04 June 2010

Ma Ying-jeou's "Thoughts on June Fourth"

To mark the 21st anniversary of the crackdown on protesters in Beijing, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's office issued a statement earlier today, which I translate into English below:

Thoughts on June Fourth

Today is the 21st anniversary of the June Fourth Tiananmen incident.

We commemorate this day just as we commemorate Taiwan’s 1947 February 28 Incident and the white terror of the 1950s. We profoundly hope the mainland authorities will consider Taiwan’s experience and sincerely confront the major human rights incident of June Fourth—not only in learning the painful lessons and preventing tragedy from repeating itself, but also in taking necessary actions to provide comfort for the harm and redress for the injustice done to victims and their families.

Historically, in any conflict between a government and its people that results in bloodshed, the government must bear the primary responsibility because of its control over public power. The existence of a government is closely tied to the trust of its people. Whenever a government uses force against the people, it is not only the people who are harmed—the trust between government and people is damaged as well, such that a long time is needed to repair it. For this reason, any government facing such a problem must confront it courageously and seek reconciliation through great patience and forgiveness.

The peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese, all descendants of the Yellow Emperor. We ought to support each other and cooperate with sincerity. Setting aside human rights, about which there have been many criticisms from outside, the people of Taiwan have been deeply impressed by the way that the mainland authorities have in recent years begun to promote Chinese culture, develop the economy, and improve people’s standard of living. The improvement in cross-strait relations and the major decrease in tensions in the Taiwan Sea have received widespread approval from peoples on both sides of the Strait, as well as the international community.

Under these new historical conditions, we hope that the mainland authorities will take this opportunity to display new thinking on the subject of human rights and, with full sincerity and confidence, take steps to resolve the problems this major human rights incident has left behind and be more open-minded towards those holding different opinions. This will not only do much to enhance the trust felt by people on the mainland towards the mainland authorities; it will also help to narrow the human-rights gap between the two sides of the Strait and convince the people of the world that the rise of the Chinese mainland is not only peaceful, but also reflective of the universal values of freedom, democracy, and human rights.

18 May 2010

Where is Liu Xiaobo (and, more importantly, why)?

Edited 7 June 2010 to reflect the fact that Liu's province of birth is Jilin, not Liaoning. His hukou was transferred to Liaoning in the 1990s, reportedly after he and his first wife divorced.

We all remember that on Christmas Day last year, one of China's best known political dissidents, Liu Xiaobo, was convicted of inciting subversion and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Liu appealed that decision to the Beijing Municipality High People's Court, which upheld the lower court's verdict on 9 February of this year.

Under China's legal system, a defendant in a criminal trial has the right to appeal a decision only once, and the decision of the appellate court is final. Once that decision takes legal effect, we can normally expect commencement of the process of transfer from the detention center (run by the police) to a prison (managed by the local arm of the Ministry of Justice).

In Beijing, where Liu was convicted, this post-trial transfer process works a bit differently than in other parts of China, because special regulations in the capital restrict non-Beijing residents from serving their sentences in Beijing prisons. Convicted criminals whose place of household registration (hukou) is elsewhere are first held in a special "repatriation" detention center pending transfer to serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home provinces.

The verdict in Liu's case made clear that, despite having lived legally in Beijing for many years, his household registration remained in the province of his birth, Liaoning. (The fact that his status in Beijing could be considered "temporary"—an interpretation that, though not entirely convincing, has at least some basis in Chinese law—helps explain why Liu's initial six-month period of "residential surveillance" was not carried out in his home.) Under these circumstances, we should expect Liu to serve his sentence in a Liaoning prison.

But, as this Twitter post by the Chinese writer Yu Jie reminded us today, Liu Xiaobo remains in the Beijing Detention Center, where his wife and lawyers have reportedly been prevented from visiting him.This is highly unusual and, frankly, rather mysterious.

One would think the Chinese government wouldn't want to draw attention to Liu's situation by treating him differently for so long. Odd departures from expected and established practice invite all sorts of speculation—e.g., either Liu's being subjected to special punishment or a deal is in the works for some kind of early release. I don't happen to believe either of those scenarios are especially likely, but I must admit I'm hard-pressed to explain what's going on here.

12 April 2010

Zeng Jinyan's Appeal for Hu Jia (Translation)

I've done a very, very rough translation of the latest news regarding Hu Jia posted earlier today by his wife, Zeng Jinyan. There are some additional details (in Chinese) available on Zeng's Twitter feed.

Application for Medical Parole for Hu Jia Formally Rejected
The head of Beijing Prison Hospital called Hu's mother on 4/12, told her that Hu had been transferred back to prison on 4/9 and that the growth on his liver was a hemangioma [benign tumor of endothelial cells] and that his cirrhosis does not meet the conditions for medical parole. His high fever and diarrhea in March was diagnosed as "subclinical hyperthyroidism."

I have concerns about the statements of the prison authorities.

I subsequently contacted the prison administration department and requested written copies of all of Hu's medical records, but the prison administration department employee refused.

On April 8, when we spoke with the hospital director, the director of prison administration and the person responsible for medical parole, there was no indication that Hu would be released from hospital the next day. On the afternoon of the 8th, I went public with the information that Hu was in hospital and called for his immediate release on medical parole.

I [previously] applied for medical parole on 5/12/09 and was told that Hu could not be released on medical parole.
The verbal response today to the 4/8/10 request for medical parole is that Hu's cirrhosis doesn't meet the conditions for medical parole.

Since 5/09, the prison has refused to provide the family with copies of any medical test reports, only informing the family of test results verbally. The authorities lied about the test results following Hu's 41-day disappearance in 2006, leading to a failure to treat Hu's cirrhosis. Given this, I am extremely worried.

In January 2009, Hu stopped taking lamivudine antiviral medication because his body had grown resistant to it. The prison provided Hu with Silybin Meglumine (produced by Hunan Xieli Pharmaceutical Co.)

I have asked Hu Jia to keep a health diary, and from his letters home we discovered that his health has been continually worsening. For years, he has been unable to recover from colds and suffers from frequent abdominal cramps, dull stomach pains, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever, and weight loss. The condition of his cirrhosis is extremely unstable. On March 30, because of continued high fever, diarrhea, and an unknown 3cm growth on his liver, Hu was admitted to Beijing Prison Bureau's Central Hospital.
My demands:
  1. By whatever means, Hu must return home for treatment and recuperation as soon as possible to prevent continued and accelerating worsening of his condition.
  2. While Hu remains incarcerated, he should be moved to a new cellblock, he should be provided with an appropriately nutritious diet, he should be given an appropriate amount of time to rest, and he should not be required to do any physical labor.
  3. The prison should provide the family with written documentation of all medical tests.

Zeng Jinyan
12 April 2010
See also: Medical parole? What's it worth to you? (27 May 2009)

12 February 2010

No Dissidents in China?

Yesterday, during the twice-weekly press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spokesman Ma Zhaoxu* responded to a reporter's question about "dissident" Liu Xiaobo (whose 11-year sentence for "inciting subversion" was just upheld) thusly:

"There are no dissidents in China . . . In China, you can judge yourself whether such a group exists. But I believe this term is questionable in China."

(For more, see China Digital Times.)

In response, the well-known artist and prolific blogger Ai Weiwei posted this deconstruction of the "multi-layered" meaning of Ma's statement, the core of which I translate below:

1. Dissidents are criminals.
2. Only criminals have dissident ideas.
3. The distinction between criminals and non-criminals is whether they have dissident views.
4. If you think China has dissidents, you're a criminal.
5. The reason China has no dissidents is because they have already become criminals.
6. Does anyone have a dissenting view about what I've said?

* Prior to this, Ma had perhaps been best known for his recent cavalier statement about missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng: "He is where he should be."

03 February 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (6): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Looking Back at Those Years

The guard in charge of ideology often came to speak with me. He said we'd have problems if I said that the period under Mao, as dark as it was, was much worse than today. But if I said that there'd been much progress since Mao's time, they'd be very happy to hear this.

I wasn't allowed to have visits from family members when I was in the detention center, but once Xiao Han came to see me in his capacity as a lawyer. According to him, the prison wouldn't allow me receive a copy of Fortress Besieged. When they saw The Federalist Papers, investigators asked what kind of book it was. Xiao Han told them it was about patriotism, so they let me read it.

During family visits at the prison, we were separated by a glass window. If there was something important, relatives would write it down on a piece of paper and inmates would write on their hands. The most convenient approach was to bribe a guard.

The head of the detention center carried out an inspection ahead of the 16th Party congress and asked me my opinion. I said it was progress. My fellow inmate Old Huo asked me,” Aren't you always criticizing [the Party]?” I answered, “If someone slaps you and then kicks you day after day, when they stop kicking you, naturally that's progress. But you're still going to object to them slapping you!”

When after two years there still hadn't been a verdict in our case, a guard said to me that in his experience this was a good sign. Even if it didn't mean being set free, it could mean a light sentence. Maybe it's actually like that for ordinary prisoners, but those charged with subversion or incitement better not harbor any fantasies.

My fellow inmate Old Huo said that back when Zhu Rongji centralized all of the provincial branches of the Bank of Communications, local officials complained. Zhu hinted that they could take back the credit unions in the cities. This is how private banks became nationalized. Of the more than hundred heads of Beijing credit unions, more than 90 percent have been taken into custody.

27 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (5): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

This is the final installment (for a while, at least) of my translations of tweets by Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society, recalling his detention, trial, and days in prison. As long as he keeps writing, I'll keep translating, but for a while I'm going to turn my attention to other things.

Looking Back at Those Years (23–29)

According to the theory of class dictatorship, prisoners are all targets of the dictatorship. Only by owning up to one's crimes can one be rewarded with sentence reduction or parole. Even humanitarian treatment such as phone calls to family members is premised on confessing guilt. Of course those who are truly treated unjustly will file a petition [to have their case reconsidered], with the result being they have to spend N more years in prison for nothing. The more innocent you are, the more cruel they treat you, while real murderers and robbers get their sentences reduced with an easy conscience.

Once a month we cleaned the detention center, and everyone's personal belongings were washed and sorted. Afterwards, they made all the inmates strip naked, even giving our rectums a look. If you'd pissed off a guard, he would take this opportunity to humiliate you. If he had a decent impression of you, he would just check quickly. Each time, Old Hua would joke: “Here comes the proctologist!”

Tobacco and alcohol were forbidden in prison, but inmates could always get cigarettes if they wanted them. Alcohol was controlled more strictly, but it could still be had. An inmate only had to find a guard with whom he had a good relationship to sell it to him at a high price. I even saw inmates watching pornographic movies on a Playstation Portable.

An inmate heard I was sentenced unjustly and said, “So, you were offering opinions to help the Party govern better?” I told him no. “Then no one treated you unjustly,” he said. “You were trying to overthrow the Communist Party.” I said, “I denounced them on behalf of rural people because I didn't want rural people to have to endure any more injustice.” He wasn't convinced. I explained: “Am I having this conversation with you because I'm trying to serve you? No. Is it because I'm trying to harm you? Also no. It's easy to understand, so long as you don't get bogged down in the 'Party nucleus.'”

During the prosecutor's questioning at my appeal trial, I said in my defense that we hadn't done anything to oppose the government. She said that what we said and wrote wasn't in line with the Central Committee. Who knew that being out of line was a crime? No wonder Chinese people have no way to innovate!

Something I overheard while in prison: An inmate read in the newspaper that an accomplice of his had been arrested, so he immediately turned himself in, saying that the two of them had once killed a man. He turned himself in out of fear that what the other guy would say might put his life at risk. But the police told him, “The killer in that case has already been executed, so you have nothing to worry about!”

BH, a friend of mine in prison, told me that he'd originally been sentenced to death but that his sentence had been suspended for two years during the final review of the case. One day, he was taken for a physical examination at the hospital, where he heard the doctor say: "This guy's a Hui Muslim, so you have to bury him when he's dead. Examining him would be a complete waste of time!" [Translator's note: The implication here is that the physical examination was to determine the suitability of his organs for transplantation after execution.]

25 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (4): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Here's the fourth installment of my translations of Twitter posts by New Youth Study Society founding member Yang Zili. The first three installments can be found here, here, and here.

Looking Back at Those Years (19–22)

One of my fellow-sufferers in the detention center was Hua Di, who according to Internet rumors back in 2001 was jailed in exchange for Lee Wen Ho. According to him, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited him to return [to China from the US] and join a high-level think tank, but shortly after he returned he was arrested for leaking secrets. Whenever evidence that might benefit him was presented, the judges turned their heads and didn't look at it! First the indictment was withdrawn and then resubmitted, then the original 15-year sentence was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered, after which he was sentenced to 10 years. The twists and turns in his case seemed to correspond to the progress of the Lee Wen Ho case, so it seems those Internet rumors weren't false.

During my three years in the detention center, every evening we watched television as a group. Once, we watched the documentary New Fourth Army. Though the film lauded them for it a great deal, in their greatest victory over the Japanese during the Cheqiao Campaign, they killed, wounded, or captured [only] 800 Japanese and puppet soldiers, most of whom were puppet soldiers. On the other hand, they wiped out 50,000 Nationalist soldiers during the Huangqiao campaign. At the time, my fellow-sufferer Hua Di recalled his days as a teenage soldier in the New Fourth Army, extorting money and other movable property from landlord households and hanging up landlord wives for a beating. He even went up to get in a kick of his own.

The repatriation center for out-of-town offenders, formerly called the Southern Building, is a transfer facility where people are collected from the detention centers before being sent to [other] prisons. The forced labor and harsh treatment there is the worst. Prisoners are forced to shout “Reporting! Here! Yes, sir!” until they're hoarse. Prisoners from outside Beijing are especially mistreated. [Fellow New Youth Study Society member Zhang] Honghai's household registration is in Zhejiang, and in his unit they not only had to get up early and work until after dark, they weren't even allowed enough water to drink. Prisoners had to secretly drink the water used to flush the urinals.

When I was in the detention center, I heard about a fellow-sufferer named Chen Shaohua, from Jiangxi, who shortly after graduating from university was sentenced to three years for postings he made online. I heard that in the spring of 2004, after being transferred to the repatriation center, he was beaten for resisting the guards and put in solitary confinement, feet shackled. The guards intentionally made him wear new shackles that rubbed his ankles until they were raw and bloody. I wonder where this younger brother is now? He was so damn young, yet so steadfast and refused to give in. When one is filled with righteousness, why fear tyranny?

22 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (3): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Here's the third installment of tweeted recollections by Yang Zili, founding member of the New Youth Study Society. The first two segments are here and here. I've included two extra tweets at the end that I thought were particularly worth sharing.

Looking Back at Those Years

The first year I was in the State Security Bureau Detention Center, I ate really well because I was a Hui Muslim. The second year, I ate really poorly, also because I was a Hui Muslim and got no preferential treatment. When the third year began and there was still no end in sight for my case, I complained to the warden about the terrible food. The warden really responded and the food returned to normal. You have to fight for your rights.

My interrogator asked me, “Why did you write this article?” “That's the way I thought,” I answered. “Don't I have freedom of thought and freedom of speech?” He answered: “As long as its in your mind, you have freedom of thought. As soon as you speak, it becomes action!” Looking at it this way, since the constitution says nothing about “freedom to breathe,” every breath I take must be illegal.

After our first-instance trial opened in November 2001 we waited 1-1/2 years, then in came a woman from the court and her male assistant. “You've gained weight,” the woman said, laughing. “Have we met?” I asked, taken aback. “I'm the presiding judge in your trial,” she answered. All throughout, Judge [Bai Jun] was kind and considerate to us. Only after the sentence was handed down did I realize that even the most humane people in the criminal justice system were still machines.

In the same cell was a judge named Qiao. According to him, judges could decide cases with a maximum three-year sentence themselves. Cases with a maximum five-year sentence could be decided by the three-person panel of judges, but actually it was the presiding judge who decided with the other two only accompanying. Cases that might bring ten years or more, cases that had some social impact, or political cases all needed to be decided by the adjudication committee. On the adjudication committee, the judges only offered legal advice. Instructions from above were most important, and others' opinions were for reference. Basically, the court president had the final say.

My interrogator yelled, “Tell me! Didn't you shout”—his voice suddenly lowering—“ʻDown with the Communist Partyʼ?” Hearing this humorously abrupt change in his tone of voice, I realized it was because he was afraid that a recording of these five words might someday be used against him.

While in the detention center, I had a fellow inmate named Jiang who challenged me every time I said something against the “Three Represents.” I was surprised when, as he was leaving, he said to me in a low voice, “They should be overthrown!” All Jiang's hard work wasn't for naught: his sentence was reduced from 13 years to 10 years on appeal, which I'm told was something never before seen in cases handled by the State Security Bureau. Later, Jiang even got a sentence reduction and actually only served less than seven years—more than a year less than me. Some people can really adapt to their surroundings!

Jin Xing, the judge in our appeal trial, was worried that we'd hold a grudge against him, so he explained, “What I've said doesn't represent my personal views; it's the court's opinion.” Of course, we knew well that the decision to convict us came from above, but Jin Xing gave no advance notice [of the decision], didn't allow our relatives to attend the trial, didn't let me borrow a pen to take notes, didn't let our lawyers state our defense, and didn't allow witnesses to appear in court—were all these violations of the criminal procedure law on the instruction of the court president, Qin Zheng'an?

Bonus 1:
A person of conviction with less than five years to spend in prison can basically remain steadfast. With between six and ten years to serve, most people can't hang on. Anyone serving more than ten years who can remain committed is a saint. The understanding and support of family and the outside world are crucial factors governing how long [a prisoner] remains steadfast.

Bonus 2:
How long a person has to serve is not unimportant: Jiang Qisheng served four years, which for him was like the Monkey King entering the alchemy furnace. Liu Jingsheng served 12 years, of which eight years was spent struggling [against the verdict] and four years spent taking a softer approach. To this day, he feels those eight years weren't worth it. Hu Shigen served 16-1/2 years, the first twelve of which he remained faithful and unyielding; afterwards, he could only bow his head. For myself, I had high morale during the first six years, but during the last two years days passed like years. If I'd been sentenced to fifteen years, I'd probably confess guilt after the seventh year.

"Looking Back at Those Years" (2): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

More tweets from Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society:

Looking Back at Those Years (5-11)

If you're ever arrested and the police fly into a rage or even torture you, you can be secretly glad: they have no evidence with which to convict you. On the other hand, if they don't seem to care whether you talk or not, that means they've got plenty of evidence to convict you with.

Because I continued to make statements against Communism while in the cell, they didn't turn on the air-conditioning during the heat of summer, saying it was collective punishment. With such methods, if you want to play the maverick, the other inmates won't allow it. You really have to admire such excellent techniques of rule.

A cellmate named Old Huo was extremely harsh towards others, and after sharing a cell with him for 2-1/2 years, we had countless arguments. I tried my best to tolerate it, since he'd been sentenced to death, but he consistently picked fights. When we were finally separated, Old Huo said lots of nice things about me in his new cell. All along he was picking fights just so that we would be separated! I guess even bad people aren't all bad at heart.

The Beijing State Security Bureau Detention Center is known as "the only unspoiled place in Beijing," because it's managed so strictly and there's absolutely no perversions of justice. It's so much so that some people with good connections are held there. But there was a correctional officer there surnamed Lü who was in charge of [the inmates'] money who took advantage of the fact that family members were not allowed to send books and sold only coffee-table books that he bought at a discount and resold at list price. Inmates with money could buy books other than these coffee-table books, but if you had little money you got no such treatment. Before I left, Lü even tried to take a cut [of my funds]. It seems even this "unspoiled place" isn't so unspoiled.

In the courtroom, the judge picked up a piece of evidence, my address book, and asked, "Any objections?" "No," I said. Then he grabbed one of Xu Wei's letters. "Any objections?" "No." All of this turned out to be evidence of our crimes. If we had any experience, of course we'd have raised objections. What does this evidence prove? If it doesn't prove anything, of course it should be thrown out.

Many people don't understand why Xu Wei was sentenced to 10 years despite having broken no taboos. Actually, it's simple: he was the nominal director of the study society. For this, he was a "chief culprit" subject to 10 years or more according to the law. This is rule of law in a dictatorship, where all it takes is will to turn innocence into guilt and where a lighter punishment is impossible because things must be "handled in accordance with the law." It's this kind of thinking that sends someone to prison for life for withdrawing cash from a broken cash machine.

Jin Xing, the judge in the appeals trial, asked if we wanted to request he recuse himself. Haike said that if he couldn't guarantee to be fair, he should voluntarily recuse himself. At first I thought we should request that he recuse himself, given that he was a Party member and we were charged with opposing the Party. But then I considered that we needed him to allow the witnesses to appear in court, so I didn't raise it. It turned out that he didn't allow the witnesses to appear in court after all, meaning we simply wasted an opportunity. It seems that in a political case whose fate has already been sealed, you can only resist, not fantasize.

21 January 2010

"Looking Back at Those Years" (1): Yang Zili's Memory Tweets

Yang Zili, one of the founding members of the New Youth Study Society (which I blogged about previously here) was released last March after serving eight years in a Beijing prison for subversion. (If you haven't read the definitive account of the New Youth Society by the Washington Post's Phil Pan, do it right away.) Another society member, Zhang Honghai, was released from a Zhejiang prison at the same time, while two other members, Jin Haike and Xu Wei, are still in prison.

Yang recently joined Twitter and has been posting a series of brief takes on his arrest, trial, and days in prison. They seem to be pretty popular, and I thought it'd be worth translating them into English. Since I'm not aware of anyone else taking it on, I thought it'd be a good project for me. Here's the first batch:

Looking Back at Those Years (1–4)

A few days before I was arrested, some plainclothes police moved in across the way. The landlord came to me in a panic and said there'd be trouble if I didn't move. I felt I was innocent and, besides, where could I run to? Not long after, I was arrested by the state security bureau. To this day, whenever I see a policeman, including a domestic security agent, I feel a true sense of intimacy!

When he was at the China University of Geosciences, [Jin] Haike was an outstanding Party member. He did everything according to the standards of a Party member, including, naturally, being concerned about national affairs. In forming the society, he even took a page from the ceremony for entering the Party and even wanted to subject everyone to “organizational discipline.” In the end, not only did no one pay attention to the discipline, this idea actually violated a great Party taboo!

[Fan] Erjun was pressured to give false testimony, saying that Haike and Xu Wei wanted to subvert the government through violence and that I was for peaceful evolution. The two of them were sentenced to 10 years, and I got eight years. After giving the false testimony, Erjun was rewarded as an outstanding Party member in Haidian [District] and was promoted to vice chairman of the student work department of his school's Party committee. When he finally discovered his conscience and insisted on appearing in court to testify about the true situation, he was drummed out of Beihang University and wound up setting up the “Utopia” website and making a living there. Clearly, fraud and deceit will lead to official promotion, but seeking truth from facts is something the Party-state cannot bear.

The prosecutor asked me, “Were you a threat?” “No,” I answered. He retorted, “By the time you were, it would be too late! If we let you grow bigger, you might try to overthrow [the government], so now it's a crime!” According to this logic of “nipping evil in the bud,” I committed a crime by getting married: I might pass on dangerous ideas to the next generation!