lawyers for us against our will and devise all kinds of tactics to intimidate us? Who sent the procurators and special investigators to coax me and try to change my mind? When you confiscated my possessions, why didn’t you inventory my credit cards, my bank card, my ID and all the other items? Why haven’t you returned what you took from me? Who gave you the right to monitor the phones and online communications of citizens?
Calm in the Storm
My time inside was hard to endure. The detention center is a bit better; residential surveillance is much worse. Truth be told, I was eager to leave my imprisonment the first three months, but then I slowly settled down. After I got to the detention center they continued to interrogate me regularly and try to persuade me to do their bidding. They even enlisted my cellmates and the discipline officer to change my mind. I told them that they were the ones who were fretting over gains and losses, and that, for me, it wouldn’t matter if things turned out to be one way or the other. At this age, I told them, I shoulder my responsibility when I’m on the outside, and I do the same when I was sitting in prison. Sitting in prison might even be a bit easier and quieter.
Having reached an equilibrium, I really look down on them: some of their ideas and ways of doing things are so low and so despicable. They aren’t worthy opponents in intelligence or ability. I pity them more and more. They deceive, they bluff and they fret. They put on an act in front of me. As for me, I have learned from experience the power of the Dao: the have-nots conquer the haves, the calm conquer the restless, the weak conquer the strong.
Excerpted and translated from Chinese by China Change.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 19, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation, January 20, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others, January 21, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
Meng Han, October 11, 2017
Continued from Part One
Governmental Dysfunction and NGO Work
In our time of great changes, the term “NGO”—when applied to our Service Center—inevitably has some political connotation. NGO workers have nothing to do with any criminal activities, but have everything to do with governmental dysfunction. It is precisely because of this that we drew attention from society. It is also because of this that the media, scholars, and workers have taken an interest in us and observed our work. As a matter of fact, it is inevitable that NGOs will impact the government in any country. The core issue is in what manner NGOs are making an impact. In my opinion, the involvement of the Service Center in Lide’s labor dispute, at the request of the workers, was positive, progressive, and moved society forward.
For many years local governments have focused on GDP, political achievement, and stability in economic development. Have they ever realized that the contradiction between employees and employers has intensified, and that workers and migrant peasant workers will be the biggest victims if they continue to do things this way? I am very familiar with this group of people for I was a laid-off worker. The saying “behind high-rise buildings there are shadows, and under neon lights blood and tears” is a true portrayal of this class of people.
Compared with unorganized and extreme rights activities, these organized rights activities are no doubt rational progress. The success of the Lide workers’ struggle is precisely because of this. During the process, this group may be unstable and may encounter all kinds of conflicts, but they must go through this process. Those who are unaware of their rights must be awoken from their slumber. They can win as long as they think from their point of view, advocate and defend their rights and interests, overcome difficulties, keep up their resistance, believe in organizing themselves, and rely on collective strength. I believe that they have the courage and that they certainly have a strong desire to win.
During this process, I have tried to understand how young workers’ enthusiasm and older workers’ awareness of their goals entered into agreement. Did our recommendations play a complementary role? When I look back, that is exactly how it worked. We prepared several negotiation plans and various suggestions. For instance, to make sure that the social security arrears must be paid while they could make some compromises on reserve fund[i] and overtime pay. They adopted these suggestions. There were numerous such examples.
Now I am absolutely convinced that in the past few years the contradiction between labor and owners has become increasingly prominent, and many workers are worried that their legitimate rights and interests are wantonly infringed upon and exploited. Government dysfunction, mutual prevarication, bureaucratic government-led “unions,” and complicated and lengthy legal procedures all led to the frustration and desperation of workers when they wanted to make a complaint. And it is for these reasons that NGO institutions such as the Panyu Migrant Worker Service Center came into being and provided what was needed. It is also at this time that the idea of “serving the workers and making the interests of workers the top priority” took root in my heart. However, even so, I cannot forget the serious consequences brought about by the disorderly rights struggle of the workers. We have ample examples in which workers lost their freedom, health, and even lives in chaotic and unorganized rights struggles. Therefore, the Service Center tried to guide the workers to set up workers’ organizations during its involvement in the Lide workers’ rights activities to ensure orderliness. Did such an act constitute a major factor of our violation of the law? From the actions of the government, we see that it has come to this conclusion.
I would like to repeat the words I have said more than once: In this era, in fact, almost everyone understands that the most important reason for the workers’ strike was that the workers held the strike for their decency and dignity. This aspect of the strike was reported in the media and online. In fact, the strike was also a heroic struggle against the bureaucracy and owners. It is entirely different from anti-government behavior. I thought that everyone should have understood this.
I do not even care to figure out why and how the state media demonized our work by accusing us of “criminal offenses.” I just want to figure out why the workers’ rights and interests are generally infringed upon and what effective ways there are to protect the rights and interests of workers. That’s what I want to do.
If our organizing and guiding workers to help them protect their legitimate rights and interests are criminal offenses, then I want to ask: is it not a criminal offense when the police use force to suppress an NGO’s normal work and the judiciary institutions abuse criminal law against NGOs?
The Path for Workers to Fight for Their Rights Has Been Blocked
While in prison, I had time to think. I got excited all over again every time I recalled how I first met the Lide workers.
At that time, I did a very important thing—my colleagues and I guided workers to form a steering group through an election. After that, they met other workers and actively carried out promotional activities. Strictly speaking, these activities were full of vitality, happiness, and pleasantness. There was no element of coercion, force, or threat, only suggestion to participate in the activities to defend their own interests. There was also another move—broadcasting a successful rights case, and asking ordinary workers to get on the stage and talk about their experiences in defending their rights and their views on advocating their rights. Now I know very well that it is very hard to do the same again, but how effective a move it was.
One thing I’d like to add is that, after the victory of the workers’ strike, we strived to collect the most effective and best practices adopted during their rights activities and organized workers’ tours to give talks to workers in other places. Workers elsewhere benefited from the new working method we adopted. We guided workers on how to use media and its influence to completely change the passive and weak position of workers in their struggle. This does not just mean a different entry point or different ways of defending rights. In fact, this reflects the civil rights awareness by the new generation of workers in current society.
It is these new methods of work that put workers’ rights activities onto the right track. It changed the previous disorderly situation where workers fought individually in demanding pay and defending their rights. They put the facts on display, and collectively faced the employer, the government, and the media. This is not only a show of determination, confidence, and strength, it is also a heightened sense of rights awareness and reflection of collective wisdom of the workers.
When I look back at the events two years ago, I have to admit that my heart is very heavy. For a long time—in fact from the time when I was a worker at the First Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine—I have had this problem.
I remember a female worker, a representative of the workers, at the hospital who had worked there for more than a dozen years and got a lot of recognition and awards. When she was laid off by the hospital, she received no social security or health insurance. At the time when the strikes achieved some initial victory, her legs were in so much pain she could barely stand up. When she left with a meager ¥20,000 (about US$3,300 at the time) of humanitarian relief, I felt so sad I almost cried out loud. This is something that has sat heavily on my chest.
Having these painful thoughts in mind, I feel that I should tell the process, motives and my feelings during these events. To be honest, this is a bit scary. People in general accept certain things directly in real time. They experience happiness, uneasiness, anger, or pain in the real situation. But I know how things will change, and they unfold the way I foresee them. This advanced knowledge doesn’t make me happy. On the contrary.
It is rather obvious that the road for workers’ rights advocacy has been blocked and the back door has long been closed, too. The economy has developed to this day but workers do not have the right to strike or organize their own trade unions. If workers do not even have the right to associate, how can workers protect their rights in this era of powerful capital? We cannot allow this situation of keeping low labor costs to continue. In order to end this situation, workers need to organize, to set up their own trade unions, and to have their right to strike! A society where workers and NGOs are suppressed through so-called law and administrative means is not a society ruled by law.
I felt a heavy burden off my shoulders after expressing these feelings and views, even though Lide workers’ strikes became my crime. As in the past, before the legal process was completed, the case had been coordinated in advance by government offices to set the tone.
At the moment, what we still see is a judicial system succumbing to external power, lawyer’s defenses subjected to various restrictions, and a manipulated judicial process. All these led to an unfair trial in my case. Such an unjust judicial system shook my already wavering faith in the law. However, the prosecution by the procuratorate and the judgment of the court against me were just to meet the needs of external power. They have become the guardian of local interests. It is the working class who get hurt the most!
This is only one aspect of the real tragedy of the working class, an aspect that makes every worker uneasy. As an older worker, however, I have something else that I worry about too—the continued deterioration of labor-owner relations in the market economy will lead to the instability of labor relations as a whole. To this today, the interests and rights of a large number of workers in our country’s development and urban construction are still infringed upon. Doubtlessly, the government should take the responsibility.
As an older worker, I can only express my deep admiration for those labor NGO staff, labor rights lawyers, as well as people from all walks of life who are concerned about labor rights. In the protection and maintenance of workers’ rights and interests, their acts may not be noticeable, but they have done a lot of work. It is they who have given the workers determination and courage to advocate for their rights and interests.
In my opinion, what we did is correct. There is no doubt about it.
Their Method of Solving Problems is Imprisonment
The workers’ strike has been associated with my life spent in detention.
I clearly remember how they talked to me in the interrogation room: some police officers freely assumed my guilt and asked me to incriminate other colleagues of the Service Center in exchange for a lighter sentence. It is from this dirty deal that I saw their abuses. Their oppression of ordinary and honest people like us has gone beyond handling a criminal case.
This makes everything look like persecution.
I remember I remained silent for a long time while staring at them. My thoughts were heavy and painful. They took turns to interrogate me day and night, repeatedly modifying the interrogation transcripts and forcing me to sign. It really shocked me. For so many months and so many times, they wanted to get from me materials that could be used to incriminate others.
This lasted for a long time. I always persuaded myself: even though they did not wear police uniforms, they were police, whom I ran into in my work all the time. I remember that their investigation began right after the Lide workers’ strike. At that time the workers had been organized. We were all clear that neither of us could get the problem solved by doing this. It was just a farce. But still….
In order to create an atmosphere suited for their handling of my case, they kept pressuring me to plead guilty. They have acted like that even to this day.
I have been trying to free myself from this suffocating, unbearable, and menacing atmosphere. We were punished by the “law.” In fact we were presumed guilty from the very beginning. The rest of it was to move through the so-called legal procedures, which they did without scruples.
Their repeated sentences can never change my mind.
The confrontation between workers and the police because of the rights activities is my pain. No, the pain is not ours, but that of our time! For this reason, Lide workers’ strike is but a microcosm in this era, because they reflect the plight of all workers.
Everyone knows that it is workers who are the masters of this country. But they have no status, no power, no resources. All they can do is to unite against the exploitation of the owners. If the government cannot even accept these activities, that means those of us who desire decent work and a dignified life will pay too high a price.
I do not even want to write these words. No one at any time can impose their will on me and make me violate my principles as a man.
I want to go out of the prison cell and breathe fresh air. In any case, I cannot abandon what I believe.
For an ordinary person like me, going to jail twice is like a thunderbolt from a blue sky. Meanwhile, you are fully aware that workers’ rights and interests are infringed upon, and more and more workers are demanding pay owed to them. Many workers even lost their lives because of this.
The functional departments that lost their initiative were eager to find ways to solve problems. But the miracle did not happen. So sending us to prison is the “best way.”
Love and Pain
Long-term imprisonment has deteriorated my health. Continued treatment made me so weak. But what made me really suffer is being separated from my partner. We have never been separated, or taken a vacation alone, or lived our lives divided in two halves.
Words cannot express how much she gave me spiritually and materially. Without her, I would not be able to stand the storm—either in 2013 or 2015. Without her, I would have perished. Now, when her career is flourishing, she has to spend a lot of energy to care for and support me.
She is a rare, sincere, and optimistic person. She has to—in her own way—suffer the tragedy brought to her because of my work. She spent a lot of effort to care for those old unemployed peasant workers, helping them to be employed again. If everyone knew this, many would take her as an example and actively engage in the care of those older unemployed workers. Everyone can feel it and they all like her.
This is my private matter, and she is the woman in my private space. When I heard our private life mentioned in a media report, I could not describe how awful I felt. To outsiders, it seems only a moral issue. But for me, it is purely private. Because of this, I feel very angry.
This report is like a thorn that has taken root in my body. Any remarks about her will touch my heart and give me pain. For me, she is not only my family, girlfriend, confidant, she is also a responsibility in my personal memory.
Every second at night in prison is getting heavier. How can I make myself fall asleep? Regardless, ordinary people should have our own private space.
At the end of October 2016, I suffered tremendous pressure. My colleagues were tried and sentenced. I was dealt with separately and my trial kept being delayed. The police intentionally showed the video of my colleagues at their trial. It was a tough day for me. Suddenly I felt that I could no longer stand it. But at the same time, my insistence of adhering to my principles and the responsibility of finding the truth were on my shoulders. I felt that I could barely hold on and I was about to break down….
Now, if I could return to that moment, what would I feel? I would not feel shame, nor would I feel angry, but something else. I once again could feel the uneasiness, nervousness, and heaviness that pressed me so much I could not even lift my head.
Then came the most ridiculous day. On November 3, my trial opened and ended smoothly as previously rehearsed. Everything disgusted me and made me feel helpless. I felt humiliated. Suddenly I understood: It is not important any more how I play my role in this drama. I would be seen as a bad actor anyway.
I understand the most important point: in this event, no matter how hard I try and how strongly I carry myself through as an individual, the outcome would be the same.
Despite the disguised threats and the promises the authorities have made, I will not hesitate to help those workers if they need it, knowing very well that I may once again face the same outcome.
Whenever I sit in the dining room with other “criminals,” I always appear to have been lost in my thoughts. My heart was filled with complex feelings. Sometimes I felt a kind of loss. I had had the same feeling after the verdict. But I don’t want to believe that this feeling of loss is becoming more and more intense now.
My Future Road
Over the past few years, day in and day out, workers’ rights work has become my entire life, occupying my mind. Whenever I think of those workers who struggle for just their basic rights, those experiences will soon make my adrenaline run high. I have been for some time feeling lost because of these experiences and the pain their memories brought me.
I feel lonely, even bored. But I do not want to infect others with this emotion.
Is this the event that makes me restless? If so, how can I go on like this?
I started thinking. The first thing I thought about was that I should really get back all I had lost in these years: the ability to self-analyze and think for myself. In addition, I must be responsible for my ideas and confidence. I will also be responsible for my work and my actions. Although the road to my ideals may be tortuous and long, we have started our journey after all.
Yes, this is very important. This is also the direction of my life.
These are my “Notes from Prison”—my experiences and my feelings, my various observations, impressions and views.
I had these thoughts alone while in prison and have not told anyone how I felt. I should truthfully write down all that I have experienced and felt, and why I did this or that. Now, only one question remains: what will I be like in the future?
I feel as if I’m climbing Mount Everest. Today I am in a state where I have exhausted all my strength and energy in defending workers’ rights and interests, from beginning to end.
If I feel it necessary to further argue for myself, I would suggest: “Go and ask workers and migrant peasant workers!”
And I will continue to complete the unfinished work.
Third revision, written in prison, August 23, 2017.
My thoughts, wrapped with the storm of yesterday, beat my heart like mind-blowing waves crashing into the shore.
The past still remains. Everything present is the continuation of history, which is a train hurtling forward with tears and blood. This huge inertia cannot change just because someone has good intentions. New impetus needs to be injected for history to change and be created. Of course we also need to have new ideas that keep up with the times.
There is no doubt that after more than three decades of reform, our country has made huge progress that impresses the world. In the process, workers and farmers have sacrificed a great deal. Now, the period during which people of all classes benefit from the reforms has been irreversibly ended. The gap between the rich and poor has widened continuously. Overall, rights and interests of the new generation of workers have often been flouted. The increasing wealth will not solve the increasingly sharp contradictions between labor and ownership. We urgently hope that law can really play its role in today’s market-oriented society. This process will be accompanied by pain. It requires both the government and people of all walks of life, as well as workers, to understand and tolerate each other. It requires common and creative wisdom—the past events prove that the workers are full of such wisdom.
Written in prison, August 28, 2017
[i] Reserve Fund refers to the Housing Reserve Fund, a compulsory 5 percent or more withholding by the government from an employee’s paycheck to be used for housing compensation. But in practice, the requirements for withdrawing one’s reserve fund are onerous.
Liu Shaoming, a 1989 Veteran and a Labor Activist, Remains Imprisoned Without Sentence, China Change, May 31, 2017.
Meng Han, October 10, 2017
On December 3, 2015, Guangdong police raided a series of labor NGOs in the Pearl River Delta area, detaining several NGO leaders and activists. Among them was Meng Han (孟晗), a then 50-year-old experienced labor activist and an intern at Panyu Migrant Worker Service Center in Guangzhou. Meng Han had served nine months in jail for leading a rights struggle in between 2013 and 2014, and this time, he was tried and sentenced to twenty-one months in prison. Last month he was released and shortly afterward he posted “Notes From Prison” (《狱中札记》) on social media. He was subsequently questioned by police and given warnings. “We are innocent,” he told the court in 2013 and his words still ring true, “the real criminals are those who use the power the people give them to wantonly trample over workers’ legitimate rights. They disregard the law at will, and they should be the defendants, not us, the helpless workers… As a veteran worker in contemporary China, I’d rather spend the rest of my life in prison than be deprived even of my right to work with dignity.” China Change is honored to bring a full translation of Meng Han’s “Notes From Prison” to afford our readers a rare glimpse into an indomitable activist’s life and reflections on labor plight in China. — The Editors
The rhythm of prison life has slowed me down. This has given me the opportunity to recover and ponder issues.
I do indeed have issues to think about….
Such an important period of time in my life is about to end. Even my family members don’t know what happened. This is something unprecedented.
Today, I alone bear the pain brought by this incident [the Lide shoe factory strike]. I endure it almost all by myself. I was a participant and a witness of this incident.
To tell the truth, I cannot bear the heaviness of this burden. I’m eager to talk about it with someone. I can only use this means to write down my thoughts, and they are also reflections on my experience of the past few years.
Workers at the First Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine Collectively Defending Their Rights
I was laid off in 1997 during the reform of state enterprises. I received my severance pay and left the enterprise where I had worked for 17 years. It was a difficult time. I had to do whatever job I could find to support my family.
After some twists and turns, I started doing security work for the First Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine. I loved my job. Shortly after I started working with great enthusiasm, the hospital laid off all caregiving workers. I never thought that, as security workers, we had the same contract problems and other problems such as different pay for the same work, overtime pay, and the same annual vacation issues. What was more outrageous was that even though we worked in Guangzhou, our social security was bought for people working in Qingyuan, another city in Guangdong Province. We complained to the higher authorities multiple times, but they just ignored us and put it off for a long time. We felt so helpless that we—caregiving workers, stretcher workers, and security guards—launched a strike that lasted for 90 days. I was elected through one-person-one-vote as the chief representative for this collective workers’ rights negotiation. At the same time, storms started to come toward me from all directions.
Perhaps very few people now remember the then shocking incident of workers at the First Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine collectively defending their rights in the summer of 2013. But those who participated in that strike may still feel the emotional pull of it and find it unforgettable.
It was an exceptionally hot summer. We visited the provincial General Labor Union[i] seven times for help and petitioned the provincial government multiple times. But they kept delaying and shifting responsibilities. Our problem was not solved. The situation between workers and employer-bureaucrats became confrontational. Even though we had not received pay for several months, we didn’t give up. More than 100 workers continued the strike even though more than 80 of them had been taken to police stations for interrogations. Every time the employer-bureaucrats agreed to solve the problem, but they never fulfilled their promise.
Our persistence and resistance of nearly three months finally made the employer-bureaucrats give in. We achieved some initial success. At our celebration party, fellow workers looked at each other in silence, some with tears in their eyes. They were all heroes in this fight for their rights. However, the issues for security guards had not been resolved. Workers’ dissatisfaction eventually exploded. We security workers continued our fight. We climbed on top of the glass rain awning in front of the outpatient building, demanding that the employer come out to negotiate and resolve the labor dispute. For this, twelve of us paid a high price[ii]. The prolonged intensity took a heavy toll on me emotionally. I was exhausted.
The nine months in prison did not defeat me, nor was it able to. On May 18, 2014, I left the detention center and saw many people waiting to receive me. They were the people I like the most and feel the closest to. There were also the workers’ representatives whom I respect the most.
Perhaps it was my passion and my will to resist that made me hesitate no more.
Becoming an NGO Worker and Lide Shoe Factory Workers Defending Their Rights
In July 2014 I made the most important choice in my life after I left the prison by joining the Fanyu Migrant Workers Service Center (番禹打工族服务部) and becoming a full-time NGO worker to serve workers. Later, because of my work, I got involved in the Lide Shoe Factory labor dispute.
It was decided on August 17, in a work meeting of the Service Center, that we would help with the Lide Factory workers’ request and that all employees of the Service Center would participate in helping the workers. I was still an intern, lucky to participate in this fight for workers’ benefits.
In January 2015 I became a full-time employee of the Fanyu Migrant Workers Service Center. To me this was not just a job. In a few months of hard work we’d already became friends who shared the same ideals. Every weekend we would have picnic parties, and organized activities with different themes. We tried to avoid politics, focusing only on the workers. Once in awhile we would also talk about family and love. We communicated with each other honestly, willing to express our own opinions and share our feelings.
For the first time in a long time I experienced this bright, passionate optimism. I thought to myself that I no longer needed to work so hard, like “a dog acting as an ox plowing a field” and running all over the place only to run up against stone walls everywhere I went. The heavy burden that I used to carry was removed from my shoulders. I was working with an excellent team and we had a common goal: “Keeping workers’ interests as the highest priority.”
Organized by workers’ representatives, Lide Factory workers held two strikes, through which they achieved some victories. Those workers, who had suffered exploitation for so long, had never felt such enthusiasm. Many people were quite impressed.
Almost every week I met with these representatives. Even when they had to work overtime we would communicate via QQ and WeChat. I would honestly express my ideas and support the decisions workers’ representatives made. The workers were very enthusiastic about defending their rights, and their rights awareness had increased as well. But the situation was not as optimistic and exciting as what I describe now, especially after the second workers representatives’ plenary meeting.
By January 20, 2015, the Lide employer did not fulfill the labor agreement previously reached with the workers. Workers felt despair and were enraged by the dishonesty of their employer. By this time, rights awareness had penetrated deeply into the lives of the workers. I could not tolerate such a thing happening either. As we had always advocated, once the workers were determined to defend their rights, the best way to solve the problem was through fair dialogue and negotiations. No matter what, the workers were not to be lied to or let down.
The delaying and shirking of responsibility on the government side, and the improper involvement of the police also became catalysts for confrontation between the workers and the employer. The abnormal behavior of Lide’s five workers’ representatives as a result of police threats and coercion made the collective negotiation more difficult. Their contacting the police in private and accepting benefits from the police violated the rules for workers’ representatives. Representatives were also unable to report to the workers in a timely fashion the development of negotiations. No doubt they were under all kinds of pressure, lost their initial enthusiasm and sense of responsibility, and deviated from representing the interests of the whole group.
Their behavior caused an uproar among the other representatives. The situation became very complicated. The police continued their tactics of threatening, baiting, dividing, and cracking down. They seemed to enjoy the sweet success of their tricks of dividing and conquering, as if workers as a whole were under their control and suppression would succeed very easily.
April 19, 2015, was a day of true test for Lide workers. All Lide workers, as described by the “Workers’ Bulletin,” were full of enthusiasm, courage and wisdom. The Service Center and workers’ representatives actively sought ways to solve the problems. After repeated discussion, it was decided that the “Third Workers Plenary Meeting” be held on April 19 to resolve issues in defending their rights.
After the police tricks of dividing and conquering were seen clearly by the workers, Lide’s workers became more united.
At the meeting, I gave an intense speech on the labor rights issues that the Lide workers faced and expressed my views on the loss of trust in the employer and failure of responsibility on the part of the five representatives. I stated that any behavior that may harm the interest of the workers was not allowed. At the time, I felt that effective, forceful, and decisive measures should be taken.
But something unexpected happened during the dismissing and changing of workers’ representatives: A large number of fully armed police rushed into the meeting place to expel the workers. They took me away. But what was even more surprising was that all the workers went to protest at the police station, demanding that I be released. They were very brave and persistent. I was deeply moved by their sense of justice, which was very rare and precious.
Even though the Third Workers Plenary Meeting was interrupted, everyone was still full of hope. I was even more so. After the meeting, great changes took place among the workers: the violent interruption by the police and the loss of trust in the employer led to the third strike. The workers were fearless. To prevent the employer from moving production materials and factory equipment elsewhere, several hundred workers launched a factory protection action that lasted six days and five nights. They knew very well that, when facing the useless bureaucrats and the powerful employer, they must unite to fight together if they didn’t want their rights to be infringed upon and their dignity not trampled on. The fearless Lide workers won! I have always wondered whether the violent acts of the police led to this strike or the arrogance of the employer and their delay and shirking of responsibility caused this strike.
Looking back, I now see very clearly the cause for this strike. The police also conveniently found what they say were the reasons for strike[iii]. As I mentioned earlier, they once again used their power violently and openly to punish all the NGO workers from the Fanyu Migrant Workers Service Center, including me, who helped and supported Lide workers.
On December 3, 2015, I was put under residential surveillance due to my role in the Lide strike.
On the afternoon of December 5, 2015, I was criminally detained and taken to the detention center.
On January 8, 2016, I was formally arrested.
Prison and Interrogations
It was my second time at the detention center. I was no stranger to the extremely stressful life here. Indeed, the past 21 months have been difficult.
I don’t remember how many times I have been interrogated. I could no longer maintain my composure when seeing their faces. I didn’t want to hear their repeated advice to “plead guilty.” It seemed as if they had already passed judgment on me. They believed that it was both necessary and with good reason. My headache intensified because of it. I felt increasingly weak and had all kinds of symptoms of discomfort.
During the interrogations, the police said that all of the testimonies by the workers had one thing in common: that I was the leader and commander of all their rights activities, and that I had participated in each and every one of their events. That is true. I did indeed participate in all rights activities. Multiple warnings from the police regarding the strikes could not curb my enthusiasm, and my strong desire for winning this struggle. It was my first time participating in the capacity of an NGO worker in an episode that involved so many workers. I was able to meet and talk with many workers every day and I closely witnessed their unity, courage, and progress. Someone told me not to get involved too much and not to be too serious. But I couldn’t help myself. The strong and active enthusiasm is a good thing for my life. It would only help me endlessly.
What is unreasonable is that when workers interests were harmed, the government officials— who had no intention to resolve any problems—believed that the Panyu Migrant Worker Service Center and its employees are to blame.
Prior to the Lide strike, there had been countless strikes. The government approached disputes and temporarily diminished conflicts through cheating and trickery. But the real labor problems did not get resolved at all. Lide workers’ strikes were another way of defending their rights. At the same time I also know that the government didn’t really want to create criminal cases against these desperate workers and give them heavy sentences. That’s why it came up with group negotiations among the government, employer, and workers during the strike.
I should say that the local government reacted promptly to the strike. They started the negotiation process soon enough to meet workers’ demands. It has a lot to do with the success of Lide’s strike and several thousand Lide workers being able to defend their rights. From a legal point of view, the way “social security funds” were dealt with was ridiculous. But I can understand why they did it: the relevant government departments are in a situation where they have no power to resolve underlying problems.
By the way, after the second Lide strike, local police reacted promptly. While I was being subpoenaed, the police invited workers’ representatives to eat, drink, and tried to make friends with them. They used all kinds of tricks to get closer to the representatives. This shows that Lide workers’ efforts had really shocked the government officials.
Everyone knew that after the victory of the strike, the Fanyu Migrant Workers Service Center and its employees became targets of the government. In doing this, the government was able not to confront the workers directly, and at the same time it was able to shamelessly shirk its responsibility. Were there other motivations? I don’t know.
At the time, it didn’t occur to us what would happen to us NGO workers as the government was guided by its stability maintenance priority. It’s naïve to expect the government to change how they view us. I only came to realize this while in prison.
All these problems will continue, be it the strike at the First Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, the strike at the Lide Shoe Factory, or delinquent payment of wages. A violent crackdown will not improve the situation. It will only intensify it. If the problems are not resolved through correct and feasible means, labor relations will continue to be messy and problematic.
My attitude is unwavering. I strongly believe that we did the right thing in pushing forward the collective labor-employer negotiations. If such an act is punishable by law, I would rather take such risks and help workers resolve their problems.
In my opinion, what we did in April 2015 during the Lide workers’ strike—getting involved in the civil disobedience rights activities, educating workers about labor laws, and assisting in establishing orderly workers organizations—was positive and effective. I should reflect on what happened in an honest way. I should not evade the mistakes that we made, and I should not care about the pain the memories may bring.
[i] Unlike unions in a free society—where workers form independent unions to defend their rights and interests—labor unions in China are government entities whose primary job is not to fight for the workers’ well being but to ensure that workers remain under control.
[ii] On August 19, 2013, Meng Han and eleven other security workers were criminally detained for “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,” and he was released on May 18, 2014.
[iii] The police believed that the strike was a result of instigation by NGO workers such as Meng Han.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Throwing labor activists in jail won’t solve China’s structural problems, Quartz, November 2016.
Continue reading Part Two
Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017
Early in September the Justice Department of Shandong province notified Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), a 36-year-old lawyer in Jinan, the provincial capital, that his “anti-Communist Party, anti-socialism” expressions online had “threatened national security,” and he was disbarred. Mr. Zhu requested a public hearing.
Zhu Shengwu heads the Shandong Xinchang Law Firm (山东信常律师事务所) which he founded about a year ago. He has been practicing for only five years, specializing in intellectual property rights, particularly online copyright disputes. Beginning this year, however, he began taking on so-called “sensitive cases” – i.e., involving human rights. Among others, he represented Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), a man from Shandong who was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to two years in prison last April for calling the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping “Steamed Bun Xi,” and the late Mao Zedong “Demon Mao” in online chat rooms. Zhu believes that his defense of Wang — in which he made a “systematic, thorough and determined defense of freedom of expression” — is the real motive for his punishment.
Apart from defending his clients, Zhu began exercising his own freedom of expression on Weibo, which he began using in March. The account, with around 2,000 followers, was shut down in August. On it, Zhu had described China’s judicial system as “a meat grinder that churns out wrongful convictions,” and said that “China is ruled through terror and lies.” He also mocked the talks he had been summoned to with Justice Bureau officials.
In the Chinese system, Justice Departments or bureaus at different levels of the governments have an office whose job it is to “regulate lawyers,” and it uses annual reviews — in which licenses can be suspended or revoked — as a way to rein them in. For human rights lawyers, the annual review is a Damoclean sword hanging over their heads, and some of China’s bravest and best known human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked over the years.
One of the Justice Department officials in Shandong asked Zhu Shengwu repeatedly whether he’d like to keep his license. Zhu replied: “All I’ve done is represent a sensitive case, write a defense systematically arguing for freedom of speech, and voice a bit of political criticism. For that you are going to revoke my license. Who’d dare keep a license like that?”
While the Lawyers’ Associations across the China are supposedly professional organizations looking out for the interests of their members, in reality they are designed to ensure that lawyers fall in line with the government and the Communist Party (indeed a large number of China’s 300,000 lawyers are Party members). The Lawyers’ Association functions like other mass organizations for what would otherwise be independent individuals or groups, including the Writers’ Associations for writers, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestant Christians. So it is no surprise that, on September 8, the chairman of the Lawyers’ Association of Shandong Province, a man named Su Bo (苏波), issued an angry statement on China’s popular social media WeChat denouncing Zhu Shengwu, and voicing support for the actions taken by the Party “after Zhu refused to repent and correct his wrongdoings.”
“I don’t know about lawyer Zhu Shengwu,” one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) wrote, who was himself sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve for his activities and expressions, and whose license was revoked by Beijing Justice Bureau last year. “But Su Bo was a schoolmate of mine at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. On the morning of April 27, 1989, we students gathered at the university gate, undecided as to whether we should to go out and protest.” The President and department chairs tried to stop the students. “I remember the sky was shaking and the air seemed to be on fire. Su Bo, shouldering a large sign with China’s Constitution written all over it, was at the forefront of the student procession. I heard him roaring, his voice hoarse: ‘If not today, when? Are we going to tolerate it forever?’ He was all sound and fury then. Twenty-eight years later, I appreciate this statement for giving me information about his whereabouts and achievements.”
Another well-known human rights lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), also recognized the chairman of the Shandong Lawyers’ Association, his classmate twenty-eight years ago. “He gave an inspiring speech in front of us all before the big protest procession on April 27, 1989. And I was so impressed, because I too wanted to speak to the crowd but when I got the mic, I was overcome by shyness and passed it on.”
Sui Muqing, who was held in secret detention from July 11, 2015, to January 6, 2016 as part of the 709 crackdown, offered to represent Zhu Shengwu at the hearing.
The hearing to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license “for allegedly making expressions that threatened national security” was held on September 21. Even though a hearing is a public event, it was filled with people sent by the Shandong Justice Department….to fill the spots. Zhu’s friends were stopped outside.
The hearing went on for three hours. Zhu and his two lawyers were allowed to speak, and they mounted a vigorous defense, questioning the authority of the Justice Department and the Lawyers’ Association to censor a lawyer for his private expressions. They disputed the preposterous notion of speech being a “national security threat,” and gave a rousing defense of freedom of expression.
The next day, on September 22, the Justice Department of Shandong province issued a decision to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license to practice law. “Upon investigation: Since March 2017, lawyer Zhu Shengwu frequently posted on his Sina Weibo account ‘祝圣武律师18668936828’ expressions that negate the fundamental political system and principles established by our country’s Constitution, made insinuations against the socialist system, and used the internet to instigate dissatisfaction with the Party and government, resulting in egregious social effects. [His behaviors] seriously damaged the image of the legal profession.”
Zhu Shengwu and his lawyers will appeal the decision through administrative review, and if necessary, bring administrative litigation against the Justice Department of Shandong province. But it will likely to be a resistance in the court of public opinion, because the law does not rule in China.
In a self-introduction, Zhu said he grew up in a faraway mountainous village in Hunan; he was the first in his village to go to college and the first to gain a graduate degree. He studied law at Shandong University and has never been the subject of complaints by clients or peers.
I was asked the other day whether, after the 709 Crackdown, the pressure on human rights lawyers will abate. First of all, the 709 Crackdown isn’t over. Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) are still in custody. Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for over 800 days. It is possible that Wang has been tortured to the point of disability — this is one of the few explanations as to why he still hasn’t been allowed to see his lawyers. Those who have been relieved on bail or on reprieve have been under surveillance and regularly threatened to keep silent about their experiences while they were in secret detention. National TV stations had human rights lawyers on camera confessing that their defense of human rights was illegal, and that they had been brainwashed by “Western concepts of human rights and the rule of law.” Probably because the government really didn’t benefit from the 709 crackdown, in recent months and weeks, it has been employing softer but still insidious tactics to corner human rights lawyers: denying their annual renewals, reviewing the accounts of law firms, forcing some lawyers out of their jobs, and in Zhu Shengwu’s case revoking his license altogether.
“Did you see Su Bo at the hearing?” I asked lawyer Sui Muqing.
“No, he was not in the room,” he said. “But I ran into him during the break. He praised my defense. I asked how he knew. He said someone told him. I think high-level officials of the Justice Department, and Su Bo himself, were in an adjacent room watching the video feed.”
“What else did you say to him?”
Lawyer Sui Muqing made no response.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao