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709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time
Wang Yu, July 1, 2018
Wang Yu (王宇), born 1971 in Inner Mongolia, was a lawyer with the 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. That same evening, her husband and son, en route to Australia for the son to attend school, were also detained. Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun, also a lawyer, were released on bail in August 2016 and the family of three was sequestered in an apartment in Ulan Hot, Inner Mongolia, under severe surveillance. This continued until late 2017, when they were allowed to return to their home in Beijing. Wang Yu has not been able to resume her legal practice because of government obstruction.
Wang recounted her experience in secret detention in the early months of 709 Crackdown, and her forced TV denunciation of the American Bar Association’s inaugural Human Rights Award. Growing up and attending high school in Beijing, Wang Yu’s son Bao Zhuoxuan, 15 years old in July 2015, was briefly detained and then uprooted from home and school and taken to Inner Mongolia to live with his maternal grandparents. In October 2015, a few friends of Wang Yu inside and outside China devised a plan to help the young man by bringing him out of China secretly. It failed; Bao Zhuoxuan and the two adults accompanying him were captured near the Burmese border and brought back. After being held for two and half years, Bao Zhuoxuan was finally allowed to leave China early this year to study in Australia. While he has not spoken about his experiences, his mother Wang Yu spoke out for the first time in a recent interview with The Epoch Times. The following excerpts were translated by China Change and edited for clarity. — The Editors
The first time I tried to talk to someone about this [what my son has gone through], I simply couldn’t go on — I just wept and wept.
My son has never talked about it with me in detail; for us to talk about it is like being traumatized all over again. It pierces my heart. I’ve avoided going into depth with my son about his experiences. It was only through fragmentary words with my son, both sets of grandparents, and aunts, that I have learned a bit about what happened to him.
On July 9, 2015, my husband was taking our son to the airport as he was preparing to go to Australia for senior high school. I never imagined that the two of them would be arrested. At almost the same time, they came to our home, drilled out the lock, and in a few minutes had invaded my apartment. A gang of men came in, bowled me over, slapped on handcuffs, put a black hood over my head, then hauled me downstairs and stuffed me into the waiting vehicle. In other words, on the morning of July 9, our entire family was arrested.
Then, my son was taken to a hotel in Tianjin — I think one of the popular chains like ‘Ru Jia’ (如家) or ‘Seven Days’ (七天) — locked in a room, and monitored by police every day. Zhuoxuan resisted and tried to force his way out. He’s only 15 and slightly built at around 100 jin (110 lb.); one of the police officers grabbed him and instantly tossed him to the ground, or onto the bed, then picked him up and slammed him back down over and over again. The kid was really worn down by it, exhausted, and just slept. Three days after he was detained his aunt came to pick him up and take him to his paternal grandmother’s place, and after that he was taken back to the home of his other grandmother, my mother, in Inner Mongolia.
Growing up, my son had always attended top schools in Tianjin and Beijing, and he was all set to go to Australia for his studies, but now he was detained and exiled to far-flung Inner Mongolia in a city township to study. He found it very difficult to adjust to it all.
During custody, when they told me that my son was captured while trying to smuggle out of China, I passed out. I still feel the terror just thinking of it now. It has to be the most horrific moment of my life.
Friends told me that when they brought my son back from Burma, they put handcuffs and leg irons on him! People who haven’t been put in handcuffs and leg irons probably don’t know, but wearing them is torture. They did so gratuitously because there was no way my son, so small, could run away with so many police around him. How could they slap handcuffs and leg irons on him? I couldn’t get over it.
According to grandmother, in the Yunnan public security bureau, the police slapped him around, quite a lot, in the face. I cry whenever I talk about this. They made my son frame other people. They told him exactly what he had to say. He didn’t agree, so they hit him, with a thick, long wooden staff. They started at him in the lower back, moving higher and higher, smashing it into his back, while yelling: “If you don’t write what we say, we’re going to go all the way up to your head and smash your skull in.” My son begged for their forgiveness, responding: “Don’t hit me, it hurts too much, I can’t take it anymore; just write what you want and I’ll sign it, isn’t that enough?” This is how badly they beat my son!
In the early days after my husband and I were detained, my son did his part to fight back. He reached out to a dozen or so lawyers to find legal counsel for us. But he was a child after all, and easily controlled by the police.
Before I was released on bail, my son was living at my younger sister’s apartment. Police installed themselves in the apartment opposite hers; same with my mother’s, with police living opposite, on 24 hour shifts, watching them over. When my mother or my sister went out, whether buying vegetables, exercising, or going to the hairdresser, the police were there following.
When my son came home from school every day he would lock himself in his small bedroom, wouldn’t let anyone else in, and shut the window tight. He put himself in a completely closed-off state. This was right when the boy was in his adolescence, when he was naturally inclined to resist external control. Yet now, he not only had his independence stifled, but was stripped of his privacy and made to live under the lens of surveillance cameras, followed by state security police everywhere he went!
After I was released on bail, our whole family was exiled to Ulanhot in the east of Inner Mongolia. The state security police rented an apartment for the three of us. They themselves occupied the apartment opposite ours, so they could watch us 24/7. We were on the third floor. There were three surveillance cameras in the hallway, three facial recognition cameras, another camera downstairs in the entrance, another outside, and dozens of cameras affixed to the buildings surrounding ours. Whatever Bao Longjun and I did, even taking out the trash or running errands, the police would come downstairs and follow us around.
Every morning two or three police would come and take my son to school; two or three would then bring him back in the evening. There were three cameras pointed at him in his classroom, as well as cameras in the school corridors, and even a special monitoring room at the school where personnel could watch my son on monitors. Several state security officers patrolled the school.
My son lived under these conditions for two years. Mentally he was in a terrible state.
After I came home, I took him to the doctor, who said he was depressed. I thought to myself that I just couldn’t let my son keep living in this environment anymore, or he’d be ruined for life.
Before my son left China in January of this year, I never once slept a full night through! I feel that as long as my son is in this country, he’ll face danger — and I have no idea when or what harm will befall him! For us adults, whether it’s being put in detention or under house arrest, I think we can bear it, and we have learned to live with it. But with my son, no matter how old he is, we want to put him under our wing and look after him. But in China, parents can’t even look after their own children! It was only after my son left that I felt relieved.
Televised Confession: ‘I Was Sick to my Stomach Worrying About My Son’
In the early days after I was arrested on July 9, 2015, the police interrogators tried to get me on TV. I resisted and resisted more. In the end though, I gave in because of my son.
On about July 31 or August 1 2015, they put me into a car and hooded me. I had no idea what was outside, and I just heard one of the interrogators saying: “Ah, the CCTV’s Big Underpants don’t look bad at all!” So I knew we’d arrived at CCTV. I got taken into a room and they took the hood off, so I used my hair to cover my face, because I didn’t want them filming me. They said they were going to turn the camera on, and I cursed them out and said I didn’t want to be filmed. After that, one of the women said: “Lawyer Wang, if you don’t want to go on camera, we won’t force you. Just go back. If you want to be recorded later, we’ll be waiting.” I said: “You needn’t wait. I definitely don’t want to go on camera. I never wanted to go on camera. If you wait, you’ll be waiting in vain.” They sent me back. From what the interrogators said, it appeared that this woman was the very famous CCTV anchor Zhang Quanling (张泉灵). That time I managed to resist, and they didn’t get what they wanted.
Come one night in October, the police barged into my room in the middle of the night and woke me up yelling. They showed me two pieces of paper: the first, a facsimile from the public security department of Yunnan Province to the public security department of Inner Mongolia, saying that Yunnan public security organs had arrested a number of people attempting to steal across the border, one of which was my son, Bao Zhuoxuan, from Inner Mongolia; the second was a photo of my son. In the photo, he was leaning against a wall, which had on it measurements, making clear that it was the kind of mugshot made for suspected criminals who are being detained. Atop the photo it said: “Criminal Suspect Bao Zhuoxuan.” The moment I saw this, I fainted. My mind went blank.
They went to get a doctor, and when I came to there was a person in a white gown who gave me some antihypertensive drugs to lower my blood pressure. An interrogator said that my son had been kidnapped and the police rescued him; but since he had crossed the border illegally, he was being detained.
The interrogator said: “Do you want to save your son or not? If you want to save him, you need to make clear your stance and denounce those ‘anti-China forces.’” I asked back: “What are you talking about?” He wrote on a piece of paper the line he wanted me to repeat.
Every time I was interrogated, the police used a computer to transcribe the interrogation, and the computer’s webcam recorded it. So they said: “We’ll record you, you just state your stance, just say that you denounce the ‘anti-China forces’ who kidnapped your son. Then we will show it to the leaders in the Ministry of Public Security. If the leaders think that Wang Yu has really come around on her standpoint, they’ll let your son go.” I said: “You’re not going to put this on television, are you?” He said: “It definitely won’t go on TV.” So they shot that small piece of footage using the computer’s webcam, and the officer even said: “See? We just used the webcam to record it, not a camera. So it’s definitely not for media use. If we wanted to use it for media, we’d be using a proper, professional camera.”
After that they kept persuading me: if you want your son to go abroad to study, you have to be released from detention first, etc. They tried to negotiate, saying: “If you want your son to leave China, you need to first get out of detention, and if you don’t agree to go on television, then we can’t release you.”
I thought it over a long while. If it was just me going to prison for several years, I wouldn’t have cared so much. But I felt that I had to get out to be with my son, and do whatever it takes to send him out of China. So, for my son and my husband, I finally agreed to their demands to be recorded, do what they said, and read out the script they wrote for me. That was August 3 or 4, 2016, a year after I’d been taken to CCTV.
Only after I relented did they let me go.
My husband was very upset about the fact that I agreed to it. He was furious. Initially my son also thought that it was a disgrace. There was a period when the two of them would make cutting remarks to me or mock me for it. I felt I was under so much pressure. In the end I asked Zhuoxuan: “Son, do you think that it would have been better if I refused to go on television, and your mother and father were sentenced to a few years prison? Or is it better that I agreed, lost face, but we were able to be together?” He said: “I want my mother with me! Mama hasn’t lost face!”
Being a Lawyer in China, Before and After the 709 Crackdown
In the past, as one of China’s legal professionals, I felt that I wasn’t going to help this government deceive the people — I thought that since you promulgated this and that law, and you allowed me to be a lawyer, then I had no choice but pursue the rule of law! I knew that I might be suppressed because of that, but I couldn’t go against my conscience, or be used as an instrument of the judicial system like some lawyers, putting on the garb of a gorgeous legal worker while assisting the government deceive the public. I couldn’t do that, or I’d be deceiving my clients, deceiving society, and most importantly I’d be cheating my own conscience — I’d feel that I didn’t live up to my conscience!
Now I think that China simply has no law! It has some words called ‘the law’ over there, which they say are for everyone to follow, but they use it to limit and restrain citizens. Those in power are above the law.
There are 300,000 lawyers in China, and the number grows annually. The majority, however, are simply ‘flower vases’ — they’re put there to make outsiders and Chinese people who don’t know the truth think: China has the rule of law, has so many written laws, and so many lawyers.
The fact is that all these forms, including the public security bureau, the procuratorate, and the courts, are all meant for the creation of a false image of China being a country with the rule of law. In fact, China has no rule of law, and it has no law. The ‘709 incident’ is further proof that there is no such thing as rule of law in China! Nor is there law!
I’m bereft of hope. After being arrested this time, I just felt like we’d gone back to the Cultural Revolution era. Coming out of ‘709,’ I don’t believe we can make any impact as lawyers.
The essence of the rule of law is the restriction of government power. Yet the Chinese Communist Party uses the law as an instrument to strengthen its rule — and in so doing, lawyers are necessarily an instrument for strengthening their rule. This fact puts the legal profession in an extremely conflicted, awkward position.
If this system doesn’t change, China’s so-called rule of law is nothing but a sham. I don’t believe it.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post, July 18, 2015.
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018.
‘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.
Wu Gan, August 9, 2017
Wu Gan (吴淦), arguably the most celebrated activist in recent years in China’s struggle for justice and human rights, and a seminal user of online mobilization and peaceful direct action, was the first detainee of what has come to be known as the 709 Crackdown. Wu Gan became known for his role in mobilizing public support in the Deng Yujiao case (邓玉娇案) in 2009, and in the years following was involved in countless cases, both large and small. He became well known for his audacity and creativity. He also wrote three guides for potential activists and petitioners: Guide to Butchering Pigs (《杀猪宝典》) , Guide to Drinking Tea (《喝茶宝典》) and Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes (《访民杀猪宝典》). Wu Gan was detained on May 19, 2015, as he was demonstrating outside Jiangxi Superior Court, which had recently denied lawyers their right to access the case files of four wrongfully sentenced death row inmates. Like the rest of the 709 detainees, he was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place,” China’s euphemism for secret detention, and tortured. On December 23, 2016, Wu Gan was indicted. The prosecutors listed 12 crimes (which to everyone else read like a list of heroic deeds), and concluded that “defendant Wu Gan organized, plotted, and implemented the crime of subverting state power and overturning the socialist system.” One of the two 709 detainees still remaining in custody for refusing to compromise (the other being lawyer Wang Quanzhang), Wu Gan will tried on Monday, August 14, at Tianjin Second Intermediate Court. Below is a statement Wu Gan issued recently, published by his lawyers. The court says the trial will be held in secret because some elements of the trial involve “state secrets.” — The Editors
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). They are also universal values recognized and adhered to by countries around the world. 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.
In mainland China, if your ideology and beliefs are at odds with those favored by the authorities, you’re apt to be framed with a criminal charge. Since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, millions of people have been persecuted. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution and all other political movements, intellectuals, the 1989 generation, democracy party members, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been retaliated against for defending their legitimate rights. Which of them is a criminal? For decades political changes in China have been in form and not content, while the essence of the authoritarian system has remained unchanged.
Their accusations against me are now public knowledge. I’ve done nothing more than make some speeches, write three books, give moral support and assistance to innocent victims of injustice, expose the misconduct and criminal actions of the government and officials, and express my ideas through performance art. All this is simply exercising my legitimate rights as a citizen. These civil rights should be defended by all of us.
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. The special investigative team told me that my case would be decided by leadership on higher level, and that my trial is just a ritual carried out by the procuratorate and court. Although I know that this trial is only a farce to declare me guilty, I will not speak in my defense. An innocent person does not need to defend himself.
It doesn’t make sense to have a trial before many illegal acts against me are investigated and resolved. These misdeeds include: illegal police procedures, their brutal torture of me, occupation of my property, and forcing me to accept media interviews and give up the right to engage my own lawyer.
I know I will receive a heavy sentence, but I will never regret what I have done. I do feel guilty for involving my family in my case, and for having done so little for them. The sympathy and support of the public, and the dedication of my lawyers is my best “verdict.” Black and white, right and wrong will not be reversed forever, and justice will eventually prevail. The wheel of history rolls forward and can’t be stopped by anyone. Those who try to block the progress of human civilization will in the end find their place in history’s Hall of Shame.
Under the brutal rule of the “Great, Glorious, and Correct” Communist Party of China, it would be embarrassing if I wasn’t framed as a “criminal.” Life is short, so we’d better “commit our crimes” while we’ve still got the chance. 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.
I refuse to speak in defense of myself, but I take this opportunity to thank you for the award! Thank you!
Statement by Wu Gan
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, August 13, 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.
‘The Ball Is in Your Court!’ Questions for the Hunan Procuratorate Regarding Its ‘Independent Investigation’ into Xie Yang’s Torture
Chen Jiangang, March 22, 2017
The public didn’t know until yesterday that ambassadors from 11 countries wrote a letter to China’s Minister of Public Security on February 27, 2017, expressing their grave concern over recent reports of torture of human rights lawyers, and China’s use of secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). In light of our knowledge of this letter, China’s massive smear campaign beginning on March 1 — two days after the letter was received — becomes much more disturbing. China made lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) “confess” on camera that he had made up the reports of Xie Yang’s (谢阳) torture; Jiang was forcibly disappeared on November 21, 2016, and subsequently placed under RSDL, and thus could not have made those statements of his own volition, raising the concern that he has also been tortured. Chinese state media further hinted that Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), Xie Yang’s defense lawyer, worked with Jiang to further the fabrication. Since then, lawyers Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) have been denied several requests to meet their client Xie Yang, and Chen is worried that Xie Yang may be tortured again. Meanwhile, Chen himself has been under significant pressure to keep his mouth shut, and officials from the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau and the Chaoyang District Justice Bureau have frequently warned of trouble, and requested talks. Today they are conducting an “inspection” of his law firm. “If I can only use my mouth for eating but not for speaking,” Chen said, “you may as well ask me to be a pig or a dog.” We are concerned about lawyer Chen Jiangang’s safety and the reprisals that will inevitably befall him. We remain concerned about Jiang Tianyong and Xie Yang’s circumstances and that of the 709 lawyers and activists still in custody in Tianjin. — The Editors
On March 3, China Central Television published a story titled “The Truth Behind Lawyer Xie Yang’s Claims of Torture: An Intricate Fabrication” (《律师谢阳“遭遇酷刑”真相调查 酷刑是故事加细节想象出来的》) in which Yang Zhizhong (杨志忠), a prosecutor in charge of internal supervision of criminal enforcement in the Hunan Procuratorate, was quoted saying that no torture of the Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang have taken place during his time in custody.
“The entire mission of our criminal enforcement supervision division is to protect the legal rights of detainees, so we took it upon ourselves to form this eight-person investigation team to conduct an independent investigation,” he said on camera. “Through our investigation, we found that these four claims of ‘torture’ can be said, absolutely, to be false.”
As Xie Yang’s defense counsel who published the transcripts of Xie Yang’s torture, I submit the following points of fact, clarification, and questioning to the Hunan Procuratorate, which I hope it will examine and respond to.
- Xie Yang’s Defense Counsel Has Not Seen the Report
The official China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast briefly flashed an image of the Hunan Procuratorate’s report, titled “Investigative Report Regarding Claims by Xie Yang and His Defense Attorney of Torture, Forced Confession, and Abuse During Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location and in Custody at the Detention Center” (《关于谢阳及其辩护人反映谢阳在指定监视居住和看守所羁押期间受到刑讯逼供、虐待等问题的调查报告》, henceforth “the report”). Judging from the title, the Hunan Procuratorate opened an investigation into the reports of torture of Xie Yang as a result of Xie Yang’s complaint and that of his defense counsel. In that case, shouldn’t they contact Xie Yang’s defense counsel, the individuals who made public the transcripts? Shouldn’t the conclusion of the report be communicated to Xie Yang’s defense counsel? Xie Yang’s two lawyers, Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), have not received either oral or written notification concerning the investigation or been subject to questioning by the Hunan Procuratorate. Neither have they even seen a single complete page of the final report.
The Hunan Procuratorate claims that it produced its report to refute allegations by Xie Yang’s defense lawyers, yet it hides the report from those lawyers. Why? Did you go to all that trouble just to flash half a page for one second on CCTV?
- How Was the Report Independent?
From Xie Yang’s case file that I read, Xie Yang was charged with “opposing the Party and opposing socialism.” The indictment of Xie Yang accuses him of publishing “many speeches attacking and defaming the government, judicial organs, and the state justice system.” That is to say, Xie Yang is the attacker, the criminal suspect, and the Communist Party, government departments, and judicial organs, are the victims. The two stand in an oppositional relationship. Thus, the following questions arise:
i. The Hunan Procuratorate is lead by the Party, is it not?
ii. The individuals who participated in the investigation are Party members, are they not? (If any prosecutor at the Hunan Procuratorate is not a Party member, please come forward and refute me.)
iii. The Hunan Procuratorate is a judicial organ, is it not?
If the answer to any of the above three questions is in the affirmative, then there can be no such thing as an “independent investigation,” because the Hunan Procuratorate and its prosecutors are all parties to a dispute with Xie Yang. You don’t get to be a referee when you are a competing athlete.
- Please Publish the Report
The official broadcast says that Western media began reporting on the prosecution of Xie Yang in October 2016, that Xie Yang’s defense lawyers published two “Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang” on January 19, 2017, and that the Hunan Procuratorate began its own investigation on February 17. But as of today, this investigative report has not been published as far as I know.
Please publish the entire text for public scrutiny. The ball is in your court!
Regarding the Western media reports: in its video, CCTV only showed a few reports by overseas Chinese-language media outlets around October 11, 2016. But mainstream media organizations in the United States, England, France, and Spain only began to report on Xie Yang torture following my transcripts published on January 19, 2017. Perhaps it’s precisely because of the massive international response that the government has gone all out attempting to irrationally and speciously refute it.
- Please Clarify the Legality of ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’
Given that the Hunan Procuratorate has produced an “independent” investigation which exculpated the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau, please make public your findings of the legal grounds on which the Changsha public security authorities held Xie Yang in the National University of Defense Technology’s (国防科技大学) guesthouse for retired cadres, at 732 Deya Road, Kaifu district, Changsha.
Please also provide the legal basis on which Xie Yang’s family members were not notified during this period of captivity.
Please also provide the legal basis on which Xie Yang was prohibited visitation from his family members, and access to his legal counsel, during this period of captivity.
What’s also interesting, and suspicious, is CCTV’s brief shot of some brand new small plastic stools — the kind elementary school students use — in the supposed room in which Xie Yang was held during the “residential surveillance” period. Was the room featured in the shot the same room in which Xie Yang was held? Were those plastic stools the same ones used in the “dangling chair” torture that Xie Yang described? Xie Yang was never asked anything on camera.
For my rebuttal on this question, please consult item 11 in my article “How Xie Yang’s Transcripts of Torture Came to Light.” It needn’t be rehashed here.
- Please Make Public the Interrogation Video Made During Residential Surveillance
According to Article 19 of “SPC, SPP, MPS, MSS, MoJ, and the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPCSC Regulation on Several Questions Concerning the Implementation of the CPL” (《最高人民法院最高人民检察院公安部国家安全部司法部全国人大常委会法制工作委员会关于实施刑事诉讼法若干问题的规定》), and Article 121 of the “Criminal Procedure Law” (《刑事诉讼法》), as well as Article 203 of the “Public Security Criminal Complaint Regulations” (《公安刑诉规定》), as well as the fact that Xie Yang stood accused of the crime of “subversion of state power,” all interrogations of Xie Yang are required to have been fully recorded. Moreover, this audio and visual recording must be “from beginning to end, with no interruptions or alterations of integrity. It is not permitted to selectively record, or to edit or redact the film.”
As public prosecutors with the Hunan Procuratorate, you are surely aware of these regulations, and surely you know that the most direct way of ascertaining the truth of the matter is to directly consult those interrogation recordings.
Have you watched and listened to the recordings?
If you have not accessed the recordings, why not?
If the public security authorities said that they do not have the recordings, then this would be a serious violation of the law. How do you intend to deal with it?
In your report, did you include discussion of whether or not you have examined the full recordings of the interrogation sessions?
- Have You Questioned the Potential Torturers?
I will repeat once more that it seems, judging by the headline of your report, that you began the investigation after reading the transcripts. Thus, please answer this: of the nearly 50 individuals accused of torture — including Li Feng (李峰), Li Kewei (李克伟), Wang Dehua (王德华), Hu Yunfeng (胡云峰), Wang Tieta (王铁铊), Zhu Heng (朱恒), Ye Yun (叶云), Xie Leshi (谢乐石), Zhou Liang (周浪), Yin Zhuo (尹卓), Qu Ke (屈可), Li Yang (李旸), Zhou Yi (周毅), Zhuang Xiaoliang (庄晓亮), Yuan Jin (袁进) — did you perform any investigation of any of them at all?
You are determined to tell the public that the torture of Xie Yang was fabricated, but to this date you have not provided the text of the report you wrote.
The CCTV report included nothing about the investigation of these individuals, but instead included remarks by his cellmates. Xie Yang was not transferred to the detention center until January 9, 2016. How would his cellmates have knowledge of torture that took place earlier?
- Would the Procuratorate and its Loyal Journalists Please Consult a Calendar?
The CCTV report notes that Xie Yang “sleeps nine hours a night,” does physical exercise, and that he’s perfectly healthy. The detention center even gives him physicals. The journalist remarks: “Our reporter observed that Xie Yang walks with a steady stride and climbs stairs without difficulty.”
I advise the Hunan Procuratorate and the obedient CCTV journalists to pick up a calendar with one hand and grope around for your conscience with the other.
i. Regarding the time and location
The torture and forced confessions reported by Xie Yang and his legal counsel took place between July 12, 2015 and January 8, 2016. Xie Yang was being held in the retired cadre guesthouse of the National University of Defense Technology. The “investigation” by the Hunan Procuratorate and its journalists took place in the latter half of February 2017 — over a year later. The two locations are also dozens of kilometers apart. Does the fact that Xie Yang was able to “walk with a steady stride and climb stairs without difficulty” in February 2017 somehow prove that a year ago he was not savagely beaten, suffocated with cigarette smoke, forced to sit on a stack of stools with his legs dangling until they swelled up, deprived of sleep through endless questioning, deprived of water, and so on?
ii. The injury to Xie Yang’s legs
During his torture, Xie Yang’s legs suffered severe swelling. But he has been out of that black jail for 13 months now. When the Hunan Procuratorate and the CCTV journalists saw him, he could walk normally. How can that logically result in the conclusion that he was not tortured?
iii. The improvement in Xie Yang’s conditions
The first time lawyer Zhang Zhongshi (张重实) met with Xie Yang at the Changsha No. 2 Detention Center, he heard with his own ears the disciplinary officer Yuan Jin berating and slugging Xie Yang before the meeting. Zhang then lodged a complaint against the detention center and Yuan Jin, and the authorities transferred the officer out. Xie Yang made clear on many occasions that his conditions began to improve once he was allowed access to a lawyer. Even so, he still suffered unjust treatment. For instance, he was limited to spending 600 yuan a month to buy food and daily necessities, a restriction not placed on other detainees.
We are very happy to know that Xie Yang is now allowed to sleep and is in good health. But that does not prove that he was not tortured and beaten in a black jail a year ago.
- CCTV Journalists: Please Let Xie Yang Speak
In the CCTV interview, Xie Yang is permitted to say only a few sentences: “I’m wearing a wool sweater,” “I’m in good health,” “I sleep nine hours at night, and the detention center gives us health checkups,” “I called ‘120’ [China’s emergency number] because I was sick,” and so forth. Nowhere does he deny that he was tortured.
Hunan Procuratorate and CCTV journalists, please ask Xie Yang on camera: “Were you tortured to give a confession? Are the transcripts published by your defense lawyers accurate?” These are the two fundamental questions you should actually be investigating.
- There is a True Version of Events
CCTV, Phoenix TV, QQ TV, Hunan TV and other media outlets have been running headline reports about “fake news” in the Western press, using Cultural Revolution-style language. Good journalists report truthfully wherever they are. If media purposefully fabricates news, conceals the truth, deceives the public, and dumbs-down the public, then they’re shameless media whose journalists have little dignity or conscience.
I look forward to the response of the Hunan Procuratorate and of the media organizations that have attempted to blot out the truth.
March 5, 2017
How Xie Yang’s Transcripts of Torture Came to Light: Lawyer Chen Jiangang Rebuts China’s Smear Campaign, Chen Jiangang, March 3, 2017
Co-opting Trump, Chinese State Propaganda Brands Torture Revelations ‘Fake News’, March 8, 2017 (with English subtitle)
January 3, 2017
This Q & A can be read as a companion piece to the Guardian report. It focuses more on Dahlin’s work, the interrogations, and the legal features of his case. Given that China’s “Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations” took effect on January 1, 2017, we hope the conversation offers insight and perspective. – The Editors
CHINA CHANGE: Peter, you are a Swedish national; on January 3, 2016, you were taken into custody by Chinese national security agents for allegedly “endangering national security.” It was not until nine days later that the international press reported that you had been disappeared on your way to the Beijing airport. Then, on January 15 and 19, the Global Times and the Xinhua News Agency reported your detention. On January 19, in a CCTV news section, you “confessed” that you “violated the Chinese law through your activities here, caused harm to the Chinese government, and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” While it was appalling and a pain to watch, people also laughed because everyone immediately recognized that these were forced words. On January 26, you were deported and barred from entering China for the next 10 years. A lot went on over this 23-day period, and we hope to unpack it for our readers. First of all, please tell us how events unfolded on January 3, 2016.
PETER DAHLIN: I was taken in a raid on my home in Beijing late that evening, not on my way to the airport as reported. The misunderstanding is easy to see, as I had notified a few people in the press- and diplomatic corps that I might not make it out, leading people to assume I must had been taken at the airport.
Earlier that day, I heard that high-up officials in the Beijing domestic security police were inquiring about me, following accusations against me made by individuals who had at that time been held in ‘residential surveillance’ from several months to half a year. Less than 10 hours after I heard about that, State Security showed up at my home, with search and detention warrants for both me and my girlfriend.
For a few weeks we had been in a ‘heightened risk situation,’ knowing that something could happen to me or others. We had been taking precautions, clearing out and processing paperwork, tying up loose ends, and doubling down in IT-measures. I had not only heard stories from those who had been through detentions before, but as a form of preparation also read books like the great but unfortunately-titled In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon with stories on interrogations, secret detention, torture etc. This was of course the first time I myself was taken, but over the years there had been many similar situations, and thus this procedure to prepare had been undertaken numerous times before.
In this case, I took the preparation a bit further than normal. Since similar situations of heightened risks had happened numerous times before, besides our normal organizational procedures, I also had my own. In those cases I would keep a small overnight bag packed next to the bed, with passport, some clothes, medicine, and money, along with shoes and a jacket, and more or less have memorized the night flight schedule out of Beijing – if I ever got the message or call that an action against us was being taken and would need to try to leave the country. In this case I was already scheduled to leave China just a few days after I was taken, but moved my flight up to that very same night, and packed as much as I could – knowing that if something happened and I managed to get away, I would not be able to return and would have to start anew somewhere. In the end, the raid on my home happened just a couple of hours before I was set to leave for the airport.
CHINA CHANGE: I admit that, even though I’ve been a busy human rights and rule of law advocate for the last three or four years, I had barely heard of your organization — Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (中国维权紧急援助组). So there is quite a bit of mystery around it. Can you describe your organization’s activities in China? A New York Times report mentioned seminars, legal aid work, and training sessions. The Chinese state media portray your activities in dark, conspiratorial and menacing terms. Help us demystify them.
PETER DAHLIN: The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) was in operation from 2009 until early 2016, and it ran a number of different programs concurrently. It was largely unknown, as we operated quietly, and even though parts of the international rights community, and much of the press and diplomatic corps knew of us, we did not allow anyone to publicly speak about us, keeping our profile as low as possible while still being able to cooperate with others. A few reports linked on our dormant Twitter account are about the only public information available.
Since its founding, China Action has responded to attacks on lawyers, journalists, and other rights defenders, especially women defenders, but perhaps our main focus has been on training and capacity development for rights defenders. We have specialized in barefoot lawyers, with the goal of strengthening the legal movement and civil society, to develop the rule of law and improve protections for Chinese citizens.
Our founding program was the urgent action program, working to arrange lawyers for human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk and to provide needed financial assistance for victims’ families, ranging from support for housing, medical bills, or a child’s education. We paid special attention to women HRDs and grassroots activists who often lacked the network and support of more high-profile defenders. We did this both on our own as well as in partnership with international and regional organizations. Later on, for the last few years, we have also had a subsection of that program to specifically address and arrange help for those with mental health support needs after detentions, kidnappings, interrogations etc.
Although primarily about direct support, through the urgent action program we also engaged in limited advocacy measures around priority cases, which involved ensuring diplomatic attention in Beijing or foreign capitals and communication with relevant human rights special procedures of the United Nations, and participation in the Universal Periodic Review of China, both alone and in collaboration with international organizations.
Many people may not be aware that governments and institutions in the EU and other countries have been offering assistance to Chinese state actors involved in the judicial system, such as police, judges, or prosecutors, in developing the “rule of law” (rule by law really), which is important. At the same time, at least until recently, there was a growing number of international and in particular Hong Kong-based organizations that provide financial assistance and training for licensed rights defense lawyers who work on public interest and rights defense cases. Unfortunately this approach has left a key group without any support. Due to financial or geographic limitations, the majority of rights abuse victims in China must rely on unlicensed barefoot lawyers, and yet this is precisely the group that has been most left out of the majority of rule of law development efforts. This is why we focused on barefoot lawyers, and our work was more preventive than reactive, with focus on training and capacity development to address the gaping hole in access to legal aid, especially among rural or poorer Chinese citizens.
CHINA CHANGE: Speaking of barefoot lawyers, Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) immediately comes to mind. Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) was a barefoot lawyer too in his early rights defense activities. Another example is Ni Yulan (倪玉兰). These are citizens who are not licensed lawyers, but who seek to defend rights through legal means. This is fascinating. Tell us more.
PETER DAHLIN: Because they are not licensed, the barefoot lawyers can almost never take up criminal cases. But in China, the main procedures for defending rights against government abuse are administrative laws and regulations, and this is where any citizen can get involved (although legal efforts by the State to limit their ability to take on cases continue). Barefoot lawyers can thus be both self-taught legal activists as well as lawyers who have lost their licenses. The work takes the form of filing lawsuits against government bodies responsible for illegal behavior such as torture, arbitrary detention, or forced evictions and demolitions. Barefoot lawyers have also taken the lead in testing and pushing the use of China’s 2008 Regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information (《中华人民共和国政府信息公开条例》), scoring many successes. As a result, we have witnessed increased use of the Regulations in defending human rights.
In order to improve barefoot lawyers’ knowledge and practice of the Administrative Law, information disclosure regulations, and other procedures, China Action has run a number of different training programs since 2009. For example, our programs ranged from in-depth week-long training sessions in administrative law, shorter trainings on information disclosure, to specific legal issues, depending on the needs of target beneficiary groups.
To maximize the result and output of the main program, we designed the program in what we believe was both an innovative and cost-effective way:
A rights defense lawyer and an experienced barefoot lawyer would be responsible for each in-depth legal training session, selecting a group of participants from a cohesive area, along with guest teachers. Of those trained in these in-depth sessions, which would also include training in freedom of information (FOI) regulations, we would then select from the best of more suitable students, and arrange for them to, on a more local level, arrange their own shorter training in FOI or another specific legal topic. Thus the larger and more extensive trainings would give us a pool of local teachers for such smaller trainings.
When needed, a lawyer or barefoot lawyer in our network would attend those local trainings to assist. Finally, from the group trained in these shorter local trainings, the trainer would select the most dedicated participants and offer support for them to organize their own local trainings at the most grassroots level, to extend the output among the trainee’s friends and fellow barefoot lawyers.
This triple layer system allowed us to not only extend our results to the most local levels in a relatively low key and safe manner, but to ensure significant multiplier effects, all while keeping the costs very low.
Another key aspect of the training activities was about nurturing mutual trust among participants, which is part of the reason our training groups were never larger than 10 people, and always drawn from a coherent geographic area. This is especially important for barefoot lawyers who tend to have experience with only one or two particular legal issues. In this way, drawing a group of 10 barefoot lawyers from, say, Shandong to spend a week of in-depth study together would create new connections and expand their effectiveness, as they can build a mutual support network when dealing with issues outside their area of expertise. Each group would also get a direct connection to both the rights defense and barefoot lawyers arranging the training, greatly expanding networks for us as an organization, as well as for the participants, who would get a direct link to a mentor from who they could seek guidance.
The organization designed its own curriculum for these training and capacity development activities. A large part of that has included creating practical self-study guides with the beneficiaries, pairing the experts with the beneficiaries to create not only practical guides on, for example, information disclosure regulations or administrative detentions, but also manuals that deal with what the beneficiaries actually want. This approach would seem obvious, but looking at a lot of the material available, it often seems it’s produced by experts telling the readers/beneficiaries what they think they should know, instead of developing the material together with the group itself.
Finally, connecting the urgent action program and the training and capacity activities, the organization has also been working, on a small scale, to set up what we referred to as ‘legal aid stations’ around the country run by barefoot lawyers to enhance access to justice. This third core component thus consisted of barefoot lawyers who would receive training in issues ranging from arbitrary detention to information disclosure, alongside minor ongoing financial support, and they would then provide pro-bono assistance to victims in their respective regions. Many of these cases would have clear public interest components to them.
CHINA CHANGE: During your custody, did the Chinese security investigators tell you which of these activities are illegal and endangering China’s national security?
PETER DAHLIN: We always assumed that their key interest would be our work with urgent actions, and they certainly had a very strong interest in knowing which lawyers had been engaged for different cases, but their key interest turned out to be the barefoot lawyers we supported to provide pro-bono legal aid. They wanted to know about our ‘legal aid stations.’ When we first started, each station had several staff and an office, but beyond the very beginning stage, the aid was actually carried out by only one individual lawyer. However, we kept internally referring to them as ‘legal aid stations’, meaning State Security at first assumed that they were local branches of the organization, which of course was not the case at all.
They also had an interest in the various training activities, many of which over the years had been shut down by either local police or provincial state security. They found a few questionnaires from one of those trainings (distributed at all training activities for evaluation purposes), and found that some of the answers were rather anti-Party. That wasn’t helpful.
In general though, my own placement under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ was mostly because of the incompetence of State Security. They had been led, wrongly, to believe that I was personally involved in a list of activities, which I was not, and could easily prove I was not.
A key focus of my interrogations was lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who has now been held in secret custody for over a year. Wang and I worked closely for many years, but we parted ways and haven’t worked together since early 2014. Our work was regarding holding trainings, offering informal mentoring to local lawyers, providing criminal defense for those facing trial, and developing training materials. It would be a stretch even for the State Security to argue that any of these was bad for China, let alone being illegal.
CHINA CHANGE: You said that Chinese security organs had been monitoring your organization’s activities before your detention. Can you expand on that? How did they do so?
PETER DAHLIN: Beginning in 2013, a co-worker was repeatedly summoned by another branch of State Security for long sessions of questioning. Using carrots and sticks, State Security tried to make this person a ‘mole,’ who would continue working with us but report to the police on me, my co-founder Michael Caster, and lawyers we worked with, or any others who worked with us. State Security asked this co-worker to make copies of documentation the person had access to, and any work I gave this person to do. On several other occasions we found that either I or Michael Caster had come up in police questioning of rights defenders we had worked with.
CHINA CHANGE: You were detained in what’s essentially a black jail for 23 days, and you said you were interrogated every day. I’m always interested in knowing the questions they asked. Do you think you can go into more detail about your interrogations?
PETER DAHLIN: Overall, the interrogations were made harder by two facts: They found almost no paperwork in their raids, and their disappointment was visible when they raided my home. But they had taken in up to five people in this operation (and I also assumed that these people had been taken, although initially I could not be sure) and they were getting (some) information from them, which they used as leads for their interrogation of me. Three earlier partners had at this point been missing for many months, placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’, and numerous other staff and partners, (then-) current and previous, had been detained and/or questioned throughout the summer, autumn and winter of 2015.
However, all core organizational aspects, details on projects, financing etc., have been the domain of only myself and Michael Caster. Others have been involved only in parts of a project or projects, without details on the organization as a whole. This was not what State Security had assumed early on. Making it clear that this was the responsibility of myself and Michael was imperative to lessen the burden on other staff and partners.
Michael was not in China at the time of the crackdown. I, being a Westerner with, I assumed, strong diplomatic support, felt a much greater sense of security than any Chinese national would. This, alongside with much information, accounts, banking etc., being based outside of mainland Chinese jurisdiction, also gave me a good position.
Thus, claiming to focus only on the administrative aspect of our work, and having poor Chinese language abilities, I could convincingly claim to only know the general outline of our work, but not the specifics for each project, and this approach allowed me to protect others.
I could, and did, also maintain the line, which is also true, that all our work had one thing in common, namely to enhance the practical application of law, that is, improve the enforcement of law, which is lacking greatly in China. We did not even involve ourselves in advocacy to improve the law itself, but focused on simply bringing practice in line with the law, especially on provincial and local levels. Even though the law is not meant to be followed to some extent, having this focus should logically decrease how and to what extent we are seen as a threat.
Despite this approach to limit what I needed to say, they did utilize extensive technical forensics on phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, USBs, etc. Everything stored is done so in encrypted form, and they never got the passwords to access those. On the other hand, using file recovery programs they could access parts of documents that had been worked on, deleted, etc. What they could get was limited, but they were able to gain access to some new documents or parts of documents every day.
This meant that I had to plan my interrogation keeping in mind to limit information, remove details such as names, locations etc., while at the same time make sure not to say anything that might be contradicted by the document they might have the next day. Keeping this in mind late at night after hours of questioning was perhaps the hardest part, but due to preparation it went fairly well. Basically, I had to make sure not to directly lie, but also make sure to not give out information that could be used against me or others.
The first 24 hours, I was under detention and not residential surveillance, they asked about my background, family and education, a few coworkers, and they also brought up the names of Wang Quanzhang, Xing Qingxian (幸清贤) and Su Changlan (苏昌兰). The first three days were handled by a ‘bad cop’ interrogator, who overplayed his hand and made me uncooperative, since I don’t respond well to being forced. After that, a ‘good cop’ took over most interrogations. All along I knew my girlfriend, who has no connection to my work, was sitting in the same facility somewhere, unable to give them anything, which at least at first I assumed State Security would think of as being uncooperative and possibly take measures to try to force non-existent information out of her.
For the first two weeks there was, on average, one session per day, lasting usually five to six hours, often held throughout the evening and night, with some minor variation. Later on they would accompany those with what I came to think as ‘fireside chats,’ with the ‘good cop’ coming into my cell, opposite to the interrogation room, to have informal chats. He’d offer cigarettes and an occasional Nescafé. These fireside chats would allow for more philosophical discussions, and for me to offer more extended explanation on why I disagreed with this or that.
Later on, one interrogation session would also double as a lie detector test, or ‘psychological test to enhance communication’ as they framed it. They attached electrodes to my fingers and used specialist cameras on the pupils, asking me a combination of test and real questions. The guy brought in to administer it couldn’t quite get it working, and in the end they didn’t seem to get anything from it, and stopped it for the last part of that interrogation session.
They used an interpreter at the interrogations, but as time went on they started to shed that charade, since the interrogators had far better English than the interpreters.
Two weeks into my detention, they realized that neither I nor China Action was related to the alleged crimes of Xing Qingxian and Su Changlan. They also realized we did not work with Fengrui Law Firm (锋锐律师事务所), and had had no partnership with Wang Quanzhang for years. On top of that, upon learning that the activities I developed and worked on with Wang were related to provision of legal aid, training lawyers, and developing training materials, they must have realized that these would not be all that useful to smear him or convict him of any national security crimes.
They also became aware of my medical condition and just how serious it was. Not wanting to have a dead Western human rights activist on their hands, they paid close attention to my condition for the rest of my custody, which limited what methods they could use against me. I also knew that media broke the story after the first two weeks, and it was quickly gaining momentum, as I had expected it would. I realized that media had broken the story because the interrogator asked me one day about the reporter, Megha Rajagopalan at Reuters who first wrote about it. The annoyance and anger was very clear.
It must be around this time that they decided to eventually deport me and move on. For the remaining days, they tried to get from me as much information about how NGOs work and about civil society in general. Of course I would also be used as a propaganda tool against foreigners, civil society, and NGO work. For the last week or so the amount of interrogations dwindled, and besides some more “fireside chats” I was just killing time waiting for the next step in the process. This mostly consisted of staring into the suicide padded wall, spending time doing some basic calisthenics, and trying to remember Bob Dylan lyrics. His song “Love minus zero / no limit” was especially helpful to keep my mind occupied for a few days. Each day and every minute was feeling longer, not shorter, and it started getting to me.
Many people who talk on the subject of solitary confinement mention that at some point your thoughts turn to suicide. It was never a serious consideration for me, but yes, at some point I spent hours analyzing the room and considering the possibilities for committing suicide. The padding and setup was so meticulous, though, that I realized it was not going to be possible even if I wanted to.
CHINA CHANGE: The reports said that your organizations received grants from various sources, the largest donor being EU, but the Chinese seem to have a fixation on NED – the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. How is that?
PETER DAHLIN: The EU was by far our largest donor, but my interrogators had almost no interest in this fact. Instead their focus was on NED, whose support to us, being crucial for one of our key programs and the organization as a whole, was nonetheless limited to a few hundred thousand dollars through the five years the program ran. To some extent they were also interested in rapid response assistance groups like Front Line Defenders. Me pointing out that the EU had supported numerous training activities for Chinese state actors, and that we were basically just doing the same for barefoot lawyers perhaps made them realize focusing on the EU angle would be more difficult in terms of painting it as a crime, a threat to national security, or in general play the ‘anti-China forces’ card. At this point they had also stopped trying to paint me as an EU spy.
Specifically, they wanted me to admit that NED was guiding us, that they were the ones giving orders on what we should do. I think this was partially because it’d fit their narrative, but also (to a lesser extent) because they don’t understand the grantmaker and grantee relationship. Likewise, they liked to refer to the barefoot lawyers we support as our ‘branches.’
Naturally they also inquired about other organizations, like International Service for Human Rights, who provides training on international law related issues (outside of China), and various groups based in Hong Kong. They however had very little information on our work with such groups, and it passed as a topic of conversation.
State Security became aware of our ‘legal aid station’ work from an internal NED document they somehow had access to, but the document did not contain names or exact locations, so a fair amount of time was spent on interrogating me about who these lawyers were. The names of some of the lawyers were provided by coworkers, and later documents they retrieve through file recovery work on hard drives etc. provided the legal aid station lawyers’ names. In the end, State Security gathered enough information about it, and it was the first program to be shut down as we started closing the organization after my deportation.
CHINA CHANGE: I have read a fair amount of interrogations of Chinese human rights defenders, and the interrogators always want to know whom they are connected to. I imagine they want to know every single person you have worked with or known in China.
PETER DAHLIN: They seemed to place a lot more interest on people than the work. They asked about a long list of people — some appeared in documents they had found, and others whose names had come up during interrogations of someone else. They wanted to know who attended our trainings, but they seem to accept that, due to the breadth and amount of our work, I could not have retained names of attendees of various trainings in my head, or even which teachers had been involved in what trainings. They also asked me about people simply because they are well known HRDs, key rights defense lawyers, and NGO workers. But I maintained, as I had done earlier, that my work focused on administrative issues and, having poor Chinese, I had very limited knowledge of most of these people, except for a few which they already had evidence that we had worked with directly.
They assumed that we would have connection with domestic NGOs, but that was in fact not the case. Likewise, our cooperation with international groups is limited to a handful of groups. They spent considerable time trying, but got very little on that topic. Same with the Fengrui Law Firm and people like Wang Yu and Li Heping, with whom we have had only limited contact.
They spent considerable time trying to convince me that some coworkers had ratted me out and I should respond in kind and come clean, basically that all blame was being placed on me, and if I didn’t defend myself my fate would be far worse. This mostly just triggered my Churchillian instinct. When they realized after repeated attempts that I would do nothing but defend them, they gave up. I remember repeating the same line over and over again: These people “not only constitute the best China has to offer, but people any nation should be proud to have as their citizens.”
CHINA CHANGE: The television confession — tell us what that was like.
PETER DAHLIN: Toward the end, when it became clear that deportation was likely, a late night final deposition was made in the interrogation room which basically summarized the key points they had learned from interrogations of me and others.
The focus was to try to find an angle to smear Wang Quanzhang. Considerable time had been spent on calling Wang a criminal, despite me pointing out almost daily that his case had not even been transferred to prosecutor, let alone having resulted in a conviction. Similarly, they refused to point out any activity by Wang that was actually a crime, except saying his work threatened national security, and that he has defended ‘evil cult’ practitioners and used his social media to highlight his work as a lawyer.
The next day, in the early evening, the ‘good cop’ walked into my cell. Cigarettes and small talk. He said a panel of judges would decide on my fate, whether bringing charges or deportation. The best way, he said, would be to record an interview on camera for them to review. Knowing that they already finished the active investigation and would not get any more information by an interview, that my girlfriend would be kept for as long as I would, and that only with my deportation would she be set free, and also knowing that time was ticking in terms of my medical condition (by that time I had already lost some 5-6 kilos), I said yes.
What followed is easy to imagine. He came back with a paper with both questions and answers written down, which in their mind ‘summarized’ our discussions over these weeks. Some arguments followed as they wanted me to call Wang, Xing and Su criminals, despite none of them having been tried. My refusal was finally accepted and some changes were made.
When I saw the final line on that paper, “having hurt the feelings of the Chinese people,” I realized that the recording was obviously for CCTV, though they had never said so. Later, when I was led into a meeting room, also part of the same secure wing as the cell and interrogation room, I saw the CCTV ‘journalist’ and her cameraman.
The CCTV lady was about my age, perhaps slightly older, not overly friendly, but relaxed and someone with obvious experience as an interviewer. All the key State Security people, maybe 8 of them or so, were sitting in the back behind myself, the CCTV woman and the camera man. We ran through the questions and answers pretty quickly. The only hiccup was saying that final line on hurt feelings. After the 4th attempt the ‘journalist’ said to me, “you really don’t want to say this, do you?”
However, that line on hurt feelings is a key reason I agreed to do it despite knowing it was for CCTV and PR. It’s a well-known meme in the China community, and I knew that everyone would know the true nature of the ‘confession’ when they heard that line. Basically, including that line negated the whole purpose of it, from the point of view of the international community, and to some extent, inside China too.
CHINA CHANGE: Following your deportation, the Beijing-based lawyer and legal scholar Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) penned a commentary, taking issue with the legal procedure of your deportation. He said that the deportation order should have been made by a court if you were guilty of a crime, or by the PSB or national security agency if you were found to have violated an administrative statute but had not committed a crime. Your case had never been brought to a Chinese court, and yet the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced that you confessed to having committed “the crime of funding criminal activities that endanger China’s national security.” She, a government spokeswoman, convicted you of two crimes in one breath! I bring this up because the arbitrariness of the entire episode highlights precisely the importance of your organization’s work and the work of those barefoot lawyers and human rights defenders. It’s so basic – it’s the ABC of ABC of the rule of law, yet it’s not acceptable to the Chinese government and it’s demonized by state propaganda.
PETER DAHLIN: As far as the law is concerned, I was placed under residential surveillance and investigated for violation of Article 107 — using foreign funding for illegal and subversive activities. But besides accusing me of supporting Su Changlan’s alleged protests and of me being the mastermind behind Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhishun’s alleged crime of taking Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, across China’s borders, they could not really pinpoint any activity that I had undertaken that would be illegal (besides illegal business operations, which is not a national security crime). And I had nothing to do with these two incidents anyway.
Their argument that actions supported by us would challenge national security, based on the National Security Law, is easily dismissible. They did spend time picking on our operating in the mainland without registration, and thus failing to pay tax, but that was not the crime I was accused of and it seemed just a minor issue for them.
In the end, I was deported under the new Espionage Law, but was not allowed to receive any documentation of any kind about any step in the legal process against me: the list of confiscated items, the house search, personal search, detention, residential surveillance, deportation, and the ban from entering China for 10 years — nothing.
Also, deportation under criminal charges would require a court decision, with notification to the embassy, myself, and the allowance of a lawyer, even if only a state-appointed one — but none of those things happened. That would render the process itself illegal, since deportation can only be decided by the police if it’s part of an administrative punishment, and if the latter is true I would first have to be released from criminal detention and moved to an administrative detention facility. Even with the world watching, China’s police and justice system couldn’t even operate, despite having such a wide range of tools and exceptions available, within their own law.
CHINA CHANGE: The way your case was dealt with, the Chinese law is apparently irrelevant despite all the rhetoric of the state media about the law being served. What do you think your real ‘crime’ is anyway? The Global Times said you stepped on a red line, what’s the red line?
PETER DAHLIN: Well, it’s hard to know who claimed I had participated or directed actions that led to “crimes,” as all of these people remain detained and incommunicado. So what led to the action being taken, I don’t know.
What can be said is that nothing that I was doing in 2016 was any different from, say, 2013. What earlier led them to want to monitor and keep tabs on us now meant they wanted to take us down. That would be in line with a general harshening of the climate, a greater focus on “anti-China” or “foreign forces” in their work to counter civil society growth, and also seeing an opportunity to use me as a tool concurrent with the new law and regulations on foreign funding and NGO operation.
CHINA CHANGE: Before and around the year 2008, the international community was euphoric about China embracing international norms. I remember there was a catchy phrase in those years in state media: “China and the World Joining Tracks” (“与世界接轨”), about China’s supposed integration into the world order. Today you don’t hear this phrase anymore and China’s outlook has changed. Many independent NGOs have been shut down over the past couple of years. You came to China almost 10 years ago as a young man, and 10 years later you were expelled as a national security threat. Do you have any final thoughts as we conclude this Q and A?
PETER DAHLIN: Outsiders are slow to react and adjust their thinking, which I guess is natural. However, it will become harder and harder for outsiders, including politicians, to keep up the charade that China is continuing its peaceful rise and, if only incrementally, developing a system of laws, and therefore creating a better society. The longer Xi Jinping stays in power, the harder it will be to continue to pretend things are developing in the right direction — but few nations want to be the first to reverse course in how to develop ties and interact with China, especially if economic ties are threatened. Luckily, China is so inept at PR that their threats against sovereign nations who seek to change course are becoming clearer, with the UK being a good example. Not even the Tory party can pretend anymore, as seen in the report they released (The Darkest Moment).
Despite having my life’s work, in a professional sense, thrown into the garbage, and the fact that my lifelong medical condition came from my time in China, I’d still say it was worth every bit despite the risks. We cannot publicize the specifics of our work, especially on urgent actions, but knowing the results for myself was enough to motivate me to continue. Even if the positive results we saw as a result of our interventions were cut in half, I’d still say it was worth it all. Sometimes you’ve got to “put your money where your mouth is,” as they say, and I believe I did that.
By Li Xiaoming and Wang Yi, translation by China Change, published: March 3, 2016
“As I watched Zhang Kai’s so-called TV confession, my heart ached to no end,” a Chinese Twitter user wrote. He speaks for many of us. Zhang appeared thin and haggard, his dishevelled hair and lusterless eyes all the image of a concentration camp prisoner. He sounded as though he’d been forced to read a script prepared for him by his tormentors. Watching him is like watching our brother being cornered and strong-armed, or our sister raped, as we stand by, helpless. We are pained, but fall silent. What’s more, we begin to think it’s alright to say and do nothing. Then there are those who can no longer “stay out of it.” We are deeply grateful to these voices, few they may be. — The Editors
A Statement by an Ordinary Christian
I, Li Xiaoming, of Mongolian ethnicity, am an intern lawyer in Beijing. I was born in 1989. My identification number is 15042319890806051X. In around 2008 I became attracted to Christianity, but only in early 2015 did I form a conviction to believe in the Lord. On May 10, 2015, I was baptized.
For the last two years the government has been tearing down crosses from churches in Zhejiang and arresting pastors, Christian lawyers, and believers who put up resistance. Recently, they have also hauled Christian lawyer Zhang Kai onto television for a forced confession, blatantly shaming the church of God. As an ordinary citizen, and as an ordinary Christian, I want to express my severe opposition to this behavior, and to demand that the government acts according to the law, honors citizens’ rights to religious freedom granted in the constitution, and immediately ceases its persecution.
From the perspective of my faith, I see the enormous peril that Chinese churches are in: that they have fallen far short of the glory that God has bestowed upon them is an established fact. Does God allow the removal of crosses to take place in so widespread a manner because the Christian church in China is not worthy of the honor of the cross?
In light of this, I put forward three questions for my brothers and sisters in the church to consider:
1) Has China got any Christian churches that truly practice righteousness, exercise mercy, and follow the example of Jesus? Why have I not yet seen any church, in its own name, make a solemn statement expressing its position against the severe persecution we saw recently?
2) Apart from Wang Yi (王怡), the lead pastor of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu (成都秋雨之福教会), I’ve seen no public stance taken by any other church. I’d like to know why, when pastors see one of their limbs tortured, they are content to sit in silence? If they are to face Jesus one day, will they be content in their hearts with what they’ve done?
3) Every Chinese Christian should kneel down and turn toward God, search inside their own hearts, and ask whether they have failed to live up to the glory of Jesus, whether they have been cruel and unscrupulous, whether they have forgotten the favor bestowed upon them, and whether they have treated reading the gospel as no more than having fun. If we’re reproached by the Holy Spirit, then what should we do under the current circumstances? Continue along calmly, or burn brightly for the Lord? All, please read Revelations 3—this is a question that no Christian can avoid.
I’m a weak, unworthy, useless criminal; before Jesus I’m a lamb. But I know that there is no way I can stay out of this—my conscience doesn’t allow me stay silent any longer. My statement is my own, and does not represent any organization, or my church. It represents myself alone.
Lord, if my statement does not conform to your will, please reproach me: I am willing to repent. Lord, with your spirit of holy benevolence, please lead us to the Way of the Cross.
Lord, I know that once this statement is published I will face danger, but no matter what, nothing can separate me from your love, and I know you love me.
“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” (Psalm 39:9) I believe that you’re in charge of everything—I just pray that you’ll be with me.
Li Xiaoming (李晓明)
February 28, 2016 (the Sabbath), at 4 a.m., at West Zone 3, Tian Tong Yuan, Changping district, Beijing.
Wang Yi: A Personal Statement on the Zhang Kai Case
Lawyer Zhang Kai is, with me, a brother of the church—and he’s also my most respected friend.
For years, a lot of people have been sincerely asking a false question: will the Cultural Revolution return? Many seriously ponder what is an absurd proposition—how can we prevent the tragedy from repeating itself? But the truth is that a new round of cultural revolution has already been underway for years. Or perhaps even decades? In reality, is there a day when we have really stepped outside of the Cultural Revolution’s framework? The real question is how we can break free from this warped and irrational age. Tonight, my Lord, allow me to howl the pain felt by Zhang Kai as he is whipped, and to be healed by the scourging you have suffered.
What physical and spiritual torment can annihilate the will of a man who believes in God? What Brother Zhang Kai was eventually unable to bear, I don’t imagine I’d be able to bear half of. Aside from faith in Grace, what else can I believe in? Christianity came to China over 1,000 years ago, and the gospel has been taught for over 200 years. But the cultural revolution targeting the beliefs of Christians in China have never ceased, and the Boxers have never been disbanded. Lord, your servant has been crushed so—help me to rise!
Among the believers I know, Zhang Kai is a man of steel. And in recent years, of those who have been forced onto television to confess crimes they did not commit, who were made to affix their signature to a letter of repentance, who of them were also not firm and unyielding? Isn’t it precisely the horror of the sinful world that drives us to seek shelter in the grace of the Lord? No matter who is saved for their resilience, I praise God for also saving those of us who are weak.
As a pastor, there is something else that hurts me: it’s that in facing down the pressure of crosses being demolished, Zhang Kai did many things that should have been done directly by church leaders. It would have been perfectly sufficient if he had simply done the technical, legal work. The absence of the church leadership led a believer who ought to have been nourished and cared for to stand on the frontlines of the church’s spiritual battle. It was almost like the Muslim siege of Constantinople, when the invaders charged upon horses into the church throwing pikes, a bishop dodged to the side, and a spear killed a believer at the Communion.
Lord: I ask that you reproach the church, reproach your servants, and I ask that you watch closely over Brother Zhang Kai, safeguard his conscience, immerse him in your precious blood. Just as you asked Peter three times: Do you love me? My Lord: I wish that you ask Zhang Kai the same, loudly in his heart, 30 times, so he may be built anew by you, and so that us lowly servants will be ashamed.
Of the many “crimes” mentioned in the “big character poster”* condemning Zhang Kai, one is that he had planned to meet a foreign official and expose the destruction of crosses in Wenzhou. This official was the ambassador of U.S. religious freedom who came to visit China in August of last year. I myself also met this American ambassador of religious freedom, and have also discussed with “foreign figures” the matter of religious freedom in China. According to this logic, I share the same crime as Zhang Kai.
Another “crime” of Zhang Kai is that he often attended conferences held abroad, discussing strategies for Christian house churches to defend their rights. I attended these conferences with him on multiple occasions, and participated in the same discussions.
Also on the official “big character poster” was the chief crime levelled against Zhang Kai: that he called the government campaign to tear down crosses as “illegal constructions” persecution of the church.
This compels me to make this solemn statement: my view on the matter is entirely identical to that of Zhang Kai. All along, whether in public or in private, I have called the forced removal of crosses by the government (under the guise of removing “illegal constructions”) as a clear case of persecution of the church, and a shameful trampling of freedom of belief.
As such, I should obviously be prosecuted for having committed the same crimes as Zhang Kai did. I am thus reporting myself to the authorities; I promise to testify, and to respond to all questions by the Wenzhou Public Security Bureau.
My official identification number is 510722197306018819.
The year of our Lord 2016, February 26
*Translator’s note: Big character posters (大字報) are a form of propaganda from the Cultural Revolution, in which the supposed crimes (usually of a political character) of class enemies are written in large font and posted in a public place. The reference here is meant metaphorically.
Wang Yi (王怡) is the lead pastor of the Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu (成都秋雨之福教会).
Update on March 3, 2016: Thirty-six clergies and Christians across China issued a statement condemning the forced televised “confession” of lawyer Zhang Kai and declaring that he is a devoted Christian and has for years helped churches to defend their rights.
Lawyer Zhang Kai’s Work From 2003 – Present, by Qin Chenshou, March 1, 2016.
The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai: ‘I Have God as My Backer’, August 31, 2015
The Ongoing War Against Religion in China, by Zhao Chu, China Change, August 4, 2015.