RSDL round-up for December

This is a monthly round-up of all news related to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) in China. It includes updates on victims, legal developments and commentary on China’s legalized practice of “Enforced Disappearances.”

 

Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers

Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years

Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers

Hong Kong victims of RSDL

Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state

 

Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers

 

On 26 December, the trials of lawyer Xie Yang and human rights activist Wu Gan, two of the more prominent victims of RSDL and the 709 crackdown (a politically-motivated purge of human rights lawyers that began in summer 2015), were finally held, 2.5 years after they had first been disappeared. While Wu was handed a harsh sentence of eight years for subversion, widely thought to be punishment for ridiculing officials and his strident refusal to confess, Xie Yang, accused of the lesser crime of incitement to subversion, was released without punishment because he had earlier confessed. Wu Gan’s eight-year sentence is the harshest handed down so far to the victims of the 709 crackdown; according to an eyewitness he mocked the court after the verdict.

 

I am “grateful to the Party for granting me this lofty honor… I will remain true to our original aspiration, roll up my sleeves and make an extra effort,” Wu reportedly said, a sarcastic reference to Xi’s frequent overtures to Party members.

 

While Xie’s sentencing was broadcast on the court’s Weibo (watch it here), Wu’s was a closed trial and no live video was released. Chinachange noted that a short clip released later of Wu’s trial had been doctored with footage from a hearing recorded in the summer, testament to their inability to control the outspoken activist.

 

Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

For China Law & Policy, Elizabeth Lynch points out after Xie and Wu there is still one more lawyer unaccounted for, Wang Quanzhang.

 

Neither his wife, family, nor the lawyers hired by his family have been able to meet with him and no trial has been set for Wang… While Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s fates will be known tomorrow, it is the unknown of what is happening to Wang Quanzhang – and why – that is most alarming. Denied access to lawyers, unable to meet with family, no speedy trial, how is this a country with a rule of law?

 

Radio Free Asia reported on 6 December that two lawyers appointed by his family were not allowed to visit him at his Tianjin detention centre. As Wang languishes in detention, he was one of three finalists for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip Award for individuals or organizations that use innovative ways to promote human rights. He has also been nominated for the Frontline Defenders 2018 Human Rights Award.

 

Meanwhile, Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Citizen Award on 9 December for continuing to campaign for her husband inside China. Our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, is dedicated to Lawyer Wang.

 

 

Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years

 

At the end of November, a Chinese court sentenced Taiwanese NGO worker, Lee Ming-che, to five years for “subverting state power.” Lee was kidnapped by Chinese security back in March as he crossed from Macau into the mainland, but he was not formally charged until May and had no access to his family members until his trial in September. It was the first time that a Taiwanese national was prosecuted on this charge in China and was widely interpreted as a threat both to Taiwan and overseas NGO workers in the country.

 

Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers

 

Also at the end of November, the New York Times reported that Chinese president Xi Jinping was proposing to set up “a new anticorruption agency with sweeping powers to sidestep the courts and lock up anyone on the government payroll for months without access to a lawyer ” – a kind of special RSDL for officials. The move looks odd when just a month ago, Xi had pledged to scrap a similar secretive security system, called shuanggui ­ which oversees Party members. Xi’s new anti-corruption agency would have jurisdiction over the whole public sector, the newspaper added, of up to 62 million people, many of whom are not Party members.

 

Hong Kong victims of RSDL

 

Returning to the theme of non-mainland victims of RSDL, in One Country, Two Prison Systems, Hong Kong Free Press focused on Hong Kongers caught up in China’s murky legal system. Two RSDL victims, bookseller Lam Wing-kee and journalist Ching Cheong told the website about their horrific experiences of RSDL. Lam said the constant interrogations and berating made him “contemplate suicide,” while Ching was kept in “solitary confinement, in a room sealed with black curtains for 100 days.”

 

 

Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state

 

There have been mounting concerns over the health of Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Prize wining dissident Liu Xiaobo. On 17 December, The Guardian reports that she sent a letter in the form of a poem to writer Herta Mueller in which she says she is “going mad.” Liu Xiaobo himself was a victim of an earlier form of RSDL, while for years Liu Xia was kept a virtual prisoner even though she was never charged with a crime and since her husband’s death this summer, she has effectively been disappeared by the Chinese state.

 

“I have not the right to speech

To speak loudly

I live like a plant

I lie like a corpse.” Liu Xia.

The disappeared: Accounts from inside China’s secret prisons

One lawyer, one scholar and one Swedish human rights advocate share the same fate: they were all kidnapped and disappeared by the Chinese state. Locked for weeks and months in secret jails, completely cut off from the world and forced to confess on camera for crimes they did not commit.

 

Credit: CNN. Sui Muqing (far left), Peter Dahlin, and Chen Taihe.

 

Earlier this month, CNN reported their stories in the context of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ramped up crackdown on human rights. This is the story of China’s “legalized” Black Jails.

 

Watch the video here.

 

Two of these men, Sui Muqing and Peter Dahlin wrote first-person accounts of their ordeals in our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.

 

 

I didn’t see sunlight for six months

 

Last week we republished extracts from Lawyer Xie Yanyi’s ((谢燕益) record of secret detention under China’s Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and originally translated by China Change.

 

This week, we are staying with Lawyer Xie and posting a link to a rare interview to camera he gave to a BBC journalist in Beijing earlier this year.

 

Xie was eventually released in January 2017, months later Chinese security still keep Xie’s apartment under surveillance. The BBC had to sneak in the back way.  Of the many 709 lawyers who were persecuted in 2015 and in the years afterward, Lawyer Xie, a softly-spoken father of two young children, is one of the very few who continue to speak out.

 

Watch his BBC interview here.

 

About Xie Yanyi

 

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for staying on as Central Military Commission Chairman after he stepped down from power. He has also represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures and has published articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.

 

 

Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under RSDL and was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.

 

RSDL Resources

residential surveillance at a designated location

Legal name: Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (or Place); RSDL; and in Chinese, 指定居所监视居住

Well-known victims: Ai Weiwei, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, Wang Yu, the Hong Kong booksellers, Peter Dahlin, Lee Ming-che

Related human rights issues: Torture, threats to family, denial of access to  lawyer,  forced medication, sleep and food deprivation, delayed sentencing, forced confessions pre-trial and at trial, secret trial, delayed trial, and non-release release

 

Legal

  • RSDL in Chinese law (articles 72 to 77 are relevant): ChinaLawTranslate,: Criminal Procedure Law (2012), 8 April 2013
  • Oversight of RSDL in Chinese law: ChinaLawTranslate: Provisions on People’s Procuratorates’ Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location,  14 July 2016
  • Enforced disappearances in international law: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner:International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances
  • Elizabeth M Lynch: China Law & PolicyCodifying Illegality? The Case of Jiang Tianyong, 20 January 2017
  • Jerome Cohen: Jerry’s Blog:Disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer: what it means to be placed under “residential surveillance” in China, 26 December 2016
  • Margaret K. Lewis: China Law and Policy:Who Will Be Watched: Margaret K. Lewis on China’s New CPL & Residential Surveillance , 25 September 2015

General

  •  Does China’s New Detention Law Matter, China Digital Times, 13 March 2013
  • What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’, Yaqiu Wang, Chinachange, 2 August 2015
  • New Type of Detention Marks China’s Intensifying Crackdown on Civil Society, Jojje Olsson, Taiwan Sentinel, 15 May 2017
  • Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place, Wikipedia
  • Arrested, Detained: A Guide to Navigating China’s Police Powers, Stanley Lubman, Wall Street Journal, 12 August 2014

 

Human rights reviews & reports

  • Congressional-Executive Commission on China annual reports, 2016 and 2017 include dedicated sections on RSDL under Criminal Justice chapter
  • Prevention of Torture: concerns with the use of ‘residential confinement in a designated residence’, report by the Rights Practice in relation to the fifth periodic report from China, submitted to the Committee Against Torture, 56 Session, Sep- Dec 2015

 

Victim stories

  • CHRD update on arbitrary detention and torture of Chinese lawyer Xie Yang, China Human Rights Defenders, 20 February 2017
  • China lawyer recounts torture under Xi’s ‘war on law’, John Sudworth, BBC, 26 October 2017
  • The disappeared: Accounts from inside China’s secret prisons, Chieu Luu and Matt Rivers, CNN, 27 November 2017

 

Commentary

  • Legalizing the Tools of Repression, Nicholas Bequelin, The New York Times, 29 February 2012
  • China’s secret detention of lawyers threatens the rule of law, William Nee, Hong Kong Free Press, 29 September 2015
  • The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, Michael Caster, The Diplomat, 6 December 2015

 

Books 

 

United Nations Treaties and Bodies 

A number of UN treaties and their associated bodies (with which complaints can be filed) cover the human rights violations associated with RSDL. They are:

China status: not a signatory

China status: signed, but not ratified

China status: ratified.

 

 

 

Starved, beaten, and forcibly medicated: Xie Yanyi’s story of RSDL (part II)

This is part two of Xie Yanyi’s RSDL story. For part one please click here.

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for refusing to quit as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2002 when he stepped down as leader. He has represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures. Xie is also known for publishing articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.

 

Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location where he was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.

 

China Change has kindly given us permission to use Xie’s story which is an extract taken from A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China (Chinese language) that he posted after his release.  This version for RSDLMonitor is slightly edited for style.

 

Different ways to torment

 

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 [an informal network of lawyers in China] , 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 these 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.

 

 

Xie’s one tiny freedom

 

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 2 or 3m between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand km during my six months of secret detention. At first walking was one of the greatest pleasures, but later on I walked so much I hurt the ligaments in my knees. But still I told myself to keep walking. I was afraid that they would take away this one small freedom from me.

 

In February or March 2016, Lieutenant Yan and Officer Li came and had me inventory my credit cards, bank cards, ID card, household registration, and personal records, and had me sign a statement about my confiscated possessions. They said as soon as I signed they would send everything back to my wife. I noticed right away they didn’t have a laundry list of the items, yet this document I had to sign stated that “all of the above-mentioned items were on my person [at the time of my detention].” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I objected immediately. It was summer when they detained me and I was only wearing shorts. I had had nothing on me besides my keys and some loose change. In any case, it makes no sense for anyone to carry his or her household registration and personal files. But if I didn’t sign they wouldn’t send anything back.

 

My wife had to care for our three children and she doesn’t work. She needed those documents. I had no choice but to sign. When I got out, however, I saw that hundreds of thousands of yuan had vanished from my bank account. I heard that Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), lawyer Xie Yang’s wife (谢阳), also saw all her savings evaporate overnight. To this day, the bank has been evading my inquiries about my account activities during my detention.

 

Vest number 166

 

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.

 

Notes of repentance

 

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.”

 

“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 2 or 3m between my two minders. By my rough estimate, I must have walked at least a couple of thousand km during my six months of secret detention.”

 

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.

 

Daddy hopes you will remember that conscience has no price

 

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.”

 

Tormented 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 [a Buddhist prayer] 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 Location

 

This coercive practice known as “Residential Surveillance at a Designated [Location]” is probably rooted in intra-Party struggles and corruption investigations. In recent years it has spread and been legalized. In Party parlance this form of custody is known as “double designation” (双规) or “to be isolated and investigated.” It can be perverse or straightforward, lax or strict. It all depends on the demands and preferences of whoever’s in charge. It is essentially domestic discipline—extrajudicial punishment.

 

When you are under residential surveillance at a designated location, 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.

 

Questions for Tianjin Public Security Bureau Zhao Fei

 

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.

 

“When you are under residential surveillance at a designated location… there is no outside mechanism to monitor the process… 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.”

 

 

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 the 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?

 

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?

Starved, beaten, and forcibly medicated: Xie Yanyi’s story of RSDL (part 1)

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a prominent and outspoken human rights lawyer based in Beijing. He gained notoriety in 2003 when he attempted to sue former Chinese President Jiang Zemin for staying on as Central Military Commission Chairman after he stepped down from power. He has also represented rights activists and villagers battling illegal land seizures and has published articles supporting freedom of speech and democracy for China.

 

Xie was disappeared along with hundreds of other lawyers and activists in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location where he was beaten, starved, tortured and forced to take “medicine”. He was incarcerated for 553 days, during which time his wife gave birth to their baby daughter and his mother died.

 

China Change has kindly given us permission to use Xie’s story which is an extract taken from A Record of 709 Crackdown and 100 Questions about Peaceful Democracy in China (Chinese language) that he posted after his release. This version for RSDLMonitor is slightly edited for style.

 

Suffocating in the black hood

 

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.

 

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 long 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 padded room

 

When they were done inspecting me they had me turn to face them, then started 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.

 

I sized up the room. It was not quite 20 sqm. 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.

 

“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.”

 

 

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.

 

Xie goes on hunger strike

 

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, wearing glasses, 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.

 

 

Xie Yanyi.

 

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 that I be allowed to write to my wife,  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.

 

Torture begins after transfer to Tianjin

 

Just before noon on 8 September 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 (PAP) 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.

 

Howling from the room upstairs

 

At about 9 am on 1 October, 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 1 to 10 October, 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.

 

Xie is force-fed pills

 

After I was transferred to Tianjin, it was around October when they suddenly started giving me daily checkups. They would take my blood pressure and check my heart rate. I could tell they were nervous. Every other week or two they would bring in an electrocardiogram and check my heart. With this change I realized some among us must have started having health problems.

 

There was a Director Zhou, and a doctor who I think was named Liu He, who examined me. Every doctor and nurse was expressionless and stony-faced, like robots. They did not interact with me beyond routine business, and I never felt a drop of good will from them. I had no way of knowing their names or identities. This was terrifying. They did whatever the higher-ups told them to do, regardless of how I felt about it. If I made a request of any kind, they either would ask the special investigators for instructions or simply not respond at all. You would think they were angels in white, but the more I saw them, the more they seemed like devils in white.

 

While in Tianjin, nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine. Every day a physician would bring the medicine, and every time they would shine a flashlight in my throat to make sure I’d swallowed. It was about four white pills each time. They said I had elevated transaminases and that it could be a problem with my liver. But I’m a vegetarian. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I’m in good health and haven’t had any health problems. I’m also not in the habit of taking medicine. I think everyone’s body is unique. Even if a certain indicator is high for someone else, for me that same reading could be just fine.

 

 

“Nearly all of the 709 detainees, as I’ve since learned, were forced to take medicine.”

 

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 to give in. After about two months the medicine stopped.

 

The block that crippled

 

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, and the 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 am to 10 pm.

 

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.

 

You can read the second part of Xie’s story here

Shining a light onto the abuses of the Chinese state

6 December 2017 – The main driving force behind this new book of first-person stories of China’s state-sanctioned kidnappings is Michael Caster, a US human rights advocate and researcher. While Michael himself was never detained, he used to work with Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin, whose own story of abuse under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) is detailed in Chapter 5 in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared. The two men ran a legal aid NGO called China Action from Beijing, which helped provide funding and logistical support for barefoot lawyers.

 

Here Michael explains why he thinks it is so important for this book to be made now and why we should all start caring about this new chilling tool of abuse.

 

Q: You were the main driving force behind this book. Can you explain why The People’s Republic of the Disappeared was written and published now?

 

The driving force was to help the world see that RSDL is far from a softer form of detention but another piece in China’s totalitarian apparatus of terror and control.

 

Q: The people who volunteered their stories for The People’s Republic of the Disappeared did so at considerable risk to themselves. Can you tell us why you think they agreed in the end?

 

At the end of her chapter, (human rights lawyer) Wang Yu writes:

 

I have often wanted to write about my experiences. But so often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time.

 

These stories are about memorialization, about providing testimony against the abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government against its own people. And they are about healing.

 

Those who agreed to share their stories are people who have already made great sacrifices as rights defenders, and in agreeing to share their stories they have continued to make sacrifices for others. These stories provide great context for international condemnation and advocacy, in that by showing the systematic nature of abuses they fuel international pressure for China to abolish RSDL. But, they also provide some guidance, some insight for those rights defenders who still might find themselves picked up and disappeared into the RSDL system. And in that sense they offer some degree of protection.

 

Q: The people in this book are human rights defenders – lawyers, activists and so on. What kinds of things do they do that make the authorities put them into RSDL?

 

In an authoritarian system, the law exists, where it exists at all, to protect and further the interests of the Party. What these rights defenders have done to end up inside RSDL is merely to have attempted to work within the confines of the law to protect the rights of Chinese citizens.

 

“Under international law there are no circumstances that permit for enforced disappearances, and yet that is exactly what China has done with RSDL.” [Michael Caster].

 

Q: Who is RSDL targeted at? And roughly since 2013 how many people have been subjected to this chilling practice?

 

In principle, RSDL is reserved for crimes related to endangering national security, involving terrorist activities, or those involving significant bribes. The stories of RSDL in this book show that it is clearly being used to target the human rights community. It is a calculated tool of repression.

 

I think what is more important to emphasize than the total number of people to have passed through RSDL is the systematic nature of RSDL. Especially in these stories, we see a certain predictability of suffering, in both means and consequences. It is not as much a matter of how many people have been subjected to this chilling practice, but the cold, calculated, planning behind its legislation and implementation.

 

Q: China legalized RSDL in 2013. Can you briefly explain why you think it did this?

 

For more than a decade, China has been experimenting with administrative, criminal, and extrajudicial procedures to remove, silence, detain, imprison, and disappear regime opponents, from the Custody and Repatriation system of the early 2000s or the use of Black Jails that followed. Effectively RSDL represents China’s effort to mask enforced disappearances behind the veneer of the rule of law.

 

 

Q: Before it was legalized, China’s enforced disappearances still took place in Black Jails and other locations. Why is RSDL worse than this situation?

 

Black Jails were an extrajudicial system for detaining and disappearing regime opponents. They existed purely in the shadows. But RSDL is worse in that it represents the efforts of the state to legalize the impermissible. Under international law there are no circumstances that permit for enforced disappearances, and yet that is exactly what China has done with RSDL.

 

English and Chinese versions of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.

 

Q: At the 19th Party Congress in late 2017, president Xi Jinping said he would scrap the secret internal disciplinary system of shuanggui – a kind of RSDL for Party members. Does that give you any hope that RSDL will be abandoned?

 

No. As we have seen many times before, when one system of abuse is abandoned another simply comes in its place. Even if Shuanggui is scrapped, something else will rise in its place. And as for RSDL, the vocabulary in the National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020), and the noted expansion of facilities dedicated to RSDL, indicate there is little intention to slow the use of RSDL in Xi Jinping’s second term.

 

Q: Some people may argue while enforced disappearances appears repugnant to many outside China, it is a legal custodial system under Chinese law and there is not a lot we can do about it. On what legal basis can other countries and international bodies urge Beijing to change?

 

Slavery was legal in the United States long after it had been criminalized by much of the rest of the world. Apartheid was legal in South Africa and yet the world galvanized in opposition to its repulsiveness. Slavery, torture, enforced disappearances, these are considered so vile that they are an insult to humanity at large. There is a universal obligation to speak out against them, and in some circumstances a universal obligation to intervene. This is all the more pressing in cases where torture has taken place, and torture is certainly systematic within RSDL.

 

Q: What do you hope that this book will achieve?

 

I hope this book will shine a light onto the abuses of the Chinese state, and encourage more people around the world to demand action from their leaders in holding the Chinese state accountable to its flagrant violations of human rights law and cruelty toward its people. The point of this book was to provide a thorough picture of what it means to disappear in China because frankly too many people were still unaware or indifferent to what RSDL actually represented.