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

January 3, 2017

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The patted cell. Illustration by Nicolas Luna Fleck.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

‘If Anything Happens…:’ Meeting the Now-detained Human Rights Lawyers

By Eva Pils, published: January 10, 2016

 

Meeting people who could be disappeared anytime is a bit unnerving. You keep wondering if this is the last time you’ll see them. You want to ask what you should do in case something bad happens, but you don’t want to distress them by asking too directly.

As part of my research on human rights in China, I’ve spent the past several years interviewing Chinese lawyers. I meet with them in coffee-shops, parks, or in their homes, to discuss their work and their experience of repression. I’ve seen them disbarred, watched them being followed and harassed by the police, spoken to them when they were under house-arrest, and met some of them after spells of imprisonment or forced disappearance to ask them about their experience ‘inside’: What were the prison conditions? What was the mentality of guards and interrogators — and torturers? Six months ago, things started happening to many of them at once. They were taken away under various forms of custodial measures for investigation, or simply disappeared. As of this writing, several have still not come back, as detailed in this open letter. They have been held for six months without access to counsel, and there is good reason to believe that they have been tortured.

When I last met lawyer Wang Yu, she seemed most concerned about her sixteen-year-old son, Mengmeng. She worried that his passion for human rights put him at risk, especially with two human rights lawyer parents already in trouble. After an official news report denounced Wang Yu as a criminal and a fraud, she expected to be detained, or at least disbarred, but was not going to worry about herself as long as her son could leave to study in Australia. ‘I am really afraid they might detain him too. For myself, I no longer care if I am detained, I am not afraid,’ she said. As I looked at her sensitive and tired face and wondered how she could cope with being locked up again, she must have sensed my concern, and added, ‘I’ve been to prison. If I have to go to prison again, that’s fine, no problem.’ She also said, ‘[If I leave now] people will think that I have done something wrong, won’t they? But I haven’t done anything wrong, let alone anything illegal or criminal.’ And: ‘If anything happens, I hope that international society can pay attention and that someone will be taking care of our child.’

The next and last time I saw Wang Yu was on television. She had been taken away the same night that her son and husband were, on their way to the airport. Mengmeng, their son, was released after two or three days and sent to live with relatives. When some friends later tried to help smuggle him out of the country, the authorities caught up with him in Myanmar and returned him to stay with his grandmother, where he’s been kept strictly monitored. Perhaps they needed Mengmeng to control his parents. Perhaps they were afraid he would expose details of their crimes against him. Wang Yu and her husband have still not been released, but I saw them both, devastated – she was in tears – on national television when they were told that their son had been returned to China.

Some seven months after our last meeting, I wonder if Wang Yu now regrets her choice to stay. She will be asking herself if she could have somehow saved her son; and I wonder if I should have urged her more to leave while there may still have been a chance to do so. Yet I know that allowing these thoughts means falling prey to a particularly effective form of repression. Repressive systems exploit the guilt we feel towards friends in trouble, and our fear of feeling that guilt (infinitely worse, of course, in the case of a close relation, a child). They benefit from making us believe that we, not they, are in control; that we are responsible for the harm they do to others.

My other friends knew as well as Wang Yu how likely they were to ‘go in.’ They understand as well as anyone what systems for control and punishment the Chinese state has at its disposal. They also know that, as rights lawyers, they are constantly at risk of becoming their own clients. The shadow of state terror hangs over them all the time, and some, like serious, courageous lawyer Wang Quanzhang, have seen so much and been through so much that it has produced a kind of hardened numbness. In one of our exchanges, speaking of an experience of being beaten by a judge, he said this sort of thing had happened so often that ‘I no longer feel hate or humiliation.’ Most insist that fear, even fear of terrible things like torture, can be overcome. They prepare for it – for instance, by appointing each other as legal counsel just in case, and by learning to meditate to detach themselves from their physical environment. And instead of their fear, they try to focus on their victories.

In our last chat in June 2015, for example, veteran rights lawyer Li Heping, another friend of many years, took comfort from the fact that so many lawyers had met each other and bonded through joint advocacy efforts. He thought, and I think he was right, that this was of great importance to China’s human rights movement:  ‘Society still keeps changing, but there is more pressure now. Citizens’ rights consciousness has risen and so has government repression.’ He also observed that repression was in some ways a great testimony to the rights movement’s successes. ‘Regarding us lawyers, more lawyers have gone to prison, but more lawyers are also supporting [the ones who have been taken away].’

Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Wang Yu are among the ones who have not come back yet, as have Zhou Shifeng, the head of the law firm where three of them used to work, and several other Fengrui employees. Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights movement; and I know that unfortunately, some part of a person who ‘went in’ may never be back. It is not their moral convictions, but the ability to be happy, perhaps, or some sort of basic trust in others. Still, for the reasons Li Heping gave, these absences also have effects the authorities cannot have intended; they trigger concern and support. The authorities can disappear him and others, but not the movement these lawyers represent.

 

Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).

 

— 中译如下 —

 

“要是将来有什么事的话…:”与现仍被羁押的人权律师见面

艾华,伦敦国王学院潘迪生法学院副教授

 

与那些随时可能被失踪的人见面有点令人不安。你无时无刻不在想这会不会是你最后一次见到他们。你想问问一旦有什么不好的事情发生你应该做些什么,却又不想问得太直接而令他们烦恼。

过去几年间,我在对中国人权进行研究时访问了许多中国律师。我们在咖啡馆、公园、或他们的家中会面,谈论他们的工作和受打压的经历。我见证了他们被吊照,目睹他们被警察跟踪和骚扰,在他们被软禁时与他们交谈,也在他们中的一些人入狱或被强迫失踪一段时间后和他们见面,询问其“在里面”的经历:监狱中的情况如何?那些看守、讯问人员以及酷刑者有着怎样的心理?六个月前,对于他们中的许多人,事情转瞬发生。他们被带走,遭到各种方式的羁押以受调查,或干脆被失踪。截至本文写作之时,一些人仍未回来: (详情参见此公开信)。他们在无法获得律师帮助的情况下被关押了六个月,亦有足够的理由相信他们已经遭受酷刑。

我上一次见到王宇律师时,她似乎非常担心她16岁的儿子,蒙蒙。她担心他对人权的热情置其于危险境地,尤其是他有两位已处于麻烦之中的人权律师父母。在一份官方新闻报道谴责王宇是罪犯和骗子后,她预料自己会被拘留,或至少是被吊照,但只要她的儿子能离开去澳大利亚学习,她便不会担心自己。她说:“我特别担心他(蒙蒙)也被抓…我抓不抓我都不在乎了,我不怕。” 当我看着她敏感而疲惫的面庞并问自己她要如何应付再次被关押时,她应该是感受到了我的担忧,便又说道:“我反正以前坐过牢…如果要坐牢的话,那也好, 没有问题。” 她又说:“[现在出国] 不太好, 这样会不会让人觉得我真有错。我一点错误都没有,不用说违法犯罪了。”“要是将来有什么事的话我希望国际社会也能够关注,对我们孩子有所照顾。”

之后一次,亦是我最后一次见到王宇是在电视上。她的儿子和丈夫在去往机场途中被带走的当晚,她也被带走了。他们的儿子,蒙蒙在两三天后被放了出来并送去亲戚家中。当一些朋友稍后试图帮忙将他偷偷带离这个国家时,政府当局在缅甸抓住了他,将他带回国送去姥姥家,并对他实施了严密监视。或许他们需要用蒙蒙来控制他的父母。或许他们害怕他会揭露他们对其犯下种种罪行的细节。王宇和她的丈夫尚未归来,但我在电视上看见他们两位,当被告知他们的儿子已被遣返回国时,悲痛欲绝 — 她满眼泪光。

在距我们上一次见面大概七个月后,我想着王宇此刻是否后悔选择留下来。也许她会问自己曾经是否可以以某种方式救她的儿子;我亦在想自己当初是否应该更强烈些催促她在也许还有机会离开时离开。但我明白允许这些想法意味着受困于一种格外有效的打压。镇压机构利用我们对陷入麻烦的朋友所怀有的内疚之情,以及我们对感受到这一内疚之情的恐惧(无限更糟的情况当然是在涉及与我们关系密切的人或孩子时)。他们让我们相信是我们,而非他们,掌控着这些事;由我们为他们对他人造成的伤害负责,他们从这样的想法中得利。

我的其他朋友如王宇一样知道他们自己多有可能会“进去”。他们十分熟悉中国政府用于控制和惩罚的制度。他们也知道,作为维权律师,他们一直面临着成为自己所代理之人的风险。国家恐怖主义的阴影始终笼罩着他们;他们中的一些,比如认真而勇敢的律师王全璋,已经目睹和遭受了太多以至于产生了一种坚硬的麻木。在我们曾经的一次交流中,谈及被一名法官殴打的经历时,他说这类事情已经过于寻常以至于“我已经没有愤怒感和羞辱感。”他们大多数坚称恐惧,甚至是对于像酷刑那般可怕之事的恐惧,都是可以克服的。他们尽量对此作出准备 – 例如,相互聘请为代理人以防万一,以及通过学习冥想来使自身从所处的物理环境中脱离。同时,他们试着专注于他们的胜利,而非恐惧。

例如,2015年6月,在我们最近的一次交谈中,我的另一位多年的朋友,李和平律师从如此多的律师通过联合倡导得以见面并联系起来这一现状中获得慰藉。他(跟我一样)认为这对中国的人权运动非常重要。“社会还是在变,就是压力大了。公民的权利意识高了一点儿,政府的打压也严酷一些 …” 他还说到打压在某种意义上是对权利运动成功的伟大见证:“ 我们律师的话… 从律师进监狱人数来说还是多了,但是律师参与声援活动也多了。”

包龙军、李和平、王全璋、王宇在尚未归来的人之中,尚未归来的人还有其中三位曾经工作过的锋锐律师事务所的主任,周世锋以及其他几位锋锐所的同事。大家感受到他们暂时不在造成的影响; 而且这的确削减了中国人权运动的活力。我也非常遗憾地明白,对于一个曾“进去过”的人,他的某些部分可能再也回不来了。不是他们的道德信念,而也许是他们感到快乐的能力,或某种对他人的根本的信任。尽管如此,基于李和平所谈及的理由,他们被带走也产生了官方意欲之外的效果;他们激发了关注和支持。政府可以使他和其他人消失,但不会消失的是这些律师所代表的运动。

 

艾华 (Eva Pils)是伦敦国王学院潘迪生法学院的副教授,纽约大学亚美法研究所的客座研究员,China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014) 一书的作者。本文由 Cathy Xin 翻译成中文。

 

 

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

By Yaqiu Wang, published: August 2, 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

S.A.C.R.E.D. Photo credit: http://yidianer.com/article/1872

S.A.C.R.E.D. Photo credit: http://yidianer.com/article/1872

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

————

Related:

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

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

 

Independent Filmmaker and Author Detained in Beijing

 

Du Bin (杜斌)

Du Bin (杜斌)

According to sources close to him, Du Bin (杜斌), an independent writer, film maker, and formerly a photographer for the New York Times, was confirmed on Sunday to have been criminally detained on May 31 by state security police in Beijing. He was charged with “printing illegal publications” and detained in the detention center of Fengtai District, Beijing.

Du Bin has been missing for days and details of his “disappearance” emerged only in the last 48 hours or so. Prominent Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia (胡佳) told media that more than ten security police –only two of them in uniform and the others in plain clothes — raided Du Bin’s rented apartment on the night of May 31.

His girlfriend last spoke to him around 9pm that day, and then could not find him anywhere for a week. When she finally learned of his detention, she burst into tears, thankful that he is still alive. Sources said that the police searched Du Bin’s apartment and took books and videos about petitioners and the June 4th student movement.

According to a tweet from prominent rights lawyer Teng Biao (滕彪), a warrant for summons was found in his apartment. Also found there was a search warrant with the seal of the Fengtai District Public Security Bureau which indicates that two police officers, Liu Yang (刘洋) and Li Qiang (李強), conducted the search. But, there are no witnesses, nor Du Bin’s signature. No one has seen a notice of criminal detention.

Unsigned, mis-dated warrant for summons found in Du Bin's apartment.

Unsigned, mis-dated warrant for summons found in Du Bin’s apartment.

The sign reads, "We are women who survived the Masanjia camp. We strongly demand that the Chinese government free the rights-defending author and photographer Du Bin."

The sign reads, “We are women who survived the Masanjia camp. We strongly demand that the Chinese government free the rights-defending author and photographer Du Bin.” You can watch Du Bin’s documentary “The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp” here, with English subtitle: http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2013/05/03/a891189.html

The unsigned warrant for summons, dated June 1, the day after Du Bin disappeared, indicates that Du Bin was suspected of “disturbing order in a public place.”

Du Bin made the documentary Above the Ghosts’ Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp, in which victims tell about the torture they suffered in the camp. While the film could not be shown inside China, it was released in April in Hong Kong. Du Bin also authored and published at least two books in Hong Kong. One of them, The Tian’anmen Massacre (《天安门屠杀》), was released in Hong Kong at the end of May shortly before the 24th anniversary of the democratic movement in 1989.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Du Bin said, “Living in mainland China, you live in insecurity everyday whether you speak the truth or not…One should go ahead, do what one needs to do…With [The Tian’anmen Massacre], I want more people to know that there once were people who embraced death for the sake of democracy and freedom, and we should be proud of them.”

Friends believe that Du Bin’s arrest has to do with these activities.

Born in 1972, Du Bin has tracked and filmed petitioners’ life stories and their struggles for years. He has over the years collected a large quantity of materials related to the Tian’anmen movement from used-book markets in China. He had been a contracted photographer for the New York Times, but since 2011, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has refused to issue him a permit for working for the NYT.

Friends have since gotten hold of Du Bin’s sister and learned that the family has never received a notice of his detention.  The renowned rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang will be providing legal assistance in Du’s case.

Masanjia victims, whom Du Bin filmed, are indignant about his detention. A signature campaign and a protest are planned to demand his release.

According to a rough statistic put together by blogger, activist Wen Yunchao, there have already been close to 30 political prisoners this year, an astonishing number compared to previous years.

A Wikipedia entry about Du Bin’s biography and works has been created. In a recent interview (link in Chinese) with NTDTV in New York, Du Bin said, “I have done what I have done simply because I am a human being; and as a human being, I must do what I can. ……Our deepest love, strongest disgust, and acutest pain must be made seen, all because we are human beings.”

A photograph of Chen Guangcheng and villagers, by Du Bin, for the New York Times.

A photograph of Chen Guangcheng and villagers, by Du Bin, for the New York Times.

Sources:

http://www.dw.de/%E6%9D%9C%E6%96%8C%E5%A4%B1%E8%B8%AA%E5%BC%95%E5%8F%91%E5%9B%BD%E9%99%85%E5%85%B3%E6%B3%A8/a-16868596

http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/gb/2013/06/10/atext912118.html

@Hu_jia

@tengbiao