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My life in prison (Part 2)

My life in prison (Part 2)

Published on Monday 17 August 2009. Updated on Monday 31 August 2009.
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Life of a Chinese journalist, by Jiang Weiping

Reporters Without Borders is presenting a series of four articles by Chinese journalist Jiang Weiping recounting his career as an investigative reporter from the time he started out as a journalist in the 1980s to his arrest in 2000 and his departure for exile in Canada this year.

“Jiang is a courageous and exemplary journalist who did not think twice about the dangers he was running when he denounced corruption at the highest levels in the Communist Party of China,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is thanks to committed journalism like his that the Chinese public can learn about the all-powerful party’s abuses and press freedom will be able to evolve in China.”

Jiang achieved recognition in the course of his long career, which he began by working for the state news agency Xinhua. In the early 1990s, he became northeast China bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po (香港文匯報). He wrote a series of articles on corruption in the party for the Hong Kong-based magazine Frontline (前哨). Around this time he also started working for Hong Kong magazine.

He was arrested in the northeastern province of Dalian in December 2000 and was sentenced in May 2001 to eight years in prison on charges of endangering state security and divulging state secrets. He was finally released in 2006 after serving six years of his sentence.

In February 2009, he obtained political asylum in Canada, where he now lives with his wife in Toronto and continues working as a freelance journalist and calligraphist.

see Part 1


Part 2: My life in prison

I was held in the Chinese Communist Party’s "black prisons" from 4 December 2000 to 3 January 2006, a total of five years and one month. I did not know that there still existed a country where courts could pass sentences on both corrupt officials and the journalists who exposed the same corrupt officials. It was my privilege to experience this absurd farce first-hand.

My first place of detention was the Lushun naval base, where I spend 45 days. At that time, Bo Xilai had just been promoted governor of the Liaoning region. His "gang" organised a gathering of more than a thousand people on the streets of Dalian to celebrate his departure for Shenyang province. But, except my wife, none of Dalian’s 5.9 million inhabitants suspected that a journalist had just been jailed for criticising Bo Xilai. Dalian National Security Bureau agents, including Wang Fuquan, Lu Donghui, Deng Yiqiang and Lin Gang, were very violent with me, cutting off my food and preventing me from sleeping and, finally, using torture to force me to invent confessions. They also obtained so-called proof that I had written for "a foreign organisation hostile to China" and the dissident magazines "Vanguard" and "Opening".

I lost consciousness several times under torture. My behaviour became so disturbed that they called an ambulance and took me to the Lushun army hospital. The first secretary of the Dalian National Security Bureau, Che Kemin, told me that, after the opening of the 9th session of the Liaoning parliament, provincial secretary Bo Xilai would become secretary of the party’s regional committee, which would make him the 17th most important politician in China. He added that articles criticising the new secretary would be treated as inciting subversion of political authority. But Bo failed to get control of the party’s regional committee before the 9th session. Thinking they did not have enough evidence against me, they confiscated articles about the "Mu & Ma" corruption case and the scandal involving Daqing deputy mayor Tie Luhua. They also asked the Defence Department in Dalian to confirm that the cases involved state secrets. Then they accused me of supplying state secrets to foreign organisations. On 19 January 2001, I was transferred to another detention centre, located in Dalian.

In order to attack his political enemies and use me as a scapegoat, Bo Xilai arrested some of my colleagues and held my wife illegally for 28 days, inventing all sorts of misdeeds. Without any hard evidence, they also accused my lawyer, Chen Dehui, of about 10 offences including tax fraud. (Chen was arrested the day after agreeing to represent me. He was acquitted a year after his arrest.) I could have been murdered without being able to reveal anything about these cases. Fortunately, a benevolent prison guard agree to send my letters to my wife. She had them published in "Asia Weekly", attracting the attention of the Hong Kong and foreign media. Thereafter, my prison conditions began to improve.

Bo Xilai skilfully manoeuvred the Dalian intermediate people’s court, which convened a closed-door hearing before sentencing me. There was no one in the courtroom aside from a judge, a clerk, a lawyer and five other people. Not even my wife was able to attend. The Lushan judicial police discouraged my relatives and friends from attending the hearing and even beat some of them. Not long before this, I had written an article about the Mu & Ma case in which mayor Mu Suixin was tried for corruption and got a suspended death sentence. I found myself in the same defendant’s box as the one he had been in. It underscored the fact that the CPC gives identical treatment to corrupt officials and journalists who cover corruption.

I was sentenced on 26 December 2001 to eight years in prison and an additional four years without civic rights on charges of supplying state secrets to illegal foreign organisations and initiating subversive actions against state authorities. There were only two documents supporting the charges. One, provided by the Bureau for Secret Affairs, said the Ma Xiangdong case was a state secret. The other, provided by the National Bureau of Security, said “Vanguard" was a dissident magazine based in Hong Kong. There was also a document that I had asked the lawyer defending me, Cai Mingfu, to print. But Zhang Mingming, the presiding judge, who had studied in the United Kingdom, forbid Cai to present articles at the hearing that described Ma Xiangdong’s visit to the Macao casino. The ban was the indication of the influence of Bo Xilai and his gang over the judiciary.

Under international pressure, my case was reviewed by the Liaoning provincial court the following year. My sentence was finally reduced to six years in prison and three years without civic rights and I was transferred to the Yao Jia detention centre in Dalian. Bo Xilai, the province’s governor, offered to reduce my sentence even more and to cover my medical expenses if I defamed another municipal official. I refused to do this. I then understood that the CPC’s anti-corruption campaigns were in fact just power struggles within the party.

Bo Xilai, Jiang Zemin and Li Tieyang had fought for power and personal gain, and had tried to prevent the Mu & Ma case from being exposed. Bo Xilai’s father, Bo Yibo, and Jiang Zemin met secretly to reach questionable deals. They then tried to use the Mu & Ma case to bring provincial governor Zhang Guoguang before the courts, overthrow secretary Wen Shizhen and thereby succeed Hu Jintao as the person in charge of frontiers. As a result, Zhang Guoguang was arrested. Relations between the the National Bureau for Security and the Committee for Discipline and Inspection had degenerated into internecine squabbles between influential party members. So honest journalists had to be sacrificed.

I was transferred to Wafangdian prison in Dalian on 20 February 2003 to serve the rest of my sentence and to perform forced labour. Under pressure from the guards, I had to get up at 5 a.m. every day. I began working at 6 a.m. and continued until 11 p.m., without being able to drink or go to the toilet. I was given three meals a day consisting of fritters of spoiled maize and bananas. I could not wash for several days. I became ill but I did not get prompt treatment. My body was covered with red blotches and pustules, my legs had oedemas and my clothes were crawling with worms. At night, I slept on the floor with 167 other people. Most unbearable of all were the punishments inflicted on prisoners who did not finish their work in the evening. They had to line up with their heads bent, and they were beaten until they fainted or because seriously injured. The prison supervisors pretended to know nothing about this.

From the outset, Bo Xilai had given orders for me to be treated harshly and had asked Lu Donghui’s father to keep me under surveillance. He secretly tried to hurt me in prison. Fortunately, one of the jailers knew my friend Song, and never hit me. All the same, every day human rights were violated and inhuman acts were committed. Those who suffered most were the detainees who were poor, because they had no money to bribe the guards. Unlike the wealthier prisoners, they had to work all day. It reflected the outside world. The CPC’s prisons are like China as a whole, they are places where those who are powerful enjoy different rights from those who are weak.

Among those held in Wafangdian prison was the former head of the Shenyang intermediate people’s court, Mr. Liang, who had been implicated in the Ma & Mu affair. His cell had a computer and he had been assigned a guard. I heard and saw a lot of stories between 9 April 2003 and my release on 3 January 2006. The prison consisted of five sections. The first section had the office in charge of ensuring respect for discipline. The second section consisted of members in charge of a small reeducation newspaper and a TV station. The third one was responsible for the canteen and the showers. These three sections were a long way from the areas where cement was produced. Only people with contacts would live there. The bribes ranged from 3,000 to 10,000 RMB. Even the prison’s hospital beds had a price and all it took was money to be hospitalised. It was a way to get out of forced labour and to have the meals that were specially made for the sick. Among themselves, the prisoners said: "With money, you are free; without money, you are guilty."

Liaoning province deputy governor Liu Ketian, a confidant of Bo Xilai who had been given a 12-year sentence, was living in this section of the prison in May 2005 and enjoyed the most favourable kind of treatment. For his comfort a wooden bed had been bought for him. A chauffeur collected him on the day he had to begin serving his sentence. He shared his cell with just two other detainees while I initially had to sleep in a room with 93 other people and then in a 12-man cell. The two people sharing with Liu Ketian were a former member of the People’s Police called Zhou and a former judge called Zhang. None of them did hardly any forced labour.

Liu Ketian did not wear a uniform when he went out into the courtyard, with his hands in his pockets. A cook had been put at their disposal, and their wives came and spent the night with them once a week, bringing them food and other acquisitions. Liu Ketian’s job was to read to the other prisoners in the reading room. They had everything in their room – colour TV, refrigerator and washing-machine. As he had published a collection of poetry, he recited poems. Conditions for them were completely different from mine. I had to do more than two months of forced labour after my arrival, working more than 10 hours a day. As I was physically weak, I was targeted by other detainees. I was desperate, I was losing my hair and I was having very bad stomach aches. But even if you were sick, the prison did not allow your family to send you medicine.

Bo Xilai and his "gang" continued to give people the job of watching me. Zhang Lei and Guo Qiang, two prison police officers, tried to cause me harm. But a guard named Gao was proper in his behaviour towards me and suggested I should edit the prison newspaper, "The New Life Newspaper," instead of doing the usual work. I refused because I would have rather died that go back to writing for the CPC. Guo Qiang then told me that every article I wrote would take seven days off my sentence. Again, I declined politely.

The prison governor, Gao, personally ordered my transfer to a section where I no longer had to do forced labour on 26 Jun 2006. Instead I had to read to the other prisoners. The guards may have thought that, under the supervision of other detainees, I would become inoffensive. But I finally managed to get a shortwave radio and catch up with international developments. Thanks to the comings and goings of 5,000 detainees, I discovered some scams, filled more than 30 notebooks, four diaries and a collection of poems, which I sent abroad. At the end of 2003, I heard the journalist Xiao Man interview Bao Tong [a party official allied with Zhao Ziyang, the CPC general secretary who supported the student movement in 1989]. Xiao mentioned my name, which encouraged me to continue sending out news from prison.

After the 2004 New Year festival, I learned from a radio broadcast that my wife had secretly gone to Canada with our daughter. After the 2003 New Year holidays, I managed to call a journalist friend using a fellow detainee’s mobile phone. I asked him to send me 2,000 RMB (200 euros) and medicine for my stomach aches. The jailer took 1,000 RMB commission from the 2,000 RMB. I was able to use the rest to buy meal tickets. Almost all I did in prison was read. Nonetheless, I was not able to finish the long volumes of historian Sima Qian’s "Historical Memoires." I was also able to use an apparatus to study English until the jailer Gao was transferred. He had allowed me to study this foreign language. My prison conditions improved but Zhang Lei used the pretext of a medical inspection to beat me. I responded with a punch. A prison policeman, Yuan Yiqing, advised me not to make waves. Zhang Lei subsequently encouraged several inmates to do me harm.

There were many demonstrations in China in the first part of 2005. At the same time, Bai Shiming prison governor Chu Yu and deputy governor Sun Chenfeng prevented me from using my apparatus to learn English, locked me up for more than 40 days and told Li Hongjun, Qun Xigang and other inmates to make sure I did not leave my cell. They sang at the top of their heads in the middle of the night to prevent me from sleeping. As I was not allowed to go to the toilet, I urinated in a small bottle. The stench in the cell was appalling. I could no longer see my relatives. I caught vitiligo and had serious skin problems. I still suffer from the aftermath.

Under international pressure, my sentenced was reduced by 11 months just before Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States. I was finally released on 3 January 2006. The week prior to my release, the agents Lu Donghui and Deng Yinqiang warned me that I would be under surveillance after I was let out. As I was leaving the prison by the main door, I turned back to look at the smoke curling out of the cement factory. My thoughts were still locked into that smoke. Five years and one month in prison was not such I long time, I thought. I had been in three detention centres: a military one, a local one and a municipal one. Perhaps God had sent me to prison for an interview, a long and thorough interview.

The PCC had confiscated my pen. But to be honest, I would later be able to take up another pen and write about this grim imprisonment I had experienced, and describe these jails that have been stripped of any form of justice. To the guard who accompanied me to the south gate, Yuan Yiqing, I said: "Thank you!"

Toronto, June 19th 2009

To see the video of English-subtitled interview with Jiang Weiping:

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