28 Jan 2022

The abrupted video call and Xie Yang's detention

In the early evening of 11 December at around 6:30 pm Beijing time, Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang took a WeChat video call from a law student in the UK who wanted to interview him. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, the line went dead…

Few weeks later, the world found out that Chinese police had grabbed Xie from his home, his home left ransacked, the law student that had been on the call with him, learned why Xie had not responded to his messages for a while.

Just weeks earlier Xie had spoken up for a young teacher who had been detained in a psychiatric hospital by police for supporting controversial views about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre. Xie's experience inside RSDL is included in Safeguard Defenders' The People's Republic of the Disappeared.

That law student in question is Lyndon Li Shixiang, a Chinese national who is currently at the University of York focusing on human rights law. This is his story about that final conversation…


The Cost of Seeking Justice in China – An Interview with Lawyer Xie Yang

Beijing will host the Winter Olympics in February 2022 as “stability maintenance” becomes a priority for the authorities. Human rights activists, dissidents and faith-based organizations are regarded as threats and are suffering more severe attacks.

The CCP has once again detained Xie Yang, a former human rights lawyer and current human rights activist in China, on allegations of "inciting subversion of state power" and "picking quarrels and provoking trouble."


Xie strikes a deal with the CCP

Lawyer Xie reached a deal with the Chinese authorities in May 2017. He would get to keep his lawyer’s license if he retracted his accusations that he had been tortured in detention.

At the time, he had been detained for 25 months, his wife and children had fled to the United States, and his lawyer had made public the torture he had experienced to media at home and abroad. The CCP was terrified, and it wanted lawyer Xie to lie to the Chinese and international media and say that he had not been tortured.

The CCP told Xie he must deny the torture allegations and plead guilty in court. In return, the CCP agreed to return his lawyer's certificate.

The so-called public trial was a complete show trial. Lawyer Xie, the court, and the procuratorate simulated three court sessions in the detention centre where they practiced what each one would say. During the actual trial, everyone, including Xie, followed everything they had rehearsed.

After the trial, the CCP restored Xie’s lawyer's licence and then released him.

Lawyer Xie, nevertheless, continued to follow a lawyer’s code of conduct. He also accepted many interviews from foreign media and told everyone who wanted to know the truth about what he had seen.


Xie gets his license revoked

The CCP, however, terminated his lawyer's licence without notice on 11 August 2020.

Clearly, the CCP is a party that does not keep its promises. Before his licence was withdrawn, Lawyer Xie stayed true to his part of the deal: he continued to deny his own torture and did not dispute his previous guilty plea.

However, after the CCP went back on its promise, lawyer Xie revealed all of the details of his ordeal to global media.

"It's most likely because my style of lawyering has not changed since my release, and I have been revealing the ugly side of the legal system as a defense lawyer, “ Xie told me. “The CCP is terrified by anyone who does this.”

After Xie’s licence was revoked, many other rights lawyers working on sensitive cases stopped accepting interviews with international media. Instead, asked their clients’ family members to post updates and speak up via Twitter. But families are not professional lawyers and so they can’t provide as much information. This meant that after Xie lost his licence, the CCP was subjected to much less scrutiny from the international community.


Zhang Zhan's Case

Xie had been in contact with citizen journalist Zhang Zhan for quite a while. People from a Chinese Human Rights Lawyers’s Group, the target of the 709 crackdown, have also been following her case.

Lawyer Xie describes this group as non-political, just a collection of individuals who share the same values and support each other when they are in need.

Zhang is a unique individual because she is independent, she was not really noticed by this group.

Lawyer Xie did not have direct contact with Zhang until two or three months before the emergence of Covid-19.

Foreign media stories after the virus outbreak mostly come from official CCP news releases. The outside world had no idea what transpired in Wuhan, what had happened to the people at the bottom rungs of society, or how they were feeling.

Zhang went to the scene, risking her life, and used WeChat to report what she could see.

The Chinese human rights lawyers group worried about her safety. Later, she was apprehended, prosecuted, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Xie told me: "Zhang Zhan is a Christian, so she has stricter moral principles. She has done a great deal that regular people, including myself, could never conceive. Zhang Zhan went on a hunger strike to fight the CCP; she is the kind of person who could terrify a monster like the CCP. She was ultimately sentenced to four years in jail. For a political prisoner, four years is a pretty long punishment… Zhang’s lawyers are all members of the human rights lawyers group, but they were not able to talk with her too much. The rest of the group only learnt her news from media, which is not enough.”

Lawyer Xie discovered that Zhang’s mother had talked to her via a video chat on WeChat and also on Telegram and Twitter.

"Zhang Zhan's mother posted on her WeChat Moments that Zhang Zhan could not raise her head on the video call [as she was so weak from her hunger strike]. I was deeply moved. Ordinary individuals look forward to seeing their families every day after losing their independence. They will be ecstatic after seeing their family. Zhang Zhan could not even lift her head…  Therefore I reached out right away.”

At that moment, WeChat shut off the video call between myself and Lawyer Xie, stopping him from telling me more about the details of Zhang’s case. We attempted to reconnect but couldn’t. So, we agreed to schedule an interview at a later date.

Then, before we could manage to reschedule the interview, I got word that Lawyer Xie had been disappeared by the police once again. I don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to finish that interview