My Life With The Plainclothesmen

The Beijing Or Bust blog related an interview with lawyer Gao Zhisheng (recently featured by Joseph Kahn in Lawyer takes on China's 'unwinnable' cases).  Here, I am going to translate an ongoing daily series written by Gao himself.  This would have made a good documentary, although the filmmaker will likely get into trouble.

(December 25, 2005)  Boxun

I went out this early this morning to exercise in the park.  Several plainclothesmen were around me.  Compared to before, the scale of the surveillance has clearly gone up.  On the way back home, several plainclothesmen shadowed me closely.  After breakfast, my wife took my daughter to the place of the music tutor.  As soon as they stepped out, the plainclothesmen followed them.  While my daughter took lesson for one hour, the plainclothesmen waited idly outside.  Afterwards, they followed them home.

At 12 noon, my daughter had to go to school to learn English.  I took her downstairs and I watched the small thin girl being followed by two big strong plainclothesmen.  I felt very angry that a little child should have to be threatened by such filthy tactics 24 hours a day.

After sending off the little girl, my wife suggested that we go to eat at KFC.  The surveillance caravan went into battle station, as six different cars (with at least two plainclothesmen per car and the passenger holding a walkie-talkie) took turns moving up and down.

When we arrived at KFC, we ordered food and we sat down to eat.  A big plainclothesman even came right up and stood across my wife not more than 1.8 meters away.  The others also came up.  From their wooden expressions, it was clear that they have done this sort of thing often enough.  So we ate while they stared.  When we were done, we went home escorted by the cars front and back again.  Later, my wife and I went back to the office, and the plainclothesmen even led the way.  My wife laughed and said, "These people can now tell from the way that you dress just where you are going!"

In the afternoon, we received 50 petitioners from Shanghai at the office.  The plainclothesmen did their "duty" by standing outside the door ...

(December 27, 2005)  New Century Net

Today, the Chinese government has suddenly raised its level of surveillance of my entire family.  The number of cars that followed me today are now six.  Apart from the two old faces ("Beijing EP0030" and "Beijing E92673"), there is now a Mercedes-Benz and a BMW in the caravan.  The signs are that there are more senior-level departments getting involved.  Wherever I went, the cars would surround me and a group of about twenty strong men would run up.  I don't know if President Bush gets this kind of luxurious treatment, but things are definitely different from few days ago.

The person who stood as close as 1.8 meters away from my wife at the KFC restaurant and watched her dined was the hardest working of the whole lot, and also the most shameless.  You can tell that he treated this dirty business as a sacred duty.  Whenever I go, he followed me almost as if he was going to touch my body.  Today when I went home, he was shameless to the point of obstructing me from entering my home.

Correspondingly, when my wife went to the market, the number of plainclothesmen has increased from two to four.  The "treatment" of my daughter has also been upgraded.  When she came home, she started yakking about how the number of "brainless" people that her classmates found annoying has gone from the original two to "a large group."  She wanted me to congratulate her.

When I arrived at the office this morning, the landlord called to say that someone was causing him trouble for renting the office space to me.  The level of tender loving care from the plainclothesmen to me is incredible.  They can think about all the things that you can never imagine, and this is perhaps the unique attribute that they use to select plainclothesmen.

Recently, a lot of people want to offer me 'love.'  The day before yesterday, a person with a Wuhan (Hubei) accent called me and wanted me to take on a big case involving several tens of millions of yuan, for which I can expect to make a few million yuan in legal fees.  I told him: (1) my law office has been ordered to cease business by the authorities; (2) even if there was no stoppage, I have no interest presently in any case that involves only monetary interests as I would rather do something more meaningful.  The other party passionately expressed his firm support for the value of my past activities and denounced the barbarity of the authorities.  He said that despised the authorities and he could provide the several million yuan secretly to me without any receipt as long as I personally took care of the case.  On one hand, this setup had no apparent flaws.  On the other hand, I had never imagined that anyone would set up such a trap.  Still, I turned it down, thank God!  As I was hanging up the telephone, I heard someone laughing and saying: "Fuck!  He did not fall for it!" in perfect putonghua intonation on the other side.

(December 28, 2005)  New Century Net

Today, the plainclothesmen made some changes in their surveillance.  These new changes gave me a fresh feeling when I stepped out of the door in the morning.

Based upon the routine over the past several dozens of days, when I went jogging in the morning, there were four plainclothesmen following me step by step.  Each morning when I went downstairs, the plainclothesmen jumped out of their cars and follow me.  Today, it was the opposite.  When the plainclothesmen saw me come downstairs, they actually piled into their cars and a caravan of six cars followed me!  It was quite a sight.

When I reached the park, the cars with license plates "Beijing A11161" and "Beijing C12696" quickly stopped outside the park.  Eight plainclothesmen came out and looked quite self-important, each wearing ear phones and holding walkie-talkies in their hands to surround me.  When they saw that I was just continuing with my exercises, they were probably at a loss.  They stood around not knowing what to do; most of them just stared expressionlessly at me doing my exercises.

On the way back home, the cars with license plates "Beijing E92673" and "Beijing EP0030" repeatedly sped up and slowed down in front of me just so I can see their strength in numbers.  The other three plateless cars also took turns to make appearance.  The big difference between today and past days was that they deliberately wanted me to see the formation of their surveillance force.

In the morning, a group of more than 30 petitioners met with me in Beijing.  That morning, all seven surveillance vehicles went into action.  When I reached the destination, I went into the restroom.  Six plainclothesmen even followed me in there to watch.  I went into the lobby to wait for those who wanted to see me.  Perhaps because the waiting took a long time and the plainclothesmen were bored, they said something into the walkie-talkies and soon each undercover person had the company of a pretty girl.  Four hours later, the caravan of eight cars (including mine) headed back to my office, where the plainclothesmen continued with their duty of waiting downstairs.

When I got home in the evening, I learned that the plainclothesmen followed my wife and daughter in the usual manner.

(The Observer)  Chinese lawyer hits out at regime.  By Jonathan Watts.  January 29, 2006.

France, Germany and other states that have coddled up to the Communist dictatorship in Beijing will one day have to answer to the Chinese people, one of the country's leading civil rights activist has told The Observer.

Gao Zhisheng, a firebrand lawyer who has defended hundreds of victims of torture and persecution, said the Communist party was responsible for more deaths than the Nazis, but Western governments turned a blind eye because they were desperate to trade with the world's fastest growing economy.

'When the Nazis slaughtered Jews, the outside world condemned them,' he said. 'But the Communist party has taken the lives of 80 million people, 13 times more than the death toll among the Jews, yet the world says nothing.'

Gao's comments are particularly remarkable because he still lives in Beijing, where he is vulnerable to retribution. He says his phone is bugged, his 12-year-old daughter is followed to school and more than 30 agents monitor his every move. Last month, his law firm's licence was revoked and last week he was warned he faces arrest. Ten days ago an unmarked car attempted to run him down. But he is defiant.

Already one of the most prominent lawyers of his generation, Gao, 41 has taken a public stand - via the internet - in favour of the most oppressed groups in China: democracy campaigners, victims of religious persecution, mine accident widows and peasants who have had their land seized by the authorities: 'The Communist party has done too many evil and cruel things. So I must fight them.'

His office is a small, sparsely furnished flat in a giant residential complex in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, a familiar location to those in China with a cause or burning sense of injustice. So many come to him that the guards on the gate need no prompting to direct strangers to 'that lawyer'. It is below zero outside, but Gao says that does not put off his state security minders. What does make them flinch is his video camera. 'They bug me, but I don't care. They are the ones who are afraid of exposure. When I point this camera at them, they try to conceal their faces. They know one day they will be called to account.'

Turning his enemies' weapons against them is a typical Gao tactic, as is pushing a situation to its limits. Last year, he went to investigate the government's confiscation of private oil wells in Shaanxi province. On the way, he heard the authorities were waiting to detain him, so he drove to the police station and confronted the commanding officer. 'I told him I had saved him a lot of bother so the least he could do is pay for my transport costs,' he says. 'He reimbursed me my car rental fee and arranged for a police car to drive me home.'

His visits to China's provincial badlands do not usually end on such a light note. Last month, Gao slipped his minders to investigate claims of police torture and sexual abuse in Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin. The alleged victims were practioners of Falun Gong - deemed by the state an illegal religious organisation. By the time, he arrived, Gao said many were already dead.

'A mother and son died in police custody within 10 days of each other,' he says. 'Police told the boy's father he had committed suicide by jumping from a window, but they wouldn't let him see the scene of death or the body. They still have the corpse more than a month later. It is disgraceful.'

He has written a series of open letters to Chinese president Hu Jintao and the prime minister, Wen Jiabao. 'I advised them to leave the Communist party. It is not capable of reform. History teaches us that no dictatorship can last forever. One day, those with blood on their hands will face a people's trial.'

His grim analysis has a lot more takers now than in 2003, the year Hu and Wen took power amid hopes of reforms to bring the political system in line with the dramatic changes in the economy. But if anything, the crackdown on liberals, journalists, internet dissidents and lawyers has intensified since.

Many in the outside world argue that political liberalisation will follow automatically with increased affluence. One is Tony Blair, who said there was 'unstoppable momentum' towards greater political freedom. Gao said such an argument was just an excuse for the west to trade with a human rights violator.

But he reserved his fiercest criticism for the two European countries that have done most to build close relations with Beijing: 'Many Chinese people think the governments of France and Germany are as terrible as ours. They are only acting in their self-interest and making a fortune out of the misery of the Chinese people. There will be a price to pay one day for the so-called civilised foreign governments who are honeymooning with the Communist party. I want people in the outside world to understand the situation in China. We face a party with millions of troops. I have dozens of plainclothes police around my home. It is hard to use words like understanding and forgiveness with them.'

The fact that Gao is still free is perhaps the government's best defence against the lawyer's most strident accusations. Twenty years ago, such an anti-government tirade would have quickly resulted in imprisonment or death. Gao believes he has been left at semi-liberty because the authorities are worried about domestic protests and an international outcry if he is arrested.

'They threaten to arrest me and I say, "Go ahead,"' he says. 'I am a warrior who does not care whether I live or die. Such a sacrifice will be nothing to me if it speeds the death of this dictatorship.'