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Xu Zhiyong Criminally Detained, Home Searched

Published: July 16, 2013

According to our sources, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), one of China’s best known dissidents and activists, has been criminally detained on Tuesday, July 16. Per an earlier report by weiquanwang (维权网) and information circulated on Twitter,  Dr. Xu was taken away from his Beijing home Tuesday afternoon, and his computers and cellphones were seized.

Xu Zhiyong (许志永)

Xu Zhiyong (许志永)

Dr. Xu is one of the founders of Gong Meng (公盟), or the Open Constitution Initiative, and a lecturer at Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications. In the last couple of years, he has been tirelessly advocating civil action such as same-city citizen dinner gatherings, equal education rights, and what is more generally known as the new citizens’ movement.

According to the Notice of Detention, Dr. Xu was detained for allegedly “gathering crowds to disrupt order in public venues.”

In addition, Song Ze (宋泽) has been disappeared since the night of July 12, and no relatives and friends have been able to get in touch with him. He is a volunteer with Gong Meng, and for much of 2012, he had been “residing under surveillance (监视居住).”  Because another two activists associated with Gong Meng, Li Huanjun (李焕君) and Li Gang (李刚), were criminally detained also on the evening of July 12, it is believed that Song Ze was also detained.

Detention notice for Dr. Xu.

Detention notice for Dr. Xu.

The detention of Dr. Xu’s and three others are believed to be part of the crackdown on civic actions that is on the rise in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In April, Beijing police detained 10 citizens for publicly demanding asset disclosure by government officials. In May, the government announced the formal arrest of the ten on trumped up charges such as “illegal assembly” (非法集会), “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事), “gathering to disrupt social order” (聚众扰乱社会秩序), “inciting to subvert state power”(煽动颠覆国家政权) and more. One of the ten, Qi Yueying, a native Beijinger whose house was demolished in a grotesquely unfair compensation deal, was charged with “extortion.”

Dr. Xu has been under house arrest since April 12.

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

Guo Yushan (郭玉闪)

We also learned on Twitter that Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), founder of the Transition Institute (传知行研究所) and the man who picked up Chen Guangcheng, after the latter escaped, and sent him to the safety of the US Embassy in Beijing, has also been under house arrest for two weeks. It might have to do with his organizing the “Meal Delivery” activities on Weibo (送饭活动) that raise money for political prisoners and civil activists or their families who face extreme financial difficulty and need urgent relief.

Since Xi Jinping took power, close to 80 citizens have been detained or arrested for activities ranging from dinner gatherings to displaying banners in the streets to June 4th-related activities. Given the moderate nature of these acts, it is clear that the authorities are becoming extremely intolerant of anything they perceive as threatening, especially when the activities show any form of “organization.”

Looking for Song Ze

Liang Xiaojun, July 23, 2012

This is the second article about Song Ze’s case following Dr. Xu’s, and it is by Song Ze’s lawyer Xiao Xiaojun (梁小军). — The Editors



I first met Song Ze (宋泽) in late April. The weather was still cool, and he showed up following a call from Xu Zhiying, a bashful, quiet boy in a black leather jacket. Xu introduced him as a citizen volunteer, and I failed to remember his name. Later that day we went together to a dinner party of the Citizen team (e.g. OCI, the NGO Xu Zhiyong and others founded), and several well-known people at the table seemed very familiar with him. I became curious about him, wondering what he had done to endear himself to these online celebrities. All through the evening, he sat on the side and said little.

Then in early May I learned on Twitter that he had been criminally detained. Such an event had become so common an occurrence among friends of mine that I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I hardly knew him.

However, I became his attorney soon afterward. It was decided, over a similar dinner gathering that I should represent Song Ze because I lived close to Fengtai District detention center where Song Ze had been held. Xu Zhiyong believed that Song Ze was apprehended simply because he had visited black jails and helped petitioners. “They have no bottom line whatsoever!” Xu was indignant about authorities detaining Song Ze over these actions.

On May 14, the day I received the Power of Attorney Form signed by Song Ze’s parents in Hunan and his identification document, I went to Fengtai detention center to request for a meeting with Song Ze. I was referred to the officer in charge of Song Ze’s case, but he wasn’t there. An expressionless young female clerk told me to “come back tomorrow morning.” Helpless, I left after depositing 1,000 yuan for Song Ze.

I arrived next morning as soon as the Public Security Bureau opened. I found the officer behind a computer screen. When I said I was here to meet Song Guangqiang (宋光强, Song Ze’s original name), he found my request form with signed approval on his desk and motioned me to go to the meeting room without evening raising his head.

All the windows were occupied in the meeting room. So I waited. Song Ze had been taken out of his cell to meet me, now standing against a wall waiting too. He wore an orange prison garment. For some reason he didn’t have his glasses on. He looked sad.

Around 10 o’clock, we had our turn. Close, he recognized me and smiled a faint smile. I too took a good look of him. Though tired and listless, he was a good-looking young man.

I asked how he had been taken to custody and what the interrogation had been like. He spoke fast and clear: He was seized by policemen in the morning of May 4th while waiting in Beijing South Railway Station for a petitioner who had called and asked for his help in what now looked like a premeditated trap. He was then interrogated by policemen from Fengtai District Public Security Bureau and Beijing Headquarters respectively from the afternoon to early next morning. And as Xu Zhiyong predicted, it was about his visit to the black jail in Beijing set up by Chenzhou municipality, Hunan (湖南郴州) and his rescue of petitioners there, but also his online posts to help the petitioners. He was also asked his relationship with Xu Zhiyong—how he met him and how he became a volunteer for Citizen. On May 5, he was charged with “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事罪) and transferred to the Fengtai detention center.

When I told him about visiting his parents and getting them to sign the Power of Attorney Form, he smiled to my surprise. He said what he was afraid most was his parents’ knowledge of the event. He didn’t want his mother to worry about him. I tried my best to alleviate his anxiety.

Our meeting ended before 11am when policemen announced the morning hours were over.

After that I was taken up by other obligations. I felt that Song Ze would be released soon, because, legally I couldn’t think of anything that he could possibly be convicted with. His detention was based on charges of “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事) as defined by Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law. They refer to the followings: beating another person at will; chasing, intercepting or hurling insults to another person; forcibly taking or demanding, willfully damaging, destroying or occupying public or private property; creating disturbances in a public place. As far as I could see, Song Ze had simply done what a citizen should have done, and he displayed no behaviors punishable by law.

Looking back now, I was too optimistic.

Later on, Xu Zhiyong published an open letter to Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), director of Beijing Public Security Bureau, making Song Ze’s case known to the public. More people online have paid attention to the case.

Late May, Xu Zhiyong asked me to visit Song Ze again. He was afraid that Song Ze could be secretly sentenced to reform-through-labor. On May 28, I went to Fengtai District detention center again, and was received by the same expressionless female clerk. Once again, she told me that the officer in charge of the case was unavailable, asking me to leave my forms. But she didn’t say when I should return for the meeting. She requested my phone number and said she would call if a meeting was approved.

I waited for a whole day on the 29th, and nobody called.

In the early morning on the 30th, I went to the detention center again. The officer in charge of the case was there. Upon hearing my request to meet Song Ze, he asked who had sent me and how, while recording information about me on a notepad. Then he left the room with the approval form. When he returned shortly, he told me the lieutenant, whose signature was required, was unavailable, and I couldn’t meet Song Ze on that day. He told me to come back tomorrow.

I argued that, according to China’s Lawyers Law, meeting with client required no approval. He said, the new criminal procedure law wouldn’t take effect until next year, and it was good for a lawyer to obtain approval.

It’s impossible to conduct a conversation like that. So I said I would wait for your lieutenant. He said, well, do as you please. He then left the room, and I stayed in the hallway to wait while reading.

The lieutenant’s office was wide open with people coming in and out of it except for the lieutenant himself. At 10:30, as the hope for a morning meeting faded, I called the officer in charge of the case again, reiterating my right to see my client. He said he would arrange it as soon as he could.

The next day I went again. This time the lieutenant was there. He smiled broadly, saying he was busy yesterday but he had approved my request. With the approval form, he took me downstairs to the meeting room.

Song Ze was quickly brought out, and, without waiting for long, we had a window. Song Ze’s beard had grown, but otherwise he looked better than last time I had seen him. He was very happy to see me too. When we starting talking, the lieutenant pulled a stool and sat next to Song Ze to listen to us.

Song Ze told me that, over the last two weeks or so since our last meeting, he was interrogated four more times, the longest one lasting five hours. They asked the same questions they had asked before. They were rude and barbaric some times, but other times they played nice.

After talking about himself, he began asking me legal questions concerning his fellow inmates. The lieutenant interrupted him, “Just talk about your own case; don’t worry about others’ business.” To this, Song Ze said, “I have no more questions about my own case, nor do I worry about mine,” and went on asking me more questions.

Song Ze and I had a decent exchange even with the lieutenant present. Song Ze felt that it was a pity that he got himself arrested without even doing anything worthwhile; he worried about his parents, asking me to tell them that he committed no crime, and they shouldn’t feel bad for him.

We bid each other goodbye without a heavy heart. I would see him again whether he would be charged, given reform-through-labor, or released on probation. That was how I believed anyway.

Another week or so passed. The end of 30-day detention period, plus a 7-day review period, was approaching, but I had heard no words about Song Ze.

On June 12 I went to Fengtai District detention center again. The officer in charge of the case told me that Song Ze had been switched to residing under surveillance and taken away by people from Beijing PSB a few days ago. He said he didn’t know which department of the PSB they were from, nor did he know where they had taken Song Ze. All he could tell me was that Fengtai District was no long on the case anymore.

The officers said repeatedly that they were just implementers, and there was no use for me to argue with them. At that point I knew that Song Ze had been disappeared!

As a coercive measure, residing under surveillance is laxer than detention, mostly carried out in the residence of the suspect. If it is carried out in a location designated by the law enforcement, family or attorney should be promptly notified of the location. But since last year, residing under surveillance in designated location has become the authorities’ weapon of choice against rights defenders and dissidents. This year’s revision of the Criminal Procedure Law provides for more extensive stipulation on residing under surveillance. Article 73 in particular legalizes residing under surveillance without notification of family.

So I twittered that day that Song Ze had been Article 73ed in advance. (The revised Criminal Procedure Law takes effect January 1, 2013.)

We could not accept, nor tolerate, Song Ze’s forced disappearance. Xu Zhiyong and I planned to go to Beijing PSB to inquire about it, but on that day he was blocked at home by security police and couldn’t leave. So I went myself.

Beijing PSB is located in Qianmen East Avenue (前门东大街), enclosed by high walls and guarded by armed police. The reception window told me that this was the headquarters of the Bureau; to make inquiry about individual case, I must go to the specific unit in charge of the case.

The ball was kicked out, but nobody would receive it.

After that I went to Fengtai District PSB again, and they told me they no longer had any knowledge about the case.

Police break the law at will. Nothing safeguards citizens’ rights. Citizens themselves can be disappeared any time. Such is the state Chinese citizen rights defenders have to face.

All these days as I have looked for Song Ze, I feel helpless as a legal professional and as a citizen. I am deeply worried about Song Se’s status. My only hope is that he will stay strong in face of all these, and I pray for his early release.

The Plight of a Young Chinese Volunteer

By Xu Zhiyong

Today and tomorrow, we bring to you two articles about the case of a young man called Song Ze. He was a volunteer at Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s Open Constitution Initiative, an NGO dedicated to providing legal aid to disempowered people in China. We at SRIC are in no position to fully report the many cases such as Song Ze’s, but what we can do, and are trying to do here, is to illustrate a case well enough so that it sheds light and provides insight. On China’s black jails which this article explains very well, you may also want to watch Melissa Chan’s report that allegedly got her expelled from China. Hannah is the translator of the following piece by Dr. Xu. –Yaxue  

Around noon on May 4th, 2012, Song Ze (宋泽) received a phone call in which the caller said someone who had been put in a “black jail” [an illegal prison used mostly to detain petitioners, disempowered citizens who went to Beijing to file a complaint about his/her local government] hoped for help, and asked Song Ze to meet him in the lobby of Beijing South Railway Station at 2 o’clock. Same as ever, Song Ze did not hesitate to respond.

As Song Ze waited at the bottom of the designated escalator, an unexpected thing happened — his phone suddenly lost its signal. But he waited patiently anyway. After ten minutes or so, the signal returned, and with it suddenly appeared several men, who forcibly carried him off. A day later, he was spotted by a petitioner in the basement of the You Anmen (右安门) police station. More than ten days after Song Ze had gone missing, lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) finally managed to meet him in Fengtai District’s Detention Center.  At that point Song Ze had already been detained as a criminal suspect, charged with “provoking disturbances.”

What had Song Ze done?

Song Ze’s original name is Song Guangqiang (宋光强), born in 1985 in a mountain village in Xiangyang (襄阳), Hubei Province. He graduated from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in 2010, majoring in international politics, and also minoring in finance. He received a dual-degree in law and economics. After graduating from college he worked at a foreign-capital enterprise, but he could not give up the ideals in his heart. In October 2011, he wrote a long letter to me, relating his own experience and dreams growing up, hoping to join the team of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟).

The first impression Song Ze gives people is that he is reticent and shy, but deep down he is a passionate idealist. He does not care how much money he makes, how hard he has to work; all he cares about is how his own actions would affect society.

As it turned out, the Petitioners’ Rescue Program was lacking in manpower, and so Song Ze’s responsibility was to contact the volunteer rescuers, to purchase new, or pick up donated, clothes and blankets, to distribute clothing and give sick people emergency aid. All winter long, Song Ze more or less had no Sundays and no holidays, keeping busy with volunteers at Beijing South Railway Station’s nearby ghetto, in the underground tunnel and other places where poor petitioners gathered. For many cold, cruel windy nights, he checked the bridge tunnels one by one to make sure new petitioners had cotton-padded blankets.

In China, even if it is just pure aid for the needy, humanitarian efforts face huge pressure because of the special identity of rescuees on the one hand and the social ideals of the rescuers on the other. On the night of the Lantern Festival (lunar January 15th), volunteers who were distributing rice dumplings to petitioners were blocked forcibly by police. Volunteer Yuan Wenhua was taken away, so was Song Ze when he asked the policemen to show their IDs. The rest of us waited outside the police station until they were released.

As winter passed and there was no need to worry about people freezing to death, Song Ze turned to providing emergency medical aid and to watch “black prisons.”

Black prisons are places where local governments illegally detain petitioners. If the petitioners try to go to the Prime Minister’s house or foreign embassies near Dongjiaominxiang (东交民巷), Wangfujing Street (王府井大街) or other places where they are not supposed to petition, they could be taken away by police. During the so-called sensitive time of Two Meetings each year, they could be apprehended just passing through Chang’an Street (长安街) and being found carrying petitioning materials. All these are labeled “irregular petitioning” and the petitioners who have been rounded up are sent to Jiu Jing Zhuang (久敬庄), the detention and deportation center run by the State Bureau of Letters and Calls. Jiu Jing Zhuang would order local governments’ Beijing offices to take away petitioners from their jurisdictions on the same day they arrive in Jiu Jing Zhuang. However, most petitioners cannot be dispatched back to their homes that same day. They must wait to be sent home, perhaps needing a few days or a few weeks, and this turns into a profiteering opportunity for some people.

People running the black prisons are those who have connections with officials in the State Bureau of Letters and Calls or local governments’ Beijing offices. They rent hotel basements, hire thugs, forcibly take the petitioners from Jiu Jing Zhuang, illegally detain them, and then order the local governments to come to get the petitioners and pay a fee for the latters’ stay. They fetch 80 to 200 RMB per petitioner per day.

Each year the black prison atrocities reach their height during the Two Meetings (National People’s Congress and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference). On the eve of the Two Meetings this year, Song Ze verified 49 black prison locations and sent out a map of Beijing’s black prisons. On March 5, 80-year-old petitioner Hu Yufu (胡玉甫) was put in a black prison. On the 7th he fell ill, begging to get treatment. To this, the secretary of the Committee of Politics and Law said, “Petitioners cannot be indulged! If he is sick, let him figure out what to do.” Hu was finally sent to the emergency room on the 12th, and died on the morning of 13th.  Song Ze helped his son sue the Party secretary, mayor and other officials of Xinxiang municipality (in Henan province) for illegally detaining his father.

Starting from September of 2008, our organization’s volunteers visited and watched black prisons, exposing this crime to the public, and rescuing the petitioners. Over the last few years, conditions in black prisons have had improved, and police have taken more action to investigate them upon receiving reports. But black prisons still exist in large numbers. To visit black prisons and to try to rescue prisoners there exemplifies a citizen’s willingness and courage to right a wrong, but in this upside-down country, Song Ze was thrown in jail for this very reason.

Why was Song Ze detained?

On January 11 of this year, Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) , Song Ze and others received an urgent text message from Hunan petitioner Yu Hong seeking help. They braved the severe cold of Beijing searching for four hours, and finally found the exact position of Chenzhou’s (of Hunan province) black prison. Afterwards they got in contact with over ten reporters and volunteers, and together they went on a rescue mission.

On the morning of January 13, Zhao Zhenjia, Peng Zhonglin, Guan Weishuang, Song Ze, and others, ten people in total, came to the black prison. While videotaping the process, they broke into the room and rescued three elderly people who had sought help. They were 73-year-old Yu Hong, 57-year-old Chen Bixiang and 82-year-old Long Jiangbao. One of them had been detained for over 40 days already. The living conditions there were awful with no heat, and each person had only a thin blanket. They were not given enough food either, often just one pack of ramen noodles per person per day.

There were only a few guards on duty then, and before they realized what was going on, the petitioners had already been rescued. But soon the police came. Instead of punishing the real criminals, they tried to take away these courageous citizen volunteers. While arguing with the police, they managed to take the three petitioners onto a bus, even though some guards followed them onto the bus.

That day, when I hurried over to the scene, the rescuers had already gotten onto the bus and left. I told Song Ze (over the phone) that I would be waiting for them near OCI’s office on the East Third Ring Road. They got off the bus, with four guards from the black prison in tow. I stopped a taxi, Song Ze and three petitioners got in promptly, and I blocked the door to fend off the guards. The taxi made a loop and took Song Ze and the three petitioners to the office of OCI. He bought meal for them, and send them to the nearby long-distance bus station with enough money for them to go home.

This rescue mission became the very reason for Song Ze’s arrest, the charge being “provoking disturbance” and the reason for the charge being “disrupting the public order.” Before Song Ze, 60-year-old Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) had already been given a year and a half of reform-through-labor, a form of imprisonment, for his participation in the same event.

Of course, Song Ze could have been retaliated against for another reason. Several days before his arrest in early May, he did something that irked the authorities: he took a cab to Shandong, picked up the wife of Chen Kegui (nephew of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng), took her to Beijing and hid her. I regret to have sent him to do this—he risked too much.

But I had never imagined Song Ze would end up in prison.

Citizen Song Ze

Song Ze’s case was one directly handled by Beijing Public Security Bureau. Lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) made several trips to the detention center before finally being granted a meeting with Song Ze. Apart from the rescue on January 13, he was interrogated about how he met me and what he had done at OCI.

When the 37 days that he was sentenced were up, Song Ze was not freed. It is now such a preposterous case that the charges against Song Ze are too ridiculous to show to the world. The prosecution has not issued approval for an arrest, but the PSB does not want to let him go. Now they have placed him in residing under surveillance (监视居住).

In reality, residing under surveillance is more formidable than imprisonment. According to the new Criminal Procedure Law, the authority may designate the location for residing under surveillance, but it shall notify their relatives. But China being China, Song Ze’s family has not received any notification. He can still meet with his lawyer when detained in the detention center, but it’s been more than 40 days since he was put under residential surveillance, no one has been able to see Song Ze; and the PSB has refused to answer any questions on his whereabouts.

In our time, Song Ze is hard-to-find idealist. As he wrote in his letter to me, “I tried to force myself to just live my own life, but I discovered that this is quite difficult to do. If I see someone on the roadside in need of help but give no hand, I would be pained afterward. If I see something unfair around me but do nothing about it, I feel ashamed. When I see others who are able to give lot of help to the needy, I would blame myself for being useless, wishing I could do more……” We are all very concerned about Song Ze, and worry about what he is being putting through.

Xu Zhiyong (许志永), July 12, 2012