Last week, rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong went missing after traveling to Changsha to assist the family of a lawyer, Xie Yang, detained in last year’s “Black Friday” or “709” (July 9) crackdown. A group of four relatives of Black Friday detainees and 61 lawyers issued a statement on Sunday calling for more information. Translated by CDT:
[…] Since taking up legal practice, Jiang has spent a long time on the front lines of human rights defense work, handling and participating in many cases and legal actions in the public interest, resulting in the unlawful cancellation of his legal credentials. Due to his forceable abductions in the past, during the course of which he suffered the perforation of his left eardrum and eight broken ribs, we are deeply anxious about and paying close attention to his current disappearance. In particular, we call for the following:
1. We earnestly request that the relevant public security agencies immediately open an investigation into the disappearance of lawyer Jiang Tianyong. Jiang’s relatives reported it to the Tongbo Road branch office of the Public Security Bureau in Zhengzhou, where his residence is registered, on the afternoon of November 23, but they denied responsibility on jurisdictional grounds. Because Jiang’s planned route also involved Hunan and Beijing, we urge and demand that the relevant departments collectively ascertain his whereabouts.
2. If the department concerned has enacted compulsory measures upon lawyer Jiang, we request that the office handling his case immediately issue written notification to his family, in accordance with the law, and guarantee his fundamental right to legal defense.
In light of lawyer Jiang’s journey to Changsha to meet with the family of lawyer Xie Yang, and of Xie Yang’s involvement in the 709 case, we strongly suspect that the department concerned has placed Jiang Tianyong under administrative detention or other criminal compulsory measures. Even if this is the case, we still call for immediate notification of his family to avoid unnecessary panic on their part and in society at large.
3. If lawyer Jiang has been placed under administrative detention or criminal investigation for no other reason than his meeting with colleagues’ family members in Changsha and accompanying them on a fact-finding mission, we find this completely unacceptable and demand his immediate release. [Chinese]
Amnesty summed up the circumstances of Jiang’s disappearance in a release on Friday:
Jiang Tianyong was on his way back from Changsha, Hunan on 21 November after visiting the wife of detained human rights lawyer, Xie Yang. During his visit, Jiang Tianyong accompanied the wife, and three other lawyers, to Changsha Detention Centre to try to arrange a meeting with detained Xie Yang. Jiang Tianyong has not been heard from since calling his wife, Jin Bianling, right before he was due to board the train back to Beijing.
Two days after he went missing, on 23 November, one of his family members reported Jiang Tianyong’s disappearance to the Tongbolu Branch of the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau. The officials refused to take up the case citing jurisdictional constraints because, although Jiang Tianyong’s residential status (“hukou”) is registered in Zhengzhou, it was unclear where he was last seen.
Jiang Tianyong is a well-known human rights lawyer, whose activism resulted in him being disbarred in 2009. He has since continued his work as a human rights defender, despite suffering ongoing harassment, detention and physical beatings. [Source]
Harvard-based lawyer Teng Biao, who signed the letter, told RFA that “we are extremely worried and concerned about the possibility that he could suffer torture or other forms of inhumane treatment. I think the authorities have likely got him under [residential] surveillance […] I’m certain he has been kidnapped by them; that’s without doubt. The government is always using these kinds of underhand mafia tactics on lawyers and rights activists.”
The U.S. State Department expressed concern over Jiang’s situation on Monday. German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who met with Jiang at the German embassy in Beijing early this month, issued a similar statement last week. Jiang has sharply criticized Western governments for failing to adequately support the Black Friday detainees, a lapse he sees as part of a broader pattern of acquiescence. Ahead of Xi Jinping’s state visit to the U.S. in September 2015, Jiang accused President Obama of preparing to “take on the visage of a merchant […], putting aside all his principles.” Before September’s G20 summit in Hangzhou, he wrote that “a major reason the Party has become the disruptive and powerful giant it is today is because of the greed and appeasement of the United States, Europe, and other Western countries.”
China Change, which translated both of these commentaries, has posted an account of Jiang’s work and past run-ins with the authorities:
Jiang Tianyong was born in Luoshan (罗山县), the southernmost county in China’s central province of Henan. “The area around our hometown was beautiful — the land of milk and honey surrounded by mountains and lakes. But from the time I can remember, we were very poor. We never had enough to eat or wear, and despite working long hours doing non-stop manual labor, year in and year out, we were always hard up.”
In 1991, Jiang enrolled in what’s now Changsha University and after graduation became a high school Chinese teacher in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. “Even though teaching is an important profession, I never found it interesting enough, and it never quite sated my curiosity. I was, on the other hand, deeply drawn to questions of power, the law, and democracy,” he told an interviewer in 2010. His high school classmate Li Heping (李和平), already a lawyer and one of those detained in the 709 arrests last year, encouraged him to take the bar exam. He did, and passed.
In 2004, Jiang moved to Beijing to practice law. He became a human rights lawyer inspired by the barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng. In 2005 when Chen was tried and sentenced to four years in prison, Jiang was there by his side defending him.
“It was only with the Chen Guangcheng case that I truly entered the ranks of the human rights lawyers,” he said. “Later on the Internal Security police came and spoke with me, saying: ‘Your problem is that you’re not careful enough about choosing your friends, and you’ve been led down a wrong path. If you didn’t make friends with people like Chen Guangcheng, Li Heping, and Teng Biao, you wouldn’t be in the trouble you are today.’ Haha.” [Source]
Among those signing the statement in support of Jiang were Li Wenzu, Wang Qiaoling, and Yuan Shanshan, the wives of detained lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, and Xie Yanyi. Last week, the three women issued another public statement in the form of a satirical video, responding to authorities’ efforts to pressure Wang Quanzhang and Li Heping’s parents into recording videos urging their sons to confess. Police reportedly visited Li Heping’s parents on November 17, telling them that if their son would only confess, he would be freed. His parents were eventually persuaded to record an emotional video begging Li to admit guilt. A similar story involving Wang Quanzhang’s family emerged late last week:
Detained lawyer #WangQuanzhang's father was forced by police to make a video urging him to confess. https://t.co/12T9jxAY1L #sickening #依法治国 pic.twitter.com/QXLxpFyLld
— William Nee (@williamnee) November 24, 2016
With lest than 2 weeks before final trial extension, authorities ratchet up pressure on #WangQuanzhang, and coercion of family. Shameless! https://t.co/RIOjrnzxNK
— Michael Caster (@michaelcaster) November 24, 2016
And then some people wonder why China has no soft power. Behavior fitting a third-rate tin-pot dictatorship. #xitler #wangquanzhang https://t.co/hSdbM8Y36i
— Peter Dahlin (彼得·达林) (@Peterinexile) November 25, 2016
Again? They did this once in Apr. They also sneaked up on Li Heping's old parents in Henan recently and recorded them in emotional distress. https://t.co/S38SGh7R52
— Yaxue Cao (@YaxueCao) November 24, 2016
Yes, putting pressure on family members of 709 family members to get loved ones to confess seems to be a common tactic.
— William Nee (@williamnee) November 24, 2016
In response, Li, Wang, and Yuan appeared on camera wearing heart-shaped headdresses bearing their husbands’ names, and with the character wu (无), implying wuzui （无罪), or “innocent”, written on their faces with lipstick. Their voices in the video are pitch-shifted with a “chipmunk” effect, perhaps to underline the video’s sarcastic tone. The three announce that they have decided to help the Party and government with this “709 Relatives Collective Confession Encouragement” video out of gratitude for their good treatment over the past year. This has included interference with their childrens’ schooling, sudden evictions, obstruction of efforts to find new homes, and rough treatment from riot police and court bailiffs. The three urge their husbands to note these, and act accordingly. At the end of the video, they state “we believe you’re innocent! Hang in there!”