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709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’

Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018


My name is Xie Yanyi. I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years. In 2003 I was the first person to bring a lawsuit against Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by continuing as the chairman of the state Central Military Commission. From that point forward, I attracted the attention of the authorities.

In June and July 2015 — around then — due to the Qing’an case and a number of other rights defense cases, numerous rights lawyers and citizens were called in and interrogated by the authorities, some were arrested and paraded on state media.

The Qing’an incident was the fuse that lit the 709 crackdown.

In the early morning of July 12, 2015, I heard a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole and saw three men. Two of them were Domestic Security agents that had long been watching me. The other one, as I later learned, was a Domestic Security agent in Beijing. They came to my door in the morning and said they wanted to have a chat. So I went with them to the local neighborhood committee office.

Come around midday, all of a sudden over a dozen unidentified men charged in. The leader came right up to me and flashed his ID badge. They handcuffed me, and then escorted me downstairs. They then shoved me in a vehicle, and we sped off in three or four vehicles to the Chengguan police station.

As they were interrogating me, I worked out that they were also raiding my home, and they had asked me for my wife’s cell phone number. By nightfall, when their raid was done, they hooded me, cuffed me again, and put me in their car — this time an SUV. There were three of us in the back, with me in the middle. There was an officer on either side of me. And there were two in front. At that point we were leaving Miyun, Beijing. I had the hood on, so I didn’t know where we were headed.

They drove for an hour and a half, or maybe two hours, and I felt that we’d entered a kind of compound. They told me to get out, and two people came over and pulled me out of the car. We went into a room on the second floor.

They took the hood off, and I surveyed my new surroundings. The cell was about a dozen square meters. The walls were padded. There was a desk in front of me, and a bed to my left. There was a window on the far wall, but it was completely closed, covered with thick curtains. The room seemed air-tight. It was in this cell that my detention began.

Life in captivity was like this: there were a dozen or so armed police, guarding me every day, spread across five shifts. Each shift was two hours, with two police per shift. They stood to the immediate left and right of me. Even when I was asleep, one was at the head of the bed, the other at the foot, watching me 24/7.

The detention location was in Beijing, likely at an armed police base.

I was taken away on July 12; on the 13th I began a hunger strike. My wife was pregnant at the time, and I was really preoccupied about her. I demanded that the special investigating team handling my case give me pen and paper so I could write a letter home. In the end I was able to achieve this goal — they gave me pen and paper, and I wrote a letter to my wife. Although, after I was released I discovered that my wife never did receive this letter.

It seems that around September 8 we were transferred to another military base in Tianjin. I was again put into a roughly 10 square meter detention cell. Again, the walls were padded, and the window was completely sealed.

During the detention, I was put through some gruelling interrogations. That is, they wouldn’t let me sleep. Also, they starved me — giving me a tiny little bit of food. This went on for about one to two months. They put me through a form of punishment: they made me sit on a block with nothing to lean on. You sat straight like a military man  every day for 15 or 16 hours. This went on for a month. They don’t let you move a muscle. When you sit that long at a stretch, your lower body loses all feeling.

At the same time they submit you to all kind of psychological and emotional pressure. They once threatened me that they would detain my wife too, and they also menaced me, saying that they might harm my child in some fashion.

By January 2016 I was formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ and was transferred to the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. When I got to Tianjin No. 2, they wouldn’t use my own name. They gave me an alias — Xie Zhendong.

In the detention center they continued to punish me. The prisoners in this detention center were all serious criminals. In the cell, the person to my left had been given a life sentence; on the right was someone with a suspended death sentence. There was a death row inmate. All of them were recidivist, hardened criminals. They were ordered to surround me – in front of and behind me, to my left and right. These four were assigned to sandwich me and exercise control over me. Every move I made, every individual freedom and right I had, had been stripped of me. Even going to the toilet or drinking water required permission.

I was released on bail ‘pending trial’ in January 2017. On January 5. Even while I was supposedly on bail, they detained me in a hotel room. Only on January 18 did they let me go home and reunite with my family.

The third day after I got out, I exposed to the world the torture I had suffered — in particular [I wanted to expose] the abuse of my brothers along with me. Especially the torture that lawyer Wang Quanzhang and Hu Shigen may have been subjected to. I was in cell no. 8 in this location in Tianjin where we had been put under “residential surveillance” in the detention center. Between October 1 and October 8, 2015, in the depths of the night in my cell I very clearly heard the sound of someone falling down on the floor above me, along with the sounds of anguished wailing, groans, and electric baton shocks. In my judgement that was either Wang Quanzhang or Hu Shigen being tortured.

During this period, not long after I was detained, my mother passed away. When I first heard the news, I didn’t feel that much. I didn’t cry, nor did I feel loss. A bit over a month after I came out, I went to offer sacrifices for her, and as I held her urn of ashes, this ice-cold box of ashes, I ran my fingers along it. It was like I was making contact with my mom. It was at that point only that I really for the first time, at that point the emotions truly came out.

Over this 18 month period of forced residential surveillance, and arrest and detention, the most painful part of it all was the squandering of life. That is, they completely stripped me of every freedom. They didn’t let me engage in any form of communication. And I had no access to any information. Just like this, days become months, months become years. This kind of life wastage, after it goes on long enough, makes you crazy. During that period of residential surveillance, I even started to contemplate suicide.

So the question is how to overcome this dread, this total desperation? I silently told myself stories in my head. I recounted history, contemplated my beliefs, human nature, historical anecdotes. When I got to the detention center, in order to overcome the mental and physical imprisonment, I started to meditate. I sat cross-legged in meditation every morning and every afternoon, for two hours, every single day. This is how I got through it.

[When I got out] I rested up for two or three months. I then spent another three or so months writing “A Record of the 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China.” And then after I published this “Record of 709,” I also published an open letter to Xi Jinping. I told him to release all political prisoners, love your enemies, and start China on the path to peaceful democracy.

This January, 2018, is just when they formally ended my period of bail pending trial. But the authorities are still engaged in illegal infringements and investigations of my right to practice law.

They have committed political persecution against me; they have illegally held hearings on me to disbar me; and they have illegally deprived me of my political rights and a series of due process rights.

The 709 incident has really catalyzed the awakening of the Chinese public. So, we feel more and more that the collapse and crumbling of the totalitarian system could happen at any point. We now need to think through what happens in the post-dictatorship era. What should we do? I think that making peaceful democracy the consensus of the entire Chinese people — that this is extremely important.

Thank you, everyone.


Related:

709 Crackdown Three Years on: Mother and Lawyer Reveals Brutality Against Her Teenage Son for the First Time, Wang Yu, July 1, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: The Many Methods by Which the Chinese Communist Party Cracks Down on Human Rights Lawyers, Lü Shijie, July 4, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.

A Hearing With Chinese Characteristics: How the Beijing Lawyers’ Association Helps Persecute Human Rights Lawyers

Xie Yanyi, May 21, 2018

 

Xie Yanyi, who turned 43 this year, is a lawyer in Beijing who has taken on numerous human rights cases over his career. In April 2015 Xie led a small group of rights lawyers seeking restitution after the police shooting of passenger Xu Chunhe (徐纯合) at the Qing’an railway station in Heilongjiang, and later published a legal investigation of the incident. This case is believed to be one of the fuses leading to the 709 (July 9, 2015) mass arrest of lawyers, and Xie Yanyi was one of the scores of lawyers arrested during that crackdown. He was accused of inciting subversion of state power and detained for 553 days, until being released on probationary bail. Last year Xie published  ‘A Record of 709 and 100 Questions About Peaceful Democracy’ (709纪事与和平民主100问》), in which he described the torture he suffered while in custody. Since his release, he has continued his involvement in human rights cases, representing among other clients the Canadian citizen of Chinese origin and Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian (孙茜).

The Chinese authorities view rights lawyers as a threat, and following the 709 crackdown, they have been targeting lawyers by canceling their law licenses, prevented them from finding employment, and using a variety of other illegal and extralegal tactics in an attempt to destroy the rights defense community. Xie Yanyi has again become a target. The following is Xie’s account of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association’s hearing on May 16 about his alleged ‘violations,’ a step toward disbarring him. It has been edited for length and clarity with the author’s permission.  — The Editors

 

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Fellow human rights lawyers and citizens showed up to lend their support.

 

How It All Began

In late January 2018, my law firm received a ‘Notice of Case Filing’ (《立案通知书》) from the Beijing Lawyers’ Association (BLA). It said that the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau had recently received a complaint from the Yinchuan Municipal Intermediate Court and Municipal Procuratorate in Ningxia, accusing me of violating regulations while handling a case in the city. The notice announced that the BLA had begun an investigation.

On July 27, 2017, I was the defense counsel in the hearing of second instance in the prosecution of Falun Gong practitioner Xie Yiqiang (谢毅强) at the Yinchuan Intermediate People’s Court. At the hearing, I demanded that the court, per the law, produce the audiovisual evidence that formed the basis of the charges, and that I be able to cross-examine the defendant. These protestations were met with crude interruptions by the judge, He Wenbo (何文波). The judge refused to play the audiovisual evidence. His refusal was a violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (《中华人民共和国刑事诉讼法》),  and in the end I was forcibly removed from the courtroom, thus depriving me of my right to defend my client.

After being ejected from the court, I submitted a formal request — again, according to both China’s Criminal Procedure Law and relevant provisions of the Supreme People’s Court — that the court provide me with the recording of the hearing. I also repeatedly engaged with the disciplinary inspection commission and other departments of the court, submitted a complaint, and tried to make an appointment to meet with the court’s leadership. All of them appeared to know that they were in the wrong, and refused to meet me, profferring all manner of excuses. During one phone conversation He Wenbo, the presiding judge on the case, demanded to speak with me, which I refused. Afterwards, I lodged complaints with the Yinchuan court’s disciplinary commission against the public security bureau, procuratorate, and judicial officials responsible in the first instance for the wrongful imprisonment of Xie Yiqiang.

After I learned of the alleged ‘violations’ being investigated by the BLA, on February 13 I requested a hearing on the investigation, and demanded of both the BLA and the Beijing Bureau of Justice that they provide the evidence on which the complaint against me was based. This request was ignored. On May 4 the BLA informed me that the hearing was set for May 16. In an attempt to establish my defense, I again demanded they provide the recording from the Yinchuan courtroom and any other related evidence — and again, this was refused (illegally). At this point I submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) requests as well as an administrative complaint with the Beijing Bureau of Justice as well as the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court. Both accepted my requests and were in the process of filing them. I therefore submitted a request with the BLA that the hearing be postponed until all relevant administrative and judicial proceedings were completed. Yet the BLA ignored my request, and continued with the May 16 hearing.

Before the Hearing: Police Barricades, Journalist Beaten, and My Arrest

In the early morning of May 16, myself and my attorneys Song Yusheng (宋玉生) and Wen Donghai (文东海) arrived at the BLA building in the Dongcheng District of Beijing. Police vehicles and numerous unidentified people — presumably undercover officers — had been deployed, with guards at the door preventing journalists, lawyers, and regular citizens from entering and observing the proceedings. Even my relatives were denied admittance. As I stood on the sidewalk getting ready to speak with journalists, including from Hong Kong’s Now TV and Japan’s NHK, a group of men calling themselves police rushed over and began separating us. They used the excuse of ‘verifying IDs’ and ‘maintaining order’ to clear everyone out. I demanded that they show their IDs and explain which laws they were supposedly acting under. I said that police power is bounded, that they can’t abuse it, and that they need to respect freedom of the press and the Beijing Lawyer’s Association itself. They ignored all this and confiscated the ID card of Now TV’s video journalist Chui Chun-ming (徐骏铭). The journalist was extremely anxious to get it back, so I tried to help. But as soon as he had his ID in hand, a group of unidentified men rushed over, surrounded him, and snatched it away as they punched and stomped him. I tried to step in and stop them but was myself attacked, grappled around the neck and arms, and my clothes ripped. They shoved me into a car and rammed me down between the front and back seats. I started yelling at them: “Everyone here is a slave — it’s just that you’re slaves in charge of other slaves, and you don’t need to do this!”

 

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When the car got out onto the road, one of the police officials in the front got a phone call; he turned around and asked me: “Do you want to be locked up, or go back to your hearing?” I said that I couldn’t care less, and if the hearing didn’t go ahead that’d be even better. In the end they drove around the block and dropped me off at the back of the BLA building. They, along with the BLA officials (secretary-general Xiao Lizhu [萧骊珠] and disciplinary committee member Mr. Chen) then told me to go directly to the hearing room. I told them I needed to see my wife and two-year-old daughter, who had been crying out ‘dad’ behind me as the policeman hauled me away. A group of the officers had me hemmed in and prevented me from going outside to see my child. I said to them that even if you had no regard for the law, you should at least act humanely.  I forced my way to the exit, saw my wife and daughter, and greeted the many strangers and friends who had turned out in support. And I once again tried to negotiate with the officials, to allow people to enter and observe the hearing.

They ignored me, and didn’t let me linger at the entrance, instead forcibly escorting me back into the building and the hearing room.

The Hearing Itself

At the beginning of the hearing, I stated that because my rights to review evidence had been denied, procedures violated, observers banned, and everything was being controlled by domestic security police (国保), the hearing had no independence or legitimacy, was neither fair nor impartial, and that BLA was willingly being used as a tool for the persecution of lawyers. I said that my primary reason for attending the hearing was to witness with everyone present the violations of law taking place, and to make an account for history.

After that, the moderator of the hearing introduced to us the members of the hearing panel: Wen Jin (温进), Sun Hongyan (孙红颜), Hu Shuichun (胡永春), and investigator Lu Li (鲁立)(they were members of the BLA’s ‘professional disciplinary and meditation committee’, on which Wen Jin and Hu Shuichun served as vice-directors). Myself and my two counsel asked the members of panel in turn whether they were aware that I had submitted a FOI request and had begun legal proceedings. We also raised the fact that I had been denied my right to review evidence. Finally, we pointed out that the hearing’s procedures did not confirm to Article 58 of the All China Lawyers’ Association’s ‘Rules of Discipline for Lawyer Association Members’ Violation of Regulations’ (《律师协会会员违规行为处分规则》), which stipulates that “if facts or matters of dispute directly related to the case are brought into a lawsuit, arbitration proceedings, or there are circumstances that prevent the investigation from proceeding, then with the approval of the head of the disciplinary committee and president of the board of directors, the investigation may be suspended. When the relevant procedures have completed or relevant circumstances no longer present, a decision can be made as to whether or not to resume the investigation. The period of suspension is not counted toward the time limit of the investigation.”

Given their professional ability and questions around potential conflict of interests, we requested that all of the panel members recuse themselves.

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Xie Yanyi’s wife vented her anger: You thugs! You tortured him, now you are going to take his livelihood away! https://twitter.com/CHRDnet/status/996557879283998720

There was a ten minute adjournment. When the hearing resumed, our request for the panel’s recusal was rejected, and the hearing proceeded to hear the evidence that prompted the  investigation. The investigators had almost no such evidence — they had neither the recording from the Yinchuan courtroom, and nor had they shown any judicial opinions or explanations. They merely showed us a blurry, two-page facsimile of the supposed court transcript that wasn’t even stamped with an official chop. I know why this was the case — everyone involved in the case knows perfectly well that Falun Gong cases are false and unjust prosecutions in the first place, and no one wants to publicly endorse this willful miscarriage of the law.

Despite repeated interruptions, I finished reading through my 5,000-6,000 word ‘Defense and Rebuttal’ (《申辩书》), and my two counsel then stated their own legal opinions in my defense.

I asked the panel: Had the Beijing Bureau of Justice and the BLA seen the full (i.e., unedited) recording of the hearing in the Xie Yiqiang case, and had they seen the case files and materials? I asked their thoughts or reflections regarding this abuse of power involving a judgement that circumvented the law, trampled on the Criminal Procedure Law, and flagrantly deprived a lawyer of his right to defend his client. I asked: Have the Beijing Bureau of Justice and the BLA got a few words to say about a lawyer’s rights to practice, and the dignity of the law, given that these are the organizations’ statutory duties? I added: The opposite appears to be the case, with you here illegally stripping a lawyer of his professional rights.

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After the hearing. Left to right: Wen Donghai, Xie Yanyi, and Song Yusheng.

In conclusion, I said: “If myself, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Yu Wensheng (余文生) and other 709 lawyers were really guilty of any crime, it would be ‘the crime of taking the law seriously,’ ‘the crime of speaking the truth,’ and ‘the crime of diligently defending the client.’ Today, whether I’m outside fighting for the rights of journalists, the rights of observers, or everything I’ve said and done in this hearing room, all of it is to fight for the rights and dignity of every individual, and for the welfare of our future generations, including the future generations of those in power right now. Only if we respect the rule of law will this society escape chaos and turmoil. I believe that the vast majority of Chinese people, whether in or outside the official system, want the best for this society, and hope that it will progress toward human rights, peaceful democracy, and the rule of law. Every one of us has a responsibility. As long as all of us is willing to lean just a little bit in this direction, we’ll be able to see it realized. Of this I am confident!”

After the Hearing

As soon as the hearing finished, secretary-general Xiao Lizhu (萧骊珠) took me aside into a large conference room. Inside was my elder brother Xie Wei (谢维), a friend from our hometown, and a domestic security agent identified as Sun Di (孙荻). It seemed they had already talked matters over. Sun said that my brother would accompany me as they took down some simple notes. Then, four or five uniformed police officers came in with official recording equipment. The first came in and, in a show of following the rules, presented his police identification badge, identified himself as Wang Lei (王磊) (the one who questioned me later was officer Wang Xin [王鑫]), and handed me a notice of summons which said that I was suspected of obstructing the work of official organs in the lawful exercise of their duties. Given that they were now playing by procedure, I signed it and went along with them to the Hepingli police station (和平里派出所) and sat down in the third floor interrogation room. They didn’t forget to ask whether I was hungry or thirsty; I said I wasn’t for the time being.

Then, several batches of people came to talk with me. I told them that I’m happy to chat with them, but that if it’s an interrogation, I refuse to answer all questions in protest of the illegal summons. So, I spoke with each of them in turn, with discussions often turning into debates. Without exception they insisted that their right to enforce the law must not be violated; I in turn emphasized that law enforcers cannot themselves violate and abuse their power, nor enforce the law with malice aforethought.

After going at it like this back and forth for five or six hours, I found that the young policeman who’d been violent earlier on was now much less irascible. He was now avoiding eye contact, as though he was worried I’d hold him accountable later on. I told his bosses and colleagues that he’s still a young fellow, and I’m not going to go after him or any individual.

At around 6:00 p.m. one of the domestic security agents told me I could leave, and asked me to talk to my wife. After my wife Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊) heard that I had been taken away, she went to the Hepingli police station, and demanded all the paperwork about my case. In the course of this she got into an argument with one of the police officers, and in the end was herself apprehended, handcuffed, and detained. Thus, within one day my daughter had witnessed her father be violently dragged away by police, then seen her mother also taken away, on both occasions crying out for her mom and dad.

In the days leading up to the hearing, my wife had taken my daughter to the BLA to get a copy of the evidence, keeping vigil there for over 30 hours. I tried to convince her not to do that, but she wouldn’t listen and said it wasn’t for me alone, but for the rights of all families. Indeed, when the Hong Kong journalist was arrested and beaten, she dropped everything and tried to help him and cursed out the police. Most of the videos of the scene were shot by her. My wife hasn’t stopped fighting back!

Some Reflections

The actions of Dongcheng police outside the BLA building were all for the illegal purpose of preventing me from speaking with the press. Similarly, forcing the journalist to write a ‘repentance statement’ and serving me an illegal summons after the hearing, was also intended to stop me from talking to the press, or exposing their illegal conduct.

In a normal society, the duty of police officers is to protect the rights and dignity of citizens, and to put a stop to illegal conduct and orders, no matter their pretext. Safeguarding some imagined notions of ‘state security’ and ‘social stability’ is not the legal duty of police.

I hereby thank all friends who attended the hearing and traveled to the police station to express support, including (among many others): Liu Juefan (刘珏帆), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), lawyer Bao Longjun (包龙军), lawyer Lu Tingge (卢廷阁), lawyer Ma Wei (马卫), lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Li Yanjun (李燕军), Sun Dongsheng (孙东升), Wei Huasong (魏华松), Li Yue (李约), Li Wei (李蔚), and lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田).

 

May 19, 2018

 

 


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War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice

China Change, May 14, 2018

 

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Following the ‘709 crackdown’ — a large-scale attack against human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015 — China has continued to target this small group (about 0.1% of China’s 300,000 lawyers) who have taken on cases to defend basic human rights and other forms of social injustice. While torture and imprisonment have failed to cowe them, the government is now resorting to simple disbarment, or more subtle techniques, like preventing them from getting work so as to force their licenses to lapse, in order to take human rights lawyers off the field. The government regards this group of lawyers and those they defend a threat to communist rule; their determination to eliminate them is meeting with success, and the onslaught appears likely to continue and deepen.

China Change has reported several recent cases of disbarment, such as that of Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Yu Wensheng (余文生) and Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武). The following is an overview of 16 more cases of lawyers who are facing imminent disbarment or forms of harassment that prevent them from practicing law.

This campaign to remove lawyers who defend human rights, or any lawyer who is outspoken or rejects governmental control through the Lawyers’ Associations, appears to be deliberate, coordinated and sweeping. As we prepare the following list, more cases of threatened disbarment have continued to emerge; we will keep our readers updated.

Meanwhile, we are reminded by lawyers we correspond with that many human rights lawyers who face neither disbarment nor inability to practice also face increasing obstacles to doing their jobs: the justice bureaus have demanded that lawyers must report to the bureaus the cases they take on; recent news says that judicial bureaus want to implement a ‘grid-style’ control system over lawyers; Party cells are being set up in law firms; and lawyers are required to disclose to the judicial bureaus their religious beliefs, social media accounts, and other personal information.

As the authorities set about their rectification campaign against rights lawyers and strip them of their right to practice law, plaintiffs in human rights-related cases are having a difficult time finding defense attorneys, a circumstance that is likely to get worse as time goes on.

Lawyers Who Have Been Arrested During the 709 Crackdown

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)

In April 2018, lawyer Xie Yanyi found that his license to practice law had been marked ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice — though he had personally received no such notice. On May 4, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association informed him that a hearing would be held on May 16 regarding his alleged violation of regulations. The notice said that Xie was being investigated for suspicion of violating regulations during his representation of a client in Yinchuan, Ningxia, who was being charged with ‘using an evil religious organization to undermine the rule of law’ (the legal terminology used by the courts in Falun Gong cases).

Xie YanyiThe authorities have been using the excuse of ‘conducting an investigation into violating regulations’ on a past case simply to provide some pretext for cancelling a lawyer’s license to practice. Xie is the latest victim of this method.

In January 2017, not long after Xie was released on bail, he continued taking on cases at his original law firm, including the well-known case of the Canadian citizen of Chinese heritage and Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian (孙茜).

On Sunday, Xie Yanyi requested postponement of the hearing, stating that his oral and written requests for copying materials that support the so-called ‘violations’ have gone unanswered, and that he is thus unable to defend himself during the hearing.

After being released from prison, Xie penned a “Record of 709” in which he described being tortured while in custody, as well as the authorities’ threats against his wife as a form of psychological torture.

Li Heping (李和平)

During a detention of nearly two years, Li Heping was subjected to an inconceivable degree of torture, including hands and ankles being chained together for over a month. He got through by silently reciting passages from the Bible and thinking how much his six-year-old daughter needed a father. On April 25, 2017, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court held a secret trial on Li Heping’s alleged subversion of state power. Three days later he received the sentence to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, as well as the deprivation of political rights for four years. Li declined to appeal. On May 9 the same year, after the appeal period had expired, Li was released and allowed to return to his family.

Li Heping screen shotLi Heping is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers, having been harassed and beaten by police for his work since 2007. Before the 709 crackdown he worked with a foreign NGO documenting cases of torture in custody and conducting anti-torture training classes.

On April 25, 2018, Li received notice from the Beijing Bureau of Justice that his law license was to be revoked — they said that according to Chinese law and regulations, lawyers who have deliberately committed crimes and been sentenced must have their professional licenses cancelled. Li rejected this explanation and demanded that a hearing be held about his case. On May 7, a man came to Li’s house to sever the notice, and Li scrawled the following on the receipt: “This is a great injustice. This is a false case, a case of political persecution. The truth will ultimately see its day!”

The hearing about Li’s law license will be held at 3:00 p.m. on May 17 at the Sunshine Halfway House (阳光中途之家), a community corrections center in Chaoyang District, Beijing.

Claiming that the case of Li Heping involves state secrets, the authorities announced that the hearing will be held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, we encourage the public, including foreign journalists and diplomats, to attend and observe in solidarity.

Li Chunfu (李春富)

li-chunfuIn April 2018, Li Chunfu’s law license, like Xie Yanyi’s, was marked as ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice. However, Li has revealed that his law firm is currently handling his social security and medical insurance paperwork. This means he remains an employee of the firm, and the government has no reason to annul his law license.

On August 1, 2015, Li Chunfu was arrested after speaking out on behalf of his brother, Li Heping, who had also been detained during the 709 crackdown. In January 2017 after Li Chunfu was released on bail, it quickly became clear that he had been terribly abused in custody and was suffering a mental breakdown.

Wang Yu (王宇)

In April 2018, Wang Yu found in a search of the records held by the Beijing Bureau of Justice that her professional status was marked as ‘unregistered.’ Her previous employer, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所), had been disbanded as a result of the 709 crackdown, and Wang Yu had been unable to find a subsequent law office with which to associate herself.

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Wang Yu has had difficulties finding a  firm to accept her — some law firms have received warnings not to employ her, while others tactfully decline to employ her. In China, a lawyer without a firm is unable to practice; and if they have not found a firm within six months, their license is automatically annulled.

In Wang Yu’s case, as in that of several others, this is a method to disbar a human rights lawyer.

Zhang Kai (张凯)

On March 27, 2018, Zhang Kai of the Beijing Xinqiao Law Firm published the news that his firm had been forced by the authorities to fire him. “If nothing unexpected happens, once I’m laid off there will be no other law firm who accepts me, and in a matter of a few months my law license will be annulled.”

张凯_2He added: “I will continue to proactively communicate with my peers and the judicial bureaus and do my best not to make trouble for anyone, but if communication truly breaks down, I will be left with no choice but defend my own rights.”

Zhang Kai represented a number of churches in the Wenzhou area during the campaign to tear down crosses from 2014 to 2015. On August 25, 2015, Zhang and two assistants were taken away by police while at the Xialing Church (下岭教堂) in Wenzhou, and two days later placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所监视居住) on suspicion of ‘organizing a crowd to disturb public order,’ and ‘stealing, spying, buying, and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to foreigners.’ Zhang was released on probationary bail in March 2016, upon which he was forcibly taken back to his hometown in Inner Mongolia. In March 2017 his probationary bail was extended another year.

Huang Liqun (黄力群)

Huang LiqunHuang Liqun, a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, was arrested during the 709 crackdown and released in early 2016. In May 2018 on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice, his professional status was shown as ‘practicing,’ while his employer remained the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm which had already been shut down by the authorities.

In March 2017, the lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that after Huang Liqun’s probation was finished, he requested a transfer of employer but was rejected. The authorities said that he was a party to an ongoing case, and that only after the entire case was finished would his status be modified.

包龙军

Bao Longjun (包龙军)

Bao Longjun is the husband of Wang Yu and only passed the bar exam and received his law license a few months prior to July 9, 2015, when he too was taken into custody on the same day as his wife. In August 2016, he and Wang Yu were released on probationary bail. He was still technically a legal intern at the time, and is currently unable to find a new law firm to employ him so that he can finish his internship and become a formally credentialled lawyer.

 

 

The Defense Lawyers of the 709 Detainees

Wen Donghai (文东海)

Wen Donghai, a lawyer from Changsha, Hunan, was the first lawyer to brave the atmosphere of terror after the 709 crackdown began and act as defense counsel for Wang Yu. He then began taking one sensitive case after another. On October 30, 2017, the Changsha Judicial Bureau dispatched a ‘Notification’ (《告知书》) to Wen, informing him that he had been investigated for “suspicion of disrupting court order and disrupting the normal operations of lawsuit activities,” found guilty, and would be subjected to administrative punishment.

Wen Donghai, photoOn April 29, Wen made a freedom of information request to the Hunan Department of Justice, demanding that they disclose the work instructions received from Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua related to the 709 crackdown, as well as information about the meetings held by Hunan judicial authorities about disciplining lawyers. The freedom of information request that Wen crafted included “the specific circumstances of meetings held by your department prior to the Chinese New Year that invited the participation and coordination of individuals in the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate, the courts, and the politico-legal commission, regarding the suppression of human rights lawyers.”

On May 10, Wen received notice that the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice was planning to annul his law license, and informing him that he had a right to request a hearing. However, hearings of this nature are merely a formality, have no substantive content, and are designed primarily to provide cover for what is in essence a political punishment.

IMG_0864Li Yuhan (李昱函)

Li Yuhan was arrested in October 2017 in Shenyang, Liaoning province. She was charged with provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and fraud. This April Li Yuhan was brought before the court and faces the prospect of a prison sentence and the loss of law license. Li Yuhan has represented Wang Yu during the 709 crackdown and secretly traveled to Inner Mongolia to visit the family with another of Wang Yu’s defense lawyers, Wen Donghai.

Liu Shuqing (刘书庆)

Liu ShuqingOn January 4, 2016, Liu Shuqing, simultaneously a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, had his law license cancelled in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive, like that of Henan petitioner Gong Jianjun (巩建军) accused of killing a private security contractor; the case of Zhejiang dissident Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) accused of ‘subverting state power’; as well as Wang Yu and others. Liu believes that it’s his involvement in these cases that led to the annulment of his law license. In April 2018 the Qilu University of Technology announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.

Cheng HaiCheng Hai (程海)

Beijing-based Cheng Hai is the defense attorney for Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), another 709 lawyer who is still in detention. Cheng also took part, unsuccessfully, in the people’s deputy elections in Beijing in 2016 as an independent candidate. On February 5, 2018, the Beijing Bureau of Justice cancelled the license of Cheng Hai’s law firm, the Beijing Wutian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), on the grounds that it had “refused to participate in the 2017 annual assessment.” Thus, if Cheng Hai does not find another law firm to employ him by August 5, his law license will be automatically annulled.

Other Lawyers

Huang Simin (黄思敏)

Huang SiminHuang Simin, a lawyer from Wuhan, Hubei, took on the case of Li Tingyu (李婷玉) among others; most recently the authorities have cancelled her license on the basis that she had failed to complete her transfer from one law firm to another. The truth is, Huang had been forced to leave her firm in Wuhan. Her plans to enter a firm in Guangdong didn’t materialize because orders were sent to firms not to accept her. She was then accepted by a firm in Changsha, Hunan. The local authorities there forced that firm to fire her. Currently Huang is currently seeking a solution to keep her license.

 

Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)

Liu XiaoyuanLiu Xiaoyuan is a partner at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown in 2015, though the Beijing Bureau of Justice stated on its website that Liu was ‘practicing’ law, in fact he had been unable to do so for the last three years, and nor was he able to transfer his employment from Fengrui, because, as the authorities say, they’re still investigating Fengrui, and until their investigation is over, no one will be allowed to move onto another employer. This means that Fengrui’s lawyers who have not been otherwise detained during the 709 crackdown will need to wait at least until the case against Wang Quanzhang is finalized.

Wang Quanzhang has been in detention for over 1,000 days now. His wife in February 2017 was informed that he had been formally charged by the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate with incitement to subvert state power, but his lawyers have not been allowed to see him, and no trial has been conducted. Sources say that Wang has been tortured so badly that he can’t be “shown,”  and that this is the real reason the case has yet to be tried, judged, and that Wang is denied access to his lawyers.

Zhou Lixin (周立新)

Zhou Lixin is another partner with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown, he’s been listed by the Beijing Bureau of Justice as ‘practicing,’ but is in the same situation as Liu Xiaoyuan: unable to work for the last three years, and no indication of when this situation may change.

Peng Yonghe (彭永和)

Peng YonghePeng Yonghe is a Shanghai-based lawyer. On May 2, 2017, he publicly announced that he was quitting the officially-run Shanghai Lawyer’s Association. After that, he was forced to change law firms, but was prevented from getting new employment, and thus unable to work. The authorities told him on several occasions that as long as he took back his resignation from the Shanghai Lawyer’s Association, he’d be able to go back to practicing law.

In early May 2018, Peng announced that his wife applied for three jobs within the space of around a month, but that ‘relevant departments’ interfered and no one would hire her. Most recently, they’ve been unable to rent in Shanghai, also due to political interference.

Yu Pinjian (玉品健)

Yu PinjianYu Pinjian, based in Guangzhou, has a PhD in law. In September 2017 the authorities demanded that his law firm force him to find another employer. But, in a similar pattern to the other cases, once he left his first employer to transfer to another, the process was interfered with and he was unable to complete the procedures, and it now appears that his law license could be revoked as a result.

“I didn’t do anything,” Yu Pinjian has said on the record, “except for posting a few articles. I didn’t delete them as was told to, and the authorities then wanted to teach me a lesson.” (Yu Pinjian’s article on his public WeChat account, ‘Righteous Person of the Law’ [正义法律人] has already been deleted by censors anyway.)

Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱)

Yang jinzhuOn May 14, the Changsha-based lawyer Yang Jinzhu received a four page Notification from the Hunan Provincial Justice Department of his planned disbarment for “alleged expressions that threaten the national security, using inappropriate methods to influence the handling of cases, disrupting court order, and using malicious language to defame others.”

The first accusation refers to Yang’s article posted in a WeChat group, titled “Lawyer Yang Jinzhu Angrily Fucks the 18 Generations of Ancestors of the Chinese Judicial System,” in which he vented his frustration. “This government ignores the law. The judiciary ignores the law. And when they see lawyers who defend personal rights, they put you in stocks, tie you up, fetter your hands and feet — this, right now, is China’s judicial system!”

 

 


Related:

A Record of 709, Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.

The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017

‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer’, Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016.

The Anti-Torture Work of Lawyer Li Heping That Irked the Chinese Authorities, January 25, 2017.

Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.

The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.

 

 

 

A Record of 709

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   

 

Xie Yanyi

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益). Photo: online

 

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.

Taking Medicine

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.

Xie Yanyi, Yuan Shanshan2

For a few months in mid 2016, Xie Yanyi’s wife Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊) was constantly moving with her baby to evade police harassment. Watch Sky News Video.

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.

Interrogation Questions

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

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.

Disappearing Money

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.

Red Vests

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.

Confession

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.

Courtroom Dream

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.”

Troubled Interrogators

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.

Xie Yanyi, returns home to wife and children

Xie Yanyi was released in January 2017.

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. 

 


Related:

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.

Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (4) – Admit Guilt, and Keep Your Mouth Shut, January 22, 2017

Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 “Crooked Beam” Xie Yanyi

Liang Xiaojun, July 25, 2016

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a human rights lawyer, and one of the 709 detainees. – The Editors

 

Xie Yanyi

It was probably somewhere around the end of 2008 that I started receiving occasional group emails from someone writing under the name Liang Buzheng (梁不正)—“Crooked Beam.” Sometimes the emails would contain this person’s views on politics, while other times they would describe the actions he was taking in the legal sphere. In those days much of my time was spent handling commercial cases in order to make a living, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to public interest law or human rights issues. As a result, I would often simply skip over those emails from “Crooked Beam” without really reading them. But I did take note of the author’s rather unusual name.

It was probably around that same time that I began to hear the name “Xie Yanyi” mentioned by different people in different circumstances. It was only then that I drew the link between that name and the “Crooked Beam” of the emails I had been getting. I’d heard that this Xie Yanyi had filed suit against former leader Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by refusing to resign as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2003, and I became interested to find out what sort of a person this “Crooked Beam” was.

I asked the head of Xie’s law firm at the time about him. He was in a terrible fix in those days, since Xie’s employment there was preventing his firm from passing its annual review. He told me that Xie was “just like Li Kui” (李逵), the tough and temperamental character from the classic novel, Outlaws of the Marsh. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I took the image I had of Li Kui from the novel and its television adaptions and pictured Xie Yanyi as a big, strong fellow with a full beard.

Then, in May 2009, I attended a meeting of lawyers gathered to condemn police in Chongqing for beating lawyers Li Chunfu (李春富) and Zhang Kai (张凯)* over their investigation into the death of a Falun Gong practitioner in a labor camp. At the meeting, I was approached by a fellow with deep-seated eyes, delicate features, and a well-proportioned physique who asked me if I was a reporter. When I told him I wasn’t, he turned and walked away. I asked the person next to me who he was, and he told me: “That’s Xie Yanyi.” That was the first time I’d ever set eyes on Xie Yanyi.

From the end of that year, I gradually started getting involved in more public interest and human rights cases. Those of us working on these cases would often meet up for dinner, but since Xie Yanyi lived way out in Miyun County he was often unable to join us or else would only have a few bites and say a few words before rushing off. Our paths didn’t cross much back then, and we never had a chance to talk in any depth.

Later on, though, we would come to work together on a few cases. I would listen in great admiration to his flowing defense arguments, which were always strong, reasoned, and well documented, knowing that my own arguments were never as theoretically strong. These days, whenever my colleague Dong Qianyong (董前勇) takes on a case involving religious belief, I will give him a photocopy of one of Xie’s defense arguments for his reference. But in my own mind, I can’t shake the image of Xie Yanyi as a “barefoot lawyer,” wearing sandals, dressed in everyday attire, and toting a huge backpack.

It was probably around 2012 that he began telling me about his belief that China’s future transition to democracy could only come through the peaceful development of a democratic culture. Those days I was terribly busy with my work, running here and there to handle one case after another. I simply had neither time nor energy to think about the direction or path of China’s future development. I had no idea how to respond to his ideas, and he didn’t seem interested in trying to convince me. So we usually ended up simply laughing off those discussions.

Later, he gave me a copy of his self-published book entitled Roads of Faith, which was a collection of articles and essays he’d written over the previous few years. The epigraph read: “The power of peace and reason is unstoppable! This is the age when citizens will demonstrate their will.” I’m not much for reading books and I’d already read some of his articles before, so I merely paged through the book before placing it on my bookshelf, where it would remain untouched.

When the “709” crackdown on lawyers was launched last year, my friends and I were all living in fear, not knowing whose turn it would be to be arrested next. When I heard that Xie Yanyi had been arrested, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Through our previous work together, I’d come to know Xie’s mother, a remarkably spry old woman who was also a lawyer down in Gaobeidian (高碑店) in Hebei. I tried to contact her a number of times to find out what plans there were for Xie Yanyi’s legal defense, but no one ever answered and later her mobile just shut off, so I had to drop it. Besides Xie’s mother, I didn’t know any of his other relatives and didn’t know how else to help.

Late last year, a friend took me out to Xie Yanyi’s home in Miyun County, where I met Xie’s wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). She was six or seven months pregnant at the time, but she still took her electric bicycle out to buy groceries so she could cook for her two sons. There were two plaques hanging on the wall of their home, one reading “Peace and Democracy” and the other reading “The World Belongs to Everyone.” I knew that these were things that Xie Yanyi truly believed in.

On January 8, when Xie Yanyi was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion,” Yuan Shanshan appointed me to be his defense attorney. Given the blatant illegality of what the police have done, I don’t know how much I can really accomplish, but I’m grateful for the confidence that Yuan Shanshan and Xie’s older brother have shown in me.

It’s through our conversations that I’ve come to have a better understanding of who Xie Yanyi is. He had all sorts of advantages growing up, and could have been set for life if he’d simply relied on his parents. But he had much more respect for those who made their own way in the world. He gave up a chance to study overseas in Singapore and returned home to Gaobeidian, where he lived alone and devoted himself to studying to pass the bar exam.

After becoming a lawyer in Beijing, he encountered so many miscarriages of justice and observed so much of society’s darker side that his thinking changed and he began to think in terms of problems with the way the system was set up. After he filed his “first suit on behalf of constitutionalism” against Jiang Zemin in 2003, he became the object of heavy police surveillance but never gave up his aspiration to use his efforts to secure a peaceful, democratic future for future generations.

Xie made a point of getting to know people from all walks of life during his trips to handle cases or through his social encounters and would talk with them about his own beliefs and ways of thinking in an effort to persuade them. After the police shooting of a man in the Qing’an railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, he paid his own way to go up to Heilongjiang and provide legal assistance to the man’s family and seek the truth about the case.

After Wang Yu (王宇) and her husband and son were taken into custody on July 9 of last year, Xie Yanyi was one of the first to go online and call for assistance. Even though he was also taken in by the police for questioning in the middle of the night, he refused to compromise. Instead, he stated: Even though he was put under tremendous pressure, he insisted on speaking up for Wang Yu and the Fengrui Law Firm. Soon his house was raided and he himself was “disappeared.” In August 2015, Xie’s mother passed away; in March 2016, his daughter was born . . .

Because I’m handling Xie Yanyi’s case and have come to have a much deeper understanding of his past, I’ve thought a lot and had countless discussions with friends about the choices we make in life as well as life’s meaning and value. I was paging through the copy of Roads of Faith that Xie gave me in an attempt to understand the trajectory of his thinking when I happened to notice the date of his inscription to me—July 11, 2012. Three years and one day later, he would be taken away from his home by police in the early morning hours and “disappeared” until this very day. Several hundred copies of Roads of Faith were confiscated from his home, perhaps becoming evidence for the authorities’ charge that he had engaged in “inciting subversion.”

While most of us might anticipate that China’s transition to democracy will come about as a result of elite power struggles, economic recession, or popular protest, people like Xie Yanyi long ago started to think and put into practice ways to make this transition possible. In this day and age, when there is so much cynicism and resignation in the face of tyranny, people like Xie Yanyi are really valuable. He represents the conscience, the courage, and the future of our nation’s people. Though we may have all faced the same kinds of difficulties as Xie Yanyi in the past, we have shrunk back from them whereas he stood firm. This willingness to stand firm makes his yearlong enforced disappearance a distillation of all the joys and sorrows others have experienced for over a decade. Through his loss of freedom, Xie Yanyi bears witness to the absurdity of claims to “govern the state in accordance with the law.”

It’s his family and children who have paid the most for these ideals, but the realization of those ideals will be a precious gift that he will bestow upon them.

Of all my interactions with Xie Yanyi, one scene is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday: One summer day, we are standing on the sandy banks of the Tuo River in Luzhou, Sichuan, watching the sun set to west as the river flowed eastward toward the Yangtze. I sigh to think of the passage of time, the vastness of the universe, and how insignificant we humans ultimately are . . .

 

Liang Xiaojun

July 14, 2016

 

*Li Chunfu is also among the 709 detained lawyers. Zhang Kai was detained last August for representing churches in Wenzhou. He was released in March, 2016, following persistent international pressure.

 

Photo: Epoch Times.

Photo: Epoch Times.

Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) is a human rights lawyer in China. 


Related:

America and Europe’s Failure in Securing the Release of Lawyers and Activists in Connection With the ‘709 Incident’, Jiang Tianyong, July 17, 2016.

After Four Detainees of the ‘709 Incident’ Are Indicted, Chinese State Media Name Foreign News Organizations, a US Congressman, & Three Embassies in Beijing as ‘Foreign Anti-China Forces’, China Change, July 15, 2016.

The ‘709 Incident:’ some testimony from the human rights lawyer community, Eva Pils, July 8, 2016.

Biographies of Lawyers, Staffers and Activists Detained or Disappeared in the July 10 Nationwide Raid Against Rights Lawyers, July 23, 2015.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August 19, 2015.

 

 

 

The ‘709 Incident:’ some testimony from the human rights lawyer community

By Eva Pils, July 8, 2016

 

In April and early May 2016, I got the chance to speak to some twenty-odd old and new acquaintances amongst the targets of the so-called 709 Crackdown – the latest and largest crackdown yet on China’s already beleaguered human rights lawyers.  Named after the 9th of July, the date it began with the night-time detention of Lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun and their sixteen year old son, Bao Zhuoxuan, the 709 Crackdown mainly targeted three groups connected to rights advocacy: rights lawyers and assistants connected to Fengrui Law Firm;’ Lawyer Li Heping and his colleagues (with some overlap between these groups); and another group around activist Hu Shigen that included rights lawyers as well as more ‘grassroots’ human rights defenders.

In comparison with past crackdowns, 709 has affected a much larger number of lawyers, with human rights groups such as China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG)  and Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)  putting the total number affected at over 300 as of this week. It has also been much also more openly acknowledged and indeed, more widely advertised, by the Party-State than their other repression of human rights advocates since at least the 1990s.

709 王宇

Wang Yu (王宇) in Wangning, Hainan, May 2013. A screenshot of the documentary film Hooligan Sparrow.

How are we to understand these developments? What should we expect for the future not only of China’s human rights movement, but also for the wider legal profession and civil society more generally? And what next for the 23 lawyers and legal assistants still in custody now, a year later. Most of them are now officially held under suspicion of subversion or inciting subversion, and are still denied access to legal counsel of their own choosing as well as to their friends and family. The views and experience of those closest to the centre of the storm are surely relevant to how we answer these questions and understand the 709 crackdown. So, below, I share a few excerpts and impressions from my conversations with persons most directly involved, supplemented by recent updates. For obvious reasons, I have anonymised these comments.

Some of my interlocutors spoke from personal experience as they had, for example, themselves suffered forced disappearance and/or torture in the past. One major issue they commented on was how ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ (Article 73 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), revised in 2013) has changed the rules of engagement between human rights defenders and the party-state, by effectively legalising (or purporting to legalise) forced disappearances.. Article 73 purports to allow incommunicado detention without access to legal counsel for up to six months in cases of suspected crimes against national security (inter alia). The term ‘residential surveillance’ is a euphemism as detainees under such measures\ may be held in any ‘designated location’ that is neither their home, nor one of the regulated police detention centres. We have assumed that it may, for example, be a safe-house, a guesthouse, or a police-operated training centre.

709 李和平

Li Heping (李和平)

Conversations directly drawing on the experience of ‘709’ detentions corroborate many fears about residential surveillance.  For example, in the case of at least one person detained in the context of the ‘709’ Crackdown, detention was nominally authorized under the revised under CPL article 73. Detention took place in the same building where rights lawyers had been forcibly disappeared before the CPL revisions, when Article 73 was not yet available; and it was apparently carried out by some of the same personnel, showing that CPL revisions had changed the name, but not the structure of the harassment. [1]

The residential surveillance also involved severe sleep deprivation and use of stress positions amounting to torture and threats of further, even more serious physical torture. As a result of these – if the allegations are correct – in part criminal methods, the detention led to basically the same kind of forced confessions and statements of repentance that had been used, for example, in the 2011 “Jasmine’ crackdown. Also, just as in earlier forced disappearances, the prisoner was forced to read the ‘confession,’ ‘statement of repentance’ and promises to desist from advocacy in future before a camera, before they could be released. Talking with their guards, they referred to their situation as an ‘abduction’ (绑架), and the guards ‘did not bother to object’ to this description.[2]

‘[In the ‘designated location’ during ‘surveillance’] I was not allowed to sleep for [a certain number of] days and nights on end after they had held me for some time. They also brought a pair of handcuffs and showed me how they could handcuff me … [interlocutor demonstrates a painful posture]. At that point I told them, “alright, leave it, I’m not resisting anymore” …Because of the sleep deprivation, I was already completely broken. I thought I was going to die.[3]

In several cases, the authorities provided insufficient or no information on where detainees were held to their families. In the case of Li Heping, for example, no official notification at all was provided for six months; he was for all intents and purposes disappeared. In other cases, the authorities acknowledged that ‘suspects’ were being held but refused to disclose where they were and what they were suspected or accused of.  None of the detainees had access to legal counsel, family or friends during ‘residential surveillance.’ — In January 2016, the authorities formally ‘arrested’ (逮捕) the lawyers after the expiry of the six-month ‘residential surveillance’ period. Later they extended their arrest periods to give themselves additional time to decide whether or not to indict them; and, as discussed later, they sought to manipulate the procedures so as to continue denying the detainees access to counsel.

A second theme in comments on the crackdown was the weakening of communication and advocacy support structures for the now-detained principle targets of the crackdown, taken against a wider range of rights lawyers and supporters, including compulsory ‘chats’ and short-term detentions aimed to intimidate hundreds of rights lawyers and their sympathisers or supporters, as well as their families; strict surveillance and control of social media applications, [4]   and measures to restrict movement, such as ‘soft detention’ at home and travel bans, apparently authorized effective from 6 July 2016, i.e. three days before the first detention.[5]  Some interlocutors mentioned being explicitly told that these measures had been decided at ‘a very high central level,’[6] and concluded that they were integral parts of the crackdown.

709 王全璋

Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)

Those forced to have ‘chats’ were typically ordered to meet the police in the late evening or in the middle of the night (sometimes through phone-calls, other times by officers coming to their homes). Two victimised interlocutors reported being tracked, effortlessly it seemed, through the monitoring of their mobile phone while travelling (on trains, to their hotels, etc.).[7] During their conversations with the (domestic security division) police, they were usually ordered to ‘promise’ not to take on the cases of fellow rights lawyers; not to communicate about these cases via the social media; and not to take media interviews about them.

At least during the first few days of the crackdown, the enforced chats had an intensely terrifying effect on the rights lawyer community,[8] also on those of its members who managed to escape. One lawyer was travelling in another city when the first news about the detention started reaching him. With trepidation, he stole back into his hotel and moved out, to avoid being detected through his registration log with the local police. Despite having many friends in the city he dared not ask any of them if he could stay the night. Instead he persuaded a guesthouse to accommodate him without registration for a few hours, and went to an internet café to check up on his WeChat messages.

When I opened my account, the first message I saw read ‘Flee at once.’ As I flicked through the messages they all read: ‘disappeared’—‘disappeared’—‘disappeared’ – over a hundred messages like that. And out of nine people reported disappeared, seven were good friends of mine, really close friends. I knew it took only three minutes, no more than five, to locate someone [via their account]; so I immediately closed it down again.

He then called on a few friends in person, keeping his mobile phone and other electronic equipment turned off all the time, and left the city as soon as he could. Some days later he went home due to an import occasion, and within a short time, the local police called him and demanded to speak to him.  He had only managed to evade capture during the first panicked few hours and days of the crackdown. Among the lawyers I spoke to, only one had thus far entirely avoided the coerced ‘chat.’

‘I thought to myself, as a human rights defender in China, you live in fear without having done anything criminal at all.’

Anyone who was ‘caught’ and questioned might face intense pressure and the threat to be questioned again, or formally detained – as in Lawyer Xie Yanyi’s case, after he refused to make the required ‘promises.’  He was detained under Article 73 CPL after being initially allowed to go home. [9]

A particularly striking aspect in this context is how directly the police warned some lawyers against taking on the criminal defence of their detained colleagues. A lawyer who was ’caught’ when getting off a train and interrogated by domestic security police from his hometown, who had travelled there to meet him, described his conversation as follows.

‘I said, “first tell me what my status is, am I a suspect, or a witness, or what?” He said, “No status.” I said, “Well then what’s the procedure for asking me to speak to you?” He said, “There’s no procedure. But if you want a formal procedure, fine, we can do that.” Later I heard that [with other lawyers] they were using subpoena forms, but without bothering to enter a suspected crime on the form.  So we “chatted.”’

The conversation revolved around the persons of the detained lawyers. Did he know them? Were they friends?

‘He said, “We are warning you herewith, warning you severely, you are not allowed to take part in this matter in any manner whatsoever.” I said, “What do you mean by ‘take part’?” He said, “Any manner whatsoever. Including online messaging or reposting messages – none of that. If you don’t listen, you will be a co-suspect with them.” …He said, “if you get involved you’re a fellow suspect with them. And we know exactly what you have been doing in the past.” …I asked him directly, “do you mean not even if the lawyer’s families asked me to act as someone’s criminal defence lawyer — defending their rights in accordance with law, that would be my job as a lawyer.” His reply was explicit., “No way. If you get involved, you’re a co-suspect.”’ [10]

In the social media chat groups devoted to discussing the crackdown, this sort of incrimination has since come to be sarcastically referred to as ‘the crime of legal defence’ (辩护罪).[11] Such threats to criminalise professional legal advocacy call to mind the widely criticized legislative changes introduced earlier this year, to expand the scope of crimes of disrupting the courtroom.  Their underlying rationale also connects them to the highly suspicious purported ‘dismissals’   of originally appointed criminal defence lawyers by the lawyer detainees.

‘The greatest problem now is that the authorities do not allow the families to appoint lawyers, they want to use the lawyers they themselves like, to disrupt any channels of information and render meetings with the detainees impossible.’[12]

In some cases, family members of the detained were reportedly shown new defence lawyer appointment letters signed by the detainees;[13]  but the previously appointed lawyers have not seen these documents for themselves and have not been sent letters informing them of their ‘dismissal’ so that they are unable to confirm if they have been dismissed.[14] Forced or faked ‘dismissals’ of the originally appointed lawyers would of course violate the detainees’ right to appoint a lawyer of their own choosing; and in the view of one interlocutor signals a significant weakening in the Xi Jinping era of respect for this right recognised, at least in principle, in earlier political cases including those of Wei Jingsheng, Liu Xiaobo, and Hu Jia.[15] It would also testify, in my view, to how much the authorities are worried about forceful rights advocacy.

709 谢燕益

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)

A third theme has been what might be termed orchestrated crackdown propaganda, including broadcasts and reports vilifying the lawyers connected to Fengrui Law Firm, and TV ‘confessions’ or ‘trial by television’ (电视审判). [16]

Based on current information, all detained victims who have been released had to produce statements admitting guilt and expressing repentance in writing and read the statement out aloud in front of a camera before being released. This followed a well-established pattern also used in the 2011 Jasmine Crackdown, for example. The use of such materials to display lawyers and legal assistants such as Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, Zhang Kai, and others on television, showing them in the humiliating and terrifying circumstances of detention, is new. For example, Wang Yu and Bao Longjun are shown distraught and in tears over the rendition of their son. Zhou Shifeng is shown expressing repentance; and others are seemingly recriminating their colleagues. [17]

In these broadcasts, targeted individuals generally ‘confess’ to wrongdoing phrased in very general and at times incoherent terms rather than admitting specific crimes; and express repentance and submission. Visually if not verbally they also express fear, anguish, and despair. Confessions etc. were televised selectively, largely focusing on the activities of the Fengrui Law Firm circle and its methods of forceful, vocal and politically aware rights advocacy using methods such as flash-mob demonstrations and social media communication to draw attention to specific cases from wider audiences,[18] and, apparently to establish a public presumption of guilt,

One lawyer commented,

‘[These reports] have in the eyes of many [rights lawyers] done the worst harm to us, because many ordinary people will still be inclined to trust these official reports. They might generally have comes across some positive information about rights lawyers; but after these detentions they will be informed that these lawyers were working in their own interest, to earn foreign money and that this entire circle has actually been doing these things under the direction of foreign anti-China enemy forces. The majority of viewers might accept the message conveyed by these CCTV reports.’

The interlocutor added that fellow legal professionals would also be bound to be frightened by these reports, as they would have to consider the possibility that they would suffer similar consequences, even if all they engaged in was lawful rights advocacy.

We do of course hope that as many lawyers as possible will understand the background of these reports, that they [the detained] have not violated the law… [but they will also learn from these reports] that if they engage in these activities, they will inevitably encounter repression of this kind from the government.’[19]

709 谢阳

Xie Yang (谢阳)

This form of selective crackdown-related propaganda, of ‘TV confessions’ and ‘trial by television’ represents what some see as a conscious reversion to Mao era style denunciation of ‘enemies of the party-state.’[20]  It is hard to see how the conduct depicted in the reports could be the basis for any credible charges of crime, let alone crimes ‘endangering state security.’  Charges of a public order offence, for example based on a few small and peaceful demonstrations for access to justice would seem still baseless, but – based on prior experience – less unlikely. Some interlocutors thought that the authorities had thus far not shown anyone ‘confessing’ to subversion because such ‘confessions’ would simply be too unconvincing or might ‘lead to more social controversy.’[21] But others thought that the state might bend the rules to make them fit whatever the detained rights defenders had done.[22] ‘Trial by TV’ allows the authorities not only to vilify particular individuals or groups like the Ruifeng law firm, but also to project and indeed propagate their power to extract meaningless, even irrational, statements from those it holds captive.

709 周世锋

Zhou Shifeng (周世锋)

A fourth aspect commented on were the new transnational dimensions of repression, a sense that there was fewer places one could flee to/be safe in, because of the risks of cross-border abduction and forced retrieval, and the long arm of the authorities through putting pressure on family and friends in China.

For example, Bao Zhuoxuan (Mengmeng), the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, originally detained along with his parents on 9 July, deprived of his passport and held under strict surveillance, left the country with the help of friends. From there, he and the two friends were forcibly taken back to China from the border region with Myanmar. Now seventeen, Mengmeng is living under strictest surveillance with his maternal aunt and grandmother’s family. It is impossible for his parents’ rights lawyer friends to get near him or provide support or counsel.[23] A friend described his state as ‘utterly desperate.’

‘There is no contact with them. Their phone is controlled. And the flat just opposite his aunt’s flat has been taken over by the domestic security police [国保], who got the previous tenants to move out. At his school, they use the head student, teachers, and other classmates to control him. It was exactly the same with Gao Zhisheng’s [daughter] at the time.  So, the boy’s situation now is really under terrible strain. It ought to be the springtime of his life. But now, he has not been able to see his parent’s for such a long time; he has lost his freedom of movement, and his plan to go study abroad was disrupted when they abducted him [in the night of 9 July 2015, on the way to the airport]…his mobile phone was previously forcibly taken away by them so we dare not try to contact him. And [his entire family] is under their control. This family’s situation is really the worst…If Mengmeng could have left, if would have been a consolation for his parents and encouragement for others. The fact he was taken back has now also scared a lot of other lawyers, who are asking themselves, what if their own child has to go through this sort of collective punishment at some point.’[24]

An attempt to make contact attempt to make contact with Mengmeng and his family in late May was unsuccessful.

A fifth theme was apprehensions for the future. The hardest to talk about was the fear of torture. My conversations had, as noted earlier, confirmed that some of the detained who were later released had been tortured – by kicking and beating; sleep deprivation; excessively long interrogation , being blinded with light; stress positions; and  threats of extremely painful further torture, before agreeing to make statements.[25] We still know nothing about the situation of others detained incommunicado. It is unfortunately likely that undue pressure has been and continues to be brought to bear on them (including those displayed ‘confessing’ and ‘repenting’.

‘Torture is probably unavoidable in the cases [of the still-detained]. Torture is just part of the system in China… [Someone who was released] believes that those who have not been released yet have suffered worse torture [than he], because they are more central figures in these cases.’[26]

Another concern was the possibility of de facto secret trials resulting from forced or faked lawyer ‘dismissals,’ even though the lawyers purportedly ‘dismissed’ refused to abandon their clients.

‘Legally speaking, it would have to be the client themselves issuing the dismissal. Emotionally, we all know these people… We’re emotionally connected, and we have the same ideals. We borrow and learn from each other in our legal defence work. So in a situation where they are facing the calamity of imprisonment, there is no way [the detained lawyers] would let the Lawyers’ Association find a completely unknown lawyer for them [in our stead]. And again, from a legal point of view, the Lawyers’ Association can only be approached for a recommendation when the detained suspect does not know any lawyer they could appoint…it is just unconvincing, legally, emotionally, and in terms of common sense.’[27]

Some interlocutors believe that the in substance extremely weak prosecution cases against their colleagues and friends might succeed (in a manner of speaking) if the entire criminal process from detention/abduction to final conviction remained effectively secret, with no public access whatsoever. This might be the reason why the authorities did not resort to refusing access to counsel on the grounds that the cases involved ‘endangering state security.’

‘If they used that reason, they would only be able to block access to counsel during the [police] ‘investigation’ period, but not after public indictment, before the trial hearing…So, what is the point of now telling us that they have appointed [other] lawyers already? It means that we, the families and so on, don’t get to participate in the procedure from beginning to end, because they do not recognize our status. This is very bad news. It means that the families and our own lawyers may not get to know anything at all about the entire process. They can go through first and second instance – they can finish the entire trial without us ever knowing a thing. They can make the trial hearing non-public on ‘state security’ grounds, exclude the family members as witnesses, and only let people attend who don’t understand what is going on…[in that case] we might not find out what happened to them, until they are released from prison. That’s what we really fear.’[28]

In the eyes of the interlocutors, this would be the worst possible outcome. It would be the scenario most likely to allow the authorities to convict those in this process of state security crimes and impose harsh punishments,[29] another feared outcome; and it was the reason why they felt it was important to insist on their status as criminal defence lawyers.

I was sometimes left struggling to understand how, in the face of so many difficulties, the lawyers, friends and family I spoke to managed to stay positive. All the lawyers, rights defenders, friends and family I contacted were happy to meet. Several pointed out that whatever promises had been extracted from them did not bind them, legally or morally. As always, they seemed eager to speak, to come together and work on the cases of their lawyer colleagues, as well as the cases their colleagues had been forced to abandon when detained. And while some of my interlocutors were old friends, there were others I met for the first time because, at a time when all of their ‘rights lawyer’ colleagues already known to the authorities had been warned not to get involved, they had come forward to take on the criminal defence of a colleague in detention, becoming ‘rights lawyers’ themselves at what seemed like the worst possible moment to join these circles. Perhaps, the very fact that my interlocutors were so willing to meet and put their views and experience on record is part of what explains their resilience. They feel sure that history is on their side.

 

[1] Conversation #120-16-1.

[2] Conversation #120-16-1.

[3] Conversation #120-16-1.

[4] For example the social media app ‘Telegram’ widely used amongst rights defenders, was suspended for a short period at the beginning of the crackdown, in addition to the existing intensive control of digital expression. Also, as of mid-April 2016, ‘Telegram’ was heavily firewalled and only partly functional, with human rights defender circles apparently specially affected.  In addition, the authorities used mobile phones to track target persons down.

[5] Conversation #121-16-1.

[6] Conversation #138-16-1.

[7] Conversations #137-16-1, 138-16-1.

[8] Conversations #137-16-1; #138-16-1.

[9] Conversation #129-16-2, #121-16-1; #121-16-1; #137-16-1

[10] Conversation #137-16-1. Similar: e.g. conversations #121-16-1; #138-16-1.

[11] Screenshot on file with author (April 2016).

[12] Conversation #121-16-1

[13] Conversation #124-16-1.

[14] Conversations #125-16-1; #128-16-1 and 129-16-1.

[15] Conversation #138-16-1. This is not to say that the authorities did not attempt to put pressure on the defendants in these cases, for example, in Hu Jia’s case.

[16] See e.g. Cao Yin, ‘Lawyers “tried to influence verdicts”,’’13 July 2015,; CCTV 13, 北京锋锐律所“维权”黑幕利益链调查, 19 July 2015, 北京锋锐律所“维权”黑幕利益链调查; CCTV Dialogue, Interview with Global Times Editor Hu Jinin, 8 May 2016 .

[17] Some of the legal workers were also shown apparently recriminating colleagues. A lawyer commented, ‘Probably this video-clip was made when the domestic security police goaded [the detained lawyer] to talk about matters ‘unrelated to business’ and got him to make a few remarks about [his colleague]…and edited the recording to turn it into what looks like a denunciation. Conversation #121-16-1.

[18] Comments in conversation #129-16-1.

[19] Conversation #124-16-1.

[20] Conversation #122-16-1.

[21] Conversation #121-16-1, #122-16-1.

[22] E.g. conversations #138-16-1; 128-16-1.

[23] Conversation #121-16-1.

[24] Conversation #122-16-1/

[25] Conversations #120-16-1; #122-16-1.

[26] Conversation #122-16-1.

[27] Conversation #128-16-1.

[28] Conversation #129-16-1.

[29] E.g. Conversation #129-16-1.

 

Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).

 


Related:

China’s Shattered Dream for the Rule of Law, One Year On, a statement by the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 8, 2016.