While the well-known Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong is facing five years in prison for his political activism, an associate of his — the wealthy Chinese businessman Wang Gongquan — who was accused of the same crimes was allowed out on bail because he confessed.
The difference in how the two individuals were treated, and handled their treatment, sparked some dispute and discussion among the dissident community. The Chinese Communist Party, whose security organs are prosecuting and punishing the two men, also seemed to muddy the waters with propaganda reports involving Wang. Many immediately cast doubt on the veracity of what Chinese state media claimed Wang said.
“Wang Gongquan admitted his criminal activities of planning and instigating crowds to disturb public order with Xu Zhiyong,” the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court posted on its official Weibo, a Twitter-like platform in China, on the evening of Jan. 22, “He engaged in deep soul-searching over his actions. The court has altered its forceful measures against Wang according to the law, and allowed him to be released on bail.”
Meanwhile, the state media Beijing Television also aired news saying that Wang had violated the law by supporting Xu Zhiyong financially and promoting related information on his Weibo account. The report says Wang felt “very regretful and sorry to his children and family,” and that he promised to “never get in touch with Xu Zhiyong from now on.” It also claims that Wang said “I don’t understand why Xu Zhiyong, as a PhD in law, doesn’t confess his crime.”
The news of Wang’s alleged confession and harsh words against Xu were widely reported in China’s state media.
A large number of Chinese observers simply didn’t believe the official reports, however. They doubted whether Wang had even confessed — or allowed that, if he did, it was probably because he was being forced to do so, possibly through violence.
“Wang has been arraigned 92 times by Nov. 29,” Wang’s lawyer Chen Youxi posted on Sina Weibo last December, showing the pressure Wang has been put under in custody.
Wang was formally arrested on Oct. 20 last year, which would mean he was interrogated several times a day. Chinese commenting online said it would have constituted a disguised method of torture.
Chinese rights activist Hu Jia also thinks that Wang’s confession was wrought only under enormous pressure. “I think Mr. Wang Gongquan must have suffered a lot of pressure. It’s like rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng who was threatened by the authorities to confess, otherwise they would have made his wife and children suffer,” Hu Jia said to Sound of Hope radio. “China’s judicial environment is like this. The CCP uses the dirty means of triads to force political prisoners to confess.”
Others remarked on the discrepancy in treatment between Wang and Xu, who were accused of the same crimes — organizing a crowd to disturbing public order — and said it was indicative of the politicized nature of China’s legal system.
“If you confess, you will be released, which is totally illegal. The CCP just wants to suppress him and make him show a gesture of surrender,” said human rights lawyer Tang Jingling in an interview with Sound of Hope.
“The CCP arresting Wang Gongquan, Xu Zhiyong, and many other people this time is essentially a political persecution…” Tang said. “That’s why there’s such a strange confession.”
Chinese law professor and rights activists Zhang Xuezhong spoke up for Wang on Weibo, saying the official reports about Wang denouncing Xu are not true.
“I’ve carefully read Wang Gongquan’s confession. There’s surely some expressions of regret, but he didn’t betray or denounce anyone,” Zhang wrote. “Please don’t be misled by the authorities’ propaganda. Let’s respect and support those who are persistent, and let’s understand and tolerate those who’ve given in.”
Wang Gongquan and Xu Zhiyong are both key players in the New Citizens Movement in China, which promotes “freedom, justice, and love,” established in 2012. It involves a number of lawyers and activists who make efforts in promoting equal rights to education and legal access, while urging official transparency.
After Xu was detained for “assembling crowds to disturb public order” in July 2013, Wang and four other supporters established a petition and published an open letter to appeal to the authorities to release him. Wang was detained two months later.
At the time Wang was arrested, his lawyer Chen Youxi told Chinese media that Wang didn’t accept the accusations. Wang said he wasn’t guilty, had not disturbed public order, and had committed no crime.
Over 50 rights activists were put under detention and accused of “disturbing public order” and “inciting subversion” after they organized and called for increased human rights between February and October 2013, according to Human Rights Watch’s 2014 report on China.
A number of those detained by the authorities — including, famously, Wang Gongquan — were forced to confess their misbehavior on China Central Television, the official state broadcaster. This called to mind the show trials of the Maoist era, 50 years ago.
“It makes me think of the Cultural Revolution when people had a big hat put on them and were denounced in public… There was Xue Manzi and Chen Yongzhou. Now it’s Wang Gongquan,” said Netizen Kai Wenzheng on Weibo. “Who’s next?”