Lawyers Emerge from Detention with Tales of Torture

August 12, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015
Tang Jingling and Yao Lifa are pictured before being detained. The former is a civil rights lawyer, the latter an activist who has closely followed the election of 'independent candidates' for local positions in the People's Congress. (RFA)
Tang Jingling and Yao Lifa are pictured before being detained. The former is a civil rights lawyer, the latter an activist who has closely followed the election of 'independent candidates' for local positions in the People's Congress. (RFA)

Human rights lawyers and activists who were rounded up months ago, when security forces were in the grips of paranoia about a Chinese Jasmine Revolution, are now slowly being released from their extralegal detentions. And they have harrowing tales to tell.

One of those people is Tang Jitian, a lawyer who topped off his career as a legal gadfly with an attempt to defend Falun Gong practitioners in April of 2010, with colleague Liu Wei. In May of that year he got a phone call informing him that he would never practice law in China again.

But that was only the beginning of the Chinese state’s reprisals. Already identified as a troublemaker, he was among the up to 100 rights defenders and civil rights lawyers sequestered in the massive crackdown that began in February of this year.

“[Tang] … was tortured most seriously among the lawyers who have dedicated themselves to defending the rights of minorities in China,” a woman who identified herself as "Ada" posted to her blog in the early morning of Aug. 10. She also noted that Tang can no longer earn an income as a lawyer.

Someone familiar with Tang’s situation, who spoke to New Tang Dynasty TV on condition of anonymity, said that the man did indeed suffer torture. This person said, “In February, they [domestic security officers] burned him with high-voltage electrical bulbs for many days, and then used very cold air to freeze him until he suffered from pneumonia and tuberculosis.”

The source added, “His weight dropped from about 198 pounds to less than 135.”

Li Tiantian, also a lawyer who was detained and is familiar with the treatment of many of her colleagues, told NTD that Tang Jitian was stripped naked and tied to a chair, while chilled air was blown on him; she said that law professor Teng Biao, also one of those targeted, was handcuffed around the clock.

She also said she had seen Jiang Tianyong, another lawyer who had apparently been brutalized. “He told me that he was seated in a chair in one posture all day long, and was not allowed to move. It was indeed cruel torture.”

Human right lawyer Tang Jitian (Courtesy of Mr. Tang)
Human right lawyer Tang Jitian (Courtesy of Mr. Tang)
She continued about her own treatment: “The way they treated me was that I was confined to a space without windows or sunlight for three months, and I was not allowed to leave there at all. My feeling was that I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.”

Li said that because she refused to keep silent, the authorities in Shanghai directly pressured her boyfriend’s workplace.

She said, “The leadership of the company was harassed by the domestic security officers in Shanghai, and my boyfriend was asked to monitor me carefully, so that I would not express opinions online nor accept interviews.”

Many of the individuals recently released are unwilling to discuss their treatment directly with the media for fear of further retaliation.

After being detained by public security officers in Guangzhou for over five months, human rights lawyer Tang Jingling was released last week. He told Radio Free Asia that during the detention he was prohibited from sleeping for 10 days.

Tang Jingling was abducted on Feb. 22, three days after the launch of the “China Jasmine Revolution Action,” the name given to the sweeping dragnet of arrests.

He told RFA: “Starting from March 20, I was under surveillance for about 10 days by two policemen who rotated shifts. At first, they said that they wanted to interrogate me, but they ended up sitting there without allowing me to sleep. They changed shifts every eight hours, but I was not allowed to rest.”

He remarked wryly: “Maybe it was the doctor’s orders. They said I shouldn’t sleep too much, only two or three hours a night … they said if you sleep too much at once, you might get a heart problem.” He said he ended up with shaking hands and didn’t recover until April.

After Tang was arrested his wife, Wang Yanfang, was informed by public security officers that her husband had been involved in the crime of “inciting subversion of state power,” a nebulous charge frequently used against lawyers and others who overstep the line.

On Aug. 2 police dismissed the case and lifted the house arrest.

According to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders, before the lifting of the house arrest, the police had asked Tang Jingling not to contact friends, nor accept interviews. Tang said that he would not promise what he could not fulfill.

Yao Lifa, an activist who has taken an interest in the election of “independent candidates” to local Party Congresses, was also targeted. He was forcefully placed in a “study class” in a building in early July, and jumped from the window to escape security forces. He dislocated a disc in his lower back in the leap, and was left hobbling. He was later captured by security forces in Beijing, according to RFA.

Since the round-ups began in February over one hundred political dissidents and human right activists have been imprisoned or detained, including some who were released recently, such as Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, Ai Weiwei, and others.

More individuals still face prosecution, including Chen Wei from Sichuan province, Zhu Yufu from Zhejiang province, Wang Lihong, Ni Yulan, Dong Jiqin, and others from Beijing.