“These are dangerous days,
To say what you feel
Is to make your own grave”
– Sinead O’Conner, BLACK BOYS ON MOPEDS.
– Sinead O’Conner, BLACK BOYS ON MOPEDS.
WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.
In 2001, the Ministry of Justice listed my husband, Gao Zhisheng, as one of the top 10 lawyers in China. But when he began representing members of religious groups persecuted by the government, he became a target himself. His law license was revoked, and our family placed under constant surveillance. In 2006, he was convicted of inciting subversion based on a confession he made after his interrogators threatened our two children. He received a suspended sentence, but was briefly detained again a year later for writing an open letter to the United States Congress documenting human rights abuses in China.
Zhisheng wouldn’t give up his work, and yet he was frightened for me and our children, so I fled with them to asylum in the United States. Soon after we left, in February 2009, he was seized by security officials, and that time held without charges for more than a year. International pressure persuaded the government to release him. But two weeks later, as soon as the world’s attention moved elsewhere, he was abducted again. That was last April. No one has heard from him since.
We have good cause to fear that he is suffering. My husband has been tortured many times. In 2007, officials subjected him to electric shocks, held lighted cigarettes up to his eyes and pierced his genitals with toothpicks. In 2009, the police beat him with handguns for two days. He has been tied up and forced to sit motionless for hours, threatened with death and told that our children were having nervous breakdowns.
Though his treatment has been especially harsh, my husband is only one of many political prisoners in China. Among them are Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, and his wife, Liu Xia, who is under house arrest. A human rights group reports that more than a hundred bloggers and rights advocates have been interrogated or detained in connection to the “Jasmine Revolution.” And especially ominous have been the disappearances of other prominent human rights lawyers, like Jiang Tianyong, Teng Biao and Tang Jitian.
In President Obama’s speech to the United Nations last year, he said that “freedom, justice and peace for the world must begin with freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings.” The Chinese government must not be allowed to claim that China is a nation operating under the rule of law while persecuting those who try to ensure that it respects the law. And when the government silences dissent, the international community must speak up.
Indeed, I am excited to have just learned that the United Nations has demanded that my husband be released, and hopeful that it will take a stand for the other prisoners as well. I appeal to Mr. Obama — a father, lawyer and leader of the country that has become my family’s new home — to make sure it does so. At the very least, he should ask President Hu Jintao to let Zhisheng contact us.
If he has been killed, we should be allowed the dignity of laying him to rest.
Geng He is the wife of a human rights lawyer missing in China. This essay was translated from the Chinese.
On Dec. 23, the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Forced Disappearance came into force. China has declined to accede to this convention. My experience that same day is just one of many examples of how the authorities continue to falsely imprison Chinese citizens.
That evening, I was in the Xizhimen area of Beijing chatting with my colleagues Piao Xiang, Xu Zhiyong and Zhang Yongpan. Ms. Piao had been disappeared after she and I went to Dandong on Oct. 7 to argue the court case of Leng Guoquan, a man framed by the police for drug trafficking; she had only been released on Dec. 20. Her abductors had been officers from the state security squad of the Public Security Bureau. I asked her to narrate the entire process of her disappearance in detail.
Later, I suggested to Mr. Zhang, “Let’s go and see Fan Yafeng’s mom.” The day before, we had contacted fellow human rights lawyer Fan Yafeng and found out that he was under strict house arrest. But he had said that his mother was going to be alone at home in the evening and so I thought we should go see her.
Because I used to go there frequently I remembered clearly where she lived. As Mr. Zhang and I entered the block of flats and started walking up the staircase, I had a feeling that someone was following us. Observing that we went to the third floor, a young security guard asked us whom we were visiting. We said, “We’re seeing a friend.” Immediately, he called out for someone else to come up.
We knocked on the door and were greeted by Mr. Fan’s mother. But as we entered the flat, the security guard came with us, and a person in plainclothes stormed in just behind him. The man in plainclothes demanded to check our IDs in a very coarse manner. I asked him in a loud voice, “What sort of people are you? How can you enter a private residence without permission?”
The plainclothes man said, “I am a police officer. We want to check your ID cards.” “You’re a police officer? I want to see your police ID.” “If I am telling you I’m a police officer, then that’s what I am. What are you doing here?” “Is that your business? How can you prove you’re a police officer if you don’t show your police ID card?”
The situation was escalating. I ducked my head and used my phone to send out a message on Twitter, and Mr. Zhang made a phone call to a friend. It was then about half past eight. The plainclothes guy made a phone call asking for reinforcement. Later I learned that at that moment our own reinforcements were mobilizing.
Two police officers showed up. One of them showed us his police ID. I asked Mr. Zhang to note down his police ID number and name, Shi Ligang, and pass it on to our Twitter friends. Then they wanted to check our IDs. I said, “According to Article 15 of the National Identity Card Law you have no right to check them in the present situation.”
He said, “We are conducting an investigation in accordance with the People’s Police Law.” I said, “You can only question people who are suspected of having broken a law. We’ve just come to a friend’s home for a visit, so you have no right to question us.”
We quarreled for some time, and that state security squad officer in plainclothes kept making phone calls asking for more people to come over. The situation was getting worse, so I sent another Twitter message.
I talked to Mr. Fan’s mother and the older state security squad officer told her not to speak to me. I got angry. “You’re not even disclosing your identity, do you think you can enter other people’s flat as you please and order the flat-owner about—not to mention that that’s illegal, it lacks every human feeling!”
“You should think more clearly. Don’t talk so much about the law with me. Do you know where we are? We are on Communist Party territory!”
The state security squad officer later tried to beat me. I warned him, “As you haven’t shown me any documentation, you don’t even have the right to seek a conversation with me. Don’t push me.” Then he said, “Don’t you know what place you are in? This is China! Now you’ve come here, don’t think you can leave again!”
Getty ImagesMr. Teng, a lawyer, unpleasantly discovered that China’s police actually operates outside the law.
After about 15 minutes, a large contingent of police officers arrived. I was in the washroom at the time. I could hear the police dragging Mr. Zhang forcefully downstairs. The plainclothes man banged madly at the door of the washroom, cracking a hole into the thin wooden panel of the door. I said, “I just want to use the washroom!” He said, “You’re not allowed to,” and kept banging against the door. He inserted his hand through the hole he had made, and undid the latch. Several police officers dragged me out. The state security squad officer took away my glasses. I am severely near-sighted, and as a result I was quite unable to see clearly. Later, I wasn’t even able to read a police officer’s ID number.
I protested loudly against this treatment. A whole group of police officers pushed, shoved, pulled and dragged me down the stairs and into a police van. Mr. Zhang’s glasses and mobile phone had also been taken away. As we were dragged away we were also beaten. My hand had been grabbed so violently that it was injured in a few places. A police officer wanted to take away my mobile phone, I resisted with all my force and he eventually desisted.
When we arrived at the Shuangyushu police station, I said, “You have no right to take us into a police station. You can’t be ignorant of the provision of Article 9 of the Police Law!”
“Want to tell us what it says?”
“‘In the following four sets of circumstances, the police may take citizens to a public security bureau for questioning: (1) if the person has been accused of having committed a crime, (2) if a person has been discovered at the suspected scene of a crime, (3) if a person is suspected of a crime and if their identity is not clear, (4) if a person carries goods with them that may have been stolen.” And if you want to check a person’s ID card, you can only do that in the following cases: (1) suspicion of illegal behavior, (2) control of a site, (3) sudden incidents severely endangering the social order, or (4) other situations stipulated in the law – and such a law stipulating other situations must have been passed by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee.” I knew this stuff inside out.
“But you are a person ‘whose identity is unclear.'”
“But according to the law, persons whose identity is unclear can only be checked if they are ‘suspected of having committed a crime.’ I don’t belong in that category.” Since there are more and more activists nowadays who are familiar with these two legal provisions and use them to challenge the police, I’ve been told by police officers that they hate the very bones of the legislators who created them.
Mr. Zhang and I were taken to two different rooms on the second floor of the police station. A gang of police officers again came to wrestle my mobile phone from me; and there was another scuffle. All the things inside my pocket were taken out. I protested. Seven or eight police officers loudly insulted me. Two or three were swearing especially viciously, using mafia slang words to curse me.
A police officer shouted at me to sit; I pushed the chair over with my foot. Several officers rushed forward and twisted my arms, punched my head and choked me, and pushed me to the ground. They took me to another room. In the corridor I cried out, “I am a law teacher, I know whether or not you are violating the law.” I said this primarily to make them understand that they were dealing with someone who knew the law, to make them refrain from acting rashly and inflicting too much pain—and it was also meant for the ears of Mr. Zhang and the officers who were interrogating him.
Several police officers pushed me into a corner and one guy came up and fiercely dragged at my tie until he finally managed to pull it off, and threw it to the floor. The police officers pointed at my nose and coarsely swore at me again, and again they cried, “Do you know where you are? If we beat you, what can you do?”
After a while, a police officer came in and said that we had been detained because we had gone to Fan Yafeng’s home. One officer, who I heard addressed as Xu Ping, went from merely loudly interrogating to roaring accusations at me: “O ho, that’s how it is! In that case, you belong to the enemy! F- your mother, you went to see Fan Yafeng! That c-! In that case we don’t have to talk about legal constraints at all! And you motherf- won’t get out of here again! You traitors, you dogs! Counter-revolutionaries! The Communist Party feeds you and pays you and you still don’t acknowledge how good it is! You keep insulting the Party!… We will treat you just like an enemy!”
I was very curious. “How do you treat your enemies?”
“Like Falun Gong!”
“And how do you treat Falun Gong?”
“You’ll find out by and by.”
I felt a pang of horror.
But they got no answers out of me—a total failure. Officer Xu, while asking me questions, kept kicking my legs. I said, “Be a little more civilized!”
Then he said, “So what if I act like this, what can you do! In other matters I will actually still be afraid that someone might complain. But you here, you are an enemy. We can beat you and swear at you and if you complain, it will be useless even if you complain to the Ministry of Public Security!” I thought, this little police officer is younger than 30, how is he so well versed in the Maoist doctrine of the “contradiction between the enemy and us”?
A tall plainclothes officer was getting impatient and said loudly to Officer Xu: “Why waste words on this sort of person? Let’s beat him to death and dig a hole to bury him in and be done with it. How lucky we’ve got a place to put him away here.” Turning to me, he said, “Think your family can find you if you’re disappeared? Tell me, what difference would it make if you vanished from Beijing?” Later he whispered to Officer Xu, “Put him away in the hotel!” I could not hear clearly what hotel he meant, but from the context I assumed he was referring to that “place to bury you.”
I knew they were not just joking, and I felt like a small ant that could be annihilated any moment without a trace. And yet I was not that scared. For one thing, I had already sent out a message on the Internet, and for another, they had by that time also taken my ID card out of my bag and realized that I was a teacher at the China University of Politics and Law.
This special status was the reason why I was not beaten more severely, and why they did not “dig a hole to bury me.” And it is true: I had disclosed this information to the police officers, albeit half-consciously, to avoid being beaten more severely. If it had not been for my status as a teacher at CUPL, a doctor with a degree from Peking University, a famous human rights lawyer, a visiting scholar at Yale, could I still have shown as much courage? I very much doubt it.
I felt ashamed of my status and the differential treatment I was enjoying on account of them. I even felt that if the police didn’t succeed in burying me they would vent their rage against some other disobedient person. Any pain that I was being spared was sure to be inflicted on another, more helpless victim at some point.
How much terror, humiliation and despair do ordinary people suffer who get locked up in police stations, re-education through labour camps, investigation detention cells, custody and repatriation cells, and black jails in the face of a bunch of police officers who regard a person’s life like a blade of grass and treat ordinary people as foes? Police officers across the country threatening to “beat you to death and dig a hole to bury you,” how many people do they actually beat to death or beat until they are disabled?
It was almost midnight when the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau sent round some officers who said they wanted to take me away. They returned my glasses, mobile phone and other things. I told them that I would only leave together with the friend who had been detained with me.
After some more argument, they led me and Mr. Zhang to a car. Someone called my name, and I immediately recognized some netizens. I could not get out of the car but I shook hands with them through the window. Later I learned that many others had also rushed to the scene. An unknown number of netizen friends had expressed support on the Internet and passed on the news. Maybe that is the main reason why we were so quickly released.
On the way back home, a Beijing state security officer complained to me, “If everybody fought with them using your methods, the police would have no way of continuing their work! How many fewer common thieves they’d be able to catch!”
I replied, “If the law-enforcers don’t act in accordance with the law, what use are they really to citizens? Police should catch thieves, but can those who ‘beat you to death and dig a hole for you’ still be called ‘police’? If people are fighting each other using my methods, maybe fewer common thieves will be caught, but fewer citizens will be beaten to death in police stations. In which of these two situations are society’s losses greater?”
Mr. Teng is a professor of law at China University of Politics and Law.
The other day, while running an errand, I decided to drive by the place which was once the 008 International Artist Community, sections A, B, and C (Wu Yuren used to live in section C, which is now abandoned, but still sort of standing. The other two sections are completely demolished and all debris removed, see photos below). I wanted to see what was left from the wrecking ball and to see what of the local community (non artist) was standing, if anything.
I discovered that the government pretty much demolished and completely removed all debris, bricks, windows, trees, and such from the sites. On my way to the 008 community, I had to pass by the Zhengyang Art Community, which is where the beating of the artists (including Wu and others) during the early hours of February 22nd 2010. It has also been mostly demolished, with some abandoned structures still standing. However, all buildings beside and across the road have been removed. The road, which used to be a winding single lane-cum-double lane, has been widened and paved over, and divided into an almost ‘highway’ through the area. It is almost as if the developers who will be re-developing the area now have a nice road to drive along and pick out their potential building site locations!
Otherwise, still waiting for the court to decide when the trial will resume…Basically, Wu Yuren is in jail illegally as the Police/Court/Government has not been able to produce a shred of genuine evidence against Wu, to legally convict him of “Obstructing Public Service with Violence”. Meanwhile, Hannah writes and draws little notes and pictures for her ‘baba’ almost daily, put a way in a folder for his release.
Stay tuned. However, Hannah and I are off to Thailand and HK Disneyland for 3 weeks from January 28th to February 20th, and so will be off line for most of it.
Chaoyang District Detention Center, 11:30 am
Today Lawyer Li Fangping went in to see Wu Yuren at the detention center, not specifically for anything, but to see how he was as he hadn’t visited him in close to a month. Li Fangping asked me to produce a small photo of Hannah so that the could show Dawu through the glass partition. So, I gave him a wee, postage size photo of Hannah in her football gear and wearing a medal around her neck, from an autumn football tournament. Alas, the guards and authorities would not let him take it in, despite it would just be held up and to the glass that separates the lawyer from the inmate. Whatever.
The visit was brief, but came away with some newsy items:
1. Dawu has not received any of the holiday greeting cards, unfortunately, that so many folks and friends around the globe had sent in over the past few weeks. Not sure where they are, nothing forth coming;
2. Since early January, Dawu has been complaining of intense headaches, so much that it makes it hard for him to concentrate and difficult to get up in the morning. He has asked for a CT, but so far, to no avail, but was once given some basic pain killers. Still, the pain persists. Upon regrouping with me and several of our supporters (Li Yangcai and Guo Ke, the camera man), we proceeded to write a letter to the authorities at the detention center asking for a doctor visit and a CT done on Dawu’s head. This could be an effect from the beating, which resulted in head injuries, he received while in custody of the police station on the evening of May 31st, 2010. However, we aren’t sure, hence the request for a doc and CT.
Otherwise, same old as usual. This time I decided to take some photos of the interior of the detention center where family members come to meet with lawyers, inquire about those inside, and submit clothing and money to the inmates. I was quickly told to stop making photos on my iphone.
Stay tuned, although we still have no idea when the trial will continue …
Take a look at this ‘teaser’ for the upcoming vid documentary on Ai Weiwei by Alison Klaymon. Looking forward to see the entire thing, but interesting to see this preview as it also includes a split second images of Wu and other’s march on Chang’an Avenue, Beijing, on February 22nd, 2010.
Lawyer Li Fangping is planning to visit Wu Yuren on Monday, January 1oth at 9:30am, to see how he is doing and to check and confirm if he has indeed received any of the holiday greeting cards, that so many friends and folks from around the world have mailed in. Let’s see what the outcome is. Stay tuned.
As for the when the trial is to resume, or whatever, we are still not sure.
In the meantime, I read and totally recommend those who are interested in the REAL China to read the book by Washington Post Correspondent, Philip Pan, called, “OUT OF MAO”S SHADOW”. It helped me to get a context on what has happened to Wu and to see that there is a systematic pattern to the way that the Chinese government ‘silences’ those who even try to open their mouth to speak a word of dissent. Great read. Hard read.