Lawyer reveals detention ordeal
A combination of physical and mental abuse, relentless brainwashing and threats kept rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong silent after his release from two months' detention.
In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post he provides the first detailed account of how the Beijing authorities have intimidated activists into submission as part of a huge crackdown on dissent that started in February.
Dozens of lawyers, bloggers and activists 'disappeared' after online appeals for people to join 'jasmine rallies' in major cities, inspired by the 'jasmine revolutions' in the Arab world. Some are gradually speaking out about their ordeals during detention, but Jiang is the first to reveal full details, saying he does not want to live in fear any more.
Jiang - recognised as an outstanding democracy activist by a US-based rights group at the weekend - said he was in deep mental stress because of the physical and verbal abuse he was subjected to and was also fearful of what the authorities could do if he broke the pledges that secured his release, which included an agreement not to give media interviews.
Jiang, 40, came to the attention of authorities after representing activists and other sensitive clients like Aids patients and Falun Gong practitioners. He said he was taken away on February 19 and severely beaten for two nights. He was then made to sit motionless for up to 15 hours a day in a room where the curtains were always closed and interrogated repeatedly by national security officers. He said he could never say 'I don't know' or make 'mistakes', or threats and humiliation would follow.
He said his interrogators told him: 'Here we can do things in accordance to law. We can also not do things in accordance to law, because we are allowed to not do things in accordance to law.'
The second night he was kicked and punched, he appealed to his interrogator: 'I am a human being, you are a human being. Why are you doing something so inhumane?'
Enraged, the man knocked Jiang to the floor and screamed: 'You are not a human being!'
Jiang was released 60 days later after his interrogators believed their brainwashing had succeeded and he had signed eight pledges. If the pledges were broken, he was warned, they could make him disappear again at any time, and even threatened to detain his wife.
'I was supposed to report who I saw and met to them, and what went on in meetings and gatherings,' Jiang said. 'So I'd rather not attend, or communicate with anyone.'
It forced him to adopt a low profile after his release. But he began making comments on microblogs at the end of June, then Twitter postings in August. Things seem to be returning to normal, but his ordeal has left psychological scars. 'I felt like I could go crazy at any time when I was inside.'
Yet Jiang considers himself lucky compared to others, with reports by human rights organisations cataloguing a range of abuse. Lawyer Tang Jitian was subjected to blasts of cold air in detention and was diagnosed with tuberculosis after his release. Guangzhou lawyer Tang Jingling was fed medicine that resulted in temporary memory loss. Artist Ai Weiwei was kept in a room with the light on for 24 hours a day, his sister Gao Ge told The Washington Post. Two guards watched him every moment, even when he was showering or sleeping.