In 2016, citizen journalist Lu Yuyu and his then-girlfriend 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. The Committee to Protect Journalists interviewed Lu about his detention on July 30.
Lu was released from prison in June, and on July 17 began sharing his account of his detention and treatment on Twitter. Since CDT posted our translation of Part 7 of his account on August 11, he has deleted the tweet thread and republished the text at Matters. Part 8, translated below, picks up as Lu’s day in court approaches:
The prosecutor came back to me. He said this was my last chance, and that I’d regret not taking it. I wouldn’t regret it, I said. He left in disappointment.
There were three pre-trial meetings before the actual trial began. Every time, I was made to sit in the defendant’s seat like a mannequin. They asked me a bunch of things that I thought were trivial. Once, during a lunch break, an old Bai courtroom guard told me, “It wasn’t us here in Dali messing with you; it came from the top.” It was just like what the jailhouse police had told me.
On my trial date, June 23, the jailhouse police came in early and took me to breakfast. The courtroom guards were also present. One of them was almost two meters tall, and very fat. Perhaps they wanted to show me how small I was.
There were three police cars. I got into the middle one. We drove to the municipal court with the sirens on. The courthouse was well guarded, nervous police and plainclothes officers swarmed the area.
I waited for a while in a small room on the fourth floor before being taken into the courtroom by the fat guard. The courtroom was very small, and jam-packed. I recognized no one except my two lawyers and the prosecutors. I forget how it began, It didn’t matter anyway. The lawyers were arguing with them. They asked me questions from time to time. At some point, the court surveillance camera was broken for an hour or so. At noon we had boxed lunches, and I saw a few dozen plainclothes officers eating in the courtyard.
Court resumed in the afternoon. I sat numbly in the defendant’s seat, like I was being forced to watch a terrible film. I just wanted it to be over. In the late afternoon, the setting sun shined through the window, and I looked out at the blue skies. The clouds in Dali are really beautiful. When we were finishing up in the evening, the judge suddenly called on me to make my final statement. I was nervous. I hastily thanked my lawyers. Stuttering, I said I wanted to use my freedom to defend what I had done.
I’m introverted. I don’t like to socialize, and I really don’t like speaking in front of people. I was bullied for this as a kid. In middle school, I slowly learned to fight back, and I began to make friends. Together, we drank, we fought, we ran away from home. We sang rock ‘n’ roll on the street in the middle of the night. But I still dreaded public speaking.
I didn’t get back to jail until after 9. Relieved, I fell asleep instantly.
A year went by, and I still didn’t know how long I’d be locked up. I had to keep waiting, day after day. People were sentenced and transferred to the jail, more detained and tossed in there. The jail was always full.
June through September is the wet season in Dali. Lots of rain. I felt depressed whenever it rained.
On the morning of August 3, I received my verdict. Although I was prepared, I still felt a bit surprised to learn I had been sentenced to four years in prison. I immediately said I’d appeal. Not because I thought I’d stand a chance, but because that was the only way I could see my lawyers and stay connected with the outside world. Attorney Wang came to see me that afternoon and sign over power of attorney for the appeal and second trial. We talked about Jane’s [Li Tingyu’s English name] suspended sentence. I said, I understood her choice, but I’ll stick it out.
She had already endured too many things she shouldn’t have. In the face of autocracy, we shitizens don’t have much choice to begin with. It only matters to ourselves whether we choose to persist or give up.
I met Jane online. In early 2013, I was working without a permit in Fuzhou, while doing “Not News.” Jane messaged me and said she was very interested in my searches, that they were important for studying social movements. We chatted on and off. I learned that she participated in the protest against the censorship of Southern Weekly. Later, I quit my job at the plastic factory to focus on my searches. In May, my money started to dry up. At one point, I kept myself afloat by selling V-neck T-shirts. Jane bought two and sent me a picture of them. Then she bought an iPad keyboard for me. We started chatting more, every day.
One time, I was so down that I posted a message that I didn’t want to do this anymore. It got a lot of attention. Jane said she wanted to interview me to raise awareness of the importance of keeping records of mass incidents, and to help fundraise online to support my work. Because of that interview and help from many friends, the money issue was finally resolved.
Since then, Jane saved a copy of my search results on an overseas website every day. We talked for hours every day. Once she told me, out of the blue, “I’ve actually been looking at your Weibo since the end of the last year. I’ve seen your QQ profile too.” (I rarely used QQ.) That was how our relationship started.
Jane was planning on visiting me in Fuzhou during her summer vacation. But because my rental place in Fuzhou was too small and run-down, I decided to visit her in Zhuhai instead. The trip was delayed till August.
In Dali that August [of my imprisonment], it rained almost every day. Aside from the meat dishes that the warden brought me from time to time, I was able to get the “nutritious meal” that was normally reserved for death row inmates. I couldn’t finish them all, so I shared with my cellmates. Just like before, I exercised, learned English, and read books.
On September 13, the appellate court of Dali heard my case. It was as well-guarded as the first trial. The courtroom was bigger and even more packed than before. I didn’t know anyone there—they had obviously been brought there. But even then, I heard people murmuring about how excellent my lawyers’ defense was. Finally, as we reached the end, the judge asked whether I had anything to say. I said “I recorded about 70,000 mass incidents. According to your standard of four years in prison for every eight posts, I should have been sentenced to 35,000 years in prison.” An uproar broke out. Attorney Xiao and Attorney Wang chuckled. The judge, unmoved, adjourned the court, and I was taken back to jail.
On September 22, the verdict came out. It was as expected: I’d be out on June 15, 2020. The only surprise was that my lawyers weren’t in court. I saw doctors and nurses with oxygen bags. Were they actually worried about me fainting?
On October 12, the warden came. “Lu Yuyu, we will take you to Dali Prison tomorrow. You should pack up.” I heard that Dali Prison didn’t allow inmates to bring anything. But I still packed up my books and wanted to try my luck. The next morning, I was brought to the police car in handcuffs and ankle chains, and off we drove to Dali Prison. On our way, the supervisor who used to hit me said, “Lu Yuyu, we had some misunderstandings in the past. Let’s let bygones be bygones.” We passed through a tunnel, and a few minutes later the car got off the highway to arrive at Dali Prison. An officer went to take care of the paperwork. The others waited with me at the gate.
Moments later, I was called to get out of the car. I walked toward the prison in cuffs and chains, imagining what this place that would look like, the place that I’d be locked in for the next two years and eight months, and imagining what it would look like for me to leave.
Slowly, two giant, grey iron gates opened in front of me, revealing a look at the prison that awaited me.
(To be continued.) [Chinese]
Translation by Yakexi. CDT will continue to translate selected excerpts from Lu’s Twitter diary account of his detention as they are published. See also CDT’s translation of Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.