Chen Zijuan | China Change
This article was first published on ChinaChange website, on February 15, 2021
Dr. Chen Zijuan (陈紫娟) is a biologist working in Shenzhen. This piece was originally published in Chinese on Feb. 6, 2020. — The Editors
‘He Committed Ideological Crimes’: Wife Recounts How Chinese Police Suppress the Family, Preventing Them From Speaking Out and Threatening Her Job After Human Rights Lawyer Chang Weiping’s Detention
My husband Chang Weiping (常玮平) is a Chinese human rights lawyer, who has represented clients in cases related to religious freedom, forced demolition and discrimination (HIV, gender and LGBT issues). In January 2020, he was placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) by Shaanxi police for 10 days for attending the Xiamen Meeting, [an informal gathering of some twenty activists and lawyers in early December 2019]. He was subjected to severe torture before being released on bail. On October 22, 2020, he was again detained in RSDL for ‘allegedly inciting subversion of state power’.
The Spring Festival of 2021 is fast approaching. Chang Weiping has been held in RSDL for 112 days this second time around. The Shaanxi police has been investigating his case for one year and 20 days.
I think it is necessary to make a record of everything he and his family have been through in the past year. Although our lives are as insignificant as ants, we will NOT stop exposing the truth.
I. Disaster strikes after a meeting
It was around December 27, 2019, when Weiping called me out of the blue. He said anxiously that some of his friends had been arrested for attending a meeting in Xiamen and that he, who also attended the meeting, had to go into hiding. He said he had sent me all his bank cards. He told me to take care of myself and our family and hung up after saying “love you.” After about ten days of hiding, he called me saying that it seemed to be safe and since he had not done anything, perhaps he should come out from hiding. I told him to wait a little longer. Little did I know that just two days later, on January 12, 2020, he would be also taken into custody. The nightmare began.
On the morning of January 14, 2020, someone from Gaoxin Branch of Baoji Public Security Bureau (陕西省宝鸡市公安局高新分局) called me and informed me that Chang Weiping had been placed under RSDL on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.” They asked for my mailing address and promised to send me the legal notice. But I never received it. I called Baoji police to ask for a written notice but they replied that a verbal notice was sufficient, and their leader told them not to send me a written copy. Then they stopped answering my phone calls. To date, Weiping’s family has not received any written notice of his first RSDL detention.
II. Ten days in the ‘tiger chair’
On the evening of January 23, 2020, Weiping was suddenly released on bail. However, he had been severely tortured during this period of RSDL. He had been held in the basement of a guesthouse in Baoji. For 10 consecutive days, the police officers handcuffed him and tied him to a “tiger chair,” where he sat all the time except to go to the bathroom. This has caused numbness and loss of sensation in his right thumb and index finger to this day. His legs swelled up and he cried in pain. He asked for medical attention, but the police said that they knew from experience that he didn’t need medical attention yet. They said he was not dying because others they had locked in a tiger chair for a whole month didn’t die. Every day, they only gave him a bowl of noodle soup at noon and a piece of cold bun with chili oil in the evening. He was so hungry that he got dizzy and had a stomach ache every day.
The guards hired by the police and Public Security Bureau deliberately sat next to him to eat and drink and enjoy their meals and snacks. They did this to drive Chang Weiping crazy. Every night, those hired guards played cards, ate, drank alcohol, smoked, making lots of noises on purpose in the room so that Weiping could not sleep. When he was too tired and had to slump, he was immediately woken up and asked to sit up.
After sitting in the tiger chair for several days, he started having constipation, which caused him enormous pain. Depriving him of sleep, police officers interrogated him for long hours each day and produced 16 interrogation reports in 10 days.
When Weiping was released on bail on the evening of January 23, 2020, his father said he looked tired, his cheeks were sunken, his eyes were bloodshot, and he had lost a lot of weight. Later, Weiping told me that the people hired to guard him were actually local hooligans who had no idea what their captives had done. They said they only make about 2,000 yuan a month. On the day he was released on bail, those people said to him that they didn’t expect him to walk out of that place, because usually their captives ended up going to jail.
III. Released on bail but still living with threats and intimidation
On the third day after Weiping was released on bail, Baoji Guobao (State Security police or secret political police) called him and asked him to answer their phone calls daily to report his whereabouts and to meet weekly to report on his thoughts. Since then, every morning at nine o’clock the local police station would call him asking him to report on his plans for the day. Baoji Guobao came to Fengxiang County (凤翔县) every week to meet and talk with him. The Chinese law does not have these provisions for people released on bail. Baoji Guobao were trying to create fear in this way so that Weiping would not dare to speak out about the torture he had been subjected to.
In March 2020, elementary schools were open in Shenzhen [where I work]. The day before Weiping’s parents were to bring their grandchild to Shenzhen to attend school, Baoji Guobao came to the house and questioned Weiping about why his parents had not asked them for permission for going to Shenzhen. They said his parents were not allowed to leave Baoji without their permission. Weiping argued with them, “I’m on bail, but are my parents and my child also on bail?”
Eventually, his parents and our child were able to leave Baoji, but Weiping was not allowed to take them to the airport. He had to ask someone else to do it. This incident made me really scared. Baoji Guobao not only restrict Weiping’s freedom but also illegally restrict the freedom of his family members. I was worried that if I returned to Baoji, I would not be allowed to leave and return to work in Shenzhen. So, during the ten months Weiping was confined to his parent’s home, I did not dare to go back to Shaanxi.
During the bail period, Baoji Guobao constantly put pressure on Weiping. More pressure came in May 2020 when the deputy director of Gaoxin police, Xiang Xianhong (向贤宏), took over Weiping’s case. Xiang came to Fengxiang several times to talk to Weiping, and Weiping began to become pessimistic. On October 16, 2020, due to increased uneasiness, Chang Weiping recorded a video talking about his experience of being tortured by Gaoxin police during his RSDL detention in January 2020 and published the video on a website. Six days later, he was arrested for the second time by Gaoxin police.
Again, Gaoxin police was unwilling to issue a written notice. Weiping was arrested on October 22. On October 26, his lawyers came and talked to the police for three days. Gaoxin police called me at 6 pm on October 28 to say that they were going to send me a written notice but they did not know my address. This was bullshit — on October 22, someone from Gaoxin police already visited my home in Shenzhen. Finally, on November 1, I received the notice of Chang Weiping’s second RSDL detention, the only legal document I have received so far.
IV. Isolating the family and keeping Chang Weiping’s case secret
1. House arrest of Chang Weiping’s parents and relatives
On October 22 at 6 pm, I received a call from Weiping’s father [at the time Weiping’s parents were still in Shenzhen but soon returned to Shaanxi], saying that Baoji Guobao had come to my home in Shenzhen and wanted to see me. When I returned home at 8 pm, three Baoji Guobao were sitting at my door, accompanied by two local Shenzhen police officers. Their conversation with me was mainly about whether Weiping had any lawyer friends who came to my home in Shenzhen during his bail. They also asked me to agree not to give interviews to any foreign media.
On December 14, after staging a protest outside the Public Security Bureau responsible for the case, Weiping’s parents were placed under house arrest, their cell phones were taken away and they have not been allowed to contact anyone. Everywhere they go, police officers followed them. I have not been able to get in touch with his parents for over a month.
Four cameras were installed around his parents’ house, two watching his house and two at the intersection. The village committee has a monitoring room where the police monitor the situation in real time throughout the day. As soon as someone appears in front of the house, police officers immediately show up. They interrogate visitors with harsh attitude, requiring them to provide ID numbers and details of workplace. All relatives have been warned not to go to Weiping’s house, including his clan. Whoever goes there gets summoned by the police. At present, no one dares to go to Weiping’s parents’ house. A few villages away, his eldest sister’s house has also been installed with cameras. His second brother-in-law, head of an elementary school, has been asked to be on 24-hour duty at his parents’ house by the county school board to report his parents’ every move. Cameras have also been installed in front of my parents’ and sister’s homes, and my father is followed by the police whenever he leaves the house. My sister needs to report to the village leaders when she leaves her home for more than two hours. Weiping’s older sister and brother-in-law have been threatened not to speak up for Weiping or else it would affect their jobs and their children’s chances of taking exams for college admissions or entering civil service. All our relatives and friends have been caught up in this madness.
On January 16, 2021, two lawyers, Xie Yang (谢阳) and Chen Keyun (陈科云), went to Baoji to visit Weiping’s parents. They were intercepted by Shaanxi Guobao on the train from Xi’an (西安) to Baoji, on the grounds of epidemic prevention and control, and were taken to a hotel room. They were forced to stay in Xi’an instead. That night, Guobao from their respective districts came to Xi’an to get them. They were illegally restricted free movement for more than 24 hours before being escorted back to where they came from. They didn’t get to see Weiping’s parents after all.
A number of Weiping’s friends in Baoji have also been repeatedly warned and banned from speaking up for him, some illegally detained by Gaoxin police, had their phones illegally checked, some even forced to leave Baoji, where they had lived for years. Baoji Guobao also extended their arms far and wide. Across the country, lawyers who spoke up for Weiping have been approached by police one by one; some law firms have even been asked to terminate lawyers’ contracts. I cannot help but feel that Baoji Guobao’s illegal practices show how unscrupulous they are in their persecution of Weiping’s family and lawyers!
2. Threats and intimidation against me, Weiping’s wife
While Weiping’s parents are kept under strict control in Baoji, police harassment did not stop for me in Shenzhen for a moment. In two months’ time from October 22 to December 25, 2020, Shaanxi police official Xiang Xianhong and others came to Shenzhen no fewer than nine times to threaten me not to speak out for Weiping, or I would lose my job.
The details are as follows:
(1) On October 22, 2020, at around 6:00 pm, I received a phone call from Weiping’s father, saying that Baoji police had come to my home in Shenzhen and wanted to see me. When I came home at 8:00 p.m., I found Pang Dingming (庞定明) of the Baoji Public Security Bureau, Song Zixin (宋子新) of Gaoxin Branch and a middle-aged man who did not want to show his ID sitting at the door of my apartment. Later, they videotaped me, took a statement from me and made me promise not to speak out or give interviews to overseas media. Otherwise, it would not be good for Weiping.
(2) On October 24, 2020, around 11:00 am, Song Zixin and the middle-aged men who did not want to show his ID came again to my home in Shenzhen, took another statement from me, and again made me promise not to speak out and not to give interviews to overseas media. During this conversation, the middle-aged police officer asked me whether I had hired any lawyers and what their names are. That afternoon, lawyer Zhang Tingyuan (张庭源) in Chongqing received a phone call from the Chongqing Municipal Bureau of Justice asking for a talk.
(3) On November 11, 2020, at around 10 am, Xiang Xianhong of the Baoji Gaoxin Branch and Yang Yongke (杨永科) of the Baoji Public Security Bureau suddenly appeared at my office door and, after beckoning me to come out of my office, threatened me in the corridor not to speak out for Weiping. Xiang said Chang Weiping committed an ideological crime. Yang said he would inform my workplace and ask them to discipline me and fire me.
(4) On November 12, 2020, at around 10 am, Xiang Xianhong and Yang Yongke came to my office and again threatened me not to speak up for Weiping.
(5) On November 23, 2020, at around 1 pm, I received a phone call from the police office of my workplace, saying that the Shaanxi police were asking for me. When I went there, Xiang Xianhong and Fu Yongqiang (付勇强) asked me to delete my Weibo posts. It was later confirmed that they had also approached the leaders of my workplace before they approached me that day.
(6) On November 24, 2020, at around 1 pm, I received a call from the secretary of my department, saying that the Shaanxi police were asking for me and told me to go to the police office. Xiang Xianhong and Fu Yongqiang again asked me to delete my Weibo posts.
(7) On the morning of December 15, 2020, Gaoxin police called the head of my workplace, saying that I was planning to go to Beijing to petition for Weiping’s case. They asked the head to speak to me.
(8) On December 23, 2020, at around 4:30 pm, I received a phone call from the security section of my workplace, saying that the Shaanxi police were asking to see me. After I went there, I met four Shaanxi “police officers”: an elderly man who claimed to be a staff member of the Public Security Department of Shaanxi Province but did not show me his work ID, Xiang Xianhong, Fu Yongqiang, and two Shenzhen police officers who did not show me their work IDs either. The Shaanxi police officers mainly said three things. Firstly, I had a good job that ordinary people don’t have, and they hoped I would cherish it. Secondly, I did not know Weiping, and he often stayed in other people’s places. They made innuendos in an attempt to stir up my feelings against Weiping so as to prevent me from speaking out for him. Lastly, they claimed that Weiping had joined an anti-China organization, and that if it succeeded in seizing power, Weiping would become a minister or the secretary of the Shaanxi provincial party committee and I would become the wife of the minister or the provincial party secretary. But at the same time they also claimed that Chang Weiping was not deeply involved.
(9) On December 25, 2020, Shaanxi police officers came to my workplace and illegally copied the hard drive of my work computer in my absence.
In addition, at the request of Shaanxi police, Shenzhen police officers knocked on my door at 12:20 am on January 14, 2021 to show “their concern for my husband and me.” At 9 pm on January 14, Shenzhen police came to educate me on the law and teach me how to post appropriately on Weibo. These two incidents had a serious impact on my family. My mother, who lives with me, was shaken, and she gets nervous whenever she hears a knock on the door. My 7-year-old child was scared to the point of insomnia, constantly tossing and turning at night, unable to sleep. He wakes up several times a night. He even asks what he would do if the police hold a gun to his head.
In summary, the Shaanxi police has only one purpose. That is to silence Chang Weiping’s family by stigmatizing him and by constantly threatening his family members.
3. Illegal denial of lawyers’ right to defence
In addition to strangling the voices from his family, lawyers have also been strictly forbidden to intervene in Weiping’s case. Whenever a lawyer goes to see Gaoxin police, Shaanxi authorities always inform the judicial bureau that has jurisdiction over the lawyer. They even distorted the facts and said that the lawyer created chaos in Gaoxin police station. Lawyer Zhang Tianyuan was repeatedly asked to meet officials at the Chongqing judicial bureau who pressured him to withdraw from representing Weiping. When he went to Baoji for the second time for Weiping’s case, the staff of Chongqing judicial bureau rushed to Baoji overnight and forcibly brought him back to Chongqing from Baoji, threatening to revoke his lawyer’s license. Lawyer Zhang Keke (张科科) was also repeatedly asked to meet the judicial bureaus officials at various levels in Hubei (湖北省) who warned him not be involved in Weiping’s case.
In the case of lawyers Fu Ailing (付爱玲) and Chen Jinxue (陈进学), as soon as they arrived in Shaanxi, they were called lots of times by the Guangzhou Judicial Bureau (广州市司法局) asking them to return to Guangzhou immediately. The two lawyers had to return to Guangzhou after staying only one day in Baoji.
On October 26, 2020, November 23, 2020, and January 28, 2021, the lawyers requested to visit Weiping three times, all of which were declined by Gaoxin police. When asked whether they had completed investigating the case, Gaoxin police refused to answer on the grounds of secrecy.
I can’t help but feel that as long as the charge of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ is in place, everything can be treated as a secret. The word “secret” covers up all the truth.
While lawyers’ requests for meeting their client were repeatedly denied, on November 25, 2020, Gaoxin police arranged for Weiping’s father to meet him for ten minutes. During the ten minutes, Weiping didn’t speak much; when he did, he did so very slowly as if he was reciting lines. He only conveyed one point: His parents and I are not to speak up for him anymore. It was as if he still had access to the internet and knew exactly what was going on in the outside world while in detention. Only at the end of the meeting, as his father had already left the room, he shouted behind him: “You and Mom have to stay sound and alive!” He sounded so desperate as if he was preparing his parents for the worst. This may be the only expression of his true feelings.
In order to stop us as the family from speaking out, Baoji Guobao can use any means at its disposal. We reasonably suspect that Weiping, once again, has been tortured.
4. Forcing friends who worked with Chang Weiping to testify against him by illegal means
While Baoji Guobao are busy silencing Weiping’s family members, they also illegally interviewed his friends who had worked with him in various provinces and threatened them with verbal intimidation to testify against him as witnesses in the case. Some of these friends, who had only met Weiping once, had their phones illegally taken away in order to take pictures of their phone contacts, creating a sense of fear. Some friends were coerced into reading out the accusations written in advance by Guobao, while others were taken to local police station for a long period of time to restrict their personal freedom for refusing to accuse Weiping. They do not hide their attempts to impose incriminating evidence on Weiping at all. This is outrageous!
On January 6, 2021, I filed a complaint with the Baoji Municipal People’s Procuratorate requesting access to the video recordings of Chang Weiping during his RSDL detention in January 2020. On January 22, the Baoji Municipal People’s Procuratorate replied to me only by text message: “After investigation, the public security is handling the case according to the law.” There is no answer to my request for access to the video recordings. While no law in China allows torture, I wonder what law the Baoji People’s Procuratorate is referring to. I also wonder which law they follow allows the public security authorities to threaten the families of suspects many times warning them not to speak out.
As the New Year approaches, I would like to thank you all for your support to Weiping during the past year. I hope you will continue to follow Weiping’s case closely.