I thought I would share this personal and touching account of TENG Biao’s experience with being beaten and harassed in a local police station in Beijing. Brings to mind Wu’s case, as there are similarities in the way both men were handled, but if they let up on TENG because of his credentials, then why did let up on Wu? Read on…
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.