Today and tomorrow, we bring to you two articles about the case of a young man called Song Ze. He was a volunteer at Dr. Xu Zhiyong’s Open Constitution Initiative, an NGO dedicated to providing legal aid to disempowered people in China. We at SRIC are in no position to fully report the many cases such as Song Ze’s, but what we can do, and are trying to do here, is to illustrate a case well enough so that it sheds light and provides insight. On China’s black jails which this article explains very well, you may also want to watch Melissa Chan’s report that allegedly got her expelled from China. Hannah is the translator of the following piece by Dr. Xu. –Yaxue
Around noon on May 4th, 2012, Song Ze (宋泽) received a phone call in which the caller said someone who had been put in a “black jail” [an illegal prison used mostly to detain petitioners, disempowered citizens who went to Beijing to file a complaint about his/her local government] hoped for help, and asked Song Ze to meet him in the lobby of Beijing South Railway Station at 2 o’clock. Same as ever, Song Ze did not hesitate to respond.
As Song Ze waited at the bottom of the designated escalator, an unexpected thing happened — his phone suddenly lost its signal. But he waited patiently anyway. After ten minutes or so, the signal returned, and with it suddenly appeared several men, who forcibly carried him off. A day later, he was spotted by a petitioner in the basement of the You Anmen (右安门) police station. More than ten days after Song Ze had gone missing, lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) finally managed to meet him in Fengtai District’s Detention Center. At that point Song Ze had already been detained as a criminal suspect, charged with “provoking disturbances.”
What had Song Ze done?
Song Ze’s original name is Song Guangqiang (宋光强), born in 1985 in a mountain village in Xiangyang (襄阳), Hubei Province. He graduated from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in 2010, majoring in international politics, and also minoring in finance. He received a dual-degree in law and economics. After graduating from college he worked at a foreign-capital enterprise, but he could not give up the ideals in his heart. In October 2011, he wrote a long letter to me, relating his own experience and dreams growing up, hoping to join the team of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟).
The first impression Song Ze gives people is that he is reticent and shy, but deep down he is a passionate idealist. He does not care how much money he makes, how hard he has to work; all he cares about is how his own actions would affect society.
As it turned out, the Petitioners’ Rescue Program was lacking in manpower, and so Song Ze’s responsibility was to contact the volunteer rescuers, to purchase new, or pick up donated, clothes and blankets, to distribute clothing and give sick people emergency aid. All winter long, Song Ze more or less had no Sundays and no holidays, keeping busy with volunteers at Beijing South Railway Station’s nearby ghetto, in the underground tunnel and other places where poor petitioners gathered. For many cold, cruel windy nights, he checked the bridge tunnels one by one to make sure new petitioners had cotton-padded blankets.
In China, even if it is just pure aid for the needy, humanitarian efforts face huge pressure because of the special identity of rescuees on the one hand and the social ideals of the rescuers on the other. On the night of the Lantern Festival (lunar January 15th), volunteers who were distributing rice dumplings to petitioners were blocked forcibly by police. Volunteer Yuan Wenhua was taken away, so was Song Ze when he asked the policemen to show their IDs. The rest of us waited outside the police station until they were released.
As winter passed and there was no need to worry about people freezing to death, Song Ze turned to providing emergency medical aid and to watch “black prisons.”
Black prisons are places where local governments illegally detain petitioners. If the petitioners try to go to the Prime Minister’s house or foreign embassies near Dongjiaominxiang (东交民巷), Wangfujing Street (王府井大街) or other places where they are not supposed to petition, they could be taken away by police. During the so-called sensitive time of Two Meetings each year, they could be apprehended just passing through Chang’an Street (长安街) and being found carrying petitioning materials. All these are labeled “irregular petitioning” and the petitioners who have been rounded up are sent to Jiu Jing Zhuang (久敬庄), the detention and deportation center run by the State Bureau of Letters and Calls. Jiu Jing Zhuang would order local governments’ Beijing offices to take away petitioners from their jurisdictions on the same day they arrive in Jiu Jing Zhuang. However, most petitioners cannot be dispatched back to their homes that same day. They must wait to be sent home, perhaps needing a few days or a few weeks, and this turns into a profiteering opportunity for some people.
People running the black prisons are those who have connections with officials in the State Bureau of Letters and Calls or local governments’ Beijing offices. They rent hotel basements, hire thugs, forcibly take the petitioners from Jiu Jing Zhuang, illegally detain them, and then order the local governments to come to get the petitioners and pay a fee for the latters’ stay. They fetch 80 to 200 RMB per petitioner per day.
Each year the black prison atrocities reach their height during the Two Meetings (National People’s Congress and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference). On the eve of the Two Meetings this year, Song Ze verified 49 black prison locations and sent out a map of Beijing’s black prisons. On March 5, 80-year-old petitioner Hu Yufu (胡玉甫) was put in a black prison. On the 7th he fell ill, begging to get treatment. To this, the secretary of the Committee of Politics and Law said, “Petitioners cannot be indulged! If he is sick, let him figure out what to do.” Hu was finally sent to the emergency room on the 12th, and died on the morning of 13th. Song Ze helped his son sue the Party secretary, mayor and other officials of Xinxiang municipality (in Henan province) for illegally detaining his father.
Starting from September of 2008, our organization’s volunteers visited and watched black prisons, exposing this crime to the public, and rescuing the petitioners. Over the last few years, conditions in black prisons have had improved, and police have taken more action to investigate them upon receiving reports. But black prisons still exist in large numbers. To visit black prisons and to try to rescue prisoners there exemplifies a citizen’s willingness and courage to right a wrong, but in this upside-down country, Song Ze was thrown in jail for this very reason.
Why was Song Ze detained?
On January 11 of this year, Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) , Song Ze and others received an urgent text message from Hunan petitioner Yu Hong seeking help. They braved the severe cold of Beijing searching for four hours, and finally found the exact position of Chenzhou’s (of Hunan province) black prison. Afterwards they got in contact with over ten reporters and volunteers, and together they went on a rescue mission.
On the morning of January 13, Zhao Zhenjia, Peng Zhonglin, Guan Weishuang, Song Ze, and others, ten people in total, came to the black prison. While videotaping the process, they broke into the room and rescued three elderly people who had sought help. They were 73-year-old Yu Hong, 57-year-old Chen Bixiang and 82-year-old Long Jiangbao. One of them had been detained for over 40 days already. The living conditions there were awful with no heat, and each person had only a thin blanket. They were not given enough food either, often just one pack of ramen noodles per person per day.
There were only a few guards on duty then, and before they realized what was going on, the petitioners had already been rescued. But soon the police came. Instead of punishing the real criminals, they tried to take away these courageous citizen volunteers. While arguing with the police, they managed to take the three petitioners onto a bus, even though some guards followed them onto the bus.
That day, when I hurried over to the scene, the rescuers had already gotten onto the bus and left. I told Song Ze (over the phone) that I would be waiting for them near OCI’s office on the East Third Ring Road. They got off the bus, with four guards from the black prison in tow. I stopped a taxi, Song Ze and three petitioners got in promptly, and I blocked the door to fend off the guards. The taxi made a loop and took Song Ze and the three petitioners to the office of OCI. He bought meal for them, and send them to the nearby long-distance bus station with enough money for them to go home.
This rescue mission became the very reason for Song Ze’s arrest, the charge being “provoking disturbance” and the reason for the charge being “disrupting the public order.” Before Song Ze, 60-year-old Zhao Zhenjia (赵振甲) had already been given a year and a half of reform-through-labor, a form of imprisonment, for his participation in the same event.
Of course, Song Ze could have been retaliated against for another reason. Several days before his arrest in early May, he did something that irked the authorities: he took a cab to Shandong, picked up the wife of Chen Kegui (nephew of the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng), took her to Beijing and hid her. I regret to have sent him to do this—he risked too much.
But I had never imagined Song Ze would end up in prison.
Citizen Song Ze
Song Ze’s case was one directly handled by Beijing Public Security Bureau. Lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) made several trips to the detention center before finally being granted a meeting with Song Ze. Apart from the rescue on January 13, he was interrogated about how he met me and what he had done at OCI.
When the 37 days that he was sentenced were up, Song Ze was not freed. It is now such a preposterous case that the charges against Song Ze are too ridiculous to show to the world. The prosecution has not issued approval for an arrest, but the PSB does not want to let him go. Now they have placed him in residing under surveillance (监视居住).
In reality, residing under surveillance is more formidable than imprisonment. According to the new Criminal Procedure Law, the authority may designate the location for residing under surveillance, but it shall notify their relatives. But China being China, Song Ze’s family has not received any notification. He can still meet with his lawyer when detained in the detention center, but it’s been more than 40 days since he was put under residential surveillance, no one has been able to see Song Ze; and the PSB has refused to answer any questions on his whereabouts.
In our time, Song Ze is hard-to-find idealist. As he wrote in his letter to me, “I tried to force myself to just live my own life, but I discovered that this is quite difficult to do. If I see someone on the roadside in need of help but give no hand, I would be pained afterward. If I see something unfair around me but do nothing about it, I feel ashamed. When I see others who are able to give lot of help to the needy, I would blame myself for being useless, wishing I could do more……” We are all very concerned about Song Ze, and worry about what he is being putting through.
Xu Zhiyong (许志永), July 12, 2012