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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.
Wu Gan, March 24, 2017
Well-known human rights activist Wu Gan (吴淦) was arrested in May 2015. After a brief period of custody in his home province Fujian, he was taken to Tianjin as part of the 709 arrests. According to a complaint filed by his lawyer, on August 1, 2015, Wu Gan was forced to participate in a video interview with CCTV host Dong Qian (董倩) in which he was supposed to confess his guilt. He refused to follow the script. Yesterday his lawyer posted online Wu Gan’s letter to Ms. Dong Qian, dated March 8. — The Editors
Dear Ms. Dong Qian,
I write this letter to you because I still have a thin thread of hope in your basic humanity. I hate all dictatorships, as well as those who help dictators, but I’m an optimist when it comes to human nature. For example, this is what the public thinks about the organization your work for: when the auxiliary building of CCTV headquarters, known as “big underpants,” went up in flames, people were ecstatic. When one of your evening news hosts got throat cancer, the public delighted in his misfortune — it seems fitting that a throat used to broadcast untruth everyday should become cancerous. Netizens nicknamed CCTV a den of debauchery where the likes of Li Dongsheng (李东生, former minister of public security) plied his trade as a pimp, sending CCTV women up to Zhou Yongkang (周永康, former security boss) to have his way with. The prime time Evening News is such a bore that netizens have turned it into a template for endless spoofing. When one day one of your own, Bi Fujian (毕福剑), made wicked fun of Maoism in his off-time, it shows what a schizophrenic place it is! I cite all of these to remind you just how CCTV is perceived by the people.
CCTV is despised not because people’s values are warped, but because this system has warped everything. It’s this system that has turned the media you work for into a tool for keeping the people ignorant, making it an accomplice for the worst evil. It’s now become a byword for lies and propaganda and a spokesperson for evil.
The only way to wash away the stain of associating with it, and to gain your own integrity and personal esteem, is to flee as soon as possible. When the anchor Du Xian (杜宪) demonstrated her own humanity after the June 4 massacre — wearing black, showing her tears on television — she received a silent national applause and respect from all. The public sees things clearly. I respectfully ask you: for such a beauty, why be a villain?
I have applied for you to be a witness in my case, and I hope you will appear in court and testify. I want you to tell the world about how I was hauled, a black hood covering my head, in front of you for an interview on August 1, 2015. Please gather your courage and conscience, and tell the public what you saw on that day. Tell everyone how I rebuked and exposed An Shaodong (安少东, security agent and interrogator) who sat diagonally from me. Tell the public what he did to me. Tell them about my back injury.
Tell them how actors were brought in to act out a script for the televised confession. I trust that you’ll show the kind-hearted side of your nature. I’m sorry that you didn’t get what you had come for because I refused to act according to their script. For my disobedience, I was punished badly by An Shaodong after being taken back to detention center.
An Shaodong sat diagonally from me to intimidate me. I experienced for myself the inside process by which CCTV makes its news pieces, and how the station and the public security organs work hand in hand to create the news they need. Amazing country, amazing media, amazing public security agents; together they produce amazing journalism.
Finally, allow me to express my gratitude to your television station. I am very grateful that CCTV joined in when People’s Daily and Xinhua slandered me with Cultural Revolution-style propaganda while I had no freedom to speak for myself. On the other hand, thank heaven I was slandered, not praised. Or it would truly have been a stain on my reputation. How could I have lived with my head up high if mouthpieces like you said nice things about me? In 2009, when your television station and a media under People’s Daily tried to interview me about the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case, I rejected it due to my germophobia. A man doesn’t keep company with evil, and this is the line I draw while going about being a human being.
Wu Gan (Super Vulgar Butcher)
March 8, 2017
Wu Gan: Urgent Request to Meet the Residential Prosecutors at the Tianjin Second Detention Center
I am Wu Gan. For over a year since my transfer to the Tianjin Second Detention Center on January 8, 2016, I have made countless requests to meet with you, the residential prosecutors from the Second Branch of the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate. The detention center told me that they had passed on my requests but that they could do nothing as you kept declining to see me.
I need to see you, not because I want to have nice chats with you about the beauty and meaning of life, but to complain about police violations in handling my case, including torture. There is something even more important: I want to report leads about a possible voluntary manslaughter case. But you are nowhere to be found. I am not the only detainee who has trouble meeting you; other detainees have the same problem.
You are supposed to carry out your duty, which is to meet with each detainee and learn if they have been subjected to illegal treatment. But you have abdicated your legal responsibilities. This is not a matter of being lazy, but a matter of negligence.
I’m requesting this urgent meeting because time is running out, and the death row inmate in question could be executed soon. For those who are sentenced to death for something they didn’t do, the truth can never be restored. So you must meet with me as soon as possible to hear my complaint. As for whether you investigate or not, or whether or not I will suffer retaliation, you may do as you please.
I will expose more details of these matters in the future, showing the public just how prosecutors in China go about their jobs.
March 24, 2017
Lawyer Ge Yongxi: Meeting with Wu Gan
Yesterday afternoon and this morning, I twice met with Mr. Wu Gan, who is being charged with “subversion of state power.” After we had discussed the case work, Wu asked about people and events outside, and he asked me to pass on his thanks to friends.
We also talked about the issue of compromising and admitting “guilt.” Wu Gan said that, during the Two Sessions (political meetings earlier this month), the government sent two female mental health counselors to speak with him. Over and over again, they attempted to coax him into admitting guilt. Wu Gan asked the Tianjin Second Detention Center to tell the authorities that they needn’t waste their resources by sending anyone else, because these two women had failed to convince him, with facts and universal values, that what he did was wrong. He said that the fact that they were using coercion and deception to make him admit guilt is enough to prove that what he did was right — that it was good for the country and the people, and could stand the test of time.
Wu Gan reiterated his two guiding principles: first, he would never do anything unscrupulous; second, he would never sack his own lawyers and retain lawyers designated by the government.
Wu Gan said that he has gained more than he has lost during the ordeal of the past nearly two years. He was able to reflect on many aspects of his past experiences; he learned how to triumph in the midst of devilish cruelty; he learned how to live close quarters and long term with all sorts of criminal suspects, but not sunk to their level.
We both enjoyed our conversation and wished we had more time. Around lunchtime we said our goodbyes and ended our meeting at the repeated urging of several police officers.
Ge Yongxi (葛永喜)
March 24, 2017
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July 22, 2015
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
Xie Yang, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, January 19, 2017
In a series of interviews, the still incarcerated human rights lawyer Xie Yang provided a detailed account of his arrest, interrogations, and the horrific abuses he suffered at the hands of police and prosecutors, to his two defense lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清). This revelation, and the extraordinary circumstances of it, mark an important turn in the 709 crackdown on human rights lawyers. This group, seen as the gravest threat to regime security, has not been crushed, but instead has become more courageous and more determined. This is the first of several installments in English translation. — The Editors
Date: January 4, 2017, 3:08:56 p.m. (interview start)
Location: Interview Room 2W, Changsha Number Two Detention Center
Interviewee: Xie Yang (谢阳, “Xie”)
Interviewers: Lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) (“Lawyers”)
Transcription by Chen Jian’gang
Lawyers: Hello, Xie Yang. We are Chen Jian’gang and Liu Zhengqing, defense lawyers hired by your wife, Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋). Do you agree to these arrangements?
XIE: Yes, I agree to appoint you as my defense counsel.
LAWYERS: Today, we need to ask you some questions regarding the case. Could you please take your time and describe the circumstances of your detention and interrogation?
XIE: I was picked up in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015, at the Qianzhou Hotel in Hongjiang City, Hunan (湖南怀化洪江市托口镇黔洲大酒店). As I was sleeping, a bunch of people—some in plain clothes and others in police uniform—forced their way into my room. They didn’t display any identification but showed me an official summons for questioning before taking me away to the Hongjiang City Public Security Bureau. Everything I had with me, including my mobile phone, computer, identification card, lawyer’s license, wallet, bank cards, and briefcase were confiscated. When they got me downstairs, I saw there were three cars waiting. They sent around a dozen or so people to detain me.
LAWYERS: What happened next after you got to the Hongjiang City Public Security Bureau?
XIE: It was around 6 a.m. when we arrived at the station, at the crack of dawn. Someone took me to a room in the investigations unit and had me sit in an interrogation chair—the so-called “iron chair.” Once I sat down, they locked me into the shackles on the chair. From that point, I was shackled in whether or not they were questioning me.
LAWYERS: Did anyone at the time say that you had been placed under detention or arrest? Why did they immediately shackle you?
XIE: No, no one said anything about placing me under any of the statutory coercive measures. They just shackled me right away, and that’s how I stayed for over three hours. No one cared—they just left me shackled like that.
LAWYERS: What happened next?
XIE: Sometime after 9 a.m., two police officers came in. Neither of them showed me any paperwork or identification, either. I could tell by their accents that they weren’t local police from Hongjiang. They hadn’t been among the group that detained me, so they must have come later.
LAWYERS: What questions did they ask you?
XIE: They asked me whether I’d joined “that illegal organization the ‘Human Rights LAWYERS Group’” (人权律师团) and some other questions about the Human Rights Lawyers Group. I said that as far as I knew there was no organization called the “Human Rights Lawyers Group.” They said there was a chat group on WeChat, and I said I was a member of that group. They said: “The lawyers in that group are anti-Party and anti-socialist in nature.” Then they asked questions about who organized the group, what sort of things it did, and so on.
LAWYERS: How did you answer them?
XIE: I said that almost all the members of this group were lawyers and that it was a group set up by people with a common interest. I said it was a place for us to exchange information and that there was no organizer—everyone was independent and equal and there was no hierarchy of any kind. It was only a group for exchanging information and chatting amongst each other, sometimes even cracking jokes and things like that.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: Then, one of the officers asked whether we’d publicly issued any joint statements or opinions regarding certain cases in the name of the “Human Rights Lawyers Group.” I said that we had and that this was an act we took as individuals and that we signed as individuals, voluntarily.
Then they asked whether I was willing to quit the Human Rights Lawyers Group. I said that, first of all, since I hadn’t joined any organization called “Human Rights Lawyers Group,” there was no way I could leave it. Then they asked whether I’d be willing to quit the “Human Rights Lawyers Group” chat group. I said that I had the freedom to be part of the chat group and that they had no right to interfere.
LAWYERS: What happened after that?
XIE: They told me the Ministry of Public Security had passed judgment on the chat group known as the “Human Rights Lawyers Group,” saying that there were anti-Party, anti-socialist lawyers in the group. They said they hoped that I could see the situation clearly and that I’d be treated leniently if I cooperated with them. This lasted for more than an hour. They finally said: “Leaders in Beijing and the province are all involved in this case. If you quit the Human Rights Lawyers Group, you’ll be treated leniently.” I asked what they meant by “leniently.” They said I should know that lawyers from the group were being questioned throughout the country and said that there was a possibility that I’d be prosecuted if I continued to refuse to come to my senses.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: At the time I thought they’d only brought me in for a talking-to and to see whether I’d agree to quit the group. But I continued to say that the group was only a chat group. They made me give a statement to sign, two pages long, regarding the chat group. The summons said they were investigating “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a work unit,” but there was no mention of that in the statement. They also asked me about some of the cases I’d been involved in, such as the Jiansanjiang case (建三江案) and the Qing’an shooting case (庆安枪击案). I told them I’d taken part, and they asked me who’d instructed me to do so. I said I went to take part in those cases of my own accord and that no one had instructed me to do anything. What’s more, I said that I’d been formally retained as a lawyer in those cases and that this fell within the scope of ordinary professional work. I’ve since seen my case file, and that statement isn’t in it.
LAWYERS: What happened after you gave your statement?
XIE: After I gave my statement, they said they were relatively satisfied with my attitude and they needed to report to their superiors. They also said that I should be able to receive lenient treatment. Then they left.
About 10 minutes or so later, sometime after 10:30, another police officer came in. He introduced himself as Li Kewei (李克伟) and said he was the ranking officer in charge of my case. I asked him how high a rank, and he drew a circle with his hand and said: “I’m in charge of this entire building.” I guessed he might be the chief or deputy chief of the Changsha Public Security Bureau. I later found out that Li Kewei was the head of the Domestic Security Unit at the Changsha Public Security Bureau.
LAWYERS: What happened then?
XIE: He told me he was not dissatisfied with my attitude. He said I’d only touched very lightly on my own actions and hadn’t “reflected” on things “deep enough in my heart.” He said: “You have to give a new statement, otherwise you won’t get any lenient treatment from us.”
I told him that I was disappointed in the way they were going back on their word. I asked what sort of “reflection” would qualify as “deep enough in my heart”—what was his standard?
He said: “We’re in charge of setting the standard.” I said that if they were in charge of the standard, then there was no way for me to assess it. I told him I was extremely disappointed by their lack of sincerity and that I was unwilling to cooperate with them.
LAWYERS: What happened next?
XIE: Another officer brought in my mobile phone and demanded that I enter the PIN so that they could access my phone. I told them they had no right to do that and I refused. I later found out that this officer was from the Huaihua Domestic Security Unit. He’s someone in charge of my case, but I don’t know his name.
LAWYERS: Then what happened?
XIE: Li Kewei said they weren’t after me and that he hoped I would change my attitude and cooperate with them. Then it was lunchtime. After lunch, there was no more discussion until 5 or 6 p.m. The police had an auxiliary officer stay with me. He didn’t let me sleep at night and kept me shackled like that up until daybreak. For the whole night, the auxiliary officer kept a close eye on me and didn’t let me sleep. As soon as I closed my eyes or nodded off, they would push me, slap me, or reprimand me. I was forced to keep my eyes open until dawn.
LAWYERS: What happened at dawn?
XIE: It must have been after five in the morning when five or six men burst in. Some were in plain clothes and some in uniform. They brought a faxed copy of a Decision on Residential Surveillance and had me sign it. After I signed, they brought me to a police car and took me away.
They drove me all the way to Changsha to a building that housed retired cadres from the National University of Defense Technology (国防科技大学). It was at 732 Deya Road in Kaifu District (开福区德雅路732号) — I saw this in my case file. I had no idea what sort of place it was when they brought me in. I only knew it was in Changsha, but I didn’t know where exactly.
In the car there was a police officer named Li Feng (李峰). I later learned he was from the Domestic Security Unit of the Hunan Provincial Public Security Bureau. He told me I’d already squandered one opportunity and said he hoped I would seize the next one and actively cooperate with them during my period of residential surveillance in a designated location. He said if I did, he’d report up to his superiors and seek lenient treatment for me. I thought that everything I’d done had been above board and I didn’t need to hide anything. I told them the PIN on my mobile phone and he was looking through my WeChat messages the whole ride over. He became very familiar with all that I’d done.
LAWYERS: What then?
XIE: It was about noon on July 12, 2015, when we got to the place in Changsha where they held me. They took me to that hotel and we entered through a side door. There were two police officers on either side of me, each grabbing hold of my arms and pressing on my neck to push me forward. They took me to a room on the second floor, which I later learned was Room 207. It was a relatively small room, with a small bed, two tables, and two chairs. There was a camera in the upper left corner as you entered the room.
LAWYERS: What happened after you went in?
XIE: After they brought me in, they had me sit on the chair. Three people stayed with me. None of them were police. I found out later that they were “chaperones” (陪护人员).
(The interview concluded at 4:54:45 p.m. on January 4, 2017.)
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others
Media coverage of the Xie Yang torture and the 709 crackdown:
Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China, New York Times, January 20, 2017.
Document of Torture: One Chinese Lawyer’s Story From Jail, WSJ China Real Time, January 20, 2017.
A broken lawyer and a hawkish judge cast deep pall over China’s legal system, Washington Post, January 21, 2017.
Beijing Breaks Lawyers, Wall Street Journal editorial, January 22, 2017.
‘Your only right is to obey’: lawyer describes torture in China’s secret jails, the Guardian, January 23, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post editorial, January 27, 2017.
January 3, 2017
This Q & A can be read as a companion piece to the Guardian report. It focuses more on Dahlin’s work, the interrogations, and the legal features of his case. Given that China’s “Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations” took effect on January 1, 2017, we hope the conversation offers insight and perspective. – The Editors
CHINA CHANGE: Peter, you are a Swedish national; on January 3, 2016, you were taken into custody by Chinese national security agents for allegedly “endangering national security.” It was not until nine days later that the international press reported that you had been disappeared on your way to the Beijing airport. Then, on January 15 and 19, the Global Times and the Xinhua News Agency reported your detention. On January 19, in a CCTV news section, you “confessed” that you “violated the Chinese law through your activities here, caused harm to the Chinese government, and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” While it was appalling and a pain to watch, people also laughed because everyone immediately recognized that these were forced words. On January 26, you were deported and barred from entering China for the next 10 years. A lot went on over this 23-day period, and we hope to unpack it for our readers. First of all, please tell us how events unfolded on January 3, 2016.
PETER DAHLIN: I was taken in a raid on my home in Beijing late that evening, not on my way to the airport as reported. The misunderstanding is easy to see, as I had notified a few people in the press- and diplomatic corps that I might not make it out, leading people to assume I must had been taken at the airport.
Earlier that day, I heard that high-up officials in the Beijing domestic security police were inquiring about me, following accusations against me made by individuals who had at that time been held in ‘residential surveillance’ from several months to half a year. Less than 10 hours after I heard about that, State Security showed up at my home, with search and detention warrants for both me and my girlfriend.
For a few weeks we had been in a ‘heightened risk situation,’ knowing that something could happen to me or others. We had been taking precautions, clearing out and processing paperwork, tying up loose ends, and doubling down in IT-measures. I had not only heard stories from those who had been through detentions before, but as a form of preparation also read books like the great but unfortunately-titled In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon with stories on interrogations, secret detention, torture etc. This was of course the first time I myself was taken, but over the years there had been many similar situations, and thus this procedure to prepare had been undertaken numerous times before.
In this case, I took the preparation a bit further than normal. Since similar situations of heightened risks had happened numerous times before, besides our normal organizational procedures, I also had my own. In those cases I would keep a small overnight bag packed next to the bed, with passport, some clothes, medicine, and money, along with shoes and a jacket, and more or less have memorized the night flight schedule out of Beijing – if I ever got the message or call that an action against us was being taken and would need to try to leave the country. In this case I was already scheduled to leave China just a few days after I was taken, but moved my flight up to that very same night, and packed as much as I could – knowing that if something happened and I managed to get away, I would not be able to return and would have to start anew somewhere. In the end, the raid on my home happened just a couple of hours before I was set to leave for the airport.
CHINA CHANGE: I admit that, even though I’ve been a busy human rights and rule of law advocate for the last three or four years, I had barely heard of your organization — Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (中国维权紧急援助组). So there is quite a bit of mystery around it. Can you describe your organization’s activities in China? A New York Times report mentioned seminars, legal aid work, and training sessions. The Chinese state media portray your activities in dark, conspiratorial and menacing terms. Help us demystify them.
PETER DAHLIN: The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) was in operation from 2009 until early 2016, and it ran a number of different programs concurrently. It was largely unknown, as we operated quietly, and even though parts of the international rights community, and much of the press and diplomatic corps knew of us, we did not allow anyone to publicly speak about us, keeping our profile as low as possible while still being able to cooperate with others. A few reports linked on our dormant Twitter account are about the only public information available.
Since its founding, China Action has responded to attacks on lawyers, journalists, and other rights defenders, especially women defenders, but perhaps our main focus has been on training and capacity development for rights defenders. We have specialized in barefoot lawyers, with the goal of strengthening the legal movement and civil society, to develop the rule of law and improve protections for Chinese citizens.
Our founding program was the urgent action program, working to arrange lawyers for human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk and to provide needed financial assistance for victims’ families, ranging from support for housing, medical bills, or a child’s education. We paid special attention to women HRDs and grassroots activists who often lacked the network and support of more high-profile defenders. We did this both on our own as well as in partnership with international and regional organizations. Later on, for the last few years, we have also had a subsection of that program to specifically address and arrange help for those with mental health support needs after detentions, kidnappings, interrogations etc.
Although primarily about direct support, through the urgent action program we also engaged in limited advocacy measures around priority cases, which involved ensuring diplomatic attention in Beijing or foreign capitals and communication with relevant human rights special procedures of the United Nations, and participation in the Universal Periodic Review of China, both alone and in collaboration with international organizations.
Many people may not be aware that governments and institutions in the EU and other countries have been offering assistance to Chinese state actors involved in the judicial system, such as police, judges, or prosecutors, in developing the “rule of law” (rule by law really), which is important. At the same time, at least until recently, there was a growing number of international and in particular Hong Kong-based organizations that provide financial assistance and training for licensed rights defense lawyers who work on public interest and rights defense cases. Unfortunately this approach has left a key group without any support. Due to financial or geographic limitations, the majority of rights abuse victims in China must rely on unlicensed barefoot lawyers, and yet this is precisely the group that has been most left out of the majority of rule of law development efforts. This is why we focused on barefoot lawyers, and our work was more preventive than reactive, with focus on training and capacity development to address the gaping hole in access to legal aid, especially among rural or poorer Chinese citizens.
CHINA CHANGE: Speaking of barefoot lawyers, Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) immediately comes to mind. Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) was a barefoot lawyer too in his early rights defense activities. Another example is Ni Yulan (倪玉兰). These are citizens who are not licensed lawyers, but who seek to defend rights through legal means. This is fascinating. Tell us more.
PETER DAHLIN: Because they are not licensed, the barefoot lawyers can almost never take up criminal cases. But in China, the main procedures for defending rights against government abuse are administrative laws and regulations, and this is where any citizen can get involved (although legal efforts by the State to limit their ability to take on cases continue). Barefoot lawyers can thus be both self-taught legal activists as well as lawyers who have lost their licenses. The work takes the form of filing lawsuits against government bodies responsible for illegal behavior such as torture, arbitrary detention, or forced evictions and demolitions. Barefoot lawyers have also taken the lead in testing and pushing the use of China’s 2008 Regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information (《中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例》), scoring many successes. As a result, we have witnessed increased use of the Regulations in defending human rights.
In order to improve barefoot lawyers’ knowledge and practice of the Administrative Law, information disclosure regulations, and other procedures, China Action has run a number of different training programs since 2009. For example, our programs ranged from in-depth week-long training sessions in administrative law, shorter trainings on information disclosure, to specific legal issues, depending on the needs of target beneficiary groups.
To maximize the result and output of the main program, we designed the program in what we believe was both an innovative and cost-effective way:
A rights defense lawyer and an experienced barefoot lawyer would be responsible for each in-depth legal training session, selecting a group of participants from a cohesive area, along with guest teachers. Of those trained in these in-depth sessions, which would also include training in freedom of information (FOI) regulations, we would then select from the best of more suitable students, and arrange for them to, on a more local level, arrange their own shorter training in FOI or another specific legal topic. Thus the larger and more extensive trainings would give us a pool of local teachers for such smaller trainings.
When needed, a lawyer or barefoot lawyer in our network would attend those local trainings to assist. Finally, from the group trained in these shorter local trainings, the trainer would select the most dedicated participants and offer support for them to organize their own local trainings at the most grassroots level, to extend the output among the trainee’s friends and fellow barefoot lawyers.
This triple layer system allowed us to not only extend our results to the most local levels in a relatively low key and safe manner, but to ensure significant multiplier effects, all while keeping the costs very low.
Another key aspect of the training activities was about nurturing mutual trust among participants, which is part of the reason our training groups were never larger than 10 people, and always drawn from a coherent geographic area. This is especially important for barefoot lawyers who tend to have experience with only one or two particular legal issues. In this way, drawing a group of 10 barefoot lawyers from, say, Shandong to spend a week of in-depth study together would create new connections and expand their effectiveness, as they can build a mutual support network when dealing with issues outside their area of expertise. Each group would also get a direct connection to both the rights defense and barefoot lawyers arranging the training, greatly expanding networks for us as an organization, as well as for the participants, who would get a direct link to a mentor from who they could seek guidance.
The organization designed its own curriculum for these training and capacity development activities. A large part of that has included creating practical self-study guides with the beneficiaries, pairing the experts with the beneficiaries to create not only practical guides on, for example, information disclosure regulations or administrative detentions, but also manuals that deal with what the beneficiaries actually want. This approach would seem obvious, but looking at a lot of the material available, it often seems it’s produced by experts telling the readers/beneficiaries what they think they should know, instead of developing the material together with the group itself.
Finally, connecting the urgent action program and the training and capacity activities, the organization has also been working, on a small scale, to set up what we referred to as ‘legal aid stations’ around the country run by barefoot lawyers to enhance access to justice. This third core component thus consisted of barefoot lawyers who would receive training in issues ranging from arbitrary detention to information disclosure, alongside minor ongoing financial support, and they would then provide pro-bono assistance to victims in their respective regions. Many of these cases would have clear public interest components to them.
CHINA CHANGE: During your custody, did the Chinese security investigators tell you which of these activities are illegal and endangering China’s national security?
PETER DAHLIN: We always assumed that their key interest would be our work with urgent actions, and they certainly had a very strong interest in knowing which lawyers had been engaged for different cases, but their key interest turned out to be the barefoot lawyers we supported to provide pro-bono legal aid. They wanted to know about our ‘legal aid stations.’ When we first started, each station had several staff and an office, but beyond the very beginning stage, the aid was actually carried out by only one individual lawyer. However, we kept internally referring to them as ‘legal aid stations’, meaning State Security at first assumed that they were local branches of the organization, which of course was not the case at all.
They also had an interest in the various training activities, many of which over the years had been shut down by either local police or provincial state security. They found a few questionnaires from one of those trainings (distributed at all training activities for evaluation purposes), and found that some of the answers were rather anti-Party. That wasn’t helpful.
In general though, my own placement under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ was mostly because of the incompetence of State Security. They had been led, wrongly, to believe that I was personally involved in a list of activities, which I was not, and could easily prove I was not.
A key focus of my interrogations was lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who has now been held in secret custody for over a year. Wang and I worked closely for many years, but we parted ways and haven’t worked together since early 2014. Our work was regarding holding trainings, offering informal mentoring to local lawyers, providing criminal defense for those facing trial, and developing training materials. It would be a stretch even for the State Security to argue that any of these was bad for China, let alone being illegal.
CHINA CHANGE: You said that Chinese security organs had been monitoring your organization’s activities before your detention. Can you expand on that? How did they do so?
PETER DAHLIN: Beginning in 2013, a co-worker was repeatedly summoned by another branch of State Security for long sessions of questioning. Using carrots and sticks, State Security tried to make this person a ‘mole,’ who would continue working with us but report to the police on me, my co-founder Michael Caster, and lawyers we worked with, or any others who worked with us. State Security asked this co-worker to make copies of documentation the person had access to, and any work I gave this person to do. On several other occasions we found that either I or Michael Caster had come up in police questioning of rights defenders we had worked with.
CHINA CHANGE: You were detained in what’s essentially a black jail for 23 days, and you said you were interrogated every day. I’m always interested in knowing the questions they asked. Do you think you can go into more detail about your interrogations?
PETER DAHLIN: Overall, the interrogations were made harder by two facts: They found almost no paperwork in their raids, and their disappointment was visible when they raided my home. But they had taken in up to five people in this operation (and I also assumed that these people had been taken, although initially I could not be sure) and they were getting (some) information from them, which they used as leads for their interrogation of me. Three earlier partners had at this point been missing for many months, placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’, and numerous other staff and partners, (then-) current and previous, had been detained and/or questioned throughout the summer, autumn and winter of 2015.
However, all core organizational aspects, details on projects, financing etc., have been the domain of only myself and Michael Caster. Others have been involved only in parts of a project or projects, without details on the organization as a whole. This was not what State Security had assumed early on. Making it clear that this was the responsibility of myself and Michael was imperative to lessen the burden on other staff and partners.
Michael was not in China at the time of the crackdown. I, being a Westerner with, I assumed, strong diplomatic support, felt a much greater sense of security than any Chinese national would. This, alongside with much information, accounts, banking etc., being based outside of mainland Chinese jurisdiction, also gave me a good position.
Thus, claiming to focus only on the administrative aspect of our work, and having poor Chinese language abilities, I could convincingly claim to only know the general outline of our work, but not the specifics for each project, and this approach allowed me to protect others.
I could, and did, also maintain the line, which is also true, that all our work had one thing in common, namely to enhance the practical application of law, that is, improve the enforcement of law, which is lacking greatly in China. We did not even involve ourselves in advocacy to improve the law itself, but focused on simply bringing practice in line with the law, especially on provincial and local levels. Even though the law is not meant to be followed to some extent, having this focus should logically decrease how and to what extent we are seen as a threat.
Despite this approach to limit what I needed to say, they did utilize extensive technical forensics on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, USBs, etc. Everything stored is done so in encrypted form, and they never got the passwords to access those. On the other hand, using file recovery programs they could access parts of documents that had been worked on, deleted, etc. What they could get was limited, but they were able to gain access to some new documents or parts of documents every day.
This meant that I had to plan my interrogation keeping in mind to limit information, remove details such as names, locations etc., while at the same time make sure not to say anything that might be contradicted by the document they might have the next day. Keeping this in mind late at night after hours of questioning was perhaps the hardest part, but due to preparation it went fairly well. Basically, I had to make sure not to directly lie, but also make sure to not give out information that could be used against me or others.
The first 24 hours, I was under detention and not residential surveillance, they asked about my background, family and education, a few coworkers, and they also brought up the names of Wang Quanzhang, Xing Qingxian (幸清贤) and Su Changlan (苏昌兰). The first three days were handled by a ‘bad cop’ interrogator, who overplayed his hand and made me uncooperative, since I don’t respond well to being forced. After that, a ‘good cop’ took over most interrogations. All along I knew my girlfriend, who has no connection to my work, was sitting in the same facility somewhere, unable to give them anything, which at least at first I assumed State Security would think of as being uncooperative and possibly take measures to try to force non-existent information out of her.
For the first two weeks there was, on average, one session per day, lasting usually five to six hours, often held throughout the evening and night, with some minor variation. Later on they would accompany those with what I came to think as ‘fireside chats,’ with the ‘good cop’ coming into my cell, opposite to the interrogation room, to have informal chats. He’d offer cigarettes and an occasional Nescafé. These fireside chats would allow for more philosophical discussions, and for me to offer more extended explanation on why I disagreed with this or that.
Later on, one interrogation session would also double as a lie detector test, or ‘psychological test to enhance communication’ as they framed it. They attached electrodes to my fingers and used specialist cameras on the pupils, asking me a combination of test and real questions. The guy brought in to administer it couldn’t quite get it working, and in the end they didn’t seem to get anything from it, and stopped it for the last part of that interrogation session.
They used an interpreter at the interrogations, but as time went on they started to shed that charade, since the interrogators had far better English than the interpreters.
Two weeks into my detention, they realized that neither I nor China Action was related to the alleged crimes of Xing Qingxian and Su Changlan. They also realized we did not work with Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所), and had had no partnership with Wang Quanzhang for years. On top of that, upon learning that the activities I developed and worked on with Wang were related to provision of legal aid, training lawyers, and developing training materials, they must have realized that these would not be all that useful to smear him or convict him of any national security crimes.
They also became aware of my medical condition and just how serious it was. Not wanting to have a dead Western human rights activist on their hands, they paid close attention to my condition for the rest of my custody, which limited what methods they could use against me. I also knew that media broke the story after the first two weeks, and it was quickly gaining momentum, as I had expected it would. I realized that media had broken the story because the interrogator asked me one day about the reporter, Megha Rajagopalan at Reuters who first wrote about it. The annoyance and anger was very clear.
It must be around this time that they decided to eventually deport me and move on. For the remaining days, they tried to get from me as much information about how NGOs work and about civil society in general. Of course I would also be used as a propaganda tool against foreigners, civil society, and NGO work. For the last week or so the amount of interrogations dwindled, and besides some more “fireside chats” I was just killing time waiting for the next step in the process. This mostly consisted of staring into the suicide padded wall, spending time doing some basic calisthenics, and trying to remember Bob Dylan lyrics. His song “Love minus zero / no limit” was especially helpful to keep my mind occupied for a few days. Each day and every minute was feeling longer, not shorter, and it started getting to me.
Many people who talk on the subject of solitary confinement mention that at some point your thoughts turn to suicide. It was never a serious consideration for me, but yes, at some point I spent hours analyzing the room and considering the possibilities for committing suicide. The padding and setup was so meticulous, though, that I realized it was not going to be possible even if I wanted to.
CHINA CHANGE: The reports said that your organizations received grants from various sources, the largest donor being EU, but the Chinese seem to have a fixation on NED – the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. How is that?
PETER DAHLIN: The EU was by far our largest donor, but my interrogators had almost no interest in this fact. Instead their focus was on NED, whose support to us, being crucial for one of our key programs and the organization as a whole, was nonetheless limited to a few hundred thousand dollars through the five years the program ran. To some extent they were also interested in rapid response assistance groups like Front Line Defenders. Me pointing out that the EU had supported numerous training activities for Chinese state actors, and that we were basically just doing the same for barefoot lawyers perhaps made them realize focusing on the EU angle would be more difficult in terms of painting it as a crime, a threat to national security, or in general play the ‘anti-China forces’ card. At this point they had also stopped trying to paint me as an EU spy.
Specifically, they wanted me to admit that NED was guiding us, that they were the ones giving orders on what we should do. I think this was partially because it’d fit their narrative, but also (to a lesser extent) because they don’t understand the grantmaker and grantee relationship. Likewise, they liked to refer to the barefoot lawyers we support as our ‘branches.’
Naturally they also inquired about other organizations, like International Service for Human Rights, who provides training on international law related issues (outside of China), and various groups based in Hong Kong. They however had very little information on our work with such groups, and it passed as a topic of conversation.
State Security became aware of our ‘legal aid station’ work from an internal NED document they somehow had access to, but the document did not contain names or exact locations, so a fair amount of time was spent on interrogating me about who these lawyers were. The names of some of the lawyers were provided by coworkers, and later documents they retrieve through file recovery work on hard drives etc. provided the legal aid station lawyers’ names. In the end, State Security gathered enough information about it, and it was the first program to be shut down as we started closing the organization after my deportation.
CHINA CHANGE: I have read a fair amount of interrogations of Chinese human rights defenders, and the interrogators always want to know whom they are connected to. I imagine they want to know every single person you have worked with or known in China.
PETER DAHLIN: They seemed to place a lot more interest on people than the work. They asked about a long list of people — some appeared in documents they had found, and others whose names had come up during interrogations of someone else. They wanted to know who attended our trainings, but they seem to accept that, due to the breadth and amount of our work, I could not have retained names of attendees of various trainings in my head, or even which teachers had been involved in what trainings. They also asked me about people simply because they are well known HRDs, key rights defense lawyers, and NGO workers. But I maintained, as I had done earlier, that my work focused on administrative issues and, having poor Chinese, I had very limited knowledge of most of these people, except for a few which they already had evidence that we had worked with directly.
They assumed that we would have connection with domestic NGOs, but that was in fact not the case. Likewise, our cooperation with international groups is limited to a handful of groups. They spent considerable time trying, but got very little on that topic. Same with the Fengrui Law Firm and people like Wang Yu and Li Heping, with whom we have had only limited contact.
They spent considerable time trying to convince me that some coworkers had ratted me out and I should respond in kind and come clean, basically that all blame was being placed on me, and if I didn’t defend myself my fate would be far worse. This mostly just triggered my Churchillian instinct. When they realized after repeated attempts that I would do nothing but defend them, they gave up. I remember repeating the same line over and over again: These people “not only constitute the best China has to offer, but people any nation should be proud to have as their citizens.”
CHINA CHANGE: The television confession — tell us what that was like.
PETER DAHLIN: Toward the end, when it became clear that deportation was likely, a late night final deposition was made in the interrogation room which basically summarized the key points they had learned from interrogations of me and others.
The focus was to try to find an angle to smear Wang Quanzhang. Considerable time had been spent on calling Wang a criminal, despite me pointing out almost daily that his case had not even been transferred to prosecutor, let alone having resulted in a conviction. Similarly, they refused to point out any activity by Wang that was actually a crime, except saying his work threatened national security, and that he has defended ‘evil cult’ practitioners and used his social media to highlight his work as a lawyer.
The next day, in the early evening, the ‘good cop’ walked into my cell. Cigarettes and small talk. He said a panel of judges would decide on my fate, whether bringing charges or deportation. The best way, he said, would be to record an interview on camera for them to review. Knowing that they already finished the active investigation and would not get any more information by an interview, that my girlfriend would be kept for as long as I would, and that only with my deportation would she be set free, and also knowing that time was ticking in terms of my medical condition (by that time I had already lost some 5-6 kilos), I said yes.
What followed is easy to imagine. He came back with a paper with both questions and answers written down, which in their mind ‘summarized’ our discussions over these weeks. Some arguments followed as they wanted me to call Wang, Xing and Su criminals, despite none of them having been tried. My refusal was finally accepted and some changes were made.
When I saw the final line on that paper, “having hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” I realized that the recording was obviously for CCTV, though they had never said so. Later, when I was led into a meeting room, also part of the same secure wing as the cell and interrogation room, I saw the CCTV ‘journalist’ and her cameraman.
The CCTV lady was about my age, perhaps slightly older, not overly friendly, but relaxed and someone with obvious experience as an interviewer. All the key State Security people, maybe 8 of them or so, were sitting in the back behind myself, the CCTV woman and the camera man. We ran through the questions and answers pretty quickly. The only hiccup was saying that final line on hurt feelings. After the 4th attempt the ‘journalist’ said to me, “you really don’t want to say this, do you?”
However, that line on hurt feelings is a key reason I agreed to do it despite knowing it was for CCTV and PR. It’s a well-known meme in the China community, and I knew that everyone would know the true nature of the ‘confession’ when they heard that line. Basically, including that line negated the whole purpose of it, from the point of view of the international community, and to some extent, inside China too.
CHINA CHANGE: Following your deportation, the Beijing-based lawyer and legal scholar Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) penned a commentary, taking issue with the legal procedure of your deportation. He said that the deportation order should have been made by a court if you were guilty of a crime, or by the PSB or national security agency if you were found to have violated an administrative statute but had not committed a crime. Your case had never been brought to a Chinese court, and yet the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced that you confessed to having committed “the crime of funding criminal activities that endanger China’s national security.” She, a government spokeswoman, convicted you of two crimes in one breath! I bring this up because the arbitrariness of the entire episode highlights precisely the importance of your organization’s work and the work of those barefoot lawyers and human rights defenders. It’s so basic – it’s the ABC of ABC of the rule of law, yet it’s not acceptable to the Chinese government and it’s demonized by state propaganda.
PETER DAHLIN: As far as the law is concerned, I was placed under residential surveillance and investigated for violation of Article 107 — using foreign funding for illegal and subversive activities. But besides accusing me of supporting Su Changlan’s alleged protests and of me being the mastermind behind Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhishun’s alleged crime of taking Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, across China’s borders, they could not really pinpoint any activity that I had undertaken that would be illegal (besides illegal business operations, which is not a national security crime). And I had nothing to do with these two incidents anyway.
Their argument that actions supported by us would challenge national security, based on the National Security Law, is easily dismissible. They did spend time picking on our operating in the mainland without registration, and thus failing to pay tax, but that was not the crime I was accused of and it seemed just a minor issue for them.
In the end, I was deported under the new Espionage Law, but was not allowed to receive any documentation of any kind about any step in the legal process against me: the list of confiscated items, the house search, personal search, detention, residential surveillance, deportation, and the ban from entering China for 10 years — nothing.
Also, deportation under criminal charges would require a court decision, with notification to the embassy, myself, and the allowance of a lawyer, even if only a state-appointed one — but none of those things happened. That would render the process itself illegal, since deportation can only be decided by the police if it’s part of an administrative punishment, and if the latter is true I would first have to be released from criminal detention and moved to an administrative detention facility. Even with the world watching, China’s police and justice system couldn’t even operate, despite having such a wide range of tools and exceptions available, within their own law.
CHINA CHANGE: The way your case was dealt with, the Chinese law is apparently irrelevant despite all the rhetoric of the state media about the law being served. What do you think your real ‘crime’ is anyway? The Global Times said you stepped on a red line, what’s the red line?
PETER DAHLIN: Well, it’s hard to know who claimed I had participated or directed actions that led to “crimes,” as all of these people remain detained and incommunicado. So what led to the action being taken, I don’t know.
What can be said is that nothing that I was doing in 2016 was any different from, say, 2013. What earlier led them to want to monitor and keep tabs on us now meant they wanted to take us down. That would be in line with a general harshening of the climate, a greater focus on “anti-China” or “foreign forces” in their work to counter civil society growth, and also seeing an opportunity to use me as a tool concurrent with the new law and regulations on foreign funding and NGO operation.
CHINA CHANGE: Before and around the year 2008, the international community was euphoric about China embracing international norms. I remember there was a catchy phrase in those years in state media: “China and the World Joining Tracks” (“与世界接轨”), about China’s supposed integration into the world order. Today you don’t hear this phrase anymore and China’s outlook has changed. Many independent NGOs have been shut down over the past couple of years. You came to China almost 10 years ago as a young man, and 10 years later you were expelled as a national security threat. Do you have any final thoughts as we conclude this Q and A?
PETER DAHLIN: Outsiders are slow to react and adjust their thinking, which I guess is natural. However, it will become harder and harder for outsiders, including politicians, to keep up the charade that China is continuing its peaceful rise and, if only incrementally, developing a system of laws, and therefore creating a better society. The longer Xi Jinping stays in power, the harder it will be to continue to pretend things are developing in the right direction — but few nations want to be the first to reverse course in how to develop ties and interact with China, especially if economic ties are threatened. Luckily, China is so inept at PR that their threats against sovereign nations who seek to change course are becoming clearer, with the UK being a good example. Not even the Tory party can pretend anymore, as seen in the report they released (The Darkest Moment).
Despite having my life’s work, in a professional sense, thrown into the garbage, and the fact that my lifelong medical condition came from my time in China, I’d still say it was worth every bit despite the risks. We cannot publicize the specifics of our work, especially on urgent actions, but knowing the results for myself was enough to motivate me to continue. Even if the positive results we saw as a result of our interventions were cut in half, I’d still say it was worth it all. Sometimes you’ve got to “put your money where your mouth is,” as they say, and I believe I did that.
By Eva Pils, published: January 10, 2016
Meeting people who could be disappeared anytime is a bit unnerving. You keep wondering if this is the last time you’ll see them. You want to ask what you should do in case something bad happens, but you don’t want to distress them by asking too directly.
As part of my research on human rights in China, I’ve spent the past several years interviewing Chinese lawyers. I meet with them in coffee-shops, parks, or in their homes, to discuss their work and their experience of repression. I’ve seen them disbarred, watched them being followed and harassed by the police, spoken to them when they were under house-arrest, and met some of them after spells of imprisonment or forced disappearance to ask them about their experience ‘inside’: What were the prison conditions? What was the mentality of guards and interrogators — and torturers? Six months ago, things started happening to many of them at once. They were taken away under various forms of custodial measures for investigation, or simply disappeared. As of this writing, several have still not come back, as detailed in this open letter. They have been held for six months without access to counsel, and there is good reason to believe that they have been tortured.
When I last met lawyer Wang Yu, she seemed most concerned about her sixteen-year-old son, Mengmeng. She worried that his passion for human rights put him at risk, especially with two human rights lawyer parents already in trouble. After an official news report denounced Wang Yu as a criminal and a fraud, she expected to be detained, or at least disbarred, but was not going to worry about herself as long as her son could leave to study in Australia. ‘I am really afraid they might detain him too. For myself, I no longer care if I am detained, I am not afraid,’ she said. As I looked at her sensitive and tired face and wondered how she could cope with being locked up again, she must have sensed my concern, and added, ‘I’ve been to prison. If I have to go to prison again, that’s fine, no problem.’ She also said, ‘[If I leave now] people will think that I have done something wrong, won’t they? But I haven’t done anything wrong, let alone anything illegal or criminal.’ And: ‘If anything happens, I hope that international society can pay attention and that someone will be taking care of our child.’
The next and last time I saw Wang Yu was on television. She had been taken away the same night that her son and husband were, on their way to the airport. Mengmeng, their son, was released after two or three days and sent to live with relatives. When some friends later tried to help smuggle him out of the country, the authorities caught up with him in Myanmar and returned him to stay with his grandmother, where he’s been kept strictly monitored. Perhaps they needed Mengmeng to control his parents. Perhaps they were afraid he would expose details of their crimes against him. Wang Yu and her husband have still not been released, but I saw them both, devastated – she was in tears – on national television when they were told that their son had been returned to China.
Some seven months after our last meeting, I wonder if Wang Yu now regrets her choice to stay. She will be asking herself if she could have somehow saved her son; and I wonder if I should have urged her more to leave while there may still have been a chance to do so. Yet I know that allowing these thoughts means falling prey to a particularly effective form of repression. Repressive systems exploit the guilt we feel towards friends in trouble, and our fear of feeling that guilt (infinitely worse, of course, in the case of a close relation, a child). They benefit from making us believe that we, not they, are in control; that we are responsible for the harm they do to others.
My other friends knew as well as Wang Yu how likely they were to ‘go in.’ They understand as well as anyone what systems for control and punishment the Chinese state has at its disposal. They also know that, as rights lawyers, they are constantly at risk of becoming their own clients. The shadow of state terror hangs over them all the time, and some, like serious, courageous lawyer Wang Quanzhang, have seen so much and been through so much that it has produced a kind of hardened numbness. In one of our exchanges, speaking of an experience of being beaten by a judge, he said this sort of thing had happened so often that ‘I no longer feel hate or humiliation.’ Most insist that fear, even fear of terrible things like torture, can be overcome. They prepare for it – for instance, by appointing each other as legal counsel just in case, and by learning to meditate to detach themselves from their physical environment. And instead of their fear, they try to focus on their victories.
In our last chat in June 2015, for example, veteran rights lawyer Li Heping, another friend of many years, took comfort from the fact that so many lawyers had met each other and bonded through joint advocacy efforts. He thought, and I think he was right, that this was of great importance to China’s human rights movement: ‘Society still keeps changing, but there is more pressure now. Citizens’ rights consciousness has risen and so has government repression.’ He also observed that repression was in some ways a great testimony to the rights movement’s successes. ‘Regarding us lawyers, more lawyers have gone to prison, but more lawyers are also supporting [the ones who have been taken away].’
Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Wang Yu are among the ones who have not come back yet, as have Zhou Shifeng, the head of the law firm where three of them used to work, and several other Fengrui employees. Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights movement; and I know that unfortunately, some part of a person who ‘went in’ may never be back. It is not their moral convictions, but the ability to be happy, perhaps, or some sort of basic trust in others. Still, for the reasons Li Heping gave, these absences also have effects the authorities cannot have intended; they trigger concern and support. The authorities can disappear him and others, but not the movement these lawyers represent.
Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).
— 中译如下 —
我上一次见到王宇律师时，她似乎非常担心她16岁的儿子，蒙蒙。她担心他对人权的热情置其于危险境地，尤其是他有两位已处于麻烦之中的人权律师父母。在一份官方新闻报道谴责王宇是罪犯和骗子后，她预料自己会被拘留，或至少是被吊照，但只要她的儿子能离开去澳大利亚学习，她便不会担心自己。她说:“我特别担心他（蒙蒙）也被抓…我抓不抓我都不在乎了，我不怕。” 当我看着她敏感而疲惫的面庞并问自己她要如何应付再次被关押时，她应该是感受到了我的担忧，便又说道：“我反正以前坐过牢…如果要坐牢的话，那也好， 没有问题。” 她又说：“[现在出国] 不太好， 这样会不会让人觉得我真有错。我一点错误都没有，不用说违法犯罪了。”“要是将来有什么事的话我希望国际社会也能够关注，对我们孩子有所照顾。”
之后一次，亦是我最后一次见到王宇是在电视上。她的儿子和丈夫在去往机场途中被带走的当晚，她也被带走了。他们的儿子，蒙蒙在两三天后被放了出来并送去亲戚家中。当一些朋友稍后试图帮忙将他偷偷带离这个国家时，政府当局在缅甸抓住了他，将他带回国送去姥姥家，并对他实施了严密监视。或许他们需要用蒙蒙来控制他的父母。或许他们害怕他会揭露他们对其犯下种种罪行的细节。王宇和她的丈夫尚未归来，但我在电视上看见他们两位，当被告知他们的儿子已被遣返回国时，悲痛欲绝 — 她满眼泪光。
我的其他朋友如王宇一样知道他们自己多有可能会“进去”。他们十分熟悉中国政府用于控制和惩罚的制度。他们也知道，作为维权律师，他们一直面临着成为自己所代理之人的风险。国家恐怖主义的阴影始终笼罩着他们；他们中的一些，比如认真而勇敢的律师王全璋，已经目睹和遭受了太多以至于产生了一种坚硬的麻木。在我们曾经的一次交流中，谈及被一名法官殴打的经历时，他说这类事情已经过于寻常以至于“我已经没有愤怒感和羞辱感。”他们大多数坚称恐惧，甚至是对于像酷刑那般可怕之事的恐惧，都是可以克服的。他们尽量对此作出准备 – 例如，相互聘请为代理人以防万一，以及通过学习冥想来使自身从所处的物理环境中脱离。同时，他们试着专注于他们的胜利，而非恐惧。
例如，2015年6月，在我们最近的一次交谈中，我的另一位多年的朋友，李和平律师从如此多的律师通过联合倡导得以见面并联系起来这一现状中获得慰藉。他（跟我一样）认为这对中国的人权运动非常重要。“社会还是在变，就是压力大了。公民的权利意识高了一点儿，政府的打压也严酷一些 …” 他还说到打压在某种意义上是对权利运动成功的伟大见证：“ 我们律师的话… 从律师进监狱人数来说还是多了，但是律师参与声援活动也多了。”
艾华 (Eva Pils)是伦敦国王学院潘迪生法学院的副教授，纽约大学亚美法研究所的客座研究员，China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014) 一书的作者。本文由 Cathy Xin 翻译成中文。
By 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.
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.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.