China: Diary of a Disappearance – Reflections after my Release

(more details: http://www.freeinchina.org/experience-of-kidnap-and-torture-in-china/ )

Liu Dejun is a Chinese human rights defender who began his human rights works by educating migrant workers in a factory in Guangzhou about their rights and Chinese labour laws.  He was subsequently fired, after which he started to write essays about human rights and democracy for online publication.  He set up a NGO providing legal assistance and education to migrant workers and the following year he was detained for ten days after giving out leaflets in Guangzhou calling for political reform.  In 2009 he turned his attention to the rights of petitioners in Beijing and was involved in a number of high profile human rights cases.  In 2010 he was abducted by the police in the middle of the night, beaten up, driven a mountainous area in the suburbs of Beijing and dumped on a roadside.  The artist Ai Weiwei later made a documentary (Chinese only) about these events. 

Liu Dejun persisted in his human rights work and in 2011 he was one of dozens of human rights defenders who were disappeared in China following online calls, which originated overseas, for a Middle Eastern style Jasmine Revolution to take place in the country.  Without any legal process and not facing any charges, he was held captive for six weeks, during which time he was verbally and physically abused.  In the following series of 3 blog posts, published with the authors permission, he describes what happened to him from moment of abduction to release. These types of ‘disappearances’ are still a widely used method of silencing dissent in China and elsewhere and will be marked this week on Friday 30th of August on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

I got off the train at Beijing Xi Railway Station feeling ravenous and ready for breakfast after the night-long journey from Wuhan. People from across the country were flooding back to the Capital after the Spring Festival.

I’d intended to travel on February 20thbut, because everything was already booked, I only managed to on February 26th. It was just before 7 am when I got off and the station was incredibly crowded. .

As I started down the stairs towards the North Entrance I noticed a young man of medium height who was holding a camera and filming in my direction. He ran away as I approached and I was certain that he was indeed filming me. I paused and tried several times to tweet about this to let people know in case anything happened to me but the cell phone signal was weak in the station. At the same time, I noticed a skinny guy in a blue down jacket was also following me. He was about 1.7m tall with a beard.

It was snowing slightly outside. I took a picture of this second man but couldn’t post it on Twitter. I saw him with the man who had been filming me earlier. I then tried to post without pictures and thank God I finally succeeded.

 Before taking the bus back to where I lived in Wudaukou, I phoned a friend who kept the spare key to my place and told him that I was being followed by strangers. At the time, I didn’t think it was serious, I assumed that these people only wanted to prevent me from going to Wangfujing Street in Beijing, where protests had taken place a few days earlier after online calls had circulated advocating for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ to take place in China, similar to what was happening in the Middle East at the time . I assured my friend everything was ok and arranged to meet him that afternoon.


When I was waiting in line to get on the bus, a tall man on my left pushed me. I told him to stop and wait in line like everybody else. Then another tall man on my right began to pull me. Suddenly a gang of men appeared and dragged me out of the queue . A lot of people watching were greatly surprised.

I still thought this gang were merely aiming to prevent me from going to Wangfujing street. So I told them that I would go with them peacefully. As we neared a SUV, and a black car without any number plates, they started hitting m in the face and someone took my glasses . I asked them to stop beating me and at this point still had no clue of what they were about to do to me. We walked on. Then one of them took off his shirt and covered my head , probably to prevent other passengers or pedestrians from taking a picture of me. A man grabbed my head and dragged me towards the car. I told him I would get in the car myself. But he forced me in with his whole strength before I could get even a leg in.

We both ended up on the car floor. I said I wasn’t going to resist but they kept pushing and hitting me. A man started punching me in the eye and the mouth. I grabbed his fists and told him to stop. He said, ‘You motherfucker, I am going to smash you.’ and began to punch me in the face again.

At this point, a man who looked and behaved like the leader handcuffed my wrists behind my back and put a black, double-layered hood over my head. The outer layer was cloth and the inner one plastic so that air could hardly get in. I was punched in the face again but not yet harmed seriously . I told the man who was hitting me, ‘Stop!You are killing me.’ To this he replied, ‘That’s what I am gonna do’ followed by several more blows. I stopped yelling and a few punches later he stopped and began to take my backpack off me. Since I was already handcuffed they had to cut the straps .

     The car started and began to travel eastward and was soon on either the expressway or the third ring road for about an hour, during which time I was sweating profusely and could hardly breathe because of the hood. The car stopped twice, probably at a gas station or a checkpoint.   We eventually stopped and they let me out of the car. They bent me over and led me up a flight of stairs before reaching a platform paved with purple tiles or marble, possibly the entrance to a hotel. I was led through a door, a hall, eleven steps and then twelve steps, very much like the experience described by human rights defender Liu Shasha, he was also abducted around this time.

Turning left, I was soon frogmarched into a room. They hauled me in and tried to get me down on my knees. I refused at first but they then started to kick me all over my body. I couldn’t see their faces because of the hood , but I could make out the voice of the man who had attacked me in the car. They couldn’t force me down and one of them at this point ordered, “Hold him tight.” Grabbing my legs and my neck, one man tried to throw me to the floor and others kept pushing me down.

When I was finally down, someone stepped on my calf and pulled at  my hair, my arms, and my clothes until I was in a kneeling position. My hood was then taken off and the man who’d pushed me on the ground began to slap my face.

“ Are you fascists or what?” I yelled.

“How dare you call us fascists you son of a bitch!” he replied and slapped me again.

“Only a fascist could do what you are doing to me” I explained .

He continued beating me for some time before giving the order, “Throw him on the floor.”

He said, “I’ll give you a couple of hours to think. You’re a dead man if you don’t confess”. From now on, say “report” before you move even an inch.”
I was lying on the floor. My hands were aching and swollen from the handcuffs. Fifty days later my left hand still felt a bit numb and I suffered from hyperosteogeny , excessive bone development.

Two men were left to guard me. One of them kicked me and ordered me to sit down but I refused. Eventually they were replaced by another pair. I didn’t drink, go to the bathroom, or obey their orders to sit. One of them told me, “Don’t waste your time resisting. No one who’s ever come here has been able to break the rules.”

A couple hours later, a group of men came in and hauled me to a desk in the room. The man who attacked me in the car was wielding an electric baton. He put the baton vertically on the desk and asked me threateningly, “ Why did you come to Beijing?” I told him that I lived in Beijing and was merely coming back to where I lived.

He asked again, “Why did you come here?” I replied with the same answer again. He slapped the desk, shouting, his hand pointing to the floor, “You fucker! I am asking ,why the fuck did you come here?”

He zapped the baton close to my face. I said, “You mean me coming here to this place? Ask yourself!”

He shouted, “Hold him down!” and shocked me on the forehead twice with the electric baton.

He then went to the right side of my face and shocked me twice on the cheek. He saw I wasn’t responding and said, “You fucker, you’re a tough nut to crack.” He might have turned up the voltage at this point as it felt worse. He shocked my cheek twice again and then my neck many times. It felt like thousands of red-hot steel needles were piercing my flesh. The shocks moved to my spine where I suffered from violent jolts. He then moved to the left side of my neck where my skin was burnt badly by the electric shocks to the point that it almost couldn’t conduct electricity. As the electric current ran through me, I felt as if a scorching flame was tearing my face apart at the point of the baton.

Then he moved to my ears. At first the pain was limited to my earlobes. But when the skin there went numb as well, he shoved the electric baton into my right ear several times. That whole side of my face and brain sensed a harsh, stabbing pain, again as if penetrated by thousands of red-hot steel needles. I remember being worried that I would suffer from brain damage. I kept shouting at the top of my lungs, in the hope that they might lessen the torture in case the hotel staff heard my screams.

The man who’d attacked me in the car was also the one administering electric shocks. I yelled even louder though he’d told me not to. He said to the other gang members, “People can fucking hear us. We should find another place.” At this point several men walked in. One of them was a fat, dark guy about 1.9m tall, and looking a bit like the famous Hong Kong actor Sean Andy

He gave an order to stop the electric shock and had me dragged to the middle of the room. He asked the others to remove my handcuffs and my clothes. They tried to yank off my jacket and sweater but I told them I would do it myself. Then I was asked to remove my undershirt, my jeans, and my underpants.

“All of them?” I asked.

“Yes, go on. Take then all off !” He growled. In the end, I was only left with a pair of socks on.

 Fu (I could only assume his name here) had me hauled closer to him and asked, “What were you gonna do in Beijing today? What are you planning to do during Lianghui ( the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference)?” I replied, “Nothing.” Then a man next to him was asked to slap my face.

In his fifties, this man had a crew cut and was smoking a cigarette. He might have practiced martial arts before because his hands were so heavy. Fu asked me what I was coming to Beijing for. I said I taught martial arts here.

“You bastard. Teaching foreigners our martial arts so that they can use it to attack our government. You are a traitor to the Chinese people. You teach foreigners Qigong to prolong their lives so that they can destroy us.” he said.

I found his reasoning preposterous and ignored him.

He asked, “What’s your connection with Wei Shi? (Wei Shi is the founder of the US-based Chinese news website Boxun) Wei Shi has already told me everything. I could call him to come over here if you like. He despises you from the bottom of his heart.” I knew he was only trying to drive a wedge between us with his stupid lies. I kept my mouth shut .

He continued with his rant:

“We are a powerful regime and you think we can’t get you? The iron fists of our government will smash you to pieces. We don’t talk legal procedures here and my identity doesn’t matter. If you are handed to me, that means you are in serious trouble. And you are our class enemy. You fucking call yourself a civil rights activist? Look how miserable you are. You can’t even protect your own civil rights. You loser! People who don’t have freedom are the most powerless and lowly underclass. If revolution and democracy really came like you said, I would kill you all even in my last breath. You know where you are now? In a suburb of Beijing, in a villa. Nobody will be able to  find you. I’ll make sure you don’t sleep at night, have nightmares all night long, and can’t even get a moment’s rest in the daytime. If you don’t cooperate with us, I’ll cut your penis off. This’s only a suburb of Beijing. We can easily dig a hole and bury you. Power speaks louder than words. What kind of power do you have? A bunch of idiotic middle-aged women and a handful of twitter followers. That’s it? Who else do you have to back you up?Your American or European patrons?”

Half an hour later, Fu allowed me to put my clothes back on. When I was about to put on my sweater, they told me there was no need since it wasn’t cold inside. They threw me my down jacket and said that it was enough. Fu said, “Now, time to confess. Sit on the floor. Whenever someone comes in, stand up and say ‘ my honorable leader’ .” He left the room.

Then two men came in, one of them round-faced, with a Henan accent. The other was aman with cropped hair who had earlier threatened to burn me with a smoking pipe. They aked me what I was doing in Beijing. I said I had nothing to do with the Jasmine Protests and that I had come to Beijing to teach martial arts. He asked, “Why did you organize with people on twitter to have dinner parties? You were the first person to do so.” I said they were my friends and dinning together and chatting were simply part of an ordinary social life.

The cropped-haired man kept kicking and hitting me.

The younger interrogator continued , “Whose wing are you under? Why do you always go to places where things happen? What’s your connection with the news website Boxun? Why is China’s human rights information put up on that site?” I said I was under nobody’s control and I put these stories on Boxun because there is simply no room for them within the Great Fire Wall. They would have been deleted rapidly otherwise.

The interrogation lasted for about an hour. These two men were then replaced by another two. About 2 hours later, another two arrived. In the end, Fu came in with a lanky guy in his 50s. He walked around me and said, “You are Liu Dejun, are you not? I had you arrested during last year’s Dragon Boat Festival. You’ve long been on our list. Your pile of documents is as high as this.” He gestured with his hand, which was about 1.5m from the floor.

He went on, “You have a natural soldier’s posture. If you were in the army, you could at least be a company commander.” He saw my contemptuous expression, “ I don’t fucking care about the Jasmine fucking Revolution. If you tell me who you are working for, the Americans or the Europeans, I could hire you to work for me.”

I replied sarcastically, “ I am not skilled enough for your line of work.”
He was taken aback but replied

“You don’t need skills in my line of work. You must think I am an illiterate brute. But I must tell you, I’ve got a fucking college degree. It’s dealing with elements like you that’s made me look unintelligent. For people like you, there is no such thing as legal procedures. You bet I could bury you alive, just like that. If you don’t cooperate, we can bypass the law, lock you up, and nobody would find you. See then if you don’t become a lunatic! . Who do you think will come to your rescue? Your American buddies or European cronies? Or some crazy middle-aged bitch? Or your twitter followers?”

    I didn’t say a word. In the end, he said:

“I’ll give you some time to think it over. If you don’t confess everything, I will keep up the torture day after day after day. Every one of you bastards who ends up here keeps banging on with the same shit about upholding the sanctity of the law. Utter bullshit. Don’t fucking talk law with me. We have our ways to tame you and we never fail. If you did successfully overthrow the regime and organise a revolution, I would happily own up to what I’ve done. With so many witnesses, I would never be able to deny it anyway. But I am not like you cowards. You can’t even protect yourselves. What makes you think you could defend other people’s rights? All you are capable of is wasting our time by keeping you here day and night.”

I am out now…

I was secretly held in the mountains for 15 days before being transferred to Beijing No. 1 detention centre for 12 days and then finally to detention centre no. 2 in Wuhan for 18 days. In total I was ‘disappeared’ for 45 days.

All my belongings, including my identity card, passport, two-way permit ( a travelling permit for Hong Kong and Macau issued to mainland Chinese), bank card, cellphone, and laptop were confiscated without any legal formalities.

I was not allowed to go back to the place I rented in Beijing and therefore lost all my possessions there.

Instead I have to stay with my parents and not leave Suizhou in Huebei province where I originally come from [Editors note: This was the case at the time of the writing of this account]. In addition to that I have been prohibited from contacting other human rights defenders in China. If I violate this order my father may be held to have criminal responsibility and prosecuted as he is my guarantor under the terms of my release.

I have been placed under surveillance by several village officials, Chinese Communist Party members and even my neighbours. In particular the village officials are required to report on me daily to the security police.

I believe I was released for two reasons:

1) I refused to acknowledge that I had anything to do with the Jasmine Revolution

2) The government were under international pressure and couldn’t dare to continue holding so many people in relation to the Jasmine Revolution. Furthermore before we were detained we had already widely publicised information about our work online. The public knew that we were taken by the political police, so the authorities were forced to release a large number of people, including myself.

As for my reflections on this incident. I think I made the correct decision after I was taken, by not admitting any of charges they levelled against me, but also by not openly confronting my captors by cursing them or resisting when they beat me. Otherwise they may have been spurred to take personal revenge against me.

Another point: before I was taken I had signed a lot of blank power of attorney documents. This way, lawyers could go to the police station and put pressure on the authorities. I suggest that all human rights defenders should prepare similar signed power of attorney documents and give them to organisations or individuals for safekeeping and use when necessary.

Spiritual faith is also very important – it doesn’t matter what faith, only that it can provide you with the power to endure solitude when you are imprisoned alone. Because when you are locked up alone, are unable to move from a sitting position and have nobody to talk to; it is very easy to succumb to the extreme mental pressure and lose all grasp on reality. People can go crazy being held in these conditions for a long period of time.

 From: Frontline Defenders 

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