Xie Yang, human rights lawyer is 'free' but living in a home prison built specially for him
Authorities transform his apartment in a university (where Xie Yang's wife teaches) into a prison with bars and a security door. The neighboring apartment taken by the police to ensure round the clock control. Xie Yang is one of the hundreds arrested in the 2015 campaign of 709. His case is typical of China's way of dealing with dissidents or those who believed to be dangerous : Torture, confessions, imprisonment. Many of these attorneys, at least half, are Christians.
According to a recently published video made by Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), a professor of environmental science and the wife of human rights lawyer Xie Yang, Hunan authorities are setting up a large security door equipped with a fingerprint reader, effectively functioning as a prison cell door, outside the family apartment in Yuelu District, Changsha. As the large metal gate in the hallway is being put up, the Special Task Group in charge of Xie Yang’s case has also rented out the adjacent apartment for a permanent security presence to watch over him. Chen Guiqiu explained in the video that the building is a residence for Hunan University professors, and that she owns the title to their apartment. “They’re doing this to put Xie Yang under long-term house arrest, preventing anyone from freely visiting our home.”
On May 8, after nearly two years of imprisonment, Xie Yang was granted probation by a Changsha court. Since then he has been kept in police custody, and even brief meetings with family members have been conducted in the presence of officers. In early July, around the second anniversary of the 709 crackdown, Xie Yang appeared briefly on WeChat, chatting with a number of his legal peers and sharing some photographs of meetings with friends. On July 13 he returned to work at the Changsha Weigang Law Firm, and appeared in perfectly good spirits. On his first day of work he accepted a brief interview with Radio Free Asia. The report, titled “I Did a Deal With the Authorities,” featured Xie Yang explaining how he made a deal with the government before being released, which included him remaining silent about what transpired to him when in custody, and limitations on his professional activities, etc. No further details about this arrangement were disclosed.
During the trial, Xie Yang was made to appear on state media denying that he had been tortured in custody. Among the scenes broadcast by the authorities was Xie Yang, in court, holding up a piece of paper and stammering out the lines: “Everything I have done has been completely opposed to the profession of being a lawyer. These actions have besmirched the reputation of the Communist Party and have had an extremely bad impact. I hereby sincerely express my guilt and regret. I am willing to take this opportunity to express my current thoughts on human rights lawyers: We should abandon the strategy of contacting foreign media or social media to stir up hot topics and sensitive incidents, attacking the judicial system and smearing the image of Party and government organs, and other similar methods, when we take on cases. Doing this not only violates the professional integrity of the legal profession and legal regulations, as well as trampling on the fairness and justice of the law, but it also harms the nation, the society, and the people. Everybody must take me as a lesson. You must conduct yourselves within the framework of the law. Don’t be used by Western anti-China forces. I hereby express my willingness to confess guilt, truly repent, and sincerely apologize. I hope that the judicial organs will give me a chance to reform myself.”
Obviously the practiced, wooden reading of the script of penitence and guilt was part of the deal struck.
The court has yet to make public the length of the prison sentence Xie Yang was given.
The perverse transformation of the family home into a prison appears to be a punishment for Xie Yang accepting the RFA interview. Chen Guiqiu said that from July 14 onwards, she has once again lost contact with her husband. “I don’t know where he is now. The phone rings, but no one answers.”
The first and the only day back to work on July 13.
Xie Yang was arrested on July 10, 2015 in western Hunan Province while handling a case. He was part of the 709 arrests of rights lawyers across the country. After six months of secret detention (the so-called “residential detention at a designated place”), and with the detention center having repeatedly used the excuse of needing to conduct further “interrogation” to extend his period of detention (退侦延期), the Changsha Municipal Intermediate Court brought charges against Xie Yang on December 16, 2016, accusing him of “inciting subversion of the state” and “disrupting court order.” The basis of the subversion charge was for his criticism of the government on social media and defense opinions, given in court, on behalf of clients who were charged with political crimes. The charge of disrupting court order stemmed from his protest of the court’s illegal refusal to accept and register legitimate legal complaints.
After he was indicted, Xie Yang was allowed to see the lawyers that his own family hired for him — the first time this was allowed to happen in all the 709 cases. All other lawyers and dissidents detained in Tianjin had been prevented from meeting with their own lawyers. From late last December to January this year, two of Xie Yang’s lawyers held a series of meetings with him. In them, Xie Yang made detailed revelations of the torture and barbaric, inhumane abuse he was subjected to during the period of residential surveillance at a designated place and in the detention center. This included extended periods of sleep deprivation, beatings, threats to kill his wife and children, and denying him the use of toilet paper.
Later, Xie Yang’s lawyers published transcripts documenting his torture, bringing a firm and sustained global response from the media, governments, human rights organizations, and professional law associations. Part of the reason for this was that up until that point, though there was immense international interest in the welfare and treatment of the rights lawyers and dissidents who had been held under long-term secret detention, there was no way to obtain the information.
In a statement dated January 13 and made public by his lawyers, Xie Yang said, “If, one day in the future, I do confess — whether in writing or on camera or on tape — that will not be the true expression of my own mind. It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail to reunite with my family. Right now I am being put under enormous pressure, and my family is being put under enormous pressure, for me ‘confess’ guilt and keep silent about the torture I was subject to.”
Over the past several years, Xie Yang has taken on cases representing forced internal migrants, grassroots people who have been killed by police, and other cases, defending China’s most vulnerable. Like other rights lawyers, in the course of taking on these cases he would often find himself on the opposite side of the table to the government.
Ms. Chen Guiqiu has put out an invitation for whoever wishes to come and visit her home in Changsha. “Come and see how they treat a human rights lawyer who has already been released. Come and take a look at China’s rule of law.” The address is: Hunan University Professor’s Residence in Yuelu District, Changsha, building 3-23, apartment 1401 (1402 being the apartment taken over by state security.) [长沙市岳麓区猴子石大桥西侧阳光100国际新城第一期湖南大学教师公寓3-23栋1401房.]
Chen Guiqiu herself already fled China with her and Xie Yang’s two children in February of this year, and after many complications arrived in the United States.