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Detention and Detest: Case of Human Right Activist, Qin Yongmin

Qin Yongmin may not be as popular as Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangsheng, Ai Weiwei and some other Human Right Activists of China; however the torture and torment he has been inflicted upon by his own state is no less boisterous than any others. Liu Xiaobo was conferred upon with the Nobel peace prize in 2010, ‘barefoot blind lawyer’ Chen Guangsheng has been allowed to travel and study in the USA with his wife and children, while Ai Weiwei was freed from incarceration after spending only a few weeks. No such glory and fate for the veteran political dissident, reformer and democracy campaigner, Qin Yongmin.

Qin Yongmin, born on 11 August 1953 in the capital city Wuhan of Hubei province is the co-founder of the China Democracy Party (CDP) and Chief Editor of the ‘Sound of Bell (Zhōng sheng) magazine. With Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai—other party peers, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. That year, hope was running very high for the dissident Chinese leaders including Wang Dan to win the coveted peace prize; however under pressure from Beijing, the prize went to the French organization, Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for their commitment in working for population in danger.

A few years before the 1989 Tiananmen square democratic movement, Qin was sentenced for 8 years in prison in 1981 for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement (Fǎngémìng xuānchuán shāndòng zuì)” in the wake of the Democracy Wall movement of that year. Two years before that, he was a very active participant of Wuhan Democracy Wall movement in his native state. In 1993, he authored a document called “Peace Charter (Hépíng xiànzhāng)”, which to some extent could be called as prelude to famous 08’ Charter. What he has been demanding from the central Chinese authorities was—legislative democracy, independent judiciary, freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion and truth in reconciliation. For this, he was once again arrested and was put for more than 2 years under Re-education-Through-Labour (Láodòng jiàoyǎng)—a system for administrative detentions, where sometimes extreme torture resulting in death has been also reported. At any one point of time, there are more than 2 million detainees in approximately 325 Re-education-Through-Labour (RTL) centres in China.

Through his “Peace Charter (Hépíng xiànzhāng)”, Qin was also demanding for the reassessment of the CPC stance over June 1989 Tiananmen incident, release of liberal, and democratic political prisoners and allowing the exiled Chinese academicians and scholars to repatriate back to China who proactively participated in the 89’ movement.

After his release from the RTL centre, Qin—as the phonemes of his name may suggest, industriously worked for his objective between 1995 and 1998 and co-founded “China Human Rights Observer”. For this, he had to stand a ‘sham’ trial lasting only one hour without any legal representation because his solicitors had to quit under the coercion from the authorities. One should remember that, Under China’s code of criminal procedure, a defendant has the right to a defence solicitor. Qin Yongmin’s father, Qin Qinguo also desperately appealed to several lawyers but most of them were intimidated to not to take the ‘case’. One would also remember here that in the case of famous Chinese dissidents, Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, defence lawyers were provided and later on Wang Dan was also allowed to go to the USA and Taiwan where he is teaching at a University.

Just before Qin’s trail, his mother died of a stroke and he was not even allowed to attend the funeral rituals. He was awarded 12 years of imprisonment once again and was released on 29 November 2010. He spent 12 years of his prime life in Hanyang prison of Hubei province for “Subversion of state power (Diānfù guójiā zhèngquán zuì)”. He was also charged in 1998 for founding a Democratic Party (Zhōngguó mínzhǔdǎng) and trying to register it in Hubei province.

After his release, police officials confiscated all the essays, notes and documents he had written in his tiny cell during the imprisonment and when he contested for this, he was pushed aside and shovelled to a police car. Qin, a hypertension patient mainly because of long imprisonment, wrote more than 200 letters from the prison to her daughter but none of them reached her. Upon his release, Qin said, “I was not allowed to meet my daughter for more than 10 years. The officials told blatant lies that my father and brother detested me and they made it extremely difficult for any family members to meet me”. During these 12 years of incarceration, he was not even allowed many a times to talk with the co-prisoners.

Because of the long imprisonment of continuous 12 years, Qin’s health has deteriorated and he was not provided urgent medication which has caused his eyes to fade to almost complete blindness.

In a nutshell, Qin has spent 20 years of his formative days in the prison for 38 times in the last 30 years. After his release in November 2010, approximately 2 years ago, Qin is under 24 hours of state surveillance. In February this year, he was planning to launch a website called, “Peaceful Transition Guidance (Hépíng guòdù zhǐnán) but was immediately besieged by the police officials. He was charged with “Posting articles overseas and giving interviews”, which to a Chinese police official was against the article 82 of the National Security Law. He has been completely forbidden from meeting any fellow activists and his emails and letters are thoroughly under high reconnaissance.

In the last 2 years since his release, he has been under detention almost every month and in some months for more than 10 days. For this ‘achievement’, he has also requested to be included in the Guinness Books of World Record for being detained so frequently and for such an umpteen number of times. From 3rd March to 18th March, during the annual National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, he was once again illegally detained for 2 weeks. During these detentions, he was also robbed of from his legal rights of using telephones or meeting his family members. In these detention rooms of 24 square meters, 4-7 inmates are clubbed together and provided with insipid food which has taken a huge toll on Qin’s health.

In May this year, Qin married his second wife, Wang Xifeng but hundreds of friends across the country were proscribed from attending his marriage, some were beaten and detained for participating and taking photographs during the wedlock ceremony and cameras of many his friends were also snatched away. A University Professor who had bought train tickets to go to Wuhan from Jinan, Shandong (about 725 Kilometres journey) to attend the marriage was put under house arrest just before boarding the train. The authorities were apparently terrified and apprehensive of conglomeration of several political activists and dissidents assembling together.

Even though the coupled got married on 13th May this year, the authorities did not issue the marriage certificates to them and in June they were once again detained for “illegally living together as a couple” and were forced to attend 26 days of “Legal classes” to behave well in the society. Wang who is 23 years younger than her husband also got pregnant in June but because of the horror and fear from the authorities of accusation of “illegal marriage and procreation”, they terminated their pregnancy. She was scared that if she does not “kill the child now”, she would be forced for very late-date abortion under the stringent Chinese Birth control rules for bearing a child without marriage.

A few weeks ago, Wang has written to the UN for supporting them against all the constant harassment they are being inflicted upon by the authorities. In her letter of 13th August, Wang Xifeng has intrigued, “Let me ask, in all of history, what country, what government has prevented the marriages of the citizens under its jurisdiction by using such despicable tactics? Let me ask, in all of history, what country, what government has possessed the power to forbid the marriage of its citizens?” She also partially answers the question in the same letter, “Because I married to an outstanding democracy and human rights activist. Because I yearn for the universal values of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law!” She has further urged in her letter, “As a Chinese citizen, I strongly condemn the Chinese government for this inhumane, unethical, and law-defying absurdity. I strongly urge the Chinese government to honour my rights to freedom of marriage and personal freedom as provided for by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China!”

Why the Chinese authorities are behaving in such a fashion? Till what day, judiciary will be under the complete clutches of the party? Should not it be completely independent? Why China is not allowing any openness on political and democratic reform after successfully carrying remarkable economic reforms for more than 34 years now? Are they scared that any kind of political reform and openness will jeopardize their own power?

I highly admire Chinese government’s achievement in uplifting the livelihood of millions of its poor denizens in the last few decades. To me, China is my second home. China leaves the world pondering about its’ destiny and going through a defining moment in the ever changing geopolitical situation. It is a huge power probably second to none with vast human and military resources but it should realize that if it wants to be respected globally and play a very important role in the international affairs, it will have to allow all kinds of political discussions and it cannot continue human rights abuses for good. If the dragon wants world-wide acclaim and laudatory; things would have to change.

(The writer, Dr. Yukteshwar Kumar, is Course Director of Chinese Stream at University of Bath, United Kingdom. The views expressed in this article are his own.)

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