Looking for Song Ze, by Liang Xiaojun

This is the second article about Song Ze’s case following Dr. Xu’s, and it is by Song Ze’s lawyer Xiao Xiaojun (梁小军). –Yaxue

I first met Song Ze (宋泽) in late April. The weather was still cool, and he showed up following a call from Xu Zhiying, a bashful, quiet boy in a black leather jacket. Xu introduced him as a citizen volunteer, and I failed to remember his name. Later that day we went together to a dinner party of the Citizen team (e.g. OCI, the NGO Xu Zhiyong and others founded), and several well-known people at the table seemed very familiar with him. I became curious about him, wondering what he had done to endear himself to these online celebrities. All through the evening, he sat on the side and said little.

Then in early May I learned on Twitter that he had been criminally detained. Such an event had become so common an occurrence among friends of mine that I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I hardly knew him.

However, I became his attorney soon afterward. It was decided, over a similar dinner gathering that I should represent Song Ze because I lived close to Fengtai District detention center where Song Ze had been held. Xu Zhiyong believed that Song Ze was apprehended simply because he had visited black jails and helped petitioners. “They have no bottom line whatsoever!” Xu was indignant about authorities detaining Song Ze over these actions.

On May 14, the day I received the Power of Attorney Form signed by Song Ze’s parents in Hunan and his identification document, I went to Fengtai detention center to request for a meeting with Song Ze. I was referred to the officer in charge of Song Ze’s case, but he wasn’t there. An expressionless young female clerk told me to “come back tomorrow morning.” Helpless, I left after depositing 1,000 yuan for Song Ze.

I arrived next morning as soon as the Public Security Bureau opened. I found the officer behind a computer screen. When I said I was here to meet Song Guangqiang (宋光强, Song Ze’s original name), he found my request form with signed approval on his desk and motioned me to go to the meeting room without evening raising his head.

All the windows were occupied in the meeting room. So I waited. Song Ze had been taken out of his cell to meet me, now standing against a wall waiting too. He wore an orange prison garment. For some reason he didn’t have his glasses on. He looked sad.

Around 10 o’clock, we had our turn. Close, he recognized me and smiled a faint smile. I too took a good look of him. Though tired and listless, he was a good-looking young man.

I asked how he had been taken to custody and what the interrogation had been like. He spoke fast and clear: He was seized by policemen in the morning of May 4th while waiting in Beijing South Railway Station for a petitioner who had called and asked for his help in what now looked like a premeditated trap. He was then interrogated by policemen from Fengtai District Public Security Bureau and Beijing Headquarters respectively from the afternoon to early next morning. And as Xu Zhiyong predicted, it was about his visit to the black jail in Beijing set up by Chenzhou municipality, Hunan (湖南郴州) and his rescue of petitioners there, but also his online posts to help the petitioners. He was also asked his relationship with Xu Zhiyong—how he met him and how he became a volunteer for Citizen. On May 5, he was charged with “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事罪) and transferred to the Fengtai detention center.

When I told him about visiting his parents and getting them to sign the Power of Attorney Form, he smiled to my surprise. He said what he was afraid most was his parents’ knowledge of the event. He didn’t want his mother to worry about him. I tried my best to alleviate his anxiety.

Our meeting ended before 11am when policemen announced the morning hours were over.

After that I was taken up by other obligations. I felt that Song Ze would be released soon, because, legally I couldn’t think of anything that he could possibly be convicted with. His detention was based on charges of “provoking disturbances” (寻衅滋事) as defined by Article 293 of China’s Criminal Law. They refer to the followings: beating another person at will; chasing, intercepting or hurling insults to another person; forcibly taking or demanding, willfully damaging, destroying or occupying public or private property; creating disturbances in a public place. As far as I could see, Song Ze had simply done what a citizen should have done, and he displayed no behaviors punishable by law.

Looking back now, I was too optimistic.

Later on, Xu Zhiyong published an open letter to Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), director of Beijing Public Security Bureau, making Song Ze’s case known to the public. More people online have paid attention to the case.

Late May, Xu Zhiyong asked me to visit Song Ze again. He was afraid that Song Ze could be secretly sentenced to reform-through-labor. On May 28, I went to Fengtai District detention center again, and was received by the same expressionless female clerk. Once again, she told me that the officer in charge of the case was unavailable, asking me to leave my forms. But she didn’t say when I should return for the meeting. She requested my phone number and said she would call if a meeting was approved.

I waited for a whole day on the 29th, and nobody called.

In the early morning on the 30th, I went to the detention center again. The officer in charge of the case was there. Upon hearing my request to meet Song Ze, he asked who had sent me and how, while recording information about me on a notepad. Then he left the room with the approval form. When he returned shortly, he told me the lieutenant, whose signature was required, was unavailable, and I couldn’t meet Song Ze on that day. He told me to come back tomorrow.

I argued that, according to China’s Lawyers Law, meeting with client required no approval. He said, the new criminal procedure law wouldn’t take effect until next year, and it was good for a lawyer to obtain approval.

It’s impossible to conduct a conversation like that. So I said I would wait for your lieutenant. He said, well, do as you please. He then left the room, and I stayed in the hallway to wait while reading.

The lieutenant’s office was wide open with people coming in and out of it except for the lieutenant himself. At 10:30, as the hope for a morning meeting faded, I called the officer in charge of the case again, reiterating my right to see my client. He said he would arrange it as soon as he could.

The next day I went again. This time the lieutenant was there. He smiled broadly, saying he was busy yesterday but he had approved my request. With the approval form, he took me downstairs to the meeting room.

Song Ze was quickly brought out, and, without waiting for long, we had a window. Song Ze’s beard had grown, but otherwise he looked better than last time I had seen him. He was very happy to see me too. When we starting talking, the lieutenant pulled a stool and sat next to Song Ze to listen to us.

Song Ze told me that, over the last two weeks or so since our last meeting, he was interrogated four more times, the longest one lasting five hours. They asked the same questions they had asked before. They were rude and barbaric some times, but other times they played nice.

After talking about himself, he began asking me legal questions concerning his fellow inmates. The lieutenant interrupted him, “Just talk about your own case; don’t worry about others’ business.” To this, Song Ze said, “I have no more questions about my own case, nor do I worry about mine,” and went on asking me more questions.

Song Ze and I had a decent exchange even with the lieutenant present. Song Ze felt that it was a pity that he got himself arrested without even doing anything worthwhile; he worried about his parents, asking me to tell them that he committed no crime, and they shouldn’t feel bad for him.

We bid each other goodbye without a heavy heart. I would see him again whether he would be charged, given reform-through-labor, or released on probation. That was how I believed anyway.

Another week or so passed. The end of 30-day detention period, plus a 7-day review period, was approaching, but I had heard no words about Song Ze.

On June 12 I went to Fengtai District detention center again. The officer in charge of the case told me that Song Ze had been switched to residing under surveillance and taken away by people from Beijing PSB a few days ago. He said he didn’t know which department of the PSB they were from, nor did he know where they had taken Song Ze. All he could tell me was that Fengtai District was no long on the case anymore.

The officers said repeatedly that they were just implementers, and there was no use for me to argue with them. At that point I knew that Song Ze had been disappeared!

As a coercive measure, residing under surveillance is laxer than detention, mostly carried out in the residence of the suspect. If it is carried out in a location designated by the law enforcement, family or attorney should be promptly notified of the location. But since last year, residing under surveillance in designated location has become the authorities’ weapon of choice against rights defenders and dissidents. This year’s revision of the Criminal Procedure Law provides for more extensive stipulation on residing under surveillance. Article 73 in particular legalizes residing under surveillance without notification of family.

So I twittered that day that Song Ze had been Article 73ed in advance. (The revised Criminal Procedure Law takes effect January 1, 2013.)

We could not accept, nor tolerate, Song Ze’s forced disappearance. Xu Zhiyong and I planned to go to Beijing PSB to inquire about it, but on that day he was blocked at home by security police and couldn’t leave. So I went myself.

Beijing PSB is located in Qianmen East Avenue (前门东大街), enclosed by high walls and guarded by armed police. The reception window told me that this was the headquarters of the Bureau; to make inquiry about individual case, I must go to the specific unit in charge of the case.

The ball was kicked out, but nobody would receive it.

After that I went to Fengtai District PSB again, and they told me they no longer had any knowledge about the case.

Police break the law at will. Nothing safeguards citizens’ rights. Citizens themselves can be disappeared any time. Such is the state Chinese citizen rights defenders have to face.

All these days as I have looked for Song Ze, I feel helpless as a legal professional and as a citizen. I am deeply worried about Song Se’s status. My only hope is that he will stay strong in face of all these, and I pray for his early release.

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About Yaxue Cao

I grew up in Northern China during the Cultural Revolution, came to the United States in the early 1990s to study literature and stayed. I have been writing stories about China, exploring both my own experiences and those of others against the larger picture of Communist China. You can find my work on Amazon.com, and new works are being added periodically.
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One Response to Looking for Song Ze, by Liang Xiaojun

  1. Pingback: Looking for Song Ze - China Digital Times (CDT)

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