Posts Tagged ‘Chinese legal system’

Ni hao, Kafka

August 18, 2011

Just before Europe blows, here are three things worth reading that go to China’s lack of institutional development.



The first is the latest on blogger Wang Lihong, detained since March, and subject of Do something useful No.1. That post contains all kinds of links you can follow to learn more about and to support her case.

Wang’s ‘trial’ took place on 12 August and involved some nice touches. It was declared an open trial, but requests to attend were refused. The courtroom provided only five seats for observers. Two were filled with uniformed cops. Two were filled with goons. And one was taken by Wang’s brother. According to the lawyer, when Wang or her lawyer spoke, the judge interrupted, repeatedly. Two witnesses for the defence were detained en route to the trial by police, one in Beijing (and was then held in a illegal jail) and the other at an airport in Fujian province. Perhaps 20 Wang supporters were detained outside the courthouse…

The below is from From Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Wang Lihong’s Trial Marred by Procedural Violations; At Least 20 Supporters Taken Away by Police 

The trial of human rights activist Wang Lihong (???) for “creating a disturbance” in Beijing on August 12 took just two-and-a-half hours and was beset by violations of the Criminal Procedure Law, according to one of her defense attorneys, Han Yicun (???). Hundreds of people—supporters, uniformed and plainclothes police, journalists, and diplomats—gathered outside the courthouse. At least 20 of Wang’s supporters, including a petitioner in a wheelchair, reportedly were taken away by police before the start of the trial. The presiding judge stated that the verdict would be announced at a later date.

After the trial, Han Yicun spoke in detail about how the proceedings were procedurally flawed. Han said that he was hindered in his defense arguments since prosecutors were given more time during extensive cross-examination of Wang and because he was frequently interrupted by the judge. He noted that Wang was unable to complete her final defense statement since the judge interrupted her many times as well. In his written defense statement arguing for Wang’s innocence, Han described the prosecution of Wang as political persecution rather than a legal proceeding, and argued for the necessity of judicial independence in China to ensure due process and the protection of citizens’ civil rights.

There was a large police presence outside the courthouse; one eyewitness counted approximately 20 police vehicles. Petitioners and other supporters chanted slogans or held signs in support of Wang, and some shared information about injustices they had experienced. Around the entrance, police cordoned off an area that included both officers and several foreign journalists, and a large number of national security officers and plainclothes police kept close watch over the large crowd.

Although the court had declared the trial open to the public, virtually all applications to attend the proceedings had been rejected, including from foreign diplomats as well as petitioners and activists from all around the country. Han noted after the proceedings that the courtroom was extremely small—with far too little space to accommodate the number of people who wished to observe the hearing—and that the court had essentially created the atmosphere of a “closed” trial. Only five seats in the courtroom were designated for observers, but two of them were occupied by uniformed police and two by plainclothes police; the other one was occupied by Wang’s son, Qi Jianxiang (???).

In the days and weeks leading up to the trial, Chinese authorities had warned potential witnesses not to testify and restricted the movement of several other individuals, most notably defendants from the “Fujian Three” netizens’ criminal defamation case from last year. (Wang’s trial for “creating a disturbance” stemmed from her participation in protests outside the sentencing hearing for these netizens in April 2010 in Fuzhou City, Fujian Province.) In the evening of August 11, Wu Huaying (???), after eluding Fujian authorities and making her way to Beijing, was seized by interceptors and then held at the Duxinyuan Guest House, a “black jail,” along with three other petitioners from Fujian. Also on August 11, national security officers in Fuzhou prevented another one of the “Fujian Three,” You Jingyou (???), from taking a flight to Beijing.



John Kamm gets the full treatment visiting Dongguan Prison













Here’s a new piece from the blog of veteran China human rights campaigner John Kamm about Xu Zerong. Xu, a Harvard- and Oxford-trained academic specialist on the Korean war, was sent down for 13 years for ‘leaking state secrets’ in relation to his research. He thought various documents related to Chinese tactics in the 1950-3 conflict were legally in the public domain after 40 years. The People’s Liberation Army and the judge had different  ideas. Still, sounds from the Xu interview at the end like Kamm managed to get him into some of the more cushty Chinese prisons…

Xu Zerong: With American Attention … All Prisoners Benefit

In recent years, visits to Chinese prisons made by representatives of foreign governments and non-governmental organizations have been reduced to a trickle. This is due in part to the reduction of Sino-Western bilateral rights dialogues and the elimination of visits to custodial centers that these dialogues once fostered. Consular visits to individual prisoners aside, the International Center for Prison Studies visited prisons in Anhui and Hubei in March 2009; Dui Hua visited the Beijing Juvenile Detention Center in May 2010; and an international humanitarian organization visited two Chongqing prisons in the spring of 2011. No United Nations officials have been allowed into Chinese prisons since Manfred Nowak, the special rapporteur on torture, returned from a visit in late 2005 to condemn its palpable “climate of fear.”

Though dwindling, visits by foreigners to Chinese prisons play an important role in ensuring the humane treatment of prisoners. In a recent interview with Hong Kong’s Open Magazine, Xu Zerong discussed how he ended up serving 11 years in prison and how overseas intervention improved his life in custody.

In November 2002, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Dongguan Prison in Guangdong Province. A few months later, Xu was transferred there to serve his sentence for “trafficking in state secrets.” The following is an excerpt from the Open Magazine interview detailing prison conditions and the impact of international concern on the treatment Xu received.

Writing Got Him Through the Prison Years

Cai Yongmei, Open Magazine, August 6, 2011

[Translated Excerpt]


Open Magazine: How was [Dongguan Prison] compared to Huadu [National Security Detention Center]*?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?????????????John Kamm??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Xu Zerong: Much better. At Huadu I was held in a cell with just one or two people. [At Dongguan] each cell had 10 to 12 people, so there were people to talk to. Dongguan Prison is a model prison in Guangdong Province. Management is relatively civilized. This is also to the Americans’ credit. The Dui Hua Foundation’s John Kamm visited [Dongguan Prison] in November 1999 [sic] along with officials from the Ministry of Justice foreign affairs bureau; this was reported in the prison newspaper. With American attention, prison conditions improved, and all prisoners benefited.


OM: Kamm remained very concerned about your case.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ?????

XZR: Yes. In November of that year I was transferred from Dongguan Prison to Guangzhou Xicun Prison, which had even better conditions. I believe this was [due to] his help. Both the Guangzhou Xichuan [sic] and Dongguan prisons are considered Guangdong’s most civilized prisons. Because Guangdong’s prison administration bureau directly supervises Xicun [Prison], prisoners’ living conditions were even more civilized [there], and [mandatory] overtime labor was not as severe as in Dongguan. Because work hours were long in Dongguan, there was no time to write—I had to wake up in the middle of the night to write.

Xicun Prison has 15 cell blocks, one for Hong Kong people, one for Macanese and Taiwanese people, and one for foreigners, but there weren’t any Westerners. I was detained in the cell block for mainland Chinese. There were bathrooms in the cells. One Burmese said it felt nice, like staying in a guesthouse. In February 2005 I was even put together with weak and elderly** prisoners and waived from doing labor, giving me time to write. All of this was the result of Kamm’s negotiations with the authorities. He even sent me five books about things like US diplomacy and international relations. I also received a short letter from him.


OM: When you were in prison, were you aware of the support you had overseas?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

XZR: [My] lawyer told me that there were people overseas who were supporting me and signing a petition [on my behalf], and prisoners incarcerated afterward said they saw reports [on my case] on Hong Kong TV. The most surprising thing for me was when I was in Guangzhou Prison and received a card from Silicon Valley signed by eight people including someone named Zhou Fengsuo. The name sounded familiar so I looked in an official book on the June 4th incident, New China Review, and discovered that he was a student leader at Beijing’s Tiananmen. I was extremely moved.

I also received four Christmas cards sent from the United States by International PEN, which were unexpected. When your Independent Chinese PEN Center gave me an award, my niece told me and even gave the prison a photo of the trophy. All of this was of great encouragement to me, knowing that there are many people in this world who don’t think that I committed a crime. I am really very grateful to everyone.

*In the interview, Xu says Huadu National Security Detention Center was established in 1995 to house special operatives, political prisoners, and Guangzhou municipal officials ranking at or above deputy level. He said conditions at Huadu are better than at other detention centers, noting en suite air conditioners and televisions and good food.

**Prisoners age 55 and older are classified as elderly.



Finally, an interview by the Quiet Canadian in the anorak. Pulitzer prize winning Ian Johnson interviews poet, book writer and serial reporter Liao Yiwu. Liao, currently in Berlin, is one of thousands of Chinese who are either explicitly or implicitly exiles (in his case the government has not actually torn his passport up). He says he’s saving his mum trips to prison bringing him food…

The interview is posted on the blog of the New York Review of Books.

‘I’m not interested in them; I wish they weren’t interested in me’: An Interview with Liao Yiwu

Amid the recent crackdown on dissidents by the Chinese government, the case of Liao Yiwu, the well-known poet and chronicler of contemporary China, is particularly interesting. For years, Liao’s work, which draws on extensive interviews with ordinary Chinese, has been banned by the authorities for its provocative revelations about everyday life. In early July, amid a worsening atmosphere for artists and intellectuals critical of the Chinese government, Liao fled to Germany via a small border crossing to Vietnam in Yunnan province.

Liao first came to prominence in 1989 when he recorded an extended stream-of-consciousness protest poem called “Massacre” about the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He was subsequently arrested and spent four years in prison, where he met the series of outcasts and misfits who became the protagonists of his first book on China’s underclass. Written in the form of questions and answers, these stories became symbolic vignettes about people from a range of offbeat and unusual professions or situations. Some of them were translated in The Paris Review in 2005, and they were collected and expanded in the 2008 book The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up.

Now, one of Liao’s other three books, God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China, is about to be published in the United States in September. It tells the story of Christian persecution in the early Communist era, mostly in minority areas of Yunnan province. He has also written a memoir of his four years in prison that has just been published in Germany to wide acclaim. His fourth book, on China’s new underclass, has yet to be published.

I recently spoke with Liao at Berlin’s Literaturhaus, where he easily blended in amid the tourists and would-be hipsters. His head clean-shaven, he appears younger than his 53 years, a short, powerful man who often lapsed into a thick, Sichuanese dialect. He talked about his decision to flee, his new book, and how he plans to continue his work from afar.

Ian Johnson: The Chinese newspaper Global Times said Liao Yiwu is not in exile. It said you’re just on holiday and that nowadays it’s not so strange for Chinese to go abroad for extended stays. They say your decision to go to Germany has to do with marketing your books. Are you really in exile?

Liao Yiwu: I never said I wanted to go into exile or flee. It’s just because if I didn’t my books wouldn’t get published. I guess I won’t go back for a while. I’m doing publicity for the prison book now, then I’ll go to the US for my Christianity book. Then Taiwan for the Chinese edition of the prison book. Then back to Germany, where I have a one-year DAAD fellowship in Berlin. So when that’s all over, I’ll see if they haven’t forgotten me.

What did the authorities tell you?

They said, “two books of yours can’t be published overseas.” One is the prison book. The other is the God book. They said both are unacceptable. So I talked with them and asked why. They asked me to sign a paper [promising not to publish]. They said these were “illegal cultural products.” They said these two books disclosed secrets.

Is political repression more severe than it has been in the past?

Yes, especially the first half of the year. Ahhh, I don’t know. I think it’s the government’s own problem. That call for a Jasmine Revolution. They took it so seriously but it was just something someone posted on the Internet. It didn’t exist, but after it was posted they came by all the time, asking and asking. No one had heard of it! They’re nervous.

My writing is illegal…I don’t know. I’m just writing something and now have broken their law. I don’t want to break their laws. I am not interested in them and wish they weren’t interested in me.

So why are they?

The prison book is pretty cruel. I was serving time in Chongqing. At one point they tortured me so much I smashed my head against the wall to try to kill myself. I passed out and then over the next few days the non-political prisoners came by and said, “Hey buddy, if you really want to kill yourself that’s a stupid way to do it. A better way is like this: you find a nail sticking out of the wall and smash your temple against it. It’s much more effective, believe us.” So this book is maybe more cruel than the others. The authorities said to me: “If you publish this book we’ll send you back to Chongqing.” There’s no way I’m going back there. That’s too terrifying. They said we don’t care about the Mao era. You can write about that. The 50s and 60s are okay.

But then the Christianity book should be okay. It’s mostly from that era.

Yes, but the religious question in China is so great that it’s also forbidden, especially the subject of Christianity. I didn’t consider this when I was writing it. Haha, if I had thought of that I wouldn’t have written it [laughs]. They say it’s illegal to publish it abroad. This is strange. It’s a secret if foreigners read it, but not if Chinese read it. So it’s a secret for Ian Johnson to read, but not for me [laughing].

Why did you write about Christians and not, say, Buddhists?

Me, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t have a definite plan. I had this opportunity to meet the Christians and it moved me so I did it.

How was it interviewing these Christians? You’re not a Christian, right?

It’s like this. I was in Yunnan trying to interview the last landlords of China, the ones who were persecuted in the early communist years. I met some people who told me about these Christians. I went to meet them. It was a really poor place. Unbelievably poor. No electricity, no roads, no telephone. We walked four or five hours to get to one village. But I thought this was so unbelievable. You’d get to a village and there’d be a church. Westerners had been there before, a century earlier, and built these churches. It was remarkable. They worked in these villages until 1949 when the Communists took over. The foreigners were expelled and a lot of the Christians killed. The stories are unbelievably cruel. In one case the father was executed and left on the side of the road. The family wasn’t allowed to pick up the corpse. When I heard this I cried.

What will you do in Germany? Your sources of information, your interviews—it’s all back in China.

There are too many stories about China! People say, “you won’t have anything to write about here,” but the problem is I can’t write them all. There are too many.

How do you work? Did you record the interviews?

In some of the other books, no. But in this case God is Red) I did. But when I write down their answers I try to make it sound as good as possible. I’m a writer so I want to use all my skill to write their stories.

How about the prison book? How did you remember all that?

I had a copy of [the classic Chinese novel] Romance of the Three Kingdoms and made tiny notes that I put in the book. It was really difficult, but in this way I was able to recover a lot of memories. These books are different. God is Red was difficult because I had to walk a lot of roads and eat a lot of bitterness, but I was glad to be able to write it. They were moving stories. But the prison book was difficult to write. It was painful.

And the fourth book is finished?

Yes, on the new underclass: some of them are unemployed, others simply don’t fit into society. But I’ve got more. I have seven or eight books I can write. I have a lot of material on me. I don’t lack material.

But from now on you can’t interview anyone, since you no longer live in China.

I’m already 53 years old. I’ve lived through a lot. The 1980s were a golden age for Chinese thought and literature. Then came 1989. Then came the reforms and the economic growth. No one thought the Communists would be so tough and strong. It’s caused all these waves of immigration. After they took over there was a big wave of immigration as people fled. Then after 1989 there was another wave of about 100,000 who left. Now there’s a new wave of people leaving, even though the economy is so good. At least among many artistic people it’s like this. You can’t do anything meaningful in China. If you return you have three choices: flee, sit in prison or shut up. I had to flee. Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei weren’t able to flee but I was. It’s probably because I interviewed a lot of these underclass people so I understand how the police think. That allowed me to figure a way out. I have contacts in the underground.

Can you get used to living abroad? You don’t speak German or English.

Sure, communication is never a problem. I like Berlin. East Berlin has a lot of underground bars that remind me of China. There’s one street there with a lot of prostitutes. I’ve been there many times to observe and watch how different German prostitutes are from Chinese prostitutes. The Germans are more polite. If you don’t want to, they leave you alone. In China, several will fight over you.

Some people ask why you publish so much overseas.

I’d like to publish in China but since 2001 I haven’t been able to. In the 1990s it was difficult but then after 2001 nothing at all. There is a lot of illegal, underground publishing. Most is related to sex. A friend told me I’ve got some good news for you: your book on the underclass is competing with the sex books! That was funny. But the two books coming this year are the ones I most value. They are the most personal and have moved me the most.

Do you still have relatives back home?

Yes, my mother, brother and sister.

Did you tell them ahead of time that you were leaving?

No, you cannot. I was the only one who knew.

Can they understand?

[Sighs] Slowly they’ll understand. For example, if I’m arrested they have to deliver food to me in prison—it’s a burden for them [laughing]. All those trips to the prison [laughs]. I’ve spared them those trips …

Does your mother understand what you do, your writing?

She does, but she wishes I wasn’t mixed up in politics. But I’m not. I’m not interested in politics. I’m not like Liu Xiaobo. I didn’t write a Charter 08. I did sign it. The police asked me why I signed it and I said I don’t know, I just felt like it.

You seem to have a knack for finding sensitive issues.

Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really mean to but somehow it happens.

August 15, 2011 11:15 a.m.

What they teach you in school these days

August 11, 2011

(Do something useful No.2)

Bloomberg has a great story today about academics from some of the leading US universities being banned for political reasons from China and their universities doing nothing, or less than nothing, about it.

If you are a student or graduate of one of these esteemed schools, you might like to write a letter to the top lady or gentleman of the institution, telling them how impressed you are.

If not, or in addition, send this on to someone connected with one of these institutions.


Lest I be accused of being unfair to China, here are a couple of links to a well-known cases of the US beating up on academics. 

Tariq Ramadan was banned from taking up a professorship at Notre Dame (Michigan) in the US by the Baby Bush administration.

Adam Habib was deported from the US upon arrival for alleged ‘links to terrorism’.

In the more distant past, writers including Graham Greene, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, and Doris Lessing were banned from America for their political views. Sill, there is no real moral equivalence (I believe) with China, from where thousands of Chinese people have now been exiled because of their beliefs.

Here is an article about Hong Kong and Macau ignoring their mandates to operate different ‘systems’ to PRC and policing academics in a similar way.



News from around the Third World

July 28, 2011

We start our report in the Third World’s richest nation, Italy.

I haven’t blogged about the Sollecito-Knox Satanic ritual murder case in my local provincial capital Salem*  for some time because the case has been unravelling as predicted. The star witness turned out to be a junkie-dealer who already testified for the police in two other murder trials (so much for drug addicts spending all day in bed). And the forensic procedures and DNA ‘evidence’ have been shredded by a long report from Rome’s Sapienza University.

We are now in the end game. The prosecutor Giuliano Mignini is firing off criminal defamation suits against people who point out he is unfit for office even in Italy at a rate unprecedented even for him. After the Rome academics introduced their report in court in Perugia this week, Mignini and his pals despatched two squad cars of police to Sapienza University in the capital in what appears to be a bizarre act of attempted intimidation. (The university sent them packing.) There is no real doubt that Sollecito and Knox are going to go free. The main point of interest for Italy-watchers is to ascertain that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY is held responsible for burning witches**. That includes the prosecutors; the half-witted magistrates; the gormless, overcharging lawyers; the thoroughly incompetent and corrupt police; the lazy and self-serving journalists who leaked the official side of the investigation at every turn in contravention of the law, and every other medievally-minded member of this shameful lynch-mob***.

When nobody is held responsible, it is important that you do not think of Sollecito and Knox. A couple of years inside will for them have been an interesting life experience. Think  instead of the family of Meredith Kercher, the murdered girl. They are the real victims of this pantomime performed by adults with uniforms and titles.

*Known in dialect as Perugia
** Should read: ‘sending innocent kids to prison for life’.

*** Should read: ‘professional mafia’.

A link to another part of the Third World that I cover is provided by poor old Google. The same US internet firm which last year decided to stand up to China by refusing orders to censor its service recently got a demand via Mr Mignini to shut down an Italian blog he does not like. The China decision has cost Google much of its market share in the Middle Kingdom as the Chinese government does almost everything it can to slow down and disrupt Google’s service (pushing many users to move to the Chinese Google rip-off provider, Baidu). In Italy, Google has already been intimidated under the country’s media laws in a case that saw some of its executives sentenced to prison (they won’t actually go, because that only happens to kids and poor people). So what did Google do when Mignini came knocking? The firm immediately pulled the site Mignini does not like (without contacting the blogger), even though there is no prima facie evidence it contains anything libelous under Italian law. The firm that took on the Dragon is caving in Italy. However, the blog in question has been moved to WordPress (which I use!), and which so far seems to have the necessary cojones for our Italian adventure.

The global battle against men who live with their mums, men with comb-over hair-cuts and men and women who call themselves ‘doctor’ but don’t actually have a doctorate, goes on.

We close today on the subject of the recent, horrific high-speed rail crash in China’s Zhejiang province and the official efforts to (literally) bury the truth of what happened (with corpses still inside). Rather than more news reports that you have probably already seen, here is a translation of Han Han, China’s most famous blogger. I wonder, is there anything in these lines that rings a bell for Italians with regard to the conduct of their own ‘professional’ classes:

“The Derailed Country”

You ask, why are they acting like a bunch of lunatics?

They think they’re the picture of restraint.

You ask, why can’t they tell black from white, fact from fiction?

They think they’re straight shooters, telling it like it is.

You ask, why are they running interference for murders?

They think they’ve thrown their friends under the bus. And they’re ashamed.

You ask, why all the cover-ups?

They think they’re letting it all hang out.

You ask, why are they so irretrievably corrupt?

They think they’re hardworking and plain-living.

You ask, why are they so infuriatingly arrogant?

They think they’re the picture of humility.

You feel like you’re the victim. So do they.

They think: “During the Qing Dynasty, no one had television. Now everyone has a television. Progress!”

They think: “We’re building you all this stuff, what do you care what happens in the process? Why should you care who it’s really for, so long as you get to use it? The train from Shanghai to Beijing used to take a whole day. Now you’re there in five hours (as long as there’s no lightning). Why aren’t you grateful? What’s with all the questions?

“Every now and then, there’s an accident. The top leaders all show how worried they are. We make someone available to answer journalists’ questions. First we say we’ll give the victims 170,000 kuai apiece. Then we say we’ll give them 500,000. We fire a buddy of ours. We’ve done all that, and you still want to nitpick? How could you all be so close-minded? You’re not thinking of the big picture! Why do you want us to apologize when we haven’t done anything wrong? It’s the price of development.

“Taking care of the bodies quickly is just the way we do things. The earlier we start signing things, the more we’ll have to pay out in the end. The later we sign, the smaller the damages. Our pals in the other departments—the ones who knock down all the houses—taught us that one. Burying the train car was a bonehead move, true, but the folks upstairs told us to do it. That’s how they think: if there’s something that could give you trouble, just bury it. Anyway, the real mistake was trying to dig such a huge hole in broad daylight. And not talking it over with the Propaganda Department beforehand. And not getting a handle on all the photographers at the site. We were busy, ok? If there’s anything we’ve learned from all this, it’s that when you need to bury something, make sure you think about how big it is, and make sure you keep the whole thing quiet. We underestimated all that.”

They think that, on the whole, it was a textbook rescue operation—well planned, promptly executed, and well managed. It’s a shame public opinion’s gotten a little out of hand, but they think, “That part’s not our responsibility. We don’t do public opinion.”

They’re thinking: “Look at the big picture: We had the Olympics, we canceled the agricultural tax, and you guys still won’t cut us a break. You’re always glomming on to these piddling little details. No can-do spirit. We could be more authoritarian than North Korea. We could make this place poorer than the Sudan. We could be more evil than the Khmer Rouge. Our army’s bigger than any of theirs, but we don’t do any of that. And not only are you not thankful, but you want us to apologize! As if we’ve done something wrong?”

Society has people of means, and those without. There’s people with power, and those that have none. And they all think they’re the victim. In a country where everyone’s the victim, where the classes have started to decouple from one another, where it’s every man for himself, in this huge country whose constituent parts slide forward on inertia alone—in this country, if there’s no further reform, even tiny decouplings make the derailings hard to put right.

The country’s not moving forward because a lot of them judge themselves as if Stalin and Mao were still alive. So they’ll always feel like the victim. They’ll always feel like they’re the enlightened ones, the impartial ones, the merciful ones, the humble ones, the put-upon ones. They think the technological drumbeat of historical progress is a dream of their own making.
The more you criticize him, the more he longs for autocracy. The more you gaomao him (piss him off), the more he misses Mao.

A friend in the state apparatus told me, “You’re all too greedy. Forty years ago, writers like you would’ve been shot. So you tell me, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

I said, “No, you’re all too greedy. Ninety years ago, that kind of thinking would have gotten you laughed out of the room. So you tell me: after all that, have things gotten better, or have they gotten worse?”

Worthwhile links:

No longer on Google’s Blogger, but now at WordPress (great courtroom detail):

Long reports can also be funny when they deal with Italian police conduct:

The highlights of this report (at least those that have thus far been translated into English) are here:

  • 5 big dos and 5 big don’’ts of crime scene investigation (Ooops. In Perugia the police and their ‘scientists’ did none of dos and all of the don’ts. Guess they had a bit of an off-day…)

  • Overall conclusions that police and their ‘scientists’ ignored standard international protocols, failed to perform some tests, misinterpreted results in others, claimed to have ‘scientific’ results where they did not:

Note the discovery at Sapienza of starch (err…food) on the knife between the blade and the handle. Prosecution claimed the knife had been thoroughly cleaned by the killers, but their great forensics still uncovered (internationally-unacceptably small trace of) Kercher blood on the blade. Presence of starch residue now shows satanic ritutal murder gang cunningly cleaned off blood but not food from the knife… just like they cleaned all their fingerprints, bloodprints, DNA, etc from the room where Kercher died while leaving Rudy Guede’s evidence all over the place. I say: Burn ‘em already…

Finally, here is that YouTube video of the chief investigator on the Sollecito-Knox case again, talking about his ‘exquisitely psychological’ investigation. There have been another 2,000 hits since I first posted it. It deserves 2 million. You will not find anything funnier on a comedy programme, so settle for Italian reality and send it to your friends.

Do something useful

July 19, 2011

(Do something useful No.1)


Just back from China and from pretty much getting latest book finished. Except for a small hitch, about which I will blog later.

Meantime, I am adding a new Category button called Do Something Useful. I will use it to file interesting miscarriage of justice and political persecution cases about which readers of this blog might want to do something. Like onpass the cases to friends, sign petitions, even write letters. Imagine how good you will feel if someone you decide merits your support gets let out of prison…

Please only support cases that you have read. Do not assume that me posting stuff automatically means people are innocent of what they have been accused of.

Most of the cases will come from China and Italy since they are — in institutional terms — the Third World countries in which I spend most time. But let’s not pretend nothing ever goes wrong in the UK; there is just a lot less of it. At some point I will go through previous posts and link ones like Knox and Sollecito into this new category.

Our starter for ten today is a lady from China called Wang Lihong. Read on. The link to her case on the Global Voices campaign site is here.

China: Campaigning for the Release of Female Activist Wang Lihong

The Chinese government has been arresting human right activists and political dissidents since February 2011 under the pretext of the Jasmine crack down. Many of the detainees have been released, including the prominent artist activist Ai Weiwei. However, a female activist, Wang Lihong has been detained for 117 days, with the court finally deciding to prosecute her last week.

A number of prominent bloggers have decided to break the silence and campaign for the release of Wang Lihong even though the political climate is still tense. Independent documentary maker, Ai Xiaoming has written a biography [zh] for Wang Lihong in her blog:

Who is Wang Lihong?

Wang Lihong


Wang Lihong was born in October 1955 in an army family in Qingtao and finished her elementary and secondary education in Beijing. She was sent to serve the rural society in Shaanxi in April 1975 and enrolled in the Chinese Department of Yanan University between October 1978 and July 1982. She returned back to Beijing upon graduation and worked there. She left her job in 1991 and became an entrepreneur. She retired in 2008 and started participating in social welfare activities online.

Wang was arrested on March 21, 2011, under the charge of “inciting social unrest”. Later in the official arrest document issued on April 22, 2011, the charge has been changed to “disturbing public transportation in a crowd”. Many believed that the police referred to the “surrounding gaze” flash mob action in Fujian, back in April 2010 (see below).

Below is an incomplete list of social activities that she has participated in since 2008.

  1. The police murder case of Yang Jia on July 1 2008. She visited Yang Jia’s mother and interviewed her and blogged about Yang Jia’s case.
  2. Together with another blogger, Temple Tiger, she helped the homeless people around Tienanmen square.
  3. The Deng Yujiao self defense murder case in May 2009. Wang Lihong travelled to Hubei to join the “surrounding gaze” flash mob in order to pressure the court for an open and fair ruling on Deng’s case.
  4. On May 2009, Wang campaigned for a visit to petitioner, Yao Jing, who was seriously injured by local government officials from Linyi who tried to intercept her petition in Beijing. Together with a group of bloggers, Wang raised donation for Yao Jing’s hospital and lawyer expenses.
  5. Campaigned for human rights lawyer Ni Yulan, who was prosecuted by Beijing authority soon after she was released from jail.
  6. Participated in the “surrounding gaze” flash mob action in support of the three Fujian netizens who was accused by local authorities for defamation in their citizen reports about a suspected rape case in March and April 2010.
  7. Celebrated the Nobel Prize award to Liu Xiaobo in October 2010. She was detained for two weeks and was under house arrest for several months.
  8. In March 2011, she visited two activists in a Henan detention center, Wang Yi who was sentenced to one year labour education for writing a tweet and Tian Xi, an AIDS activist.

Wang’s citizen practice

During her detention, the police have asked Wang to make three promises for a probation arrangement: 1. to never meet sensitive people again; 2. to never travel to sensitive regions again; 3. to never get involve in other people’s business again.

She refused to sign the document and made a statement instead (via @Wanyanhai [zh]):

????????????????????????????????????????????……????????????? ????????????????????????????????

I am a person with a conscience. I cannot guarantee that I can keep silence in front of others’ suffering. I can’t guarantee that when I stand in front of Qian Yunhui, Tang Fucheng, Li Shuling… I can pretend that I do not see their miseries. If I keep silence in front of all these suffering and evil deeds, the next person beaten down by evilness will be myself.

Prominent citizen reporter, Tufuwugan, has encountered with Wang in various public incident since 2009 and he has written a blog post on his impressions of Wang [zh]:


We have completely different styles. She likes to argue for the truth and never compromises while I like to hang around with a [flash mob] group and joke around. That’s why I really like her righteousness and simple mindedness. She has everything written in her face and never lied about her feelings… She is a really engaging citizen and a thorn in the eyes of those mother f**kers.

What Tufu and Wang have been doing all these years has opened up a new political space in China. Ai Xiaoming wrote another blog post about the significance of Wang Lihong’s citizen action [zh]:


They get to know one and other through the Internet and collectively practice their citizen rights. We have so few experts and scholars who are willing to speak for the grassroots, but countless netizens participate [in grassroots movements] and create a new climate for the new politics. This is something beautiful that we have never had before: citizens are collected through the Internet and participate in public affair. Regardless of their background, they come together without knowing each others’ real identity. They are connected through common concern. They feel that they can do something to make change, little things such as yelling out for innocent netizens [who have been wrongly prosecuted]. “Surrounding gaze will change China” has become a belief spread across the Chinese Twittersphere. In 2010, outside the Fujian Mawei court, hundreds of netizens travelled across the country to present themselves on the spot and there have been more than 5,000 signatures collected for the campaign. He Yang’s documentary work has recorded the whole political scene. This is the first time since the 1989 incident [Tiananmen Square] that I have seen people marching in the street, calling out “Speech is not a crime, Long live freedom!”

Free Wang Lihong

A blog, Free Wang Lihong [zh], a Facebook event page [zh] and a Google Group [zh] have been set up to collect articles and news reports about Wang and campaign for her release.

Back in Twitter, @weiquanwang has created a signature petition page [zh] for the release of Wang Lihong. Children’s rights activist @zhaolianhai [zh] also helps collecting signatures via a Google Spread Sheet [zh].

Some netizens have claimed that they will surrender themselves to the police if the court sentences Wang to imprisonment. @tufuwugan [zh] is among one of them and there are more, he reports via Twitter:


Just now I received a phone call from Chu Chengzhi saying if Wang is founded guilty, he would surrender himself. He asked me to get some legal advice first. He is right. I was also involved similar “crimes”. If she is guilty, we are all guilty, let us all be guilty. They just want to terrify people through prosecution. Let’s take the initiation to take your prosecution, to fulfill your animal thirst for prosecuting people.

Yin Longlong has written a poem, ‘Search for Wang Lihong‘ [zh] to pay his tribute to Wang. Below is the translation of the poem’s first verse:


I look for my pride, a steel file
A string. The sea has submerged the skyscrapers, princesses and mermaids outside the Emperor’s hall
In the century before the last one
I look for Wang Lihong, only to tell her that the Dynasty is falling apart
Tell her that we have chosen silence because they are worthless to listen to
Tell her that there are still breathes under the earth of our dead sisters
Tell her
Animals and insects are inside the summer prison cell

Police and thieves

February 21, 2011

Why don’t I feel happier? In the past week, Arsenal beat the best soccer team in the world (Barcelona), I went skiing and a metre of snow conveniently fell from the sky, Berlusconi was scheduled for trial in April, and Berlusconi’s soccer team Milan lost to Spurs. Surely that is a pretty good week?

Milan are clearly rubbish, the snow-boarding was definitely excellent, and Arsenal have a slither of a chance of holding on to their advantage in the return leg at the Nou Camp. So the problem must be with Berlusconi’s trial. It is. The press coverage grates on me because of the drearily repeated notion that one desperate old fool is the sum of Italy’s problems (here is the FT with some typically superficial coverage, though you likely need a subscription).

In reality, the investigation into Berlusconi’s latest lies and idiocies is a tale of a system failing to change. Details of the investigation, including testimony and wire tap evidence, have been leaked by police/magistrates in the standard contravention of the law and due process. (Here is one of many leaks, translated into English in The Guardian)

You would have thought that just once those who represent the legal system could have said to themselves: ‘Why don’t we try doing things the correct way this time? After all, we are dealing with an elected prime minister, so it might be smart to be impeccably professional.’ But oh no. Not for this lot the quiet, calm comportment of the thoughtful professional. For this lot, it is showtime, freshly-ironed magistrates’ togas, newly-pressed carabinieri trousers, and the rest — all of which allows Berlusconi’s followers to nurture their persecution complex.

I am reminded of remarks made by one of China’s bravest and most sensible lawyers, Mo Shaoping, at a conference last year. Mo, who defended as best he could the Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, offered his analysis of why the rule of law has been regressing in China in recent years. Strikingly, he said that one of the biggest problems is judges overstepping their role: ‘Originally [at the beginning of efforts to stregthen the rule of law in the 2000s], there was emphasis on judicial neutrality and passivity: the judiciary should be passive and neutral,‘ he remarked. ‘Now, the emphasis is on the active initiative of the judiciary. I myself consider this a step back.’ You are not alone, Mr Mo.

In vaguely related news:

The parents of Amanda Knox have been committed to trial for criminal libel for saying that their daughter was mistreated by police investigators. The trial, scheduled for July, will be the perfect opportunity for Perugia police and magistrates to produce THEIR TAPE-RECORDING of Knox’s illegal all-night interview. Then everyone can listen to what happened and make an informed judgement. Presumably the tape also includes the police explaining to Knox her right to have a lawyer present. (Note that The Guardian article behind the link is wrong that libel is only a criminal charge in Italy; it can be either criminal or civil — the police have opted for criminal. It is fair to say that criminal libel laws are typical of institutionally backward societies; such laws are opposed by all major writers’ and civil liberties groups that I am aware of.)


Your money or your freedom

January 15, 2010


Another rumbling of perhaps not-so-distant thunder. Google’s threat to pull out of China is a significant development in increasingly confrontational relations between China and ‘the West’ (which in my definition is not really west because it includes Japan, as well as Europe and the US). Google’s move ratchets up another notch the political pressure that has been rising over market access for foreign firms, the question of the Renminbi exchange rate, negotiations over China’s vast iron ore imports and the arrest (initially on espionage charges) of Rio Tinto employees, and the handling of Chinese political dissidents, not least ones involved in the new-ish Charter ’08 movement.


Note that most of these are commercial and economic disputes. A simple metric has been at work in relations between China and the West since the Tiananmen massacre of 1989. It can be summed up as a Western bottom line of: ‘Your money or your freedom’. In the early 90s, in the first months of Bill Clinton’s first term, there was a momentary clamour for China to mollify the West by becoming freer. This did not last very long, mainly because China offered the West a different prize: money (or at least the strong smell of profit via Chinese market opening). Everyone has their price, and in the golden years between the 2002 start of the last Chinese credit cycle and the 2008 global financial crisis, the West was paid in money.


The situation — or at least perception of it — began to change in the past two to three years as China recycled vast amounts of foreign exchange earnings into (mostly) foreign government bonds. The main result was to maintain an artificially depressed exchange rate which helps China-based exports. Everybody else in Asia has done this over the years but, as China’s currency management continued against a backdrop of global economic recession, and as more and more multinational companies started to complain that China is finding new ways to block their market access, Western governments have gotten increasingly miffed. Throw in the arrests of Rio Tinto employees, initially on charges of espionage, and you have the beginnings of a Western consensus that China is no longer paying enough for us to overlook its unpleasant human rights record. At least, I think, this is a useful way of viewing the situation.


Google’s threat to quit, interestingly, is more a human rights/morality position than a commercial one. It has, it says, been the subject of orchestrated attacks (using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as the point of access) seeking to obtain information about human rights activists and campaigners dealing with China. Lots of other human rights lobbyists, lawyers, journalists and so on have had their Gmail accounts hacked, not via assaults on Google itself but through direct attacks on email users themselves. Google has not pointed the finger directly, but it is hard to imagine who would attempt to do these things on a regular basis beyond agents – at whatever degree removed – of the state. There have been various attempts in media coverage to spin the story such that Google, which has about a 30% share of the China search market compared with more like 60% for Baidu, is really willing to walk away because it is not the market leader. This is crude and unfair. The reality, surely, is that Google is putting up (morally) with way too much in return for what it is getting out (financially) from China. Everyone has their price, and Google’s is too high for China. That does not mean Google is bad, it means it is far better than most. The firm was willing to run censorship (albeit a bit less than Baidu) on its Chinese search engine in order to get a .cn presence, but having its systems attacked in a quest for information on political dissidents is too much. Compare that with Yahoo! which in 2004 voluntarily provided information to Chinese authorities which led to the jailing of a journalist for 10 years.


It will be interesting to see how the commercial fortunes of Baidu and Google are affected, long-term, if Google does quit China. Baidu’s share price has shot up around 15% since Google publicly stated its position, presumably on the assumption that it can now get a virtual monopoly position in search. Google’s share price is unaffected. I am making a note to check where they are at in five and ten years.


Meanwhile, for your delectation, here are some of my favourite word search terms that Baidu uses to censor and block web pages in China. These are my own (doubtless flawed) translations from documents leaked by a Baidu employee in 2009.


communist party



don’t love the party 

network blocked

the current government

China human rights

princeling [refers to children of political leaders]

the party now

one-party rule 

freedom of speech

common bandit

today’s police

defend legal rights


requisition land


the masses

government official drives the people to revolt

bandit officials

suppress students

Zhao Ziyang

political crisis

evedropping device

sell blood

wife swap

oral sex



mother and son incest

a night of passion

cheating in examinations
the sale of the answer
fake diploma

More links

Rebecca Mackinnon, who knows far more about this stuff than me, writes a spirited op-ed in the WSJ and seems to have a similar opinion.


Chinese soft power

January 5, 2010

The Chinese government decides to remind us that, whereas Italy is an institutionally weak state, China is the authentic institutional Third World, the real McCoy (or real Mackay if you prefer the likely Scottish origin of this term) of arbitrary, unprofessional and gratuitously nasty behaviour. I refer to the execution of a mentally-ill Briton, and an 11-year jail sentence for one of China’s best-known pro-democracy campaigners, which occurred in the same week.

 Akmal Shaikh, 53, a former London minicab manager, was executed in Urumqi for arriving in China with a suitcase containing 4kg of heroin. He had a long history of psychiatric problems. It appears that drug traffickers duped him into carrying the drugs and sent him to China saying it was part of a plan for him to fulfil his ambition of becoming a ‘pop star’. Arrested on arrival, Shaikh was given a 30 minute trial. During a statement he made during his also brief appeal, judges laughed at Shaikh’s nonsensical discourse and confirmed the death penalty, as this China law blog relates.

The 11-year jail sentence was handed down to writer Liu Xiaobo for ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Liu is one of the main drafters of Charter ’08, the Chinese pro-democracy manifesto published two years ago and modelled on Charter ’77, which was launched by dissidents in Czechoslovakia in the midst of the Cold War. Liu was also given a very brief trial at which his lawyers were allowed almost no time to present a defence (the obvious defence is that Liu has done nothing other than exercise rights guaranteed by China’s constitution). The court condemned him at Christmas, presumably in the hope that foreigners were thinking about other things.

If this was the hope, it may have been misplaced, since the cases of both Liu Xiaobo and Akmal Shaikh have received worldwide media coverage. Not for a long time has China faced so much negative press in such a short period.

The Chinese government and its running dogs have shot back with what philosophers call ‘moral equivalence’, or the argument that ‘you’re just the same as we are, only from a different culture’. This might involve reference to the fact that the death penalty is used in the United States, or that all countries have to defend against attacks on state power. 

But these attempts at obfuscation  do not cloud what is stark reality. In the Shaikh case, the court refused to allow either an independent local doctor or a psychiatrist sent from Britain to meet or assess the defendant. China’s 1997 Criminal Code states that a person who is unable to recognize or control his own misconduct does not bear criminal responsibility. However there is no clear requirement for a court to order a psychiatric evaluation. The main justice-related role of psychiatric institutions in China continues to be as places in which to lock up sane people who have criticised the state.  

The Liu case is a reminder that China’s courts are subject to direction by the Communist Party’s  Central Political-Legal Committee, currently headed by former Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang, which determines the outcome of many ‘special’ cases and makes sure that others – such as challenges to the Party – are never admitted to trial. Liu’s 11-year sentence was not really a judicial decision at all. 

A selction of British press comment on the execution of Akmal Shaikh:

More information about Liu Xiaobo:

Deja vu all over again: the letter which Vaclev Havel and others connected with Charter ’77 tried to deliver to the Chinese embassy in Prague (as reprinted in the Washington Post)

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