In 2016, citizen journalist Lu Yuyu and his girlfriend at the time Li Tingyu were formally arrested after having been detained for over a month. The two had been chronicling “mass incidents” across China on the “Not News” (非新聞) blog and @wickedonnaa Twitter account since 2013. Reporters Without Borders awarded the detained Lu and Li a Press Freedom Prize in 2016. While Li was reportedly tried in secret and released in April 2017, Lu was sentenced to four years in prison that August for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catch-all charge frequently used to prosecute activists. Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists interviewed Lu about his detention.
Lu was released from prison last month, and on July 17 began sharing his account of his detention and treatment on Twitter. CDT has translated the fifth part below. See also CDT’s translation of Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
— darkmamu (@darkmamu6) July 31, 2020
That was overthinking on my part, because for the next two months or so, I seldom got a chance to exercise. Or I should say, I was no longer in the mood to do any.
This cell had been vacant for a long time before they locked me up. The other five cellmates were there to monitor me. Their reward was not having to do labor anymore. The difference between city jail and prefectural jail was that at city jail, inmates were required to do labor: making electronics.
Among the six of us, there were three Han people, two Bai people, and one Yi person. Three from Yunnan, two from Sichuan, and one from Guizhou. Three accused of theft, one manufacturing drugs, and one transporting drugs. Then there was me, there for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
The oldest inmate, Lao Dong, was designated by police as “on-duty,” which means he was the cell head. His main duty was to report on the other inmates. He assumed some of the police’s duties and enjoyed some privileges. I heard that in other cells, a cell head could beat people up at will. Lao Dong was accused of theft. One morning, he passed by a construction site on his electric tricycle and decided to take a few steel boards with him. People from the site knocked him out. After waking up in the hospital, he was taken to jail. Lao Dong, who was given multiple drug and theft-related convictions, said he was innocent, that all he had done was take a few steel boards. He was only a few years older than me, but looked like a man in his 50s, just like Lao Zhang.
Lao Dong wanted to show off his power. Backed by the police, he told us to recite the jail rules, and that the police would check on that. He told us to take turns to do cleaning, but stayed out of it himself.
I told him that I’m not reciting the jail rules, and agreed to take turns cleaning, but only if everyone has to participate.
Then Lao Dong reported me to the police. I don’t know what they talked about. But after that, he became much nicer to me.
Smoking was allowed at the city jail. Not in the cell, but once a week the police would take the inmates to a designated place to smoke. Ah Long and others always found ways to bring cigarettes back, or somehow collect the butts thrown away by the police, take out the tobacco and rewrap it with paper. They’d connect a copper wire to a battery that they snuck back from shaving sessions. Then they’d be able to light up a cigarette, after which they’d sneak into the restroom to smoke. They got copper wires from friends who were ordered to make electronics. Unlike the restroom at the prefectural jail, the one at city jail had a meter tall wall that blocked the surveillance camera. You wouldn’t get caught smoking in there. I didn’t smoke. I thought it was too humiliating to smoke like that. Plus I had gone five months without smoking and simply didn’t have the urge anymore.
One day the battery ran out. Gulu rubbed on a cotton strip with the bottom of his shoes. He heard that this could make fire. He did it all day but didn’t succeed. The cop discovered this and scolded him, and we had a good laugh.
Gulu was less than 20 years old. This was his second time in jail for theft, both times he stole from the same household. I didn’t know why he was called Gulu [meaning “stomach rumble”]. Maybe it was because he was chubby and soft-tempered.
We didn’t have to work. Ah Bu, Ah Long, Gulu and Xiao Sang played poker all day long. Lao Dong sometimes joined them, and sometimes the police would call him out to do reporting. I read, run, did push-ups and sit-ups, and quietly studied English. I tried to keep my mind off of my case.
Twice a month, we could buy stuff. I’d never seen most of the food they offered on the outside, but inside, they were considered delicacies. A roast duck cost 18 yuan. It was a little bigger than a dove. I had some concerns about consuming it, but I didn’t have many choices. I bought Lao Gan Ma once, 10 jars and put them all into a plastic container. Glass jars weren’t allowed in jail cells. I ate it every day, and every day I suffered constipation.
About 10 days after I was transferred to the city jail, Attorney Wang and Attorney Xiao came.’
“Lu Yuyu, first of all let us congratulate you.”
I was excited: they’re letting me out finally!
“You and Li Tingyu just won the Press Freedom award from Reporters Without Borders as citizen journalists.”
Of course, I was happy to receive recognition and support from the outside world. But still, I didn’t know when the case would be over.
We chatted for a while before the two attorneys had to leave. They were the only connection I had with the outside world. I felt sad every time I saw Attorney Xiao, who had trouble walking, leaving the meeting room.
In mid-December, the police from the PSB came. They hadn’t been sitting idle all this time, they’d been to my hometown to find my family, my relatives, schoolmates, and my ex-girlfriend who had long ago married someone else. We spoke for only a few minutes before arguments resumed. The warden came and stopped us because there were many other meetings and interrogations going on around us. Another unproductive session.
They came again the next day.
They said: “Lu Yuyu, we have your best interests at heart. We just wanted to talk.”
I said: How? I’m sitting on a tiger chair, while you’re sitting on a chair. How can we talk? And I don’t think you have my best interests at heart!
I was upset about having been locked up for six months.
They came again on the third day, and took me to a high-end, separate interrogation room. There was a video camera in front of the interrogation chair. In movies, there are often some secretive people hiding behind these cameras. Who was on the other side of this camera? There were four cops, some from the city PSB, others from the prefecture PSB. They brought along a bowl of beef rice noodle soup, and a few packets of cigarettes. Clearly, they misunderstood what I meant.
“From now on, let’s talk in here. Fair enough? Just tell us what you like to eat, and we will bring it to you. And cigarettes too. You are free to smoke.” [Chinese]