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Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is one of the twenty or so 709 detainees during China’s sweeping, still ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists. He was held incommunicado from, July 12, 2015 to January 18, 2017, in Tianjin. As a human rights lawyers, Xie Yanyi’s career spans from 2003 to the time when he was detained, representing dozens of cases involving religious freedom, freedom of speech, forced expropriation of land and property, corruption, local elections, political prisoners, and more. Meanwhile, he has been known for passionately advocating democratic transition in China. During the 553 days of disappearance, his wife gave birth to a baby girl, and his mother died without him knowing it. In September he posted a book titled “A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China” in which he recounted his experience during the six-month secret detention and following year in Tianjin Second Detention Center. He is the second 709 lawyer, after lawyer Xie Yang in Hunan, who has spoken out about torture and other degrading treatments perpetrated on human rights lawyers and activists. On September 6, Xie Yanyi posted an open letter to Xi Jinping, the Communist Party, and fellow Chinese, calling for an end to the one-party dictatorship, releasing all political prisoners, and setting the course to transition China into a constitutional democracy. Predictably, he has been harassed and threatened by police. China Change is pleased to bring you translation of excerpts of Xie Yanyi’s recollections and reflections on 709 atrocities. — The Editors
The Police Are Here
I got home in the middle of the night on July 11, 2015 and fell asleep right away. The next morning, not long after I had gotten up, I heard a knocking at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw Captain Wang’s men from Domestic Security. I tidied up a bit and opened the door. They wanted me to go to the office of the neighborhood committee for a little chat. I went there with them, where Miyun District domestic security personnel had been joined by Beijing domestic security. They asked about the same old things. At a break in the conversation I went to relieve myself and discovered that people from Domestic Security were following me into the bathroom. It was then I realized the gravity of the situation. Our conversation continued until noon, when we had fast food in the office. We had just finished eating when ten or so plainclothes officers burst in. The first one flashed his badge at me. He said he was from the Tianjin Public Security Bureau and asked if I was Xie Yanyi. I said yes. I saw from his badge that he was surnamed Liu. Then he handcuffed me. I protested, but no one paid attention. They swarmed around me as I was led downstairs. We got into an SUV, where I sat in the backseat between two men. There were about two or three cars following behind us . We sped off. Soon we arrived at the Miyun Chengguan police station (密云城关派出所). There was an interrogation room equipped with an iron chair that the suspect could be buckled into. They made me sit there to begin my questioning. This was the first time in my life I had been handcuffed and interrogated. At first I was confused, but once I was sitting I calmed down. I had no idea that it was just the beginning of a long ordeal and contest.
The Black Hood
At nightfall I was taken out of the police station. Not only did they handcuff me again, they also put a black hood over my head. I was escorted to an SUV. It sped off as soon as it hit the highway. I naively wondered if they were just doing this to frighten me. Maybe they’ll just drive in a circle and then bring me home? But the car kept going at top speed, and there was no sign of stopping. I was cramped, wrapped in place by the people on either side of me. And I was nervous. I felt like they had tied the hood too tightly and that it would suffocate me. I asked them politely if they could take it off, promising I wouldn’t act out if they did, but they said it was an order and they had to follow. I then begged them to loosen it a little so I could breathe, but they didn’t pay any attention to me. Then I reasoned with them, trying to win their sympathy, and asked again if they could loosen it a little. The man in the passenger seat shouted, “You won’t suffocate to death!” When those words fell on my ears, I realized that pleading was no use. I should instead stay as calm as possible.
About an hour later the car reached its destination. I couldn’t see anything and had no way of knowing our exact location. They had me get out of the car and squat down. Soon a few people came and did what seemed like a handover procedure. As they talked, I sensed I was being handed over to army troops. They changed my handcuffs but didn’t remove the hood. After we had gotten into another car, I turned to the soldier on my left and mentioned my difficulty breathing. Would he mind loosening the hood a little so that I could breathe through the gap? This soldier pulled the black hood up a little bit. I took the opportunity to thank all of them profusely for their kindness. In response, the soldier on my right pressed a little bit less against me. Not longer after our car entered a compound. We were let in by the gatekeeper, then drove up to a building. After a bit, someone called me out of the car. The men on either side of me took me into the building and told me to watch my step. We went up to the second floor and turned right into a room, where they told me to stand facing the wall. Someone came and took the hood off my head, then told me to strip naked. Then I was asked to squat twice. They searched my body to see if I had hidden anything.
The Special Room
When they were done inspecting me they had me turn to face them, then starting taking photos. They took away my clothes and gave me two sets of soft, casual clothes. One man announced the daily schedule for me and informed me that the next day I was to study the prison rules and regulations posted on the wall. Everyone left except for two soldiers, who stood on either side of me. I asked them if I could rest. They said no, that according to the rules I had to wait until 10:30. So I sat down and read the rules. Then I sized up the room. It was not quite 20 square meters [66 square feet]. To the right of the entrance was a bathroom. A single bed stood against the outer wall of the bathroom. To the right of the bed was open space. Opposite the bed was a padded desk draped with a blue tablecloth. In front of that was a soft high-backed chair. At the far end of the room a heavy curtain was pulled over the window to keep out the light. The walls were completely padded. Even the corners of the desk, the foot of the bed, and the chair were padded and rounded. Around 10 they told me I could get ready for bed and gave me a toothbrush, a towel, and a spoon. Even the handles of the toothbrush and the spoon were rounded and made of rubber. If I wanted to use the bathroom or do anything else, I had to announce my intention and be granted permission before I could proceed. There were always two soldiers guarding me. When I slept at night one would watch me from the head of the bed, the other from the foot. It seemed all these measures were meant to keep me from killing or mutilating myself.
The Interrogation Begins
On the first day, I got into bed as soon as it was time to rest. I couldn’t fall asleep right away, as my mind replayed the events of the day and I considered what fate could be in store for me. Everything felt like half-dream, half-reality. Just as I was about to drift off, someone charged into my room, booming, “Get up and clean up. The special investigation team (专案组) wants to see you!” I had no choice but to get out of bed and get dressed. I moved the toothbrush and other things from the desk to the bed, then sat down and waited for the special investigators. I thought, “The grueling interrogation is about to begin.”
Two men came in. One looked to be over 40 years old, tall and strong. He said his last name was Jiang (姜). The other man was a bit shorter, bespeckled, a little fat, around 30 years old. Later he would call himself Cao Jianguang (曹建光). The first night they questioned me until four or five in the morning. I had just collapsed into bed when the on-duty soldiers woke me up again. After breakfast the interrogators came back. A tall, skinny man wearing glasses had replaced one of the others from before. He said his last name was Wang (王), so I called him Old Wang. (Nearly a year passed before I learned from someone else that Old Wang isn’t surnamed Wang, but Yan [严], so now I call him Lieutenant Yan.) The first two, if I’m right, were from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, while Lieutenant Yan is from the Tianjin PSB. I would see more of him after I was transferred to Tianjin.
They also asked me to confess, but I had nothing to confess. It was unbearable in the beginning. I became aware that I might not get out in the short term, and that I needed a plan, so I thought of writing a letter to my wife. My wife had just told me she was pregnant. We already had two boys and were supporting a large family, but our shared faith doesn’t permit abortion. She had secretly taken out her birth control ring. Then I was taken away, and that was where our conversation ended. I told the special investigators that I wanted to write a letter to my wife. At first they said no, then added that they had to ask for instructions. That evening I started to fast. Besides protesting my illegal detention and demanding the letter, I also hoped to make my psychological crisis a physical one, to divert my attention from the mental pressure through the pain of hunger, and to give myself some happiness when I did eat again. I fasted for over 72 hours, until lunch on the fourth day. They gave me pen and paper. The guard added that if I fasted again they would feed me through a tube.
The interrogations continued as usual every day. Sometimes they would question me three times in one day, morning, afternoon, and night; or else twice in a day.
Transfer to Tianjin
Just before noon on September 8, 2015, I was told to inventory the items they had confiscated from me and sign the list. That night I was informed that due to building renovations I was to be transferred. Right then we left the residential surveillance location in Beijing, and I was secretly transferred to a residential surveillance location in Tianjin. It must have been in a People’s Armed Police building, since I was guarded by armed police officers. (The place in Beijing must also have been a PAP building, too. I think it was in the Xiaotangshan area of Changping, Beijing. I remember when I was there often hearing the sound of fireworks nearby. Perhaps it wasn’t far from a cemetery or a crematorium?)
In Tianjin they took off the white gloves. They did all sorts of things to get me to confess: starving me, forbidding me to move my legs, beating me, intimidating me, forcing me to sleep in a fixed posture, disciplining me. For half a month I was made to sit on a block for 16 hours straight every day.
I was kept in Room 8, facing rooms 11 and 12. I saw these numbers once through the gap in my blinders when I was taken out for my room to be disinfected.
What Happened October 1-10 Above Room 8?
At about 9 a.m. on October 1, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From October 1 to 10, nearly every day I heard interrogations, howling, and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me. That was when I decided that I absolutely had to control myself, find a way to get out as early as possible, and expose this torture.
I guarantee this is not a hallucination. I hope the day will come when people on the outside can see the site of this terrible torture with their own eyes: the room above Room 8 at the 709 residential surveillance location must be a special room. I often heard them moving all kinds of equipment, dragging it here and there. There was the incessant sound of installation and adjustment, lasting for two months straight at least. I don’t know what happened up there. Just before the 709 residential surveillance came to an end—that is, in the last few evenings before the 709 detainees were formally arrested in early or mid-January 2016—from Room 8 I heard people organizing files, stacking papers on top of each other. It often sounded like meetings were being held up there, too.
Devils in White
After I was transferred to Tianjin, it was around October when they suddenly started giving me daily checkups. They would take my blood pressure and check my heart rate. I could tell they were nervous. Every other week or two they would bring in an electrocardiogram and check my heart. With this change I realized some among us must have started having health problems. There was a Director Zhou, and a doctor who I think was named Liu He, who examined me. Every doctor and nurse was expressionless and stony-faced, like robots. They did not interact with me beyond routine business, and I never felt a drop of good will from them. I had no way of knowing their names or identities. This was terrifying. They did whatever the higher-ups told them to do, regardless of how I felt about it. If I made a request of any kind, they either would ask the special investigators for instructions or simply not respond at all. You would think they were angels in white, but the more I saw them, the more they seemed like devils in white.
While in Tianjin, nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine. Every day a physician would bring the medicine, and every time they would shine a flashlight in my throat to make sure I’d swallowed. It was about four white pills each time. They said I had elevated transaminases and that it could be a problem with my liver. But I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m in good health and haven’t had any health problems. I’m also not in the habit of taking medicine. I think everyone’s body is unique. Even if a certain indicator is high for someone else, for me that same reading could be just fine. I tried reasoning with them several times and refused to take the medicine. Then the physician, the discipline officer and the warden had to come force feed the pills to me. I had no choice but give in. After about two months the medicine stopped.
Sitting on the Block
At first I had a high-backed chair in my room. Then it was swapped for a block with nothing to lean on when I sat down. I sat there for at least 12 hours a day, sometimes as much as 16 hours a day. When you’re sitting on the block you are not allowed to rest your hands in your lap for support, andthe on-duty soldiers carry out orders to the letter. You can all try sitting on a block, or a stool, without resting your hands, so that you only have the strength of your back to support you. An hour is fine. What about ten hours, a hundred hours, a thousand hours? Few of you will be able to imagine it. If you aren’t cooperative during an interrogation, all they have to do is to put you on that block, and you will succumb to their control.
I’ll give an example. Once I asked to revise an interrogation transcript. They beat me and boxed my ears. For more than ten days after they only gave me half rations, nothing more than a few bites of vegetables and one small steamed bun or a few mouthfuls of rice. For 16 hours, from morning to night, I had to sit, and when I slept I had to hold a posture as dictated by the guards. They asked me to sit on the block like a soldier: head up, chest out, back straight, hands on knees. Except for using the bathroom, I was not allowed to move at all from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. In the end I sat so long that my legs tingled and went numb. When I had to relieve myself, I physically couldn’t. They don’t have to beat you and they don’t have to curse at you. All they have to do is make you keep sitting like that. You’ll either die or be crippled.
Day after day the interrogations went on. Starting with my lawsuit against Jiang Zemin (江泽民) for violating the constitution and popular will by staying on as chair of the Central Military Commission in 2003, to the 2005 signature campaign to help lawyer Zhu Jiuhu (朱久虎), to advocating for direct election of members of the Beijing Lawyers Association in 2008, to signing Charter 08, to the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, to human rights cases I had taken on over the years, to rescuing fellow lawyers, to petitions, to letters of appeal I had written, like the one calling for Tang Jitian (唐吉田) to have his right to practice law reinstated, and the one calling for the release of Chen Yongzhou (陈永洲) and the protection of his rights as a journalist; from raising funds at a seminar in Zhengzhou for the lawyers detained in Jiansanjiang (建三江), to Liu Jiacai’s (刘家财) incitement of subversion case, to Zhang Xiangzhong’s case (张向忠), to Falun Gong cases, to Xu Dong’s case (许东), to the Qing’an shooting (庆安), and on and on, and then to taking the position of legal advisor in Qin Yongmin’s organization Human Rights Observer (秦永敏，人权观察), to helping Qin Yongmin himself; from giving interviews to foreign media, to my participation in academic symposia in Hong Kong, to my compilation of Roads of Faith (《信仰之路》), to the articles on peaceful democratic transition I had posted online, and even to a dinner I had organized in Beijing in early 2015—they asked me about all of these.
When they asked about other people—who was at a particular event, who had participated—my default answer was: I don’t know, I couldn’t quite remember. I insisted on this during the endless interrogations, but as long they didn’t get what they wanted they wouldn’t stop. When they had tried everything, when they had asked me repeatedly and I wouldn’t comply, they brought printouts from the internet, my communication history, online records, to verify with me one by one. They were the ones who brought up theoe names, but in the interrogation transcripts, they made it look as though I had given these names to them. Later, they didn’t even bother to play this trick; instead they would simply type up “transcripts” and have me sign them.
But early on and often I vowed to them that I wouldn’t hurt anyone. I insisted that my actions had nothing to do with anyone else, that I’d take full responsibility for all my deeds, that I respect the facts and the law, and that I would not shirk my own problems.
They took great pains with me, because they also had to report to their superiors. If I didn’t sign, that meant I didn’t comply, and that would be their failure. They told me if I made it difficult for them, they wouldn’t let me go. If I had a bad attitude, they had all sorts of ways to torment me. Once you’re in the detention center, if you don’t cooperate, they punish all the inmates in the same cell and don’t let them have daily yard time. In short, they had a thousand different ways to force me to submit, but one thing is certain: during more than a year and a half of interrogations , I didn’t identify a single person, and I didn’t give them a single piece of information that would implicate anyone else.
Their method is to turn everything upside-down inspecting your computer, your phone, your books, your possessions, your contacts, all records of your life. From elementary to high school, your parents, your family, your relatives, your friends, everything about you is in their grasp. It is a boundless war (超限战), meaning there is nothing they won’t do to get what they want. For example, they showed me photos of my newborn daughter, videos of my son in class and playing the horsehead fiddle; and they threatened to detain my wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). That nearly broke me.
Walking was the only diversion I had. Except for when they forbade me to move at all, every day I asked the two soldiers for permission to walk back and forth the two or three meters between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand kilometers during my six months of secret detention. At first walking was one of the greatest pleasures, but later on I walked so much I hurt the ligaments in my knees. But still I told myself to keep walking. I was afraid that they would take away this one small freedom from me.
In February or March 2016, Lieutenant Yan and Officer Li came and had me inventory my credit cards, bank cards, ID card, household registration, and personal records, and had me sign a statement about my confiscated possessions. They said as soon as I signed they would send everything back to my wife. I noticed right away they didn’t have a laundry list of the items, yet this document I had to sign stated that “all of the above-mentioned items were on my person [at the time of my detention].” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I objected immediately. It was summer when they detained me and I was only wearing shorts. I had had nothing on me besides my keys and some loose change. In any case, it makes no sense for anyone to carry his or her household registration and personal files. But if I didn’t sign they wouldn’t send anything back. My wife had to care for our three children and she doesn’t work. She needed those documents. I had no choice but to sign. When I got out, however, I saw that hundreds of thousands of yuan had vanished from my bank account. I heard that Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), lawyer Xie Yang’s wife (谢阳), also saw all her savings evaporate overnight. To this day, the bank has been evading my inquiries about my account activities during my detention.
All of the 709 detainees wore red vests in the detention center. Ordinary criminals wear blue vests; death row inmates and people convicted in certain corruption cases, like the 2015 Tianjin explosions, wear yellow; and inmates who are ill wear green. Red is for the highest level of inmates, the ones dealt with most strictly. My vest number was 166. I know that Wu Gan’s (吴淦) is 161 and Xing Qingxian’s (幸清贤) is 169. I was in cell C5. One of them was probably in C6, the other in C7. We were all close by, but red vests were forbidden from seeing each other and were questioned separately. I had to ask permission to do anything, including drinking water or using the toilet. The HD cameras set up in the cell monitored our every move. Every day when I had to relieve myself, the on-duty cellmate would go to the intercom by the door and report this to the discipline officer. Once the discipline officer approved, two cellmates would lead me to the bathroom, one in front of me and one behind. I never spent a cent on anything in the detention center, both in protest of the substandard meals and of the unsightly one-upmanship that went on among my fellow inmates. I went on eating my ration of cabbage every day. It was true that, several times, the detention center sent me food and supplies (I suppose they did the same for the other 709 detainees, too), and on those occasions I’d have a share for myself and distribute the rest among my cellmates. And the moldy peanuts my cellmates threw away were my favorite treat.
People have asked me if I gave any oral or written confessions. In those 500 long days, I wrote at least two notes of repentance. For the first one I wrote the bare minimum. I didn’t use words like “confess” or “repent,” and I put the primacy of human rights, peaceful democracy, and the rule of law at the core of my self-criticism. They weren’t satisfied and forced me to write another note. In the second one I admitted that I had incited subversion by advocating for peaceful democracy in my writings. At last, when I had done what they had asked, they didn’t forget to make me title it “Note of Repentance.”
Let me explain my thinking at the time: First, I wanted to make things a bit easier in case I had to stand trial, the sooner to rejoin my family. Second, I told myself that I had to get out and bear witness to the torture we were suffering, to keep the public’s attention on my peers still in prison, to help others avoid this treatment, and to pave the way for this whole injustice to be reversed! Third of all, I was completely cut off from the outside world. They found all kinds of ways to keep me in submission: not letting the cell block out for exercise if I was uncooperative; telling me everyone else had been released except for me; showing me the videos of the trials of Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), and of Wang Yu’s (王宇) televised interview, and showing me their confessions and notes of repentance; playing me videos of my kids; showing me the photo of my newborn daughter; and on and on.
Once they dressed me up and taped me reading a statement they had prepared. They promised me up and down that the video was only for their superiors, not for the public. They made me write things and videotape things. I once told them in no unclear terms that all of this wasn’t about my own needs but about their superiors’. To me, whether I was inside or outside prison I would shoulder my responsibility just the same, and neither was easy.
As I watched Hu Shigen’s trial, I was stunned, and inspired, by the look in his eyes. I also made plans for the worst. In the court, Mr. Hu admitted that he was guilty of subversion of state power, but he also used the opportunity to lay out his political theory, turning CCTV and many other state media outlets into his podium. He expounded on the three factors of peaceful transition to a constitutional democracy and the five proposals. I thought that if the day came for me to stand trial, I would do the same as Mr. Hu and present to the public the concept of peaceful democracy and the policies to implement it. It was just like they say, seek and you shall find, a result befitting my years of devotion to the effort to realize peaceful democracy in China. I imagined the scene in the courtroom. If my family could be there too, I would also tell my children, “Daddy loves you. Daddy can’t go fishing or catch grasshoppers with you anymore. Daddy is doomed to miss your childhood. But Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price.”
The interrogators, I sensed, were not at ease doing what they did. From the highest to the lowest, they were beholden to personal interest, force, and power. They had no moral sense, each ready to jump ship if he had to save himself. The 709 case, I would say, was a hot potato from the very start. I was questioned by people who called themselves Old Jiang and Cao Jianguang (both from Beijing), Old Wang (who turned out to be surnamed Yan), Liu Bo (Lieutenant Liu), Officer Li (Tianjin), and two or three others whose names I don’t know. There was also one from the Ministry of Public Security who might have been surnamed Liu, who recited the Heart Sutra for me. They said that, year in and year out, they dealt with cases involving the big tigers, the highest-level officials. They were clearly not just ordinary public security bureaucrats. The thing is, though these insiders looked and acted strong, they knew full well that they were breaking the law and that this time they were facing extraordinary opponents. I could sense that nearly every one of them wavered at one time or the other, feeling tormented themselves and not knowing what to do. Then there were the armed police who guarded me. Except for the cruelty of the imprisonment itself, I clearly sensed their conscience, their natural goodness, and their disapproval of the atrocities perpetrated against me.
Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place
This coercive practice known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place” is probably rooted in intraparty struggles and corruption investigations. In recent years it has spread and been legalized. In Party parlance this form of custody is known as “double designation” (双规) or “to be isolated and investigated.” It can be perverse or straightforward, lax or strict. It all depends on the demands and preferences of whoever’s in charge. It is essentially domestic discipline—extrajudicial punishment.
When you are under residential surveillance at a designated place, such as I was, there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process, no channel for relief, not even a legal mechanism to protect your health or your sanity. Your family and your lawyers are left in the dark, unable to meet or communicate with you. No one even knows if you’re alive or dead. In the process abuse and torture are inevitable. This is why cases continuously emerge of unusual deaths, mental illness, and bodily harm occurring during the residential surveillance.
I Challenge You
Since I was released I’ve felt conflicted. I wanted to expose these crimes, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even the perpetrators. After much consideration, I still decided to speak what I know, because even exposing the criminals would benefit their children and their grandchildren. I would like here to address the head of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, Zhao Fei (天津市公安局局长赵飞), and his subordinates: I believe that yourselves and the special investigators all have the qualifications, as well as the duty, to stand up and explain the 709 case to your superiors, including the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the Central Committee of the CCP, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the entire nation. What happened? What exactly did these lawyers and citizens do? Is what they have done legal or illegal? Reach into your conscience and tell us: Are their actions and conduct truly harmful to a country, a people, a society? Were they defending the rule of law and human rights, or were they committing crimes? Who exactly is afraid of them? Who ordered you to torture these lawyers and citizens? What were you trying to accomplish? Why did you pick Tianjin to handle the 709 case, as it went against procedural law? Who made that decision?
Director Zhao Fei, I demand that you stand up and tell your fellow countrymen why you let torture happen under your watch. What was going on in the room (the torture chamber) above Room 8 from October 1 to 10? What happened to Hu Shigen? What happened to Wang Quanzhang? What was the plan for 709 crackdown? Who planned the Cultural Revolution-style trials of public opinion and the media smear campaigns? How did you get government-appointed lawyers involved? Whose despicable idea was it to force some of us to confess and to televise the confessions? Who gave you the right to tape the 709 detainees? You didn’t even make exceptions for the young paralegals Zhao Wei (赵威) and Li Shuyun (李姝云). You labelled these 20-somethings subverters of state power. Who decided to turn everyone into an enemy of the state? Who decided to charge us with picking quarrels and provoking troubles first, then switch the charge to inciting subversion of state power, and finally to subversion of state power itself? As a law enforcer, did you give expert legal advice to your superiors? Who ordered the cruel and criminal treatment of the detainees—the secret detentions, the starvation, the sleeping postures, the ban on movement, the 16-hour sessions of sitting like a soldier? Who ordered that we be forced to sign the transcripts of our interrogations, deprived of our right to petition, deprived of our right to defense, forced to take medicine? Who ordered you to appoint lawyers for us against our will and devise all kinds of tactics to intimidate us? Who sent the procurators and special investigators to coax me and try to change my mind? When you confiscated my possessions, why didn’t you inventory my credit cards, my bank card, my ID and all the other items? Why haven’t you returned what you took from me? Who gave you the right to monitor the phones and online communications of citizens?
Calm in the Storm
My time inside was hard to endure. The detention center is a bit better; residential surveillance is much worse. Truth be told, I was eager to leave my imprisonment the first three months, but then I slowly settled down. After I got to the detention center they continued to interrogate me regularly and try to persuade me to do their bidding. They even enlisted my cellmates and the discipline officer to change my mind. I told them that they were the ones who were fretting over gains and losses, and that, for me, it wouldn’t matter if things turned out to be one way or the other. At this age, I told them, I shoulder my responsibility when I’m on the outside, and I do the same when I was sitting in prison. Sitting in prison might even be a bit easier and quieter.
Having reached an equilibrium, I really look down on them: some of their ideas and ways of doing things are so low and so despicable. They aren’t worthy opponents in intelligence or ability. I pity them more and more. They deceive, they bluff and they fret. They put on an act in front of me. As for me, I have learned from experience the power of the Dao: the have-nots conquer the haves, the calm conquer the restless, the weak conquer the strong.
Excerpted and translated from Chinese by China Change.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 19, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation, January 20, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others, January 21, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
China Change, August 2, 2017
According to a recently published video made by Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), a professor of environmental science and the wife of human rights lawyer Xie Yang, Hunan authorities are setting up a large security door equipped with a fingerprint reader, effectively functioning as a prison cell door, outside the family apartment in Yuelu District, Changsha. As the large metal gate in the hallway is being put up, the Special Task Group in charge of Xie Yang’s case has also rented out the adjacent apartment for a permanent security presence to watch over him. Chen Guiqiu explained in the video that the building is a residence for Hunan University professors, and that she owns the title to their apartment. “They’re doing this to put Xie Yang under long-term house arrest, preventing anyone from freely visiting our home.”
On May 8, after nearly two years of imprisonment, Xie Yang was granted probation by a Changsha court. Since then he has been kept in police custody, and even brief meetings with family members have been conducted in the presence of officers. In early July, around the second anniversary of the 709 crackdown, Xie Yang appeared briefly on WeChat, chatting with a number of his legal peers and sharing some photographs of meetings with friends. On July 13 he returned to work at the Changsha Weigang Law Firm, and appeared in perfectly good spirits. On his first day of work he accepted a brief interview with Radio Free Asia. The report, titled “I Did a Deal With the Authorities,” featured Xie Yang explaining how he made a deal with the government before being released, which included him remaining silent about what transpired to him when in custody, and limitations on his professional activities, etc. No further details about this arrangement were disclosed.
During the trial, Xie Yang was made to appear on state media denying that he had been tortured in custody. Among the scenes broadcast by the authorities was Xie Yang, in court, holding up a piece of paper and stammering out the lines: “Everything I have done has been completely opposed to the profession of being a lawyer. These actions have besmirched the reputation of the Communist Party and have had an extremely bad impact. I hereby sincerely express my guilt and regret. I am willing to take this opportunity to express my current thoughts on human rights lawyers: We should abandon the strategy of contacting foreign media or social media to stir up hot topics and sensitive incidents, attacking the judicial system and smearing the image of Party and government organs, and other similar methods, when we take on cases. Doing this not only violates the professional integrity of the legal profession and legal regulations, as well as trampling on the fairness and justice of the law, but it also harms the nation, the society, and the people. Everybody must take me as a lesson. You must conduct yourselves within the framework of the law. Don’t be used by Western anti-China forces. I hereby express my willingness to confess guilt, truly repent, and sincerely apologize. I hope that the judicial organs will give me a chance to reform myself.”
Obviously the practiced, wooden reading of the script of penitence and guilt was part of the deal struck.
The court has yet to make public the length of the prison sentence Xie Yang was given.
The perverse transformation of the family home into a prison appears to be a punishment for Xie Yang accepting the RFA interview. Chen Guiqiu said that from July 14 onwards, she has once again lost contact with her husband. “I don’t know where he is now. The phone rings, but no one answers.”
Xie Yang was arrested on July 10, 2015 in western Hunan Province while handling a case. He was part of the 709 arrests of rights lawyers across the country. After six months of secret detention (the so-called “residential detention at a designated place”), and with the detention center having repeatedly used the excuse of needing to conduct further “interrogation” to extend his period of detention (退侦延期), the Changsha Municipal Intermediate Court brought charges against Xie Yang on December 16, 2016, accusing him of “inciting subversion of the state” and “disrupting court order.” The basis of the subversion charge was for his criticism of the government on social media and defense opinions, given in court, on behalf of clients who were charged with political crimes. The charge of disrupting court order stemmed from his protest of the court’s illegal refusal to accept and register legitimate legal complaints.
After he was indicted, Xie Yang was allowed to see the lawyers that his own family hired for him — the first time this was allowed to happen in all the 709 cases. All other lawyers and dissidents detained in Tianjin had been prevented from meeting with their own lawyers. From late last December to January this year, two of Xie Yang’s lawyers held a series of meetings with him. In them, Xie Yang made detailed revelations of the torture and barbaric, inhumane abuse he was subjected to during the period of residential surveillance at a designated place and in the detention center. This included extended periods of sleep deprivation, beatings, threats to kill his wife and children, and denying him the use of toilet paper.
Later, Xie Yang’s lawyers published transcripts documenting his torture, bringing a firm and sustained global response from the media, governments, human rights organizations, and professional law associations. Part of the reason for this was that up until that point, though there was immense international interest in the welfare and treatment of the rights lawyers and dissidents who had been held under long-term secret detention, there was no way to obtain the information.
In a statement dated January 13 and made public by his lawyers, Xie Yang said, “If, one day in the future, I do confess — whether in writing or on camera or on tape — that will not be the true expression of my own mind. It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail to reunite with my family. Right now I am being put under enormous pressure, and my family is being put under enormous pressure, for me ‘confess’ guilt and keep silent about the torture I was subject to.”
Over the past several years, Xie Yang has taken on cases representing forced internal migrants, grassroots people who have been killed by police, and other cases, defending China’s most vulnerable. Like other rights lawyers, in the course of taking on these cases he would often find himself on the opposite side of the table to the government.
Ms. Chen Guiqiu has put out an invitation for whoever wishes to come and visit her home in Changsha. “Come and see how they treat a human rights lawyer who has already been released. Come and take a look at China’s rule of law.” The address is: Hunan University Professor’s Residence in Yuelu District, Changsha, building 3-23, apartment 1401 (1402 being the apartment taken over by state security.) [长沙市岳麓区猴子石大桥西侧阳光100国际新城第一期湖南大学教师公寓3-23栋1401房.]
Chen Guiqiu herself already fled China with her and Xie Yang’s two children in February of this year, and after many complications arrived in the United States.
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Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others
Chen Guiqiu, May 8, 2017
Over the weekend, ahead of the trial of human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) on Monday, his wife Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋) published an article detailing, for the first time, how she first learned about her husband’s torture during the 6-month “residential surveillance at a designated place” and then in the Changsha 2nd Detention Center. Xie Yang, during the three-hour show trial for subversion and disrupting court order, denied being tortured as part of an apparent deal with the government. He looked gaunt in photographs. He was represented by a government appointed lawyer, and no witnesses were called. A handwritten statement by Xie Yang on January 13, sealed with red wax thumbprints, foretold this unfortunate “denial”: “If, one day in the future, I do confess — whether in writing or on camera or on tape, that will not be the true expression of my own mind. It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail to reunite with my family. Right now I am being put under enormous pressure, and my family is being put under enormous pressure, for me ‘confess’ guilt and keep silent about the torture I was subject to.” — The Editors
On March 2, 2017, in a nearly 12 minute segment, CCTV-4 published a report about the torture of Hunan human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳). The report, using numerous strands of evidence, purported to comprehensively prove that “Xie Yang did not suffer torture.” It said that the claim that Xie Yang had been tortured was a “conspiracy,” “engineered” by myself and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇). Included in the report was footage of Jiang Tianyong — under secret detention since November 21 last year — confessing guilt, and a so-called “independent investigation” by the Hunan Procuratorate, as well eyewitness description by the reporter upon visiting Xie Yang in the detention center.
Xie Yang’s defense lawyer, Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), produced an exhaustive, professional, and meticulous transcript of Xie Yang’s descriptions of the torture he suffered during meetings last December and on several successive days in January this year. These were published on January 19, 2017. A mass smear campaign in March also hinted that Chen Jiangang’s torture transcripts were a fabrication. Chen has already provided detailed and potent rebuttals of these ludicrous claims (here and here).
From early March to now, I’ve been silent for over two months. Today, I’m breaking that silence. First of all, I’d like the world to know how I came to gain news of the torture of Xie Yang beginning in August, 2016. With this, as well as Chen Jiangang’s transcripts and Xie Yang’s own handwritten statement, people can decide for themselves whether Xie Yang’s torture is real, and who is lying.
I. In late July, 2016, Hunan security police arranged for lawyer Zhang Zhongshi (张重实) to visit Xie Yang, for the purpose of persuading him to confess. Xie Yang had been in detention for a year by then, six months of which was under residential surveillance. After that he was held in the Changsha 2nd Detention Center. The meeting was extremely short. Xie Yang hurriedly recounted to Zhang some of the torture he suffered. He said that he was tortured to give a confession, and that he had at one point screamed out for help. He also told Zhang that over the past few days the detention center had locked him up in the same cell as a death row prisoner. The latter deliberately provoked him with lit cigarettes, and that after Xie Yang fought back against the bullying, the death row prisoner seized the opportunity to beat Xie Yang with his hand manacles. He sustained head injuries from this.
II. In August 2016, someone called and texted me multiple times at 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., saying that a man was calling for help from the second floor of the retired cadre guesthouse of the National University of Defense Technology on Deya Road in Changsha. The cries for help included my telephone number, name, and work unit. I went to visit this brave caller to verify what he told me. He said that the blood-curdling cries for help were terrifying in the extreme. Later, the interviews of Xie Yang by Chen Jiangang corroborated this incident. Xie Yang was indeed, while suffering an illness and trying to deflect the blows raining down on him, screaming for help out of the window of the cadre guest house.
III. On November 21, 2016, lawyer Zhang Zhongshi was able to formally hold a conference with Xie Yang for the first time as his defense lawyer. He heard Xie Yang, on his way to the meeting room, cry out at being slugged by the disciplinary officer Yuan Jin (袁进), and he touched Xie Yang’s swollen, bloody head. Zhang and I then exposed this incident to the media.
IV. In the year that Xie Yang was held in the detention center, several former detainees personally gave me extremely detailed accounts of the torture and inhumane treatment he was put to. They said he was put in solitary confinement, denied the use of money placed in his account by family, and denied toothpaste and toilet paper. He also described to them the numerous forms of torture applied against him during residential surveillance at a designated place. I have audio recordings of these accounts. I will make them public at an appropriate time.
V. During my contact with the state security police and public security forces, a number of people told me the news that Xie Yang had been tortured in custody. I also made audio recordings of these statements.
VI. These varied sources corroborated each other. I cannot reveal the names because they would be subject to violent reprisal for telling me. They include individuals in the security police and the public security system whose conscience has not been lost, and kind-hearted people who have suffered like me. When the state terrorists behind these acts have fallen from power, I will let you know who these heroes are.
Before Chen Jiangang’s interview transcripts were published, the news about Xie Yang was revealed by myself and his previous defense lawyers, covering two periods of time: when Xie Yang was being held in residential surveillance (July 11, 2015 to January 8, 2016) and after he was placed in the detention center (January 8, 2016 to the present). Every piece of evidence we gathered can be verified.
The torture details we learned from the above channels were verified in their entirety by Chen Jiangang’s transcript.
I know in my bones that in China the public security officials, the public prosecutors, and the courts, are one colluding family, and that the judicial system is unjust and has no transparency. According to Chinese law, during the time that Xie Yang has been detained, a video recording should have been kept 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If the torture is fake, the authorities simply need to produce the video evidence to show it. This would constitute the most persuasive, primary evidence. Why have they never produced it? Clearly, all the “evidence” they keep speaking about are all lies.
May 6, 2017
This is an excerpt of Chen Guiqiu’s article, translated by China Change.
Urgent Statement by Chinese Lawyers Concerning Lawyer Chen Jiangang Who Was Detained by Yunnan Police Along With Family and Friends
May 4, 2017
We have learned that, around 1 pm on May 3, 2017, Beijing lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), his wife and two young children, as well as their friends Zhang Baocheng (张宝成) and his wife, were forcibly taken into custody by local police while the company was on a tourist trip in Jinghong, Yunnan province (云南景洪). In doing so, the police did not present any legal warrant. Lawyer Chen Jiangang and the company have now been in custody for over 19 hours, and their belongings have been confiscated. [As of the publication of the translation of this statement, they have been detained for over 30 hours.]
We are acutely aware that lawyer Chen Jiangang has riled the authorities for revealing the torture of his client, the Hunan-based lawyer Xie Yang, and we hope that his detention in Yunnan is not intentional retaliation against lawyer Chen Jiangang by the relevant organs. We’d also like to stress that free movement inside the borders of China is a natural, as well as a legal, right of each and every Chinese citizen.
Based on the international standard that lawyers shall not face reprisal or be persecuted for practicing their profession, and also based on citizens’ natural and legal rights to travel freely in the country, we issue the following urgent statement:
1. Yunnan police must immediately and unconditionally release Chen Jiangang, Zhang Baocheng and others traveling with them;
2. We have been paying close attention to the situation and will continue to do so. We will provide all legal assistance to lawyer Chen Jiangang and others on the same trip who have been controlled by police.
May 4, 2017
Stated by lawyers:
Jiang Yongji, Gansu (蒋永继，甘肃律师)；Wen Donghai, Hunan (文东海，湖南律师)；Cai Ying, Hunan (蔡瑛，湖南律师)；Zhang Jinwu (张金武，山东律师)；Chang Weishan, jiangsu (程为善，江苏律师)；Li Yuzhen, Shandong (李玉真，山东律师)；Zhu Shengwu, Shandong (祝圣武，山东律师)；Huang Hanzhong, Beijing (黄汉中，北京律师); Liu Zhiqiang, Shanxi (刘志强，陕西律师)；Yu Quan, Sichuan (于全，四川律师)；
DingbXikui, Beijing (丁锡奎，北京律师)；Chen Jinxue, Guangdong (陈进学，广东律师)；Qin Yongpei, Guangxi (覃永沛，广西律师)；LAN Zhixue, Beijing (兰志学，北京律师)；Chang Boyang, Henan (常伯阳，河南律师)；Ji Laisong, Henan (姬来松，河南律师)；Hu Linzheng, Hunan (胡林政，湖南律师)；Zhou Yinchang, Shandong (周云昌，山东律师)；Ma Wei, Tianjin (马卫，天津律师)；Liu Shuqing, Shandong (刘书庆，山东律师)；
Liu Weiguo, Shandong (刘卫国，山东律师)；Zhao Yonglin, Shandong (赵永林，山东律师)；Zhao Hexu, Shandong (赵和绪，山东律师)；Xiao Yunyang, Guizhou (萧云阳，贵州律师)；Shu Xiangxin, Shandong (舒向新，山东律师后)；Ge Wenxiu, Guangdong (葛文秀，广东律师)；Chen Jinhua, Hunan (陈金华，湖南律师)；Wang Qingpeng, Hebei (王清鹏，河北律师)；Yu Wensheng, Beijing (余文生，北京律师)；Lu Siwei, Sichuan (卢思位，四川律师)；
Huang Zhiqiang, Zhejiang (黄志强，浙江律师)；Situ Yiping, Shandong (司徒一平，山东律师)；Li Jinxing, Shandong (李金星，山东律师)；Zheng Xiang, Shandong (郑湘，山东律师)；Luo Lizhi, Hunan (罗立志，湖南律师)；Yang Xuan, Hunan (杨璇，湖南律师)；Chen Yixuan, Hunan (陈以轩，湖南律师)；Zou Lihui, Fujian (邹丽惠，福建律师)；Fan Biaowen, Guangdong (范标文，广东律师)；Lu Fangzhi, Hunan (吕方芝，湖南律师)；
Wang Haijun, Hunan (王海军，湖南律师)；Zhang Junjie, Henan (张俊杰，河南律师)；Wen Yu, Guangdong (闻宇，广东律师)；Wei Shuiping, Guangdong (魏水平，广东律师)；Zhai Yuan, Sichuan (瞿远，四川律师)；Zhao Shaohua, Guangdong (赵绍华，广东律师)；Pang Kun, Shenzhen (庞琨，深圳律师)；Wang Huanan, Shandong (王化南，山东律师)；Fang Yining, Beijing (房一宁，北京律师)；Ma Wannian, Ningxia (马万年，宁夏律师)；
Xu Hongwei, Shandong (徐红卫，山东律师)；Xu Guijuan, Shandong (许桂娟，山东律师)；Chen Nanshi, Hunan (陈南石，湖南律师)；Zhang Zhongshi, Hunan (张重实，湖南律师)；Wang Zhenjiang, Shandong (王振江，山东律师)；Li Yongheng, Shandong (李永恒，山东律师)；Meng Meng, Henan (孟猛，河南律师)；Tang Jitian, Beijing (唐吉田，北京律师后)；Ren Quanniu, Henan (任全牛，河南律师)；Liu Wei, Beijing (刘巍，北京律师后)；
Wen Haibo, Beijing (温海波，北京律师)；Liu Yan, Shandong (刘彦，山东律师)；Ling Qilei, Beijing (蔺其磊，北京律师)；Liu Jianjun, Beijing (刘建军，北京律师)；Li Weida, Hebei (李威达，河北律师)；Li Jinglin, Beijing (李静林，北京律师)；Xie Yanyi, Beijing (谢燕益，北京律师)；Zhang Lei, Beijing (张磊，北京律师)；Sui Muqing, Guangdong (隋牧青，广东律师)；
Tang Jiaji, Guangxi (谭家骥，广西律师)；Zhong Jinhua, Shanghai (钟锦化，上海律师)；Wang Zongyue, Guizhou (王宗跃，贵州律师)；Yang Mingkuai, Yunnan (杨明跨，云南律师)；Ma Lianshun, Henan (马连顺，河南律师)；Ge Wenxiu, Guangdong (葛文秀，广东律师)；Xi Xiangdong, Shandong (袭祥栋，山东律师)；Zeng Yi, Yunnan (曾义，云南律师)；Lu Tingge, Hebei (卢廷阁，河北律师)；
Li Fangping, Beijing (李方平，北京律师)；Liang Xiaojun, Beijing (梁小军，北京律师)；Liu Shihui, Guangdong (刘士辉，广东律师)；Wu Kuiming, Guangdong (吴魁明，广东律师)；Ji Zhongjiu, Zhejiang (纪中久，浙江律师)；Teng Biao, Beijing (滕彪，北京律师)；Zheng Enchong, Shanghai (郑恩宠，上海律师)；Jiang Yuanmin, Guangdong (蒋援民，广东律师)；Luo Qian, Hunan (罗茜，湖南律师)；Liu Lianhe, Tianjin (刘连贺，天津律师)；
Liu Zhengqing, Guangdong (刘正清，广东律师)；Cui Xiaoping, Guangdong (崔小平，广东律师)；Tong Chaoping, Beijing (童朝平，北京律师)；Wang Qiushi, Heilongjiang (王秋实，黑龙江律师)；He Wei, Chongqing (何伟，重庆律师)；Zhang Jinhong, Henan (张锦宏，河南律师)；
Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of 709 lawyer Xie Yang; Li Wenzu (李文足), wife of 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang; Jin Bianling (金变玲), wife of 709 lawyer Jiang Tianyong; and Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), wife of 709 lawyer Li Heping.
We continue to ask more lawyers and other concerned parties to co-sign this statement. Please send your information via WeChat or text to 18093643144, or communicate your intent to any of the above signatories.
Chen Jiangang, April 24, 2017
This article was written in December, 2015. Between then and now, the 45-year-old but youthful looking human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) performed a rare act of courage: revealing his torture in full detail while still behind bars, and despite the perpetrators’ repeated threats. The author Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), a friend, became Xie Yang’s defense lawyer in December 2016, recording the torture in a series meetings earlier this year. Then in an equally courageous action, Chen published them. The revelations caused an international stir, providing a rare but clear glimpse of the “709 Crackdown” on human rights lawyers, while also showing how the Chinese authorities routinely use unspeakable torture to extract confessions. “[Xie Yang’s] thought was that he wanted to maintain the final dignity for Chinese lawyers as a whole,” Chen Jiangang said in a home recording on March 7. “He also thought that right now a nationwide crackdown and persecution of human rights lawyers is taking place, and that he would spare no effort to fight his case and push back against the persecution. If they succeeded easily in Xie Yang’s case, they would unscrupulously harm and persecute other lawyers in the future. He was willing to use himself to ‘test the tiger.’ Today in Changsha, Xie Yang stands trial for “subverting state power.” — The Editors
When Xie Yang was imprisoned it was height of summer; now cold winter beats on our doors. In a flash, five months has passed and we’ve heard nothing. Over the past two years dissidents, online opinion leaders, journalists, and rights lawyers have been dragged onto state television and humiliated with forced “confessions.” Every few days there’s someone new on screen, crying bitterly, pleading guilt, accepting punishment, apologizing to the nation and the people… The scripts are pre-written, and CCTV news crews are on standby awaiting orders. Yet to this day there have been no “Confessions From Mr. Xie.” It looks like Xie Yang has not cooperated, and the producers had no actor for their stage play.
Whenever I think of Xie Yang, his smile always comes to mind. No matter the situation he’s in, there it is: a sunny, wide smile that brightens the day. Xie Yang’s smile is probably the first impression of him that many are left with.
Xie Yang, with his swarthy features and slow and careful speech, always seems to surprise. But everything he does comes from the heart, and is motivated by his deepest feelings. With Xie Yang, it’s never just for show.
Hunan Mule Versus the Bandits of Shandong
The phrase “Hunan mule” (湖南骡子) passes for a compliment for the Hunanese, along with sayings like “if your tooth is broke, swallow it with the blood.” “Hunan mule” is a reference to the unbending character of the people who hail from the region. They toil and suffer without complaint, and they’re strong of mind and full of courage. Sometimes, they’re also a bit excitable, and apt to “kick their hind legs.” Xie Yang is a classic Hunan mule, and thus earned the sobriquet “Xie Yang the Stubborn.”
In 2011, the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) had just finished a four year prison term, earned for exposing the Communist Party’s brutal birth control practices in the countryside. He was then put under house arrest in Dongshigu village, Linyi, Shandong Province. Keeping him under guard became a cottage industry for local thugs: some were in charge of watching the family courtyard, others for making sure every approaching road was sealed off, others for dishing out beatings to visitors, others for delivering food. They worked shifts, 24/7. It didn’t matter who came to voice support, whether netizens, foreign journalists, or movie stars — whoever approached was beaten and chased away.
When Xie Yang heard about it, he didn’t believe it, and decided to pay Chen a visit himself. But before he could even enter Dongshigu, he was caught. The thugs began slugging him, tore apart his clothes, took his money, then bailed him into a car and dumped him in the middle of nowhere, a few dozen kilometers away. Poor Xie Yang had no ID, no money, and hardly any clothes left. Later, he told me that while he was in the car, tied up, hooded, and being beaten, his captors told him again and again that they were going to drive him out and bury him alive. He said the fact that he lived to tell the tale felt like a new life. Later still, I came to learn that this technique used by the thugs had its own term of art: “tossing to the wild” (“野抛”).
Xie Yang told me that what happened to him in Dongshigu had a profound impact on him. It hit him so hard, he said, that it brought about an internal rebirth. On the soil of Shandong — the cradle of Chinese civilization — Xie Yang came to a deep understanding of the state of the rule of law in China. It was a turning point in his journey to becoming a rights defense lawyer.
Defending the New Citizens
In 2014, with international attention focused on the prosecution of the New Citizens Movement in Beijing, Xie Yang appeared in court as counsel for Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), one of the four defendants. Lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) did most of the talking for the defense, and Xie Yang didn’t have much occasion to offer an opinion. When it was his turn to question the evidence, that Zhang Baocheng held up a placard calling for officials to make public their personal assets, Xie Yang responded in thick Hunan vernacular: “My client’s done a belter job.” The judge didn’t get it, and again asked for him to raise any questions about the evidence. Xie Yang repeated his remark. The judge then began thumping his gavel, demanding he provide an opinion on the evidence. Xie Yang didn’t react, and again said the same sentence: “My opinion of the evidence is simply that my client’s done a belter job.” (i.e., “My client has done a great job.”)
The demand that officials make public their assets is common sense in a democratic country. In China, it’s enough to land one in jail. That was all Xie Yang had to say about the evidence.
In March 2014, four human rights lawyers — Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Zhang Junjie (张俊杰) and Wang Cheng (王成) — traveled to the remote, far northeastern town of Jiansanjiang (建三江), Heilongjiang Province, to represent a number of Falun Gong practitioners locked in a black jail. When they got there the lawyers were taken captive and brutally beaten, sparking lawyers and citizens from around China to begin traveling to Jiansanjiang in protest and support. To deal with the flood of supporters, local authorities stationed about a dozen vehicles and dozens of fully-armed personnel on the only road leading there. It was early April, but the region had been hit with sudden snowfall, and visibility was low. The road there was desolate, empty fields stretching out into the distance, with no villages in sight — so the dozens of defense lawyer and citizens who went to protest were easily captured. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) was hooded and had his head rammed into a wall; Wang Shengsheng (王胜生) was hooded and dragged away while still in his pyjamas; Li Jinxing (李金星) told me that he got so cold in Jiansanjiang that it damaged his internal organs and took months to recover.
Xie Yang had arranged to travel there with a few other lawyers in early April. He was the first to arrive in Harbin where they were to meet. He could have waited for the others and gone together, so at least if they were buried alive there’d be company. But instead, as he recounted later with a grin, he thought: “What am I waiting around for? Forget it. First to come, first to go!”
With his authorization letter making clear he was an attorney on a case, he traveled by himself through the snow. As expected, he was picked up halfway there and searched. He didn’t try to hide anything and told them: “Haven’t you boys arrested a big crowd already? I’m with them!”
‘I Want to File the Case!’
Human rights lawyers are the chief offenders in China’s “New Five Black Categories,” (新黑五类) because they often serve as the defenders and guardians of the other four (political dissidents, believers, free speechers, the disenfranchised). The state sees them as a threat. Lawyers are willing to forgo income and personal safety in order to seek redress for wronged citizens — but on many occasions even filing the case is a battle. As for those who have their homes demolished, or those beaten by urban enforcement officers, or those who have family members killed by them, or by police — how many can actually file their cases?
Once, Xie Yang went to file an administrative lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff who was treated unjustly by the state. If the administrative court doesn’t first of all even report the matter to their superiors, if it hasn’t contacted the defendants, researched countermeasures beforehand and is confident about the outcome, the court won’t even accept your filing.
Xie Yang, with his complaint and dossier of evidence in hand, again tried to talk to the judge, but the judge still wouldn’t register the case. If you won’t register the case, will you at least provide a “Formal Notification of Refusal to Register a Case”? Sorry — no. That’s just not how we do things. Why not? Why doesn’t the judge follow the law? Judge, have you seen the law?
The judge looks down at his cell phone, giving Xie Yang the cold shoulder: how amusing that this lawyer actually thinks the law is for real!
Everyone in the legal community, from veterans to rookies, has been through this. Everyone has their reservoir of pent-up rage.
Xie Yang the Stubborn tried to get his point across in every possible way, with no result. After being ignored and humiliated, he was ready to kick his hind legs. The story goes that Xie Yang the Stubborn stood in the court with his hands and legs pointed out, in the shape of a big “X,” and yelled at the top of his voice: “EVERYONE. BE. QUIET.” The court instantly fell silent. All eyes were locked on Xie Yang. Then, his face lit up with fury, he raised a finger toward the presiding judge, and bellowed: “I want to file the case!”
Even after all that, they still didn’t put the case on file for him. Instead, the bailiffs took their cue to rough him up.
I once asked Xie Yang about where this incident took place. He sniggered and said: “Don’t remember.”
In China, there are quite a few lawyers who don’t approve of Xie Yang’s way of going about things. Indeed, roaring at the judge in the courtroom isn’t known to solve problems. But that’s Xie Yang.
‘Who Pays Your Salary?’
The professional environment for human rights lawyers in China is terrible. Everyone knows it. The number of lawyers who’ve had to move firms, or who’ve even been persecuted and run out of the industry, is countless.
In October 2013, after Xie Yang began taking on sensitive cases, the firm he was under contract with in Changsha forced him to transfer out. He then filed an application with the Changsha Justice Bureau to work at another firm. The law stipulates that both the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice, as well as the Changsha Justice Bureau, must examine and approve his application within 30 days. If they approve, he receives a new lawyer’s license; if they reject the application, they must provide a written explanation. But after seven months, the two Bureaus hadn’t processed the paperwork. This amounted to stripping Xie Yang of his right to practice his profession. In May 2014, he lodged an administrative lawsuit, suing the Changsha Justice Bureau and the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice for failing to carry out their duties.
Xie Yang’s complaint became a cause célèbre in the rights defense community in China. Two lawyers with national profile represented him, and 200-300 lawyers and interested citizens came from around the country to observe the court hearing. Because of the number of attendees, the court had to change the venue three times, eventually using their largest — and rarely used — courtroom. The Furong District Court in Changsha (长沙市芙蓉区法院) had never seen this many observers at a trial before.
When it was plaintiff Xie Yang’s turn to speak, he made an exhaustive list of everything the two judicial agencies had done to harass, persecute, and humiliate him. Then, with righteous indignation, he said: “You justice departments aren’t sons of bitches, you’re sons of lawyers — we pay for your living!”
As soon as these words fell from his lips, the entire courtroom erupted in applause. The judge knew that the reaction couldn’t be halted, and didn’t try stopping it.
I was traveling at the time and couldn’t attend, but photos of the scene in the courtroom were circulated online. Xie Yang could be seen, his dark face set off by his white clothes, with his classic smile, standing in front of his peers, looking every part the victorious hero.
Xie Yang told me later that he saw this case as one of the biggest achievements of his life. He said: “Even if I can’t be a lawyer anymore, it was worth it!”
A Black Robe and Bent Knees
Xie Yang’s stubbornness is legendary. After the trial, there was no judgement. After multiple abortive attempts at trying to prod the court for a verdict, he once again struck out on his own, though this time attracting more controversy than support: Xie Yang announced that he was going to don his lawyer’s gown, plant himself in front of the courthouse, and kneel. He said he’d do this every week, 15 minutes each time. When the news came out, many lawyers were pained to hear it. His own defense lawyer publicly distanced himself from the initiative. When the number of people trying to talk him out of it grew, he stopped picking up his phone. But Xie Yang makes good on his word, so he did end up doing the protest once.
Of course, the gesture was by no means to signify that he had come to kneel down, begging the authorities to toss him a lifeline. It was because he thought that the sight of a lawyer in a black robe kneeling at the doors of a courthouse would turn into a news event, and shame the court into acting. But the system Xie Yang was facing doesn’t share these ideas of honor and shame. Fortunately he later did receive a new lawyer’s licence and was able to continue plying his trade.
Let the Bullets Fly a Bit Longer
There were around 10,000 households in Hunan who were forced to evacuate due to the construction of the Tuokou reservoir (托口水库). The migration destroyed the properties of many families, and they were left with no avenues to seek redress. Some villagers killed themselves in despair. Xie Yang organized a group of lawyers to begin defending the villagers’ rights. The hearing was no more than a show, as the defendant — that is, the government — had never found themselves at the losing end of a forced demolition lawsuit.
But something unexpected happened in the courtroom: contained in the dossier presented by the government was a record of a conversation personally prepared by two government officials. Participants in the conversation included a Party secretary, the Public Security Bureau leader, the president of the court, and the official in charge of demolitions. They were discussing how they were monitoring the two main lawyers in this case, Xie Yang and Luo Lizhi (罗立志), including their schedules and chats together. Each of the officials spoke, according to the meeting record. The public security leader explained how he was preparing to mobilize so many people and vehicles, ready at any time to apprehend the lawyers; they referred to the “important instructions” of the Party secretary; how the court president was going to wrap up the case, how he was going to sort out Xie Yang and the other lawyers and then report back to the Party secretary, and so on.
Friends: If you want to know why it’s so hard to get administrative lawsuits filed, why it’s so hard to win them, and why officials are so complacent and treat the people like dirt, then you should examine the meeting records revealed in this case. Is this sort of lawsuit fair? Has the world ever seen its like?
When these records were discovered, Hu Lizheng (胡林政), one of the lawyers, demanded the court recuse itself from adjudicating the case. The defendants went pale, and bailiffs dashed forward to seize control of the evidence. When the Tuokou villagers who’d come to observe the trial realized what was going on, they began shouting and weeping at how unjust it all was. They filled the courtroom with cries.
The court session was adjourned. What would be the next step? Xie Yang had a head for pacing and said: “Let the bullets fly a bit longer” — that is, to watch and wait. But before there could be any next step, Xie Yang was arrested on the grounds of “gathering a crowd to disrupt court order” (聚众扰乱法庭秩序罪).
The bullets fell to the ground as soon as Xie Yang was taken into custody. The court announced that the lawsuit was dropped.
Xu Chunhe, or When Human Life is Cut Down Like Grass
Another case Xie Yang was involved in was the shooting of Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) in early May, 2015. This case was one of the key factors leading up to the mass arrest of rights defense lawyers and citizen activists on July 9, 2015.
Xu Chunhe was a petitioner from the city of Qing’an, Heilongjiang Province (黑龙江省庆安). He was traveling by train with his eighty-year-old mother and three kids when he was shot dead by a police officer at the train station. The well-known activist Wu Gan (吴淦) exposed surveillance footage from the scene online, and what had taken place was clear.
Xie Yang traveled to Qing’an and was hired by the family to file the complaint. After he was commissioned, Xie Yang demanded that the police make public the full surveillance footage, and also that they begin an investigation into the matter. These demands met with no result.
At this point, Xie Yang and a few other lawyers stood outside the Harbin Railway Public Security Bureau and unfurled a big-character banner saying: “You’ve No Option But to Release the Full Surveillance Video!”
Following this, the citizens and lawyers who got involved in the case were jailed one after another. These included Wu Gan, who sought out the truth of what happened, and the lawyers Xie Yang and Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), who tried to obtain justice for the family of the man wrongly killed.
Xie Yang’s Tenderness
Xie Yang has two daughters, one about ten years old and the other a toddler. He often had to travel around China, from one case to the other, and hardly had the leisure to enjoy his girls’ company. When I was with him, on more than one occasion Xie Yang pulled out his cellphone and began watching videos of the girls playing at home, his face and eyes lighting up with cheer.
You can’t say he’s a good husband. He was hardly home; he took on cases that placed him in physical and political danger, causing his wife to fret about him and fear for the family. Though a loving father, he’s been detained for more than five months now, and I heard that his daughters have constantly asked: “When will daddy come back?” Does a good father put himself in such danger and risk letting down his children?
Having come to the end of my account, just what kind of person is Xie Yang?
The official indictment, on December 16, 2016, after he was detained for 17 months, charges Xie Yang with the crimes of subversion of state power and disrupting court order.
Confucius, some 2,500 years ago, said that “men of principle are sure to have courage,” and that “to see what is right and not do it is want of courage.” He also said, “Men with aspiration and with benevolence do not sacrifice benevolence to remain alive, but would sacrifice themselves for benevolence.” Mencius said, “To live is my desire, and to be righteous is also my desire. If the two can’t be had at the same time, I’d give up life to achieve righteousness.” In our time of moral poverty, Xie Yang is such a man whose actions and choices befit the ideals of Confucius and Mencius.
Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) is a human rights lawyer in China.
Translated from an abbreviated version with author’s permission.
China Change, April 21, 2017
Since the publication in early January of the “Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang,” made by lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), detailing a series of meetings with Xie Yang (谢阳) at the Changsha 2nd Detention Center, the Xie Yang case has taken many bizarre turns.
The revelations of torture in the interviews, the first meticulously-recorded and lengthy account of the abuse meted out to a human rights lawyer, offer a shocking view of the “709 crackdown” since mid-2015. As of now, four human rights lawyers and a number of activists are still in detention, and in the case of lawyer Li Heping (李和平) and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), have been denied access to their lawyers for well over 600 days.
The torture of Xie Yang was perpetrated during the six months of secret detention, known as “residential surveillance at a designated location,” in the second half of 2015. After being exposed this year, it took the media by storm and provoked waves of strong reaction from the international legal community, governments, UN specialists, and human rights NGOs. On February 27, ambassadors of 11 nations wrote to the Chinese Minister of Public Security seeking answers to the reports.
Two days later, on March 1, Chinese state media, both print and broadcast, launched a smear campaign accusing the lawyers of colluding to fabricate the claims and catering to foreign media. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), who was abducted in Changsha on Novmeber 21, 2016, after visiting Xie Yang’s wife and children and posing for a photo outside the Changsha 2nd Detention Center, was made to appear on TV “confessing” that he had made up the torture details. An “investigative report” by the Hunan Procuratorate, which made a blurry, half-page appearance on CCTV, denied that torture had occurred. It was later reported that a few of the 11 ambassadors were subsequently summoned by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and shown the “conclusions” of this report.
Stunned by the boldfaced denial, lawyer Chen Jiangang posted articles and videos (with English subtitles) refuting the official media’s shabby narrative and questioning the Hunan investigation in its entirety. He was then was summoned for a talk with officials in Beijing, and menacing hints were made that he was under some sort of investigation…
Meanwhile, defense lawyers have been denied the right to meet with Xie Yang since February 28, a violation of Chinese law.
In recent weeks it seems that authorities in Hunan and Beijing have been negotiating a “resolution” of the case with Xie Yang. He was appointed an officially-sanctioned attorney. Yesterday, we heard the news that Xie Yang will be tried on April 25.
We don’t know what’s in store for Xie Yang. His wife, Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), a professor of environmental science at Hunan University, recently arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum. Today, she issued the following statement:
In December 2016 lawyers Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) were commissioned by the family of Xie Yang to be his defense attorneys; they were then allowed by the Changsha 2nd Detention Center to meet Xie Yang, and obtained his signature confirming their power of attorney. This made Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing Xie Yang’s official defense lawyers.
Following this, the two lawyers met with Xie Yang on multiple occasions, and came to learn of the extensive torture he was subjected to. They also began filing complaints against his torturers. The outcome of the submission of these complaints, however, was not that the torturers were investigated and held responsible, but that on February 28, 2017, the two lawyers were suddenly prevented from meeting with their client at the detention center. Why were the lawyers hired by family and the defendant prevented from working on the case?
Earlier this month, representatives of the Justice Department of Hunan Province met with Liu Zhengqing in Guangzhou and then Chen Jiangang in Beijing, saying that on March 31 Xie Yang had dissolved the contractual relationships with them as attorneys and instead turned around and commissioned He Xiaodian (贺小电) in Changsha as his defense lawyer.
Why have the Hunan authorities gone to such lengths to alter Xie Yang’s legal representation?
Now I am shocked to learn that on April 25, 2017, the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court will be trying Xie Yang for “inciting subversion of state power” (煽动颠覆国家政权罪), and “disrupting court order” (扰乱法庭秩序罪), and that his defense lawyer at court will be He Xiaodian.
Xie Yang’s family, defense lawyers, and his friends in China and overseas are anxiously watching and waiting for what the authorities will do.
Chen Guiqiu, wife of Xie Yang, in the United States
April 20, 2017
China’s Extraordinary Response to the 11-Nation Letter Over the Torture of Human Rights Lawyers, Yaxue Cao, March 28, 2017.