“Creating a Disturbance in a Public Place, Causing Serious Disorder”
A new period of persecution in China.
Although news articles about Nevadan rancher Cliven Bundy’s confrontation with the U.S. government were blocked in China, people were still eager to read about it through proxy servers. It’s inspiring to know that, even in a free country with rule of law, one has to fight to protect his own rights and freedoms. Still, the quintessence of the Chinese take on the story leans on a quote falsely-attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “The greatest danger to Chinese freedom is a government that ignores the constitution.” But, unlike Bundy, since people in China are not allowed to possess weapons, when their rights are violated their only option is to submit a petition to the government in Beijing, which is a painful and thorny process.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison till 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
In recent months, international scholars have joined the petition army asking the Beijing regime to free detained Chinese writers and dissidents. French Sinologist Jean-Philippe Béja, with his American colleagues Perry Link Andrew Nathan, and others, have written a letter to President Xi Jinping, asking him to release “Our fellow scholars Xu Youyu, Hao Jian, and Hu Shigen, and civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, and writer Liu Di.” Swedish and Japanese professors and scholars have also joined the petition. German sinologists will follow.
The five individuals named in the letter were arrested on May 6th for gathering in a private home to discuss the “June 4 event,” otherwise known as the Tiananmen Square massacre, which happened a quarter century ago. The official reason for their criminal detention is “Creating a disturbance in a public place, causing serious disorder.” A ridiculous accusation, a bad joke.
In the letter, the co-signed also appeal for the release of the journalist Gao Yu, who has been accused of an equally absurd crime: “Leaking State secrets.” A freelance journalist for the Chinese program of Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Gao Yu was charged with sending the Communist party’s “Document No. 9”–“Circular Concerning the Current Situation in the Ideological Sphere” to Hong Kong’s Mingjing Monthly. Gao Yu’s son was also been held in detention as leverage against his mother. After three weeks, he was released, but is not allowed to have contact with the outside world. Deutsche Welle General Director Peter Limbourg has sharply criticized Gao Yu’s detention. Gao Yu’s treatment was “beneath human dignity,” Limbourg said, to parade her in front of millions of television viewers as a confessed criminal. He expressed grave concern about the fate of the 70-year-old journalist and stressed her right to a fair treatment complying with the rule of law.
This is the third time that Gao has been arrested and detained. In 1989 she was detained for over a year because she showed sympathy to the student protestors in Tiananmen Square. In 1993 she was sentenced to six years in prison on the same charge she received this year, “leaking state secrets.” After serving five years of the sentence, she was released from jail in 1999 due to health reasons. This time her friends worry that the aged journalist will not survive the ordeal.
As the anniversary of June 4th approaches there is an almost daily string of arrests and detentions; lawyers, writers, and scholars in China have all been targeted. Since friends having a meal together can be suspected of treason, police are allowed intervene and arrest them. On May 13, when the writers Wen Kejian, Mo Zhixu, Liu Junning and others were dining in a restaurant in Hangzhou, 30 or more policemen broke in and took them away. After interrogation, most of them have been released, but one still remains in police custody.
On the 13th and 16th of May the lawyers Liu Shihui and Tang Jingling disappeared one after the other.
On May 17, the author Fan Yanqiong was watching television with her daughter at home in Fuzhou when she heard loud and heavy pounding at the door. It was several men from the security bureau. When Fan refused to go with them to the police station, they shouted at her, “What are you up to with those guys [human rights defenders]? Look at your miserable articles; it’s better for you to take them down.”
Though human rights activists like Hu Jia and many others are still at home, they know the police could break in at any time and take them into custody. Their computers, laptops, and bank books will be confiscated.
It’s pure terror at the moment in China. No privacy, no protection of basic rights. There’s a rumor that the authority has a blacklist with 137 well-known human rights activists on it. Though it’s not a list of “must be arrested,” it could be a list of “wanted.”
What’s making the government so frantic and fearsome? The anniversary of June 4th. This date is like a curse. As long as the perpetrator—the Chinese Communist Party—denies committing the massacre in 1989, it will be haunted by the memory.
“Besiege the city, back to Tiananmen” is the action call initiated by Wang Dan and Wang Juntao, student leaders during the 1989 Tiananmen protests who now live abroad. With this slogan they call for a worldwide commemoration of June 4th and this year there will be events on every continent to keep the memory alive. The Beijing government is extremely nervous, and any possible gathering on the mainland related to this topic will be quickly suppressed. Gao Yu and other persons who’ve been arrested are victims of the regime’s senseless and excessive panic.
In the coming weeks, even more human rights activists may disappear. The question is whether or not they will be released afterwards, like what happened during the Jasmine Revolution three years ago. The international community can’t wait till it’s too late. The appeals must continue, and the random arrests must stop. The imprisonment of the internationally renowned journalist Gao Yu, the scholar Xu Youyu, and the lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on trumped-up charges is not only a personal disaster for the victims, but also a hard blow to humanity, and an insult to universal values.