Xie Yang, Chen Jiangang | China Change
This article appear first in ChinaChange web site on January 22, 2017
In a series of interviews, the still incarcerated human rights lawyer Xie Yang provided a detailed account of his arrest, interrogations, and the horrific abuses he suffered at the hands of police and prosecutors, to his two defense lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清). This revelation, and the extraordinary circumstances of it, mark an important turn in the 709 crackdown on human rights lawyers. This group, seen as the gravest threat to regime security, has not been crushed, but instead has become more courageous and more determined. This is the first of several installments in English translation. — The Editors
Chen Jiangang (陈建刚, “CHEN”): Let’s continue our conversation. What happened after you refused the attempts by Yin Zhuo (尹卓) to get you to implicate others?
XIE: I tend to be constipated and need to eat fruit; otherwise the condition can get rather serious. I couldn’t even drink water while I was locked up, so my constipation got very serious and I was in extreme pain. I asked them to give me some fruit to eat. They didn’t give me any at first, but later they wanted me to trade. I would have to write a statement according to what they wanted, and in exchange they’d give me some fruit. Or they’d give me fruit if I signed the transcripts they wanted me to sign. I had no choice—I wasn’t allowed to sleep and I was in physical pain. Eventually, I wrote whatever they wanted me to write and signed whatever they wanted me to sign. By that time, I was completely broken.
CHEN: Please continue.
XIE: On October 24, I inexplicably began to shiver all over and broke out in a cold sweat. I was terrified and said I wanted to get myself checked out in a hospital. They reported the situation to Ye Yun (叶云, political instructor with the 6th Division of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit). Ye Yun came and said they couldn’t let me go to the hospital, but if I was sick they could arrange for someone to come and examine me. I didn’t trust their doctors.
I was afraid that I was going to die there and that my wife and child wouldn’t know [begins to sob]. I began to shout from the window: “This is Lawyer Xie Yang! I’m being held here by the Changsha Domestic Security Police! No one has notified my family! Please let my wife know that I’m ill and need medical treatment!” There were some people outside walking around. I shouted and told them my wife’s name, work unit, and telephone number and asked them to call my wife.
That evening at 9:46, Ye Yun used his mobile phone to dial the emergency rescue hotline. While we were waiting for an ambulance to arrive, a man came in wearing civilian clothes. He was big and strong, and with one hand against my chest he pushed me up against the wall so that I couldn’t move and could barely breathe. With his other hand he slapped me back and forth several times across the face. I was in great pain from the pressure on my chest. I couldn’t speak and the blows to my head left me semi-conscious.
About 20 minutes later, the ambulance arrived. At first they didn’t let the paramedics examine me; instead, they took them outside to give them instructions. Then a young guy by the name of Wang examined me very briefly. He didn’t give me any treatment or medication. He told them to continue observing me and then he left.
CHEN: I noticed that you were placed under residential surveillance on July 12, 2015, but that your interrogation records only start on July 19. How do you explain that?
XIE: There are a lot of records of interrogations from the first seven days, but they don’t note the sequence. I asked that they mark the transcripts clearly, but they said it was none of my business. None of those transcripts are in the case file, because I still hadn’t surrendered to their torture yet. So they haven’t brought out any of those records. The interrogation on July 19 was certainly not the first. From the early morning of July 11 I wasn’t allowed to sleep. After three days of that treatment, I broke down. The things I wrote were all written under that kind of coercion.
CHEN: What’s your assessment of the transcripts you personally signed and the documents you wrote, all of which are in your case file?
XIE: There are generally two types. The first type is made up of documents concerning basic facts, in which there are some inaccuracies. That’s because they didn’t accept the facts as I stated them and insisted that I make a record according to what they wanted. So, I can’t guarantee that the factual parts are entirely factual. The second type are the “reflections.” These are wholly untruthful, as they were written under coercion. If I hadn’t written them, hadn’t signed my name, I would have died there in that guesthouse.
They deliberately tortured me past the point I could bear it. I wanted to kill myself. To prevent me from doing so, they increased the number of “chaperones” (陪护人员) from two to three. The three of them surrounded me, watching me carefully lest I try to kill myself. After the first seven days, they interrogated me during the daytime and stopped at night. After about 20 days, they were afraid I’d kill myself and the number of chaperone shifts increased from three to four, with the number on each shift increasing from two to three. They watched me closely every minute, afraid that I would try to kill myself by ramming my head against the wall. In that state of wanting to die but not being able to do so, if I didn’t follow one of the three options they gave me and say in my statements that I acted for fame, for profit, or to oppose the Party and socialism, I would have been tortured to death. I had no other choice.
CHEN: In the interrogation transcripts there are a lot of statements where you say detrimental things about yourself and say that you opposed the Party, socialism, and the current political system. What’s your opinion of those documents?
XIE: I didn’t say any of those things and I would never use such language. Those transcripts were typed up by the police; I was only forced to sign them. Folders of transcripts without a single correction or amendment—could that possibly be for real? I read the transcripts and said that those weren’t my words. I asked for an accurate record and requested changes. Yin Zhuo said: “We don’t allow changes to transcripts in our public security unit.” So I could only sign. They didn’t let me sleep for the first seven days and tortured and tormented me until I agreed to sign. So that’s how there came to be so many transcripts from the 19th on.
CHEN: Let’s end the interview here for now. Have you told the truth in these interviews the past few days?
XIE: Yes, it’s the truth. This is how I was treated during residential surveillance.
CHEN: Please read the transcript carefully. This afternoon I’ll bring you a typed version for you to check and sign.
XIE: All right.
[Signed by Xie Yang and his lawyer]
I have read the transcript above and it matches what I have said.
January 6, 2017
CHEN Jiangang [lawyer]
Date: January 12, 2017
Location: Interview Room 2W, Changsha Number Two Detention Center
Interviewee: Xie Yang (谢阳, “XIE”)
Interviewer: Lawyer Chen Jian’gang (陈建刚, “CHEN”)
Transcription by Chen Jiangang
[The interview began at 2:45:48 p.m.]
CHEN: Hello, Xie Yang. Let’s continue where we left off last time.
CHEN: First, I want to convey greetings and concern from many friends on the outside who urge you to take good care of yourself.
XIE: Thanks, everyone [quietly chokes back tears].
CHEN: Can you recall whether the police who interrogated you ever gave you a formal summons notice or any other legal documents while you were being held in residential surveillance in a designated location?
XIE: No. They took shifts around the clock. I had police around me all the time, but they never gave me any summons notice.
CHEN: When did you get to the detention center? Did things improve once you got here?
XIE: I was brought to the detention center on January 9, 2016. There was no improvement, and the coercion continued.
Before I was brought to the detention center, while still in residential surveillance, Yin Zhuo (尹卓) and the others became very deliberate and obvious in their questioning. Because time had run out and I had to be sent to the detention center, they wanted some records showing me saying that they had not tortured me. They wanted to get me on the record admitting that no one had tortured me and then get me to sign the transcript, but I refused to cooperate.
In my case file, the transcript of the interrogation on December 21, 2015, shows them asking me whether my legal rights had been protected during the period of residential surveillance in a designated location, to which I answered that they had been “basically protected.” That’s the record I signed. By “basically protected,” I mean that they ensured that I stayed alive and didn’t torture me to death—that’s all. That’s the most I could say. Had I said that they tortured me into confessing, they wouldn’t record my words on paper and they’d keep on tormenting me. They were very unhappy with this interrogation record and wanted me to state clearly that no one had ever used torture against me and protected my rights 100 percent. But I refused.
In the last period right before leaving the Yitian Guesthouse (颐天宾馆) where they’d held me, they repeatedly came to get me to record a statement. They had only one goal: to get me to inadvertently confirm with my signature that they hadn’t tortured me and that they’d protected my rights. But I didn’t fall for their tricks. So, there are a lot of records that didn’t get put in the case file.
The procuratorate issued its arrest decision on January 8, 2016, and I was shown the arrest warrant on January 9. But actually, this was only a formality as the detention center had already started preparing my cell on January 6.
CHEN: How do you know that the detention center had already started preparing your cell?
XIE: I found out after I got here. Each cell at the detention center houses more than 25 people, sometimes as many as 30. Every cell is like that. When I got here, they put me in Cell 10 on the 4E Block. Originally, there were 28 people in there, but on January 6 they suddenly transferred 14 people to other cells and installed a high-definition camera inside. To this day, there are still 15 people in our cell—a unique situation in the detention center. The high-definition camera is also unique. Everyone in the cell knows that it’s there for me. They prepared the cell on January 6 and issued the arrest warrant on January 9. It was clearly only a formality.
CHEN: Can you describe your situation since coming to the detention center? Are your fundamental human rights being protected? Or have they continued to coerce you?
XIE: After arriving at the detention center on January 9, I was initially rather well taken care of. But they had their objectives. My counselor is named Yuan Jin (袁进) — make a note of that name, because he’s done lots of terrible things to me. At first, Yuan Jin treated me well, continually urging me to admit guilt and cooperate with the police. But I wasn’t guilty of anything and hadn’t committed any crimes, so of course I wasn’t going to go against my conscience and admit guilt. These admonitions went on for three months. Then in March 2016, Yuan Jin saw that I wasn’t listening to him and so he started tormenting me.
CHEN: You say Yuan Jin tormented you — how?
XIE: First, he got my cellmates to shun me by clearly prohibiting others from having any interaction with me. They weren’t allowed to speak to me, lend me anything, or play cards or chess with me. Anyone who dared have any interaction or communication with me would be transferred to another cell to become the “new boy.”
CHEN: What does that mean, “new boy”?
XIE: This is jailhouse lingo. Someone who’s been in a cell for a long time is called an “old boy.” A new arrival is called the “new boy.” “New boys” all get bullied and are given more work, while “old boys” have prestige and aren’t bullied on account of their status as veterans. Plus, they get special treatment. So no one wants to go to a new cell and become a “new boy” again.
CHEN: Besides getting cellmates to shun you, were there other methods?
XIE: Yes. Officer Yuan Jin cut off my right to spend money. In jail we get 260 yuan each month for living expenses, but this is far from enough and you have to spend your own money to buy things. That’s the money that gets deposited in your account by family and friends. Everyone can use their own money to purchase some food, otherwise you don’t get enough to eat. Yuan Jin prohibited me from spending money, from purchasing any daily-use items. I didn’t get enough to eat and had no vegetables. I wasn’t allowed to buy daily necessities like toothpaste or toilet paper. I was deeply distressed—everyone had been threatened not to speak with me or lend me anything. I didn’t even have toilet paper when I went to the toilet [chokes with sobs]. But I still didn’t give in and didn’t admit guilt.
CHEN: What happened then?
XIE: It’s been over a year since I was brought to the detention center on January 9, 2015. During this year, all the police, procurators, detention center counsellors, and officials who’ve come to see me all have had a single goal: to get me to admit guilt. I have some notes [searches through notes] . . . I’ve made note of the times. Let me tell you about them one by one.
My case is a political case. I anticipated that they would stretch the time limits in this case to the maximum limit possible under the law. Six months of investigation during residential surveillance plus two months under arrest, extended first for one month, then another two, and finally two more months. They stretched the investigation phase of the case as far as they could, to August 9, 2016.
On July 21, 2016, Li Feng (李峰) of the Hunan Domestic Security Unit and Zhu Heng (朱恒) of the Sixth Division of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit came to see me together with Zhang Zhongshi (张重实), the lawyer my family had hired on my behalf. They had also come to urge me to admit guilt. Li Feng said he’d come on behalf of the provincial public security department and hoped I’d admit guilt. I asked if this was a meeting with my lawyer. They said it was. I said, if that’s so please excuse yourselves. But Li Feng and Zhu Heng didn’t leave and stood right outside so that Lawyer Zhang and I couldn’t even exchange a few words with each other.
For a few days in early August 2016—before the 9th, someone from the Domestic Security Unit of the Hunan Provincial Public Security Department: Li Kewei (李克伟), head of the Changsha Public Security Bureau’s Domestic Security Unit, and Wang Tietuo (王铁铊), head of the Sixth Division of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit, came together to see me—there were five or six of them in all. The detention center officials arranged for them to meet with me in the detention center office.
CHEN: Wait a minute. They met with you in the office, rather than in an interrogation room?
XIE: They don’t have to obey any laws or institutional rules! They came to get me to admit guilt. At the time, I thought that if admitting guilt would lead to lenient treatment that would ensure I could continue to work as a lawyer after I got out, I could discuss it. They were happy to hear that and immediately reported my answer up to their superiors and got someone to look up the regulations. What they found was that commission of an intentional crime would mean that I’d be unable to be a lawyer. Under those circumstances, I refused to admit guilt, since I’d committed no crime to begin with. We discussed it for three or four hours, but ultimately I still refused to admit guilt. They said over and over that I shouldn’t make things difficult for myself, that I mustn’t waste this opportunity, that I shouldn’t turn my back on their good intentions.
Li Kewei had promised Yuan Jin, my counsellor at the detention center, that if Yuan could help get me to give in and admit guilt, then Li would help him get a transfer to a police station in Changsha’s Gaoxin District.
CHEN: You say Li Kewei made a promise to Yuan Jin—how do you know that?
XIE: Yuan Jin said so himself. He once told me that he hoped I’d hurry up and admit guilt. He said: “Admit your guilt—once you’re gone, I can get a transfer to work at that police station in Gaoxin District.” I’ve forgotten which police station exactly.
CHEN: What next?
XIE: August 9, 2016, was the last day the public security bureau could hold me. Once they transferred the case for prosecution they had no more control over me and they’d have no power to prevent me from meeting with my lawyer. The date on the Changsha Public Security Bureau’s prosecution recommendation is August 5, 2016, but on August 4 they’d already delivered me notice that my case was being reviewed for prosecution. I thought that this meant that the lawyers my family had hired could now come meet with me. But my persecution shifted from the public security bureau to the procuratorate. The procuratorate fully cooperated with the Changsha Public Security Bureau to continue treating me badly.
[A police officer enters to say that time is up.]
CHEN: That’s all for today. Let’s continue tomorrow.
[The interview concluded at 4:29:39 p.m. on January 12, 2017.]
[The interview resumed at 9:30:38 a.m. on January 13, 2017.]
CHEN: Let’s continue where we left off yesterday. You said that the procuratorate and the public security bureau were working together to treat you badly. Why do you say that?
XIE: I later met with my lawyer, Zhang Zhongshi. He told me that he and my other lawyer Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) had been coming to the detention center every day in order to meet with me. Morning, afternoon—it didn’t matter. The detention center said they couldn’t meet with me because I’d been taken for questioning by the prosecutors. I had, in fact, been taken for questioning. But the law says that they have to arrange for lawyers to meet with a detainee within 48 hours. To the detention center, the procuratorate, and the public security bureau, the law was nothing but a piece of scrap paper.
CHEN: Why do you say that?
XIE: Those days, the procurators from the Changsha Procuratorate took me out for questioning every day from 9 a.m. until the detention center offices closed at 4:30 p.m. Every day they came to question me like that, just so they could refuse to let my lawyers meet with me.
There were eight procurators in all who came to meet with me. For an entire week, they took me out for questioning every day. After the week was over, they sent the case back for additional investigation. The case was then back in the hands of the public security bureau. They’d successfully used the excuse of questioning me to obstruct my lawyers from meeting with me.
Write down these names: Duan Xiaolong (段小龙), Jiang Bin (姜彬), Li Zhiming (李治明), Wang Zhiyong (王志勇), Fang Hui (方惠), Hu Yongchao (胡勇超), and Li Weining (李维宁). There was also a deputy division head surnamed Jin whose full name I don’t know. Li Weining is the head of the Second Public Prosecution Division at the Changsha Procuratorate (长沙市检察院公诉二处处长). He’s not in charge of this case and only came to see me with one objective: to get me to admit guilt. He hinted that I shouldn’t say anything about the public security bureau’s torture of me. He also said that public security and the procuratorate had gone to officials at Hunan University to speak to my wife and ask her to cooperate. They put pressure on her to stop going around to proclaim my innocence.
The other prosecutors were more reserved in their attempts to get me to admit guilt. But Duan Xiaolong was relatively blatant. He had two objectives in his discussions with me: one was to intimidate me, the other was to try to get me to admit guilt. Duan Xiaolong said: “You have to admit guilt. There are some things you can’t go around saying, some things you can’t say to the prosecutors.” He meant I couldn’t go around telling people on the outside about how I’d been subjected to torture. What kind of prosecutorial review by the procuratorate was this—it was all a sham! The public security bureau and procuratorate were working together against me to manufacture this political miscarriage of justice. There’s no balance of powers, only cooperation!
CHEN: What happened after your case was sent back for review?
XIE: On August 16, 2016, the case was sent back to the public security bureau and my lawyer was still prohibited from meeting with me. Actually, there was no real additional investigation. The two consecutive periods of additional investigation were only about one thing: extending the legal time limit to its furthest extent in order to get me to give in and admit guilt.
On September 28, 2016, Li Weining of the Changsha Procuratorate came to see me again and get me to admit guilt and to not go around talking out of turn—by which he meant talking about the way I’d been tortured and mistreated. Li came again on October 9 to tell me to admit guilt and keep my mouth shut. Li came once again on October 17, with the same mission. He never came to discuss the details of the case. There were only two objectives: to get me to admit guilt and keep my mouth shut.
On October 26, 2016, during the last period of additional investigation, domestic security police Hu Yunfeng (胡云峰) and Ye Yun (叶云) came to see me and get me to admit guilt and keep my mouth shut. Hu Yunfeng explicitly told me that they had all of the audio and video recordings from my time in residential surveillance. All the investigators knew that they had the video. There’s a transcript of that conversation, but it’s not in the case file. Take a look at the interrogation records; if there’s a record of the interrogation, they should have a record of that conversation. But I can’t guarantee that the procuratorate or the detention center will give those documents to you as a defense lawyer.
The following day, October 27, 2016, Wang Tietuo of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit and Ye Yun came to see me again to try to get me to admit guilt and to tell me to keep my mouth shut. They didn’t make a record of that.
On November 4, Li Kewei of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit came by himself to see me. The detention center arranged for him to meet with me in the office, like they’d done at the beginning of August. Li Kewei had the same two demands: admit guilt and shut mouth.
On November 14, 2016, Li Kewei met me alone in the detention center office. He hoped I’d seize the opportunity, admit guilt, and keep my mouth shut.
On December 7, 2016, the head of the Second Public Prosecution Division of the Hunan Procuratorate, Li Xiaohong (刘晓红), came together with Li Weining of the Changsha Procuratorate to meet me at the detention center and express the hope, on behalf of the provincial procuratorate, that I would seize the opportunity, admit guilt, and keep my mouth shut.
CHEN: Has anyone come to speak with you since I became your defense lawyer?
XIE: Yes. When you were prevented from meeting with me on the morning of January 6, 2017, officials from the detention center came to see me. The gist of their message was: “Don’t trust your lawyer. Lawyers can’t save you. Your only path is to trust the party and the government. The only way you’ll get to go home early is by admitting guilt and submitting to the law’s judgment.” I just listened. I knew that my lawyers had already arrived and they were preventing them from meeting with me.
Then there was another time on January 11. Three people came: my brother, Xie Yangde (谢扬德), Wang Dehua (王德华), deputy head of the Changsha Domestic Security Unit, and Xie Leshi (谢乐石), head of the Dongkou County Domestic Security Unit. Wang Dehua and Xie Leshi explicitly said that they had no power to seek a meeting with me during this phase of the case but explained that they’d come to see me at the request of my brother and did not represent their respective units. Xie Leshi threatened me, saying my posts on WeChat and Weibo would get me a sentence of at least five years with no cap—the sentence could run as high as 15 or 20 years.
CHEN: What do you make of the fact that so many people from the police and the procuratorate have come to see you so many times in order to try to get you to admit guilt?
XIE: I’m innocent, completely innocent. Even though I signed some self-incriminating statements after being tortured to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore, those aren’t the facts and they don’t prove that I’ve committed a crime. I have freedom of expression and the statements I made on Weibo and WeChat were my right. How can that be inciting subversion of political power?
CHEN: Are you going to admit guilt? Or, put another way, if the authorities come and say they’ll release you or grant you bail if you admit guilt, will you do so?
XIE: I haven’t admitted guilt up to now. Trying to get me to do so is kind of a ridiculous idea. Am I guilty just because I admit guilt? Isn’t that how things worked during the Cultural Revolution? If I admit guilt, don’t you have to consider the law and the evidence?
But there’s one thing I need to make clear to you. As of today, I haven’t admitted guilt. I tell you now—I declare of my own free will, that I, Xie Yang, am innocent. If, at some point after today, January 13, 2017, there were to appear any document or audiovisual recording of me admitting guilt, it would not be the truth and would not reflect my real inner thoughts. Even if I admit guilt, it doesn’t make me guilty. That depends on the law and the evidence.
Even if I were one day to admit guilt, it would be because I was forced to make some deal or forced to do so because I was tortured. I am completely innocent, but because of some of the things I’ve posted and because I’ve taken part in some rights defense cases, the Changsha Public Security Bureau is out to get me. They are the real criminals and murderers. If, in the future, I were to make any admissions of guilt, it would be a kind of trade. I know my family wants to see me very much and my parents are advanced in years and miss me very much. If I admit guilt, it will be in exchange for preserving my life. Today [January 13, 2017], while I am allowed to express myself truthfully to my lawyer, I want to say clearly that I am innocent.
CHEN: Do you want or agree to authorize me to release the record of our interviews to the public?
XIE: I authorize my defense lawyers, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), to decide to release the record of our interviews to the public at a certain time.