Liu Ermu: Political Prisoners Are Not Criminals
Dangerous levels of pollution in and around Chengdu, Sichuan earlier this month inspired denizens to stage sit-ins and adorn public statues with face-masks. Authorities responded by sealing off the central Tianfu Square, detaining participants in small scale protests, and requiring shops to report bulk face-mask purchases. Online activist Liu Ermu (刘尔目) commented with an essay criticizing the government’s heavy-handed response to its infamous air pollution problem. Shortly after he shared his essay on WeChat, Liu was detained. Radio Free Asia on December 13 reported on Liu’s detention:
“I hope that soldiers and armed police will think about the fact that the people whose interests they protect have sent their families to live overseas, while their own wives and children have to breathe in this smog,” the article said.
“They should shake off the [mental] fog that surrounds them and act to protect their families’ interests,” it said.
Liu’s wife said he still hadn’t returned by Tuesday afternoon, local time.
But she declined to give an interview. “I don’t want the foreign media involved,” she said, before hanging up.
A source close to Liu said he had been detained by officers from the Puyang police station in Chengdu’s Wuhou district.
“It’s to do with the article he wrote about military police wearing face-masks,” the source said. “The article was posted the day before yesterday … He has been writing a lot of very cutting articles that really hit their mark.”
A journalist surnamed Wen said Liu is likely still being questioned inside the same police station. [Source]
In less than 24 hours, Liu was released. He then went home to write on his interrogation experience. This second essay also includes his defense of political prisoners in China, a country where “you’re either a master or a slave of the system.” CDT has translated the essay in full:
Political Prisoners Are Not Criminals
After being issued a subpoena for provoking trouble two days ago, I am now safe, due to all of my friends making their solidarity with me heard. One friend asked me to write down the sequence of events that happened that day. Actually, each person’s account of what happened would be different, and National Treasure [Domestic Security Department] officers from different regions are all different, too. But I’ll first discuss the sequence of what happened, and then focus on the issue of how political prisoners self-identify–political prisoners are not criminals.
At around 7:30 pm on the 12th, two police officers came knocking at my door, asking if I was Liu Ermu. I admitted I was, and they asked me to leave with them. Before the police took me to “drink tea” with them the two other times recently, they called ahead to let me know. This time, they came right to my door. I felt that this time was probably a little more serious. So when I went to put on my shoes, I called my wife over and handed her my cell phone. I told her that if I wasn’t home by the morning of the 13th to put the word out.
The police car drove to the entrance of the neighborhood. After we got to the police station, we waited a long time for the Chengdu City Security Bureau National Treasure officer to arrive. He inquired about my essay explaining how the worst smog problem is actually the armed police breathing it. We discussed a lot; he set a bunch of traps, which I defused and corrected, one by one. He probably didn’t get anything useful out of it. Later, after the written record took shape, the National Treasure officer handling the case sent it to his superiors for instructions. It was then sent back, and I was made to sign it. This was all obviously premeditated this time. After finishing with the city bureau National Treasure officer, they had me wait for the Wuhou National Treasure officer to arrive, and I also had to speak with the local police station.
After speaking with each, it was almost 12:00. My wife came over to the police station to pick me up. Because I thought that everything was settled and there wouldn’t be any trouble, I had her go back home to look after our child. I’d return home in just a bit. But after the Wuhou National Treasure Officer left, past 2 o’clock in the morning, the winds suddenly changed. A local officer had me sign a subpoena notice, titled “Suspicion of Provoking Trouble.” I was then taken to an interrogation room, where I completely lost my freedom of movement. After entering the interrogation room, the officer inside told me to sit on a tiger bench. I refused, invoking my status as a political prisoner. He then told me to stand facing the wall. Again, I refused in the name of being a political prisoner. They didn’t make things too difficult, so I sat on a chair for the whole night.
The next day, I was forced to get pictures taken and have my fingerprints done. By that time the sun had already come up and they had changed shifts. When they were taking my fingerprints, I heard my wife arguing with them outside. I asked several times to go talk to her, to tell her there was no need to make such a ruckus, but they refused. I told them that they had to have a bottom line, and that the Communist Party of China couldn’t protect them forever. I was locked up together with a young man accused of taking drugs. His urine test came back positive, so right before noon they had me take a urine test to see if I was taking drugs. I came back completely negative.
In the afternoon, they said they wanted to make sure they got all of my information correct, and so they wanted to do a second urine test. This set off alarm bells for me. I thought they were trying to frame me as a drug user. That young man suspected of using drugs kept saying that he hadn’t used any, and that he demanded a second urine test. The police kept telling him that the rule was that you could only take one test. They asked him to believe in science. So how were they willing to flaunt the rules for me, to do a second test? The only answer could be that they were trying to frame me. So I told them that they could beat me to death and I still wouldn’t do a second test. One time, a police officer rushed in complaining that they were receiving phone calls from all over the country. I knew it was my friends voicing their support. The officer that had rushed in came to ask for my wife’s phone number. I reckoned it was to threaten her into helping them clear up the situation.
Another police officer came by that afternoon. We discussed ideological issues. He told me that he too was an idealistic person, and that he even followed my public account. In the end, our discussion led to the problems of the system. I told him that I’d acknowledge however long they sentence me, but I’d never admit to guilt, because I was innocent. And I wouldn’t file a lawsuit either, because that would be an acknowledgement of the legality of the system. At 3:00 P.M. the officer came back who had me sign the subpoena the day before. He had me put on my belt. I thought I was finally being taken to Pi County, that I would be eating that night with Fu Hailu and my other brothers detained in connection with the Mingjiu liquor case. But the officer informed me that, in accordance with the latest directives from superiors, I was to be reprimanded and allowed to return home. After I returned home, they told me, I was to worry about making good money and staying out of trouble.
I got out and saw my wife. She told me that the police actually did say I may be accused of drug use. WumianDajie (@无眠大姐) from the internet called and got this information as well. Thinking back about this now, this really was very dangerous. This time, thank goodness for all of my good friends online, and all the others with whom I usually don’t interact with online. Without them, I wouldn’t even want to think of what might have happened. They were capable of finding conclusive evidence against someone completely innocent like Nie Shubin and taking him out. Fabricating a whole set of evidence to accuse me of drug use would be a piece of cake.
Now I’ll focus on the issue of how political prisoners self-identify: political prisoners are not criminals–they are innocent.
Political prisoners are a unique phenomenon of totalitarian society. Political prisoners may be explicitly acting as political rebels, or they may be acting in political opposition in other, less open ways. They are a group of people that have been identified by those in power as a threat to their rule and therefore must be forcibly suppressed through violence taken out against them by the authorities. In modern civilized society, regime change occurs through regular replacement mechanism. Regular power transfers occur every five or seven years or so, so there won’t be any talk of subversion of power, and there won’t be any political prisoners. Only in totalitarian societies would those in power so viciously attack political prisoners in order to enjoy their special privileges as rulers of authoritarian society for extended periods of time, or because they are afraid of facing prosecution after losing power for the numerous evils they have already committed. It is human nature to pursue freedom and human rights. Nothing could stop that, no matter how totalitarian a society is. And so this is why there is a constant stream of all kinds of political prisoners.
Totalitarian societies employ various kinds of legal means to accuse political dissidents of various kinds of charges in order to deter their dissention. Laws are meant to be a set of rules by which society as a whole abides. They are meant to promote societal stability and the advancement of civilization. But according to Marx, laws are the will of the ruler–they are a tool for the protection of their sovereignty. Marx’s understanding of law has fundamentally deviated from that of modern civilization. And so since the advent of Marxist law, it has done nothing but continuously cause humanity one great disaster after another. So I told the officer who opened my case that I had not broken any laws. I had only violated some political regulations. I told him that I’d acknowledge whatever they sentence me to, but I’d never admit guilt, and I would never file a lawsuit, because those so-called laws are not laws.
In China lately, there are fewer people involved with political resistance. So why are those in power so panicked to get rid of them? It’s because in the decades since this regime was established, it has caused great disaster for the land and its people, though not everyone knows about this disaster. But now, because of all the conscious violations against the people and the overall corruption within the system, their rule has lost any and all moral authority. The only thing the authorities can rely on is deterrence through the barrel of a gun. And at the same time, they are carrying out an economic takeover. Even if the economy is acquired into the system, it will not necessarily be truly recognized. To rulers who have completely lost all moral authority to rule, the slightest breeze could truly topple them over in an extremely dramatic fashion. So this is why they are so panicked.
After decades of rule, though we hear shouting about morality every day every day, morality has already been lost. This loss of morality does not mean that society lacks morals. No matter how suppressed over all these decades, we never truly lacked morality and justice. These things more or less continue on. The people who hold the moral right to speak are political dissidents. Though few in number, dissidents could take down those in power at any time, perhaps through random chance. Those in power have lost moral authority, and political dissidents currently hold this authority. Those in power are partly jealous and partly horrified over this. Once an official is caught, no matter how high his or her position, officially, no one would dare to speak up. And normal people wouldn’t say anything, either. They would simply enjoy watching the regime come crashing down, like watching a drama. So no matter if it’s Jiang Tianyong, or Xiong Feijun, or me, we’ve garnered a lot of attention and solidarity from within and without China and online. With the situation as it is, how could they not be horrified?
In China, you’re either a master or slave of the system. If you want to be a human, want freedom, want health, want to know the truth, then you are the enemy of this system. You’re on the road to becoming a political prisoner. I hope that all political prisoners and potential political prisoners out there will recognize who they are. We are not criminals. We have not broken the law. Those are not laws, they are political regulations. The henchmen interrogating you in the name of the law are the ones who are truly guilty. We must not consider ourselves criminals and lower our heads. Rather, we should hold our heads high, stare them down, watch how they complete their examinations as if they were devoid of guilt. We must more bravely struggle on, more bravely face them. Being a political prisoner is not shameful–it’s glorious.
Liu Ermu, December 15, 2016, 1:04 P.M.
This may be deleted. Please save a backup if you liked it. Thank you. [Chinese]
See also CDT’s recent translation of lawyer Yan Xin’s written defense of client Lü Gengsong, who’s sentence for “subversion of state power” was recently upheld. Yan Xin, who was not allowed in court for Lü’s appeal, argues that in the absence of democratically elected government in China, there was no politically legitimate “state power” for his client to “subvert.”
Translation by Little Bluegill.