The Muppet Show in Court
Human rights lawyers and journalists are being intimidated by the Chinese government into public confession and denunciation of human rights efforts.
They bow to the state power. They used to be brave: they fought for social justice, criticized the Communist Party – including Xi Jinping – and advocated for democracy and freedom. Then they were arrested and accused of “subverting the state’s power.” Before and during the trail, they appeared in front of the camera and admitted the alleged crime, apologized to the Party and to the state for their wrongdoings. These are the human rights defenders in China, a group of lawyers who were famous for their engagement in exposing the corruption and illegal practices of the authorities. They dismantled the contaminated baby formula, represented persecuted dissidents, defended the suppressed petitioners and even Falun Gong practioners, etc. Now they show a totally different face in public, intimidated and obedient to the authority.
- 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 til 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.
When lawyer Wang Yu confessed publicly that she has been used by her colleagues in the Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing, she accused her supervisor Zhou Shifeng of being an unqualified lawyer who loves to promote himself through creating sensation in getting involved with social activities against the government: “[Zhou] has recruited some rights defenders, famous internet bloggers, and retired government officials. He encouraged these people making online-noises to raise the reputation of the law firm. They attack and defame the government in order to get profit. They prepare the foundation of a color revolution.” Wang also refused to accept the Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Prize; she said she did not acknowledge this prize and will not accept it. A friend of Wang said that this is not the normal Wang Yu, that she must have suffered severe torture during her more than one year detention. After she made this statement, Wang was released on bail.
The Xi-government mastered the techniques – break one’s spirit, then you can do whatever you want with him. This is the patent of a totalitarian system. George Orwell has shown how this method works perfectly through the protagonists Winston Smith and Julia in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Wang Yu is not Julia – when she was arrested last summer, her husband was taken away by the police too and her teenage boy was sent away to a remote region to his grandmother. She bent to the power and said things that the authority wanted her to say in order to protect her family. The same happened to Gao Yu, the 71-year-old journalist who was arrested on April 24, 2014. A year later, she was sentenced to seven years in prison (later changed to five years) for leaking “state secrets.” Gao has made a “confession” and admitted her own “crime” on a public TV channel because she wanted to protect her son, who was in the hands of the police.
On August 4, the head of the Fengrui law firm, Zhou Shifeng, was sentenced to seven years with the same accusation: “inciting subversion of the state power.” In the same week, the affiliated human rights activist Hu Shigen also got seven and half years, and Zhai Yanmin a three-year suspended sentence. Dissident Hu, 61, a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center and member of the underground church, has already served 16 years of imprisonment from 1992-2008.
On screen, all three have calmly accepted the verdict; they showed regret for their behavior, bowed to the judge, and thanked the fair and correct court. In the YouTube film, Zhou Shifeng said: “Today’s trail allows me to recognize that my behavior has damaged the Party and the government. I regret sincerely (bow deeply). I experienced a trail of fairness, justice, and rule of law. I am convinced that the trail is correct; it could stand the test of history and law. I admit my crime, accept the verdict, and will never appeal.”
Winston Smith betrayed Julia; when he was forced to put his head in a cage filled with hungry rats, the horror defeated him. It is said that testicle crushing has been practiced by the Jewish investigators in Nuremberg after World War II to obtain the confession from the German prisoners.
We do not know whether similar threat and torture have been applied to Zhou, Hu, and Zhai, so that they betrayed the ethic of profession and gave up their dignity in public. But we do know that the Party is the master of manipulating the human nature; it takes advantage of the weakness of human beings. In the past, Marshal Peng Dehuai, Deng Xiaoping, and numerous other highest communist leaders have been put under such pressure that they finally made kowtow to Mao and the Party. Under strong pressure, there are seldom heroes – only survivors. The lawyers are normal human beings. We do not blame them for what they said in front of unbearable psycho-terror. The “confession” they made proves only one thing: the Party and the state machinery of the totalitarian regime is the source of all evil and crime. All the trials against dissidents and human rights activists are nothing but a farce, a puppet show. Xi Jinping & Co. is challenging the common sense of the people. What kind of judicial authority is that if it forces the lawyers to kneel down and make kowtow to the rulers? Since Xi took over power in 2012, he revives slowly but firmly the Mao style of idolatry and turns himself into the new godfather of all Chinese. Yet history could not be cloned – his wishful thinking will come to naught.