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Wang Yu, November 13, 2017
Wang Yu (王宇), born 1971 in Inner Mongolia, was a lawyer with Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when she was abducted in the early morning of July 9, 2015. The date of her detention marks the beginning of, and gives name to, the most notorious human rights event over the last two years – the 709 Crackdown. She was released on bail on August 2016, but until recently Wang Yu, her husband and son have been sequestered in an apartment in Ulan Hot, Inner Mongolia, under severe surveillance. The family returned to their home in Beijing recently. Below is an excerpt of Wang Yu’s account of her first two months in Beijing from July to September, 2015. She is currently writing the second part of her 709 ordeal in Tianjin. Her account is part of the book titled The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories From Inside China’s System for Enforced Disappearances that was just released this week on Amazon. While the book’s focus is on China’s practice of secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location,” China Change adds Wang Yu’s account to that of Xie Yang and Xie Yanyi, expanding our translation about the 709 torture. Section titles are added, minor edits made by China Change for clarity. — The Editors
So often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time. I became stuck many times in the process and couldn’t continue. I often had to stop and take a few deep breaths; otherwise I would become very depressed. — Wang Yu
The Break-in and the Abduction in the Morning of July 9, 2015
Shortly after 11pm on July 8 2015, I had just said goodbye to my son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), who was heading to Australia to study, and my husband, who was accompanying him. Initially I had planned to go with them to the airport, but since the flight was at midnight my husband worried about me returning home alone. They drove off in a taxi outside our apartment building without even waiting for me to come down to say goodbye. I called to ask them to phone again after they had passed security check. I couldn’t control my sadness and cried on the phone. Even though I was trying to comfort my 16-year-old son, I was the one choking. My husband couldn’t bear to hear our parting words, so he hung up. After the brief call, I went upstairs to prepare for a trial the following day. Later, after having changed into my pajamas and gotten into bed, I still couldn’t stop thinking about my son. I couldn’t fall asleep.
It was after 1am and I still hadn’t received a call saying that they had passed immigration. I tried reaching them but neither of their phones connected. At first, I thought it was because they didn’t have a signal, but I had called many times, up to and after their scheduled takeoff time, and it was the same. I was growing worried. I sent some messages to friends in WeChat and Telegram groups, hoping they could help with some ideas. I called the airline, but couldn’t get through.
Without warning, the lights in my house went out, along with the internet, and immediately I heard the sound of someone trying to force open the door. Frantically, I sent out a message on social media, and everyone expressed their deep concern. One person replied asking if my lock was strong. I said it was, that Bao Longjun (包龙军) had changed it recently, and selected the strongest available lock, worrying that I wasn’t safe alone at home. Another person replied suggesting that I put an obstacle in front of the door but I thought this wasn’t necessary. If they could get through the door, then any obstacle would be useless. However, thinking back, if I could have put an obstacle between them and me, then it might have delayed them entering the room, and given me more time to spread the information of my abduction on social media, or to contact trusted friends and alert them directly.
I walked to the door, demanding, who is it? The sound of forced entry stopped as suddenly as it had begun. There were no more noises for a while. I sent another message to the groups, telling them that whoever it was must have left. Maybe they had just wanted to scare me. This type of situation had happened to a friend of mine before; they had just come to harass and intimidate him. I told the people in the chat group to just go to sleep. It was already 3am. I was still worried that I hadn’t heard anything from my son and husband, and couldn’t sleep, so I continued trying to reach the airlines, but nobody answered.
An hour later, at around 4am, I was shocked by a piercing noise. It sounded like they were trying to force open the door with an electric drill. I shared this message to the Telegram group immediately, and jumped out of bed. I tried to phone for help, but before anyone could answer, someone had already broken through the door, and was instantly upon me. The light from his headlamp flashed into my face as he spoke, “Don’t move! We’re from Beijing Public Security Bureau.”
It had only taken a few seconds from the moment I heard the drill before they were inside.
“Who are you? How dare you break in? Show me your identification,” I demanded.
I hadn’t even finished speaking before more than a dozen people were inside, pushing me onto the bed, handcuffing me with my hands behind my back. In almost the same movement, someone was forcing a black hood over my head. He had a Tianjin accent.
Since I had already been illegally detained several times in the past by Public Security or court police during certain cases—you can imagine how much risk a lawyer with legal professional ethics faces in China—I wasn’t immediately too scared. I tried to struggle, but it was impossible to make any difference as a woman against such a large number of attackers.
Two women in the group dragged me out. I tried getting the neighbor’s attention, shouting loudly: “Don’t drag me. I can walk by myself!” After they had dragged me into the elevator, I started crying. I asked them to release my handcuffs, saying they hurt my wrists. I knew there was a camera in the elevator, and hoped my lawyer might later be able to get the video record of that day.
They dragged me downstairs and threw me into a van. From what I could see from under the hood, there was a person in the seat in front of me. He looked like a boss. I sat in the back seat, two women on either side of me. Another three or four sat behind us.
Soon, I heard the vehicle in front of us starting to move; we pulled out of the housing unit, and I heard a few more cars following behind.
I cried the whole way, repeating what I had said in the elevator. The handcuffs were too tight. I repeated that they were supposed to show me their identification. A woman behind me, growing irritated, told me to shut up. But as she spoke, I detected a sense of fear in her voice, as if she was even more nervous than I was. I replied that if she were bound in tight handcuffs, then she would also feel pain. She had a bad temper. Suddenly, she reached from behind me, pressed down on my head, and tried putting a gag in my mouth. But I shut my mouth tightly. Maybe because the car was moving and she didn’t have a good enough position to push me from behind, she gave up.
Afterward, I could feel that my hood was even tighter. I shouted: “I am suffocating. Someone give me some air!” A woman beside me adjusted my hood a little, and I could see a sliver of sky out of the side. The sky was just getting light.
Forced to Strip off in Front of Surveillance Cameras
This hidden location was where I would stay for the next month. Besides the roughly 20 girls who took turns monitoring me, and a few interrogators, I never saw another person.
They removed my black hood and handcuffs. I could see that we were in a cell built according to standard detention center layout. There was a long corridor, on the other side, another door, outside of which was the so-called exercise yard. Inside the room, on the right side, there were ten single beds close to each other, with a table beside the first bed. Bed sheets and pillows were stacked on several of the mattresses. There were two small plastic stools by one side. On the floor, a 40x40cm square was painted in red, and beside it another line painted in yellow; squares and lines presumably for controlling movement. A large sheet of glass separated the corridor from the bathroom, with a gap between for coming and going, but everything inside was clearly visible. There was a toilet, a sink, and a pipe with no nozzle for the shower. Three cameras lined the wall, with another camera in the bathroom. Later, I saw the label “207” written on a cup. I assumed that was my room number.
I asked if we were in a detention center and was there anyone else here. The room was so big for just one person, such a waste. They replied that I was the only one.
I was only allowed to sit in the square framed line they had painted on the floor. I wasn’t allowed to make any movement outside the red and yellow lines; otherwise the armed police had the right to take any action against me. Again, I was told I needed to ask for permission before doing anything.
Another girl came in and told me to remove all my clothes. She claimed it was a routine inspection. I pointed out that that morning they had provided the clothes I was now wearing, I had just arrived, and had been surrounded by their people the whole time. “What could you possibly want to check?” Looking at the mounted cameras in the room, I said we should at least go into the bathroom; otherwise it was just intentionally insulting me.
She said no.
I was told to take off all my clothes, stand in the middle of the room for inspection, and to turn my body three times. I objected to this insulting order. But these young girls didn’t care.
They rushed forward, pushed me against the floor, and stripped me. I was crying, and pleading with them at the same time. Why would they insult me like this? Why didn’t they have any compassion? Why were they so violent to a small woman like me?
Perhaps I am a very traditional woman. I think the violent stripping off my clothes was the cruelest torture I endured.
Iron Handcuffs and Shackles
I demanded to speak with their superiors, to address this violent insult. At first, I was ignored completely. Later on, a man came in; he looked brutal and tough. He introduced himself as the team leader in charge of the facility. I told him what I had just gone through, that the action they had taken was illegal, that there were rules about it in detention center regulations, that it clearly violated my rights, and that I wanted to issue a complaint with the procuratorate. As I spoke, he was observably angry. He left without saying anything or letting me finish what I had to say.
Moments later, he returned with an even meaner looking man following behind him. He looked like a monster, with big eyes that shined with a brutal and evil light, a dark face, and crew cut hair. He was holding handcuffs and shackles in his hand.
The team leader gave the order, “Put them on her!” That monster grabbed my hands and feet, and handcuffed and shackled me. The handcuffs were not the normal type, but designed specifically for torture, made of pure pig iron, with tough 1cm thick rings.
My wrists became swollen after wearing them for a day, and even more than one year later my wrists still look a little black.
The shackles were also made from pure pig iron, the two rings even thicker, and in between them was a long chain with more than a dozen flat round links.
After putting me in handcuffs and shackles, the team leader left with these harsh parting words: “Didn’t you want to meet the procuratorate? Don’t you want to follow the law? This is it! If you don’t behave well, we have something worse than this.”
The shackles were very heavy. I almost couldn’t walk as I was thin and small. The two guards appeared shocked. It seemed that they had never seen this kind of situation before. It was hard to accept the reality of my situation. I had acted calmly; reasonably pointing out their illegal behavior, and in exchange, I got this kind of torture.
Besides thinking about the heavy handcuffs and shackles, I was still reflecting on the moment that they had stripped me, and I still hadn’t slept properly. I felt dizzy; my stomach was brewing up a storm. I was going to vomit. I wanted to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t move. The two girls helped me. These two were the most compassionate of the many who took turns guarding me, but unfortunately, I never saw them again after that day, perhaps because they showed their softness.
Sleep Deprivation and Psychological Torment
It went on like that. I was forced to stay inside the small painted square during the day, suffering at the hands of these young girls. If my leg or a foot were out of the square, even by just a tiny bit, they would warn me or slap me. Sometimes they didn’t allow me to drink anything at all, even if there was water in the room. I never had enough water. And after it got dark, the three interrogators would return, and initiate another kind of suffering.
After three days passed like this, the interrogators changed their attitude. They no longer insulted or admonished me; instead they poured me a bottle of warm water as soon as they arrived.
Then, during breakfast and lunch on the fourth day, after having just had a few bites of my food, the two young guards told me that mealtime was over. I tried explaining that I had just started eating. They repeated that mealtime was over. I quietly put down my chopsticks. I am not allowed to eat, I thought. Okay then! I won’t eat. I would see what new tricks they were up to.
I was also considering another problem. Although they were all working together to hurt me, I was too weak to take them all on. I didn’t have enough energy to argue with them about their illegal behavior. This place was totally isolated: any law, report, accusation, procuratorate were all so far away.
That evening, I couldn’t stand it anymore. While they were still trying to persuade me to speak with them, I slowly felt my heart constrict, my breath became short, I felt dizzy. My body couldn’t hold out any more. It was so painful I felt like I was going to die. My consciousness was slowly slipping away. My body fell from the chair. The interrogator dragged me back onto the chair. To prevent me from slipping out again, he restrained my chin and shackled my legs. They called in a woman who looked like a doctor. She opened my eyes, said I was okay, and then walked out.
At that point, Chief Wang [the chief interrogator] said: “If you die here, you will just become another Cao Shunli.”
Indeed, I felt that I was dying. I had entered an empty state; a pain that is hard to describe. I couldn’t breathe. I felt pain in every part of my body. I felt that my soul had already drifted away. That day, I thought, I really was like a dead person. I spent another sleepless night strapped in the chair.
On the fifth night, three interrogators came to speak with me again. They were still trying to persuade me to speak with them. They mentioned my son, but in a way that they were obviously holding back some information. I asked them harshly, “What have you done to my son? He is just a kid. It is too shameless of you to threaten me by using my son!”
“We didn’t do anything to your son. He is good, just under our control. He didn’t make it abroad, but that’s okay. Once you get back, he can still go.” Maybe because I am so close to him, I couldn’t conceal my concern. This divulged a weakness for them to exploit. From that moment on, over the following year, they would often mention my son. When I did finally get back home after a year, I learned he had been under house arrest; that he had been prohibited from studying abroad; and had been monitored by more than a dozen guards every day.
He was so young. At just 16 years old, he had also become a victim of the regime. My heart was devastated. A regime that uses a mother’s son to threaten her is shameless to the extreme.
It was around 4 or 5 in the morning, nearly dawn, when I fell unconsciousness again. There were countless golden sparks flashing in front of my eyes, every time I opened them. I saw the vague outline of three deformed interrogators. I felt that my life was fading away little by little. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I told them, I would talk, but I needed to have a rest first, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stay alive.
I would only talk about myself. I would not answer any questions about other people.
At that, they finally left, and allowed me to sleep.
On the morning of the sixth day, the three interrogators came back. They didn’t wait until evening this time. Chief Wang looked very happy and smug. He told me, “I will ask them to undo your handcuffs so that you can have a good shower.”
After that my daily schedule started to improve a little. I was almost permitted enough sleep. But since I hadn’t slept at all for five days and nights, my sunken eyes and dark bags under my eyes never recovered. I still have heart problems now.
Chief Wang went out for a while and then came back with the team leader and the “monster” to remove my handcuffs. The team leader pretended to look very sorry for me, like he was doing me such a big favor.
“Normally, in here, once we put handcuffs and shackles on someone, we keep them on for at least 15 days. Today Chief Wang asked us to remove them for you, so we will remove your handcuffs first, and only keep the shackles on you for two more days.”
They took my handcuffs away. My wrists had become seriously swollen from the friction. If they hadn’t taken them off, my hands would have been ruined.
When they removed my shackles on the seventh or eighth day, all of a sudden I felt my body was much lighter, just like the Chinese idiom, as light as a swallow.
When I reflect back on those days, I think perhaps God was protecting me. Somehow I didn’t get sick. Normally, I easily catch cold and or otherwise get sick, but in the early days of my detention my vitality and resistance were so strong. When I reflect on Chief Wang’s words, “If you die here, you will just become another Cao Shunli,” it really makes me reflect on Cao’s death all over again. [Wang Yu was Cao Shunli’s lawyer]
Over the following 10 days or so, they interrogated me three times a day. The sessions would end only when the meal arrived, but the night interrogation lasted longer and later.
They began by asking about the cases I had represented, six in particular. They asked who had requested me to do the cases; how they had found me; who had introduced me; about the signing of the powers of attorney; and who had paid my lawyer’s fee; etc. I replied that the cases they were asking about were definitely the more important cases I had done but that I had posted all the details on my Weibo and Wechat, and that they could get the information they wanted from those platforms. I explained that because my Weibo had been blocked, they would need special access. I pointed out that there was nothing illegal about those cases because I had already made them public.
They asked about my few trips abroad. They asked who had invited me; how they had contacted me; how I had traveled; who had bought my tickets; how many days I had been away; who had gone with me; and what kind of activities I had done there; etc.
They also asked about the workshops and gatherings I had attended a few times inside China. I told them that normally I was busy with my cases, although I participated a few times in a workshop or rights defense gathering, but not often. I was always busy, so I didn’t have the brain capacity to remember these kinds of things.
Later on, they asked me to talk about my impressions of many people, such as Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Wu Gan (吴淦), Huang Liqun (黄力群), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰), and Hu Guiyun (胡贵云) [mostly 709 lawyers and activists]. I told them I was a very typical feminist and didn’t have much contact with these male lawyers, explaining that I didn’t know them well and so I had no comment. In an attempt to sow discord, they often told me things such as: “Zhou Shifeng already said others use you like a gun. There is someone behind you. Zhou also said that you are stupid and will do any case.”
They sometimes brought notes from Zhou Shifeng to show me, but I was not sure if they were real or not. Each time I told them that he had the freedom to say what he wanted, and that as a lawyer I would not allow others to tell me what to do. No one else has the right to tell me what to do. I take full responsibility for my own actions.
Toward the end of July, they tried persuading me to write a so-called confession letter and to deliver it on television. I refused without a second’s thought. I would not write anything and would never go on their TV to confess.
Transfer to Tianjian
On the morning of August 7, the team leader took me to the so-called “Beijing Tongda Hostel” (北京通达招待所). We could hear the sound of an airplane circling in the sky overhead every day. At first, I thought we were near one of the airports, but afterwards I learned from a base manager that it was the same location as my previous detention facility, on the edge of Beijing, inside a military base, in a small town in Hebei Province.
That day, Chief Wang came to tell me that the crime I was officially now suspected of was “inciting subversion of state power” and so they had changed my coercive measure to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location.
I was speechless.
Into September, they almost didn’t come at all any more. Before, there were five teams of guards, with two-hour shifts. Now I had three teams per day, with three hours per shift. Those girls worked constantly. Their faces looked sallow.
On the afternoon of September 8, Chief Wang appeared out of nowhere. He hadn’t come for a long time. The Tianjin interrogator was with him. He said that there was good news. He would not be in charge of my case anymore. The Tianjin interrogator was taking over. He told me to get ready. They would come back to pick me up and take me to Tianjin. I thought, how is this good news?
After I had had dinner, the team leader came in and told me to be ready to go once he came back. He took out his gun and waved it around. I didn’t know what he meant.
They put me in a black hood and two girls took me away from this so-called “Beijing Tongda Hostel” where I had lived for the past month. They handed me over to some Tianjin girls, who took me into a vehicle. We waited in the car for more than an hour. Then I heard many cars leaving one after another. After more than two hours, we arrived at the “Tianjin Jinan Hostel.” What fate awaited me there?
Since being “released on bail,” I have often wanted to write about my experiences. But so often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time.
I became stuck many times in the process and couldn’t continue. I often had to stop and take a few deep breaths; otherwise I would become depressed. It is a scar that has not healed for my family and I, even until today.
After I finished writing the story above, my spirits almost collapsed. Reliving these episodes was even harder than the moments I was actually there. I don’t know why. While I was experiencing it, I didn’t feel scared. Sometimes I had even adopted a “play” attitude in order to face it. It was almost fun to engage in a “battle of wits” with my captors and interrogators. But when I reflect back on these experiences now, it’s hard, and I can’t imagine how I was able to handle it. Sometimes, if I think about if it were to happen a second time, I ask myself: would I be able to handle it again? Perhaps this is what is meant by “secondary trauma.”
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 19, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation, January 20, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others, January 21, 2017.
A Record of 709, Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee, China Change, July 7, 2017
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.
‘Riding on a Dream, We Push Forward’: A Statement on the Fourth Anniversary of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, September 13, 2017
Today, September 13, 2017, marks the fourth anniversary of the founding of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group.
Even though it is the obligation of government to respect and safeguard human rights based on international treaties and the Constitution, it is also the natural and professional duty of lawyers. Four years ago today, the China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded to provide an open platform for professional cooperation.
Over the past four years, we have set foot across the country and worked tirelessly against constant obstacles to protect freedom of expression, freedom of belief and other basic civil and political rights. Among us, some have lost their freedom and even their lives.
Since the 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers in 2015, the authorities have among other things unscrupulously employed TV confessions and imposed officially-designated defense lawyers against the wishes of family members. We embraced those who had come back after unspeakable ordeals, and we remain deeply worried about lawyer Wang Quanzhang, Wu Gan, lawyer Jiang Tianyong, and Li Yanjun, who are still in custody.
We pay close attention to judicial reforms, but the gratuitous use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location has led to countless cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, during which horrific torture and other forms of inhumane treatment have occurred. The reality is that Chinese law does not apply to certain enforcers, and the so-called judicial reforms are little more than a joke.
We are concerned with the promulgation of various laws. Over the past two years China has passed or amended the Cybersecurity Law, Anti-terrorism Law, National Security Law, National Intelligence Law, the Management of Foreign NGO Law, Charity Law, Regulations on Religious Affairs, and other laws and regulations. These laws are brutal and coarse in terms of their legislative purpose, procedure, and techniques; they do nothing more than provide legal cover for the ugly policies of the day. In implementing them, law enforcement authorities trample over human rights at will in the name of “anti-terrorism” and “public security,” and the tendency to do this is now spreading.
We are concerned that lawyers retain the right to do their jobs. This right is being undermined by government agencies in charge of the judiciary, who are manipulating lawyer associations — which by definition should be independent, professional organizations — to retaliate against and remove human rights lawyers at the forefront of defending human rights.
In today’s China, human rights lawyers are esteemed by many but also scrutinized by some, and it requires courage and a sense of responsibility for us to persevere. We might be limited in our strength, but we must do what we can to stop this long-suffering country from sliding ever deeper and further into a dictatorial and totalitarian quagmire.
The fall brings cold air and perilous waves. We hope that, as lawyers who take defending human rights as a personal duty, we have answered the call of our time; we hope that the country will prosper and the people will enjoy peace and happiness. Moreover, we hope that the flowers of human rights will flourish across China.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 2017
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Chang Boyang (常伯阳) 18837183338
Liu Shihui (刘士辉) 18516638964
Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) 18639228639
Tang Jitian (唐吉田) 13161302848
Yu Wensheng (余文生) 13910033651
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Safeguard Defenders, August 28, 2017
The Human Rights Tulip is an award by the Dutch government for courageous human rights defenders.
Wang Quanzhang (CHINA) is a lawyer, father and husband whose work to defend and protect persecuted religious groups, especially Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, has made him a target himself. He is also a defender who understands that broader change in China must come from developing a wider movement of rights defenders.
Since 2008, Wang has worked to develop institutions and mechanisms to train, teach, and offer support to the greater rights defense community, from other rights defense lawyers, “barefoot” lawyers working locally, or victims themselves. Wang is the co-founder of an NGO that established training programs, training many hundreds of lawyers and rights defenders around China. Wang has likewise led the development of several innovative guides and training manuals to assist the rights defense movement to achieve greater success in their work.
By the time Wang was kidnapped by Chinese police on August 5, 2015, he was one of the few remaining lawyers in the whole of China who continued to provide legal aid to those most in need and has continued his work despite threats, beatings and attacks. No one has heard, seen or spoken with Wang for over 700 days. Reliable sources have claimed that he has been subjected to electro-shock torture, amongst other forms of torture. Wang has refused to admit guilt or incriminate others. Wang’s defiance and refusal to disavow his beliefs, friends and other lawyers, has made him a target in the eyes of the Chinese communist party and their “war on lawyers.”
Wang needs your support and your vote. Public voting is open between August 28 and September 6. Go to:
https://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/wang-quanzhang and follow the steps.
The winner will be selected from the top 3 candidates by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Twitter hashtag #Tulip4Wang
Mo Zhixu, August 16, 2017
The Chinese original was first published in December, 2015.
The importance of Wu Gan “the Super Vulgar Butcher” has been widely recognized for some time, and the most direct testament to his importance comes from none other than the party-state itself.
On May 18, 2015, Wu Gan left for Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi, to support lawyers in the Leping wrongful conviction case.* That evening, he joined the lawyers’ sit-in at the gate to the Jiangxi High Court, demanding the lawyers’ right to access the case files. On May 19, in a performance typical of Wu Gan, he set two roll-up signs in front of the court calling out court president Zhang Zhonghou (张忠厚). Soon after, Nanchang police picked up Wu Gan, placing him under administrative detention for ten days.
On May 25, Xinhua published the story “Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan Put Under Administrative Detention by Nanchang Police.” Official websites across the board republished the article soon after. The next day, CCTV’s “Live News” (新闻直播间) aired a five-and-a-half-minute segment on “The Truth Behind the Detention of Netizen ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ Wu Gan.” This distorted report on the events at the Jiangxi High Court augured in the campaign to defame Wu Gan.
On May 27, Wu Gan was put under criminal detention and charged with slander and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On May 28, Xinhua published “Uncovering the Real ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’—Wu Gan Criminally Detained on Suspicion of Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble, Slander.” This was printed on page 11 of the People’s Daily—in the politics section. The same day, CCTV’s “Morning News” (朝闻天下) and “Live News” devoted over 5 minutes and 12 minutes respectively to the details of Wu Gan’s detention, while the China Police Daily led with Wu Gan’s story on page 1. These articles and videos were circulated all over the internet. For a time, Wu Gan the Butcher took over computer screens. Some people joked that only a few people had received this much attention since the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949.
People can’t help but ask, what’s so important about Wu Gan the Butcher?
Wu Gan is from Fuqing, Fujian Province. He formerly served in the border security force at the Xiamen airport. For family reasons, he settled in Yangshuo, Guangxi Province. He’s an avid internet user, posting mainly on the KDnet forums. “Super Vulgar Butcher” is his KDnet screen name.
When the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case shook the nation in May 2009, Wu Gan went on his own to the scene in Badong, Hubei Province. He managed to visit Deng in a mental institution where she was being held for stabbing to death an official who tried to sexually assault her at a public bath where she was a waitress. Working with lawyers, Wu Gan launched an online support campaign that was crucial to Deng’s release and the dropping of her murder charge.
At the same time, Wu Gan raised funds online for his trip to Badong. He was challenged on this, but also gained a great deal of support. As he rose to prominence in the rights defense community, fellow activists copied and improved upon his method of crowdfunding. It increasingly became common practice among human rights defenders and resisters in mainland China.
On March 19, 2010, as netizens around the country “surrounded and watched” (围观, a way of demonstration) the trial of the three netizens from Fujian, the authorities abruptly changed the date, followed by a few clashes near the court. The date of the trial was then officially set for April 16, 2010. About a week prior, Wu Gan set up a tent outside the gates of the Fuzhou No. 1 Detention Center and reported from the scene, stoking the fire of online excitement.
On April 16, more than 100 netizens from all over China managed to demonstrate at the Fuzhou Mawei Court. The success of the 416 demonstration in support of the three netizens tried for internet expressions marked a new high point for crowdfunding, online-offline activism, cross-regional networking, and frontal resistance. It was a breakthrough in both the scale and substance of resistance in mainland China, reaching a level that has not yet been surpassed.
The inspiration for and implementation of crowdfunding for the 416 demonstration came directly from Wu Gan. He also played a key role in the campaign from beginning to end.
On October 8, 2010, Wu Gan, Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), and Zhao Changqing (赵常青) held up signs at the east gate of the Temple of Earth in Beijing to congratulate Liu Xiaobo on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Soon after, everyone except for Xu Zhiyong were punished with eight days of administrative detention. Before the Nobel award ceremony, the Fujian police took Wu Gan back. His phone was cut off, and he went missing for over a month.
In October 2011, 30 citizens including Liu Ping (刘萍, a female activist in Jiangxi, now serving a 6 year sentence) decided to stay outside Dongshigu to support Chen Guangcheng. Wu Gan launched a crowdfunding campaign to support their effort, and by then this model of crowdfunding — online-offline, cross-province, frontal resistance — had matured, and it has been imitated by more and more human rights defenders.
Rights defense actions during the past few years — such as the observation of the unusual death of Xue Mingkai’s (薛明凯) father in Qufu, Shandong; of the black jail in Jiansanjiang; and of the congregation outside the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center — all follow the pattern cut by the April 16 demonstration. Even those actions in which Wu Gan had no direct involvement show his influence.
When Yueqing village chief Qian Yunhui (钱云会) was crushed to death under a truck on December 25, 2011, outrage exploded online. Once again, Wu Gan went to the scene, where he managed to obtain relevant video footage. Soon after, Wu Gan experimented to transform himself from the role of the first responder to that of behind-the-scenes operator focusing on gathering resources for the frontline and coordinating public opinion. At the same time, supervision of the crowdfunding account was transferred to Guo Yushan’s (郭玉闪) Transition Institute.
From 2011, Wu Gan introduced his rights defense experiences in a batch of Weibo posts he called “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》). According to the Guide, the rights defense movement cannot count on an enlightened ruler for its success, nor on positive forces inside the system. Instead, the movement must creatively deploy any and all means by which to plant psychological deterrents against the relevant officials, thereby achieving resolution to the issue at hand. Intrinsic to this view is the pursuit of a beneficial outcome for the party concerned. It was met with praise as the activists took things into their own hands, not waiting for a just official to arrive on the scene to solve their problems.
After 2012, Wu Gan devoted his energy more to the role of a fundraiser and public opinion coordinator. He raised money for certain rights defenders, victims of rights violations, and political prisoners, including Xiao Yong (肖勇) and Zhao Fengsheng (赵枫生) from Hunan, Fan Mugen (范木根) of Jiangsu, Liu Jiacai (刘家财) of Hubei, and Ren Ziyuan (任自元) of Shandong. Wu Gan kept a low profile, doing good without seeking recognition. A great deal of similar work of his remains unknown.
Starting in 2012, a band of lawyers known as “diehard lawyers” (死磕派) emerged, fighting the judicial system over procedural violations to advance the rule of law. This method resonates with the direct resistance in the Fujian Three Netizen case. Wu Gan started to interact, even cooperate, with the human rights lawyers. He became involved in cases such as the forced demolition in Huaihua, Hunan Province, and the case of wrongful conviction in Leping, Jiangxi. In November 2014, Wu Gan was hired as staff at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm.
Diehard lawyering emerged from the Weibo era as a form of rights defense. Wu Gan’s transformation signified the infusion of his model of resistance into legal rights defense and diehard lawyering, strengthening the movement’s ability to mobilize, propagate, and sustain itself.
In May 2015, the Qing’an case erupted. At noon on May 2, a peasant named Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) was shot dead by a police officer in the waiting room of a Qing’an County train station in Heilongjiang Province. The incident drew the attention and anger of netizens all over China. Wu Gan immediately started to investigate the truth of the case. On May 7, Wu Gan posted a 10,000 yuan (about $1,500) reward for citizens to collect videos of Xu Chunhe at the train station from eyewitnesses. When the videos were made public, they circulated widely on WeChat, Weibo, online forums, and in overseas media. One after another, rights defense lawyers and citizens from all over the country arrived in Qing’an to offer legal services and take action. Wu Gan’s actions made it harder for the government to manipulate the truth, giving reasons to the authorities to settle accounts with him later.
As you can see, Wu Gan was no superhuman with unusual abilities. His importance, first of all, lay in his place at the convergence of three burgeoning models of resistance: diehard lawyering, citizen and petitioners “surround-and-watch” strategies, online mobilization of public opinion, and online crowdfunding.
Secondly, Wu Gan’s years of activism and exposure turned him into a symbol of popular resistance. This is why, as soon as Wu Gan was detained and the propaganda machine’s smear campaign against him ran in full gear, insightful observers believed that the detention of Wu Gan and the ensuing top-level smear campaign by the state’s propaganda machine was a prelude to a larger attack on the diehard lawyers, human rights activists, and citizen activists. The strike against Wu Gan, they believed, was quite likely just the beginning of something big.
When Wu Gan was criminally detained, I wrote that “The all-out treatment of The Butcher (Wu Gan) by the People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV, a rare occurrence since 1949, is not targeted at Wu Gan himself, but rather is the start of an all-encompassing suppression of the entire model of dieharders (lawyers) + activists (citizens, petitioners) + public opinion mobilizers (online). Their next targets are human rights lawyers and the community of activists. With such a forceful start, the attack to follow could be worse than anyone can imagine.”
And so it went. One and a half months after The Butcher was formally arrested, on July 9, 2015, the all-out attack on human rights lawyers and their activist associates began. Twelve lawyers and similar number of activists were criminally detained and then placed under residential surveillance at a designated place — China’s term for secret detention. Over 250 lawyers were detained, summoned, and subpoenaed. This attack was not just sudden, but irrational and arbitrary. Five months on [this article was written in December 2015 — Editors], no 709 detainees have been allowed to access their defense lawyers. Even more fascinating, the authorities portrayed the Fengrui Law Firm as a criminal gang in order to hide the political objective behind the attack. But in reality, practically everyone can see what this attack is all about!
Nearly every lawyer and activist caught in the 709 crackdown had either worked closely with Wu Gan or was a good friend of his. Seven of the detained lawyers and legal staff worked at Fengrui: Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Wang Yu (王宇), Bao Longjun (包龙军), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), and Huang Liqun (黄立群). Others had worked with Wu Gan on the Huaihua forced demolition case: Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yang (谢阳), and Sui Muqing (隋牧青). The citizen activists Monk Wang Yun (Lin Bin 望云和尚，or 林斌), Hu Shigen (胡石根), and Zhao Wei (赵威) all had strong personal relationships with Wu Gan. For this reason, according to his lawyer, Yan Wenxin (燕文薪), Wu Gan’s case has since been merged with the 709 cases, he could no longer visit Wu Gan, and it’s possible that Wu Gan has been moved from Fujian to Tianjin [this turned out to be the case — Editors].
In the few years since May 2009, Wu Gan has transformed from an ordinary netizen to a legal worker and human rights activist. It is no exaggeration to call Wu Gan China’s most prominent activist, and his model of crowdfunding, online-offline activity, cross-regional networking, and direct resistance, combined with new elements like the diehard lawyers, has already reached a new height, and has become the standard for political activism. His “Guide to Slaughtered Pigs” publicized the concept of improving one’s well-being through opposition and resistance. It has spread widely and continued to gain recognition.
It is precisely for these reasons that Wu Gan was targeted by the authorities. To thwart the further influence of his methodology, they did not stint in using their propaganda to defame him. Months have passed without any news from Wu Gan and the many lawyers and activists detained on July 9 and the following days. Their misfortune confirms the righteousness of their cause, and the system’s increasingly arbitrary strategy against them puts into relief the value and importance of people like Wu Gan.
Looking to the future, China is entering an ice age for political activism under a form of money-infused totalitarianism. The government may ruthlessly stifle the resistance model of diehard lawyering + cross-regional networking + online mobilization. Still, the spirit of resistance Wu Gan and others have shown is destined to be passed down, and to become the fundamental strength in China’s transition to a democracy.
* The Leping case took place in Leping of Jiangxi Province (江西乐平) in 2000, with an incident of kidnapping, rape, and a dismembered body. Two years later police arrested four men in Zhongdian village of Leping county: Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Fang Chunping (方春平), Cheng Fagen (程发根), and Cheng Li (程立). Under torture, the four of them “confessed” to the crime; by 2015 they had been in prison for over 13 years and had been given death sentences twice. In 2011 local public security officers arrested a man who confessed to murdering and dismembering the victim in 2000. Lawyers representing the four victims then demanded that the authorities re-investigate the case, but the Jiangxi High people’s Court refused the lawyers’ access to the case files. In response, the lawyers protested outside the court for days. Eventually the Jiangxi High Court did retry the Leping case and on December 22, 2016, issued new verdicts: the four defendants were found not guilty and immediately released.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy. He currently lives in Guangzhou.
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.
My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.
Activist Who Rejected TV Confession Invites CCTV Interviewer to Be Witness at His Trial, Wu Gan, March 24, 2017.
To All Friends Concerned With the Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Wu Gan and the 709 Case, Xu Xiaoshun, father of Wu Gan, May 22, 2017.
Paying Homage to Liu Xiaobo from Behind Bars, Wu Gan, July 31, 2017.
Translated from Chinese by China Change 《莫之许：屠夫为什么如此重要？》
China Change, August 13, 2017
On Monday one of China’s most well-known rights defense activists, Wu Gan (known by the moniker “The Super Vulgar Butcher” online) will be put on trial in the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court. The court says that the case involves “state secrets” and has announced that it will be a closed hearing. For days now, activists and lawyers around the country have been warned not to travel to Tianjin to try to attend the trial or congregate outside the courthouse. Last December, Wu Gan was charged with subversion of state power. Since the Deng Yujiao case in 2009, he has been an active in the public sphere. All the way until he was arrested in May 2015, Wu Gan was a presence in countless cases involving social justice, grassroots elections, and human rights abuses. He cultivated a renown for his unprecedented ability to mobilize supporters both online and off.
The prosecutor’s Indictment against him refers to his involvement in 12 incidents, held up as evidence of how “Defendant Wu Gan has organized, plotted, and carried out subversion of the state regime and overthrow of the socialist system.”
Recently, Wu Gan asked his lawyers to publish a “Pretrial Statement” he had given them, which explained that all he had done in those cases was to help those searching for justice, exercising their rights as citizens granted and protected in the Chinese constitution and acknowledged around the world as universal values.
Given that neither Wu Gan himself nor his lawyers are able to mount a meaningful defense in a Chinese court, let alone get a fair trial, we provide you with a summary of each incident, and we ask the world to hear Wu Gan’s case and be his jury.
- The framing of three netizens from Fujian (April 2010)
In June 2009, the Fujian-based human rights defender Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼) exposed an incident — as told by the mother of the victim — in which a young woman from eastern Fujian province was in February of that year gang-raped and murdered by police. You Jingyou (游精佑), a local railway engineer who has an interest in social justice issues, recorded a video interview with the mother, while another human rights defender, Wu Huaying (吴华英), helped to spread the video online. On June 24 Fan Yanqiong, You Jingyou and Wu Huaying were criminally detained by the Fuzhou police and charged with “slander.” The fact that this incident, taking place in a remote part of Fujian, became known as the “case of the three netizens from Fujian,” and became a topic of major interest, receiving national attention and support from activists both online and off, was to a large degree due to the creativity of Wu Gan.
Wu Gan’s involvement in the case began in February 2010. On April 16, a week before the trial opened, Wu Gan set up a tent and began camping outside the Fuzhou Municipal No. 1 Detention Center, sending a constant stream of updates to followers online, creating buzz about the impending protests. On the day of the trial over 100 netizens from around the country gathered outside the Fuzhou Mawei Court to demonstrate. Images of Wu Gan holding a speaker and mobilizing the protesters at the scene became well-known to internet users. The case of the three Fujian netizens was the beginning of a model in China that turned such trials into public spectacles. For years afterwards this became one of the staples in the activist repertoire.
According to the Indictment against him, on the date of hearing, Wu Gan “hung banners and shouted slogans with others outside of the court and posted video on the Internet, severely affecting the People’s Court in its examination of the case according to the law, smearing the image of the judicial institution, and creating bad political effects both at home and abroad.”
“I got involved in this case,” Wu Gan said, “because it closely relates to the rights of all of us. We’re all plain old internet users — so if these three people are turned into criminals, then every time we go online and post something, we could also all be turned into criminals too.”
Fan Yanqiong, the lawyer, was sentenced to prison for two years, while the other two received sentences of one year each.
- The Fuzhou Cangshan-Jin’an-Mawei forced demolition case (April 2012)
In April 2012 Wu Gan responded to a request to return to Fuzhou and help defend the rights of a resident who had gotten into a conflict with the government over forced demolitions. The dispute arose because the resident found the compensation he was was offered far too low, and refused to relocate. In an attempt to force he and his family out, real estate developers cut off their water and electricity, then began stacking heavy construction supplies around the house, before directing workers to begin laying the structural foundations for the new buildings.
Wu Gan used a variety of techniques in the case: he made requests for open information from the government, exposed that the developers did not have permission to begin work, showing that it was thus illegal, put up posters in the vicinity about the fact, and began camping outside the Fuzhou Construction Bureau’s offices to demonstrate.
Because their home had already been damaged at this point, and the victims had no place to live, Wu Gan said he wanted to meet with the local leading cadres in the area to resolve the issue of their housing. When he found that one of them was a female, in order to stage a more eye-catching protest, Wu Gan bought a naked human model, then attached the face of the female cadre to the head. After the police angrily told them not to parade it around, Wu Gan and others dropped the plans for a march with the model.
Wu Gan made a recording of the violent scenes of forced demolition and put them online. “The government and the developers brought in the mob,” Wu Gan said. “Whoever disobeyed them would be beaten by the gang of thugs. I ran a big risk by going upstairs to record what they were doing, but the police did nothing to stop them.”
- Defending his father from false charges of embezzlement (September 2012)
Over his years of rights defense, protest, and supervising those in power across the country, Wu Gan was constantly concerned that his family would be targeted for retaliation. In September 2012 the Fujian authorities detained his father, Xu Xiaoshun (徐孝顺), on the charge of “embezzlement.” He was released on probation a couple of months later, and the case was afterwards dismissed. On July 3, 2015, when Wu Gan was formally arrested, Xu Xiaoshun was on July 4 again taken into custody with the same charges. The attempt by the authorities to put Wu Gan under pressure by persecuting his father couldn’t have been more obvious.
On January 19, 2017, Xu Xiaoshun was again released on probation. On May 3, 2017, the Fuqing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court declared that the facts in the case against Xu Xiaoshun were unclear and that there was insufficient evidence to try him, and his case was again dropped.
Beginning in May, Wu Gan’s father began the work of trying to get his son released. In his “Open Letter to Friends of Wu Gan Concerned With the 709 Incident,” he admitted frankly that in the past he hadn’t supported his son’s rights defense work. “We argued about it every time we met,” he wrote. But, he added, “What I know and believe is that he is a man full of enthusiasm, truth, and kindness.” The father was furious at the Bill of Indictment against Wu Gan, which turned Wu’s attempts to redress victims into the crime of “subverting state power.” He continued: “I was, deep inside, very proud of my son.”
According to the indictment, Wu Gan protesting outside the Fuqing Public Security Bureau for arresting his father, then posting information about the Public Security Bureau chief and bureau personnel online “severely harmed the image of public security organs and the People’s Police, and provoked people unfamiliar with the truth of the situation to hostility toward organs of the state regime.”
Wu Gan will be tried in secret in Tianjin on August 14. As his father, Xu Xiaoshun should be sitting in the courtroom, but on August 10 he was effectively put under arrest by Fujian security police and forcibly taken back to his hometown in Fuqing. The warnings given to dozens of other human rights lawyers and rights defenders, to “not go where you shouldn’t go,” show that the authorities are paranoid about the trial they’re about to hold. Officials don’t even mention the words “Tianjin” when issuing the warnings, showing that the trial for them has become a major political affair.
- Protesting the black jail in Jiansanjiang (March 2014)
Extralegal places of detention — “black jails” — are a major problem in China. After the abolition of the re-education through forced labor system in 2013, large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners and petitioners were transferred to black jails — set up in local government-controlled buildings or guest houses — or so-called “legal education bases.” On March 20, 2014, the human rights lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Wang Cheng (王成), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰), and nine relatives of the victims, traveled to a “legal education base” on Qinglongshan Farm (青龙山农场), part of the Heilongjiang Agricultural Reclamation Administration (黑龙江农垦总局), demanding the release of a number of illegally detained Falun Gong practitioners. In the morning of March 21 they were taken away by a group of public security officers, put under administrative detention, then charged with the crime of “using an evil religious organization to harm society and violate the law.” During the detention the four lawyers were savagely beaten, to the point that all four suffered broken ribs.
The Jiansanjiang Incident, as it was termed, attracted widespread attention among human rights lawyers and activists. People traveled from around China to Jiamusi, the nearest city in Heilongjiang, and then to the Jiansanjiang area to demonstrate. Wu Gan was part of a group of citizens that went to call out for the release of the lawyers. On March 26, 2014, he put the equivalent of a reward poster online, promising to pay 50,000 RMB to whoever could provide evidence of illegal conduct by the chief of the Jiansanjiang Agricultural Reclamation Administration’s Public Security Bureau, Liu Guofeng (刘国锋).
The charges against Wu Gan say that he set off a “human flesh search” online and published an “reward for the capture of a criminal,” and that these acts constituted “incitement of opposition to the state regime, creating a severely vile political impact domestically and internationally.”
Wu Gan responded to the doubts raised about his methods online, saying, “We can’t change this fucked up country all at once, but at the very least we will have done our best when it was at its darkest, we will have given one another warmth, shown the helpless that they’re not alone, and when we look back on all this we’ll be able to proudly say that we were part of it: I forked out my own money, I put in my own effort, I got involved, I didn’t sit back and do nothing!”
- Defending the Huang sisters from land requisitions in Huaihua, Hunan (May 2014)
In October 2009, the Mayang county government in Huaihua city, Hunan Province (湖南怀化市麻阳县政府) — without going through any public discussion with the villagers, or gaining any legal document to authorize the requisition of land — forcibly acquired over 10,000 mu (1,647 acres) of agricultural land from villagers at an extremely suppressed price. The government then sold this expropriated land to real estate developers, taking for themselves an enormous profit. This has been the model for how land transactions have been dealt with during China’s economic development for many years.
In November 2009, five Huang clans in the Dalilin village, Gaolin township, Mayang Miao autonomous county in Huaihua, began to defend the legal rights they had to their land assets, refusing to sign the documents that would have transferred the title. They also got into a physical conflict with some of the men the developers hired to carry out the forced demolition work. In August of 2012, at least five members of the Huang clan were arrested and sentenced on the charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” In January of 2013, when a number of them were released on probation, the two sisters sought help online. Lawyer Li Heping, Li Chunfu, Xie Yang, as well as Wu Gan learned about the case and got involved in it. Li Heping brought suit at the Huaihua Municipal Intermediate Court, and made an official request for public information from the Mayang county government for the land title information and the authorization for the demolitions. In November of 2013, three of the Huang clan buildings were violently torn down. On April 24, 2013, when Li Heping and a number of other lawyers held a hearing on behalf of the Huang clan at the Mayang Bureau of Land Resources, the Mayang county public security bureau chief ordered a gang of his subordinates to mob and bash them.
During the trial of second instance in May 2014, Zhu Ruifeng (朱瑞峰), a reporter with People’s Supervision Network (人民监督网), an independent website that has since been shut down, traveled to Mayang county to investigate — they were refused access by the Party secretary, Hu Jiawu (胡佳武). Wu Gan then made his way to the Huaihua Municipal Procuratorate and lodged a legal complaint against Hu.
Charges against Wu Gan, however, make no mention of the illegal government land requisitions in Mayang, instead claiming that Wu Gan’s protests outside the Mayang county government offices, and his complaint to the Procuratorate, constituted “inciting individuals who don’t know the truth of the matter to be unhappy with the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
- The case of the ‘Ten Gentlemen from Zhengzhou’ (May 2014)
On February 2, 2014, two students from the 1989 democracy generation — Yu Shiwen (于世文) and Chen Wei (陈卫) — organized an event to commemorate Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) near Zhao’s old family home in Hua county, Henan Province (河南省滑县). But in May that year, a number of participants were criminally detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The case came to be known as that of the Zhengzhou Ten (郑州十君子案).
Upon hearing of the case, activists from around China rushed to the two Zhengzhou detention centers where the participants were being held and began protesting. They unfurled banners, cried out slogans, demanded their release, and criticized the Zhengzhou authorities for depriving the detainees of their right to legal counsel. The number of protesters grew from a couple of dozen to about 70 at its peak. In the end, they were swept up and cleared out. Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Wu Gan said that “the authorities were frightened that so many people had gathered together.”
Later, most of those detained were released one after another, and Yu Shiwen, the only one that was charged, was released on probation in February 2017 without having been charged with a crime.
Nevertheless, Wu Gan’s protest has been taken as evidence constituting the crime of subversion of state power. The charges against him say that Wu Gan “agitated individuals who did not know the truth of the matter to hate organs of the state regime, creating a vile political impact domestically and internationally.”
- Beijing lawyer Cheng Hai’s administrative hearing
Cheng Hai (程海), a human rights lawyer based in Beijing, defended the New Citizens Movement (新公民运动) activist Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) in 2014. When the trial opened, he demanded that the court rectify the numerous violations of legal procedure from the beginning of the investigation until the trial, but every time he tried to speak was interrupted by the judge. So he left the courtroom and lodged a complaint against the judge. In response, Beijing’s Changping District judicial bureau banned Cheng Hai from practicing law for one year. Nearly 190 lawyers from around the country jointly signed a petition demanding that the Changping district judicial bureau rescind its punishment, to protect the legal rights of lawyers. On September 5, 2014, over 100 human rights lawyers and citizen activists traveled to Changping to participate in the judicial bureau’s open hearing about the administrative punishment of Cheng Hai. Upon arrival, however, they were intercepted and prevented from attending by police and plainclothes officers. Wu Gan began holding up placards in protest of this illegal obstruction. Police also removed a number of lawyers and activists from the scene, including Wu Gan, locking them up for hours in the local police station. In the end, the punishment against Cheng Hai was sustained.
The charges against Wu Gan never explain why the police stopped lawyers and citizens from attending a public hearing held by a government agency — yet they still said that Wu Gan had “incited people online to travel to the scene of the hearing and illegally gather,” and they said that his holding up of placards in protest was “slandering and attacking organs of the state regime.”
- The case of Lu Yong’s civil appeal in Dali, Yunnan (December 2014)
In 2009 a man named Lu Yong (陆勇) rented a courtyard home on the shore of Erhai Lake in Shuanglang township, Dali, Yunnan (云南大理双廊镇洱海). The term of the lease was 20 years, and he paid it full in cash before the term began. The landlord, Li Hongjun (李红军), used the funds to build a three storey home elsewhere and moved in with his family. In 2010 tourism in Langyang township began to take off and rents shot up. The landlord reneged on the deal and moved his parents to occupy the old courtyard home. Lu Yong, who had already settled with his family in Beijing, went through two years of legal proceedings, including two trials, to finally get the house back in 2011. But in early 2014, the landlord bought off a judge at Dali’s Intermediate Court, Bao Kang (鲍康), who issued a “ruling for a retrial” (再审裁定书) that had no legal basis whatsoever. The “retrial” ordered that Lu Yong give the house back. Determined to defend right and wrong in his case, Lu Yong hired the Beijing-based Ruifeng Law Firm in response to the judge’s acceptance of bribes and twisting of the law. At the time Wu Gan was working as a consultant with the firm.
In January 2015, Wu Gan and lawyer Xie Yuandong (谢远东) accompanied Lu Yong to Dali to make a formal complaint against Bao Kang, the judge, for bending the law to his personal ends, and submitted the evidence they possessed. They also submitted the evidence and complaints to the Dali Procuratorate, the Yunnan Provincial High Court, the Yunnan Provincial Procuratorate, and the Yunnan Commission for Discipline Inspection. Wu Gan drove their vehicle around the court for about an hour in protest, attracting seven or eight onlookers who came to see what was going on.
To Lu Yong’s bewilderment, his case also become part of the evidence against Wu Gan of subverting state power. The completely justified and fully-evidenced complaint against a judge in Dali turned into, in the charges against Wu Gan, the claim that “he attacked judicial organs, besmirched the judicial system, and maliciously stirred up trouble on the internet, attempting to incite people who did not know the truth to resent China’s socialism-with-Chinese-characteristics judicial system.”
- The death of Fan Bengen in Suzhou (January 2014 to January 2015)
On December 3, 2013, the Suzhou resident Fan Mugen (范木根) returned home after having fled for some time to evade forced relocation. Shortly afterwards, numerous men with clubs stormed his home, beating his wife and son with their weapons. Fan Mugen took out a knife in self-defense, stabbing two of the aggressors to death. Lawyers from Beijing and elsewhere offered to represent him, and local human rights defenders in Suzhou traveled to the scene to prevent further attacks, collect evidence, and testify that Fan Mugen was engaged in genuine self-defense. On May 8, 2015, the Suzhou Municipal Intermediate Court publicly pronounced its verdict on Fan Mugen, finding him guilty of “intentional injury” and sentencing him to eight years imprisonment. The trial of second instance upheld the verdict. Large numbers of people however believed that he should have been found not-guilty and released.
Advocating on behalf of Fan Mugen in particular, and on deaths during forced demolition cases in general, has long been a focus of local Suzhou activists. Wu Gan began an online movement to raise funds for Fan Mugen’s defense.
The charges against Wu Gan say that he “actively started organizing fundraising online, maliciously created a disturbance, and incited people who didn’t know the facts to come to Suzhou to illegally assemble, stir up trouble and oppose the government.”
- The Baoding extortion case (March 2015)
Li Jie (李杰), the chief of Longzhuang village, Xinshi district, Baoding city, Hebei Province (河北省保定市新市区沈庄村), was in August 2013 charged with extortion and criminally detained. The Mancheng Court found Li Jie guilty of the crime in the trial of first instance and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment. The trial of second instance found the case to be a grave miscarriage of justice, but the judge did not dare to violate the demands of the leader of the local politico-legal committee [a Party agency that controls the courts] and thus did not declare him not guilty. There have been countless cases of this kind in China.
On March 13, 2015, Wu Gan described the essence of the case on Twitter: “The politico-legal committee leadership in Baoding City, Hebei, is engaged in a ‘visual engineering’ project along the lines of Bo Xilai’s ‘strike the black’ campaign in Chongqing. They have no compunctions about declaring innocent people guilty in order to create the impression that they’re sending hardened mob elements to prison.” He called for the public to pay attention to the Li Jie case.
The Indictment against Wu Gan says that he “created a malicious disturbance online, stirring up resentment against China’s socialism-with-Chinese-characteristics judicial system among people who didn’t know the true circumstances.”
- The shooting of Xu Chunhe in Qing’an, Heilongjiang (May 2015)
On May 2, 2015, Xu Chunhe (徐纯和), a petitioner from Suihua in Heilongjiang Province (黑龙江绥化), took his family on a trip outside the area. He was stopped and prevented from boarding a train by police officer Li Lebin (李乐斌), who then began beating him. After Xu grabbed ahold of Li’s baton during the struggle, in an attempt to stop Li, Li shot him to death on the grounds that he was attacking an officer. Xu Chunhe’s mother and three children saw the entire incident unfold.
In the face of a torrent of public criticism, officialdom turned on the propaganda machinery, unleashing their Fifty Cent Army to flood the internet saying that Li Lebin had opened fire in a lawful manner. Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Zhongwei (李仲伟), Xie Yang (谢阳), Liu Shuqing (刘书庆), and other lawyers, traveled to Heilongjiang to provide legal counsel to Xu Chunhe’s family. Wu Gan managed to get ahold of a surveillance tape of the incident and published the video online, leading it to go viral. Numerous activists began traveling to Qing’an to protest the injustice. The human rights lawyers who were attempting to intercede in the case were administratively detained, and any further lawyers who traveled to the area were similarly taken into custody.
In thanking the eyewitness who provided the video footage — a student who knew well the dangers of spreading such sensitive content — Wu Gan wrote at the beginning of the footage posted on YouTube: “It’s all because of the numbness and cowardice of people that our country has decayed to its present state.”
The charges against Wu Gan instead say that he “published a large number of Weibo posts warping the true facts of the manner… and incited others to travel to Qing’an county and illegally assemble.” He was also said to have “agitated the masses who don’t understand the truth to oppose organs of the state regime.”
The widespread attention that the Qing’an case received, and its impact on public opinion, is seen by many as one of the proximate causes of the mass arrests carried out from July 9, 2015, and onward against human rights lawyers and activists, known as the 709 Crackdown.
- The Jiangxi Leping miscarriage of justice (May 2015)
The Leping case took place in Leping of Jiangxi Province (江西乐平) in 2000, with an incident of kidnapping, rape, and a dismembered body. Two years later police arrested four men in Zhongdian village of Leping county: Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Fang Chunping (方春平), Cheng Fagen (程发根), and Cheng Li (程立). Under torture, the four of them “confessed” to the crime; by 2015 they had been in prison for over 13 years and had been given death sentences twice. In 2011 local public security officers arrested a criminal in another case, Fang Linzai (方林崽), who confessed to murdering and dismembering the victim in 2000. Lawyers representing the four victims then demanded that the authorities re-investigate the case, but the Jiangxi High people’s Court refused the lawyers’ access to the case files. In response, the lawyers Zhang Weiyu (张维玉), Wang Fei (王飞), Yan Huafeng (严华丰), and Zhang Kai (张凯), among others, protested outside the court for days, holding placards demanding the court to allow them to read the files.
Wu Gan traveled to the court in May, by which time the lawyers had already been holding vigil for eight days and had still not gained access to the original case files. Wu Gan setup two retractable display banners outside the court, printing on them: “Jiangxi High Court president Zhang Zhonghou: just name your price!” (江西高院张忠厚院长，你开个价吧！) and “Lawless, immoral, inhuman: Violating the law, violating conscience, violating Party discipline, and violating Heaven’s principles” (无法无天无人性，违法违心违纪违天理). This was Wu Gan at his most idiosyncratic in the art of using public shaming as protest.
On May 19, 2015, Wu Gan was detained. Official media Xinhua wrote in a report several days later that he was being administratively detained for 10 days for “disrupting work unit order and publicly humiliating people.” But within that period Wu Gan was criminally detained by Fujian police on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” as well as “slander.” He was detained in Fujian and then transferred to Tianjin, where he became the 709 Crackdown’s inaugural prisoner.
The Indictment against him said that Wu Gan has “besmirched the image of the judicial organs, slandering and attacking the state’s judicial system.” For most observers, however, it was the authorities’ denial to allow lawyers to review supposedly public case files that dealt damage to the image of China’s judicial system.
Most ironically, the Jiangxi High Court did retry the Leping case and on December 22, 2016, issued new verdicts: the four defendants were found not guilty and immediately released. Yet Wu Gan’s protests outside court were still included in the criminal charges against him, demonstrating that China’s judicial system is not only unjust, but also absurd.
These are the 12 cases the prosecutors cited to support the charges of “subversion of state power” against Wu Gan. Interestingly, the indictment steers clear some of the more celebrated cases in which Wu Gan played larger roles and displayed uncommon gallantry, such as the Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) case (a young footbath waitress in Hunan who killed an official attempting to rape her), the Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) case (a street vendor in Shenyang who killed a violent chengguan [semi-official streep cop] in self-defence), the Qian Yunhui (钱云会) case (a village chief in Zhejiang fighting against land grabs who was crushed to death by a heavy construction machinery), and the case of elementary school girls in Hainan who were brought to a hotel by the principal and a government official for sex. One can see why the indictment avoids these cases, which highlight how perverse, preposterous, and grossly unjust Chinese society can be, and how little the judiciary can do to safeguard justice without any meaningful rule of law.
“The rights of free speech, press, religious belief, demonstration, assembly, supervising the government and officials, as well as expressing discontent are all natural rights and civil rights endowed and guaranteed by the constitution (presuming the rights are not in name only),” Wu Gan wrote in My Pretrial Statement. “If a citizen is convicted of a crime for exercising these rights, it’s a disgrace to our country and will be ridiculed and spurned by the people of the world. Forcing someone to defend himself against a charge of guilt for exercising these rights is an insult.”
He continued: “I will be convicted not because I am really guilty, but because of my refusal to accept a state-designated lawyer, plead guilty, and make a televised confession for their propaganda purposes, and my resolution to reveal their brutal torture of me and the procuratorates’ misconduct… My crime of subverting the Communist regime is a great honor for me. In fighting for democracy and freedom and in defense of civil rights, a guilty verdict issued by a dictatorial regime is a golden glittering trophy awarded to warriors for liberty and democracy.”
A life-long academic on Chinese law and the judiciary, Professor Jerome Cohen, wrote of Wu Gan’s pretrial statement: “It is tragic testimony to the pathetic attempts of the Communist Party to drape its oppression in the mantle of ‘law.’ To me the saddest aspects are its reminder of the forced collaboration of China’s judges with its police, prosecutors and Party legal officials in suppressing the constitutionally-prescribed rights and freedoms of the Chinese people.”
The indictment and the trial of Wu Gan are themselves evidence of the nature of China’s judicial system and the “Chinese characteristics” that the indictment is so eager to defend. How the world judges Wu Gan is entirely another matter.
Yaxue Cao edits this site. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.
Activist Who Rejected TV Confession Invites CCTV Interviewer to Be Witness at His Trial, Wu Gan, March 24, 2017.
To All Friends Concerned With the Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Wu Gan and the 709 Case, Xu Xiaoshun, father of Wu Gan, May 22, 2017.
Paying Homage to Liu Xiaobo from Behind Bars, Wu Gan, July 31, 2017.