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Tortured legal assistant breaks silence on human rights crackdown

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Li Heping (right), a Christian human rights lawyer and Zhao
Wei's boss, aged nearly 20 years during the two years he was
imprisoned for his work, primarily due to torture.
(Photo: ChinaAid)
ChinaAid

(Beijing—May 23, 2017) The youngest legal assistant arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown on human rights recently broke her silence to write an emotional letter to colleagues imprisoned with her, describing the enormous burden of the torture they endured and inviting them to join with her to end China’s abuses.

In the letter, Zhao Wei, a 26-year-old legal assistant arrested connection with the human rights crackdown known as the 709 case, describes her struggle to break through the fear and torture that defined her imprisonment in order to take her first steps into speaking out against injustice. She notes the resilient love of her parents, which prompted them to travel the nation to free her, explains her inability to win the fight for China’s freedom on her own, and encourages the activists who underwent similar experiences to stand with her.

Prior to her arrest, Zhao participated in numerous human rights movements, starting her social justice work after she graduated from Jiangxi Normal University’s journalism department. In October 2014, Christian human rights lawyer Li Heping hired her as his legal assistant. Both of them were taken from their homes in Beijing on July 10, 2015.

On Jan. 8, 2016, the Tianjin police formalized her arrest on charges of subverting the regime. After delivering what police called a “candid confession,” she was released on bail on July 7, 2016. The testimonies of other prisoners of conscience, however, allege that most of these so-called “candid” confessions are obtained after authorities subject the prisoner to extensive torture, nullifying their legitimacy.

A translation of the letter can be read below.

ChinaAid shares the testimonies of people such as Zhao Wei in order to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and promoter religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.




To my comrades in the 709 case

By Zhao Wei

Your courage plus my courage, is it enough to cope with the world? Let the world hear our voices. I am afraid to do this alone, but I can become a warrior with your accompaniment. —Wang Xiaobo

I miss you, my comrade

I have been bailed out for more than nine months. My consciousness fears the past and the future alike, and I assume that you feel the same way. Am I the only person who is suffering from cowardice?

I have to summon excessive courage to write to you, even so much so that I am throwing caution to the wind. We are closely knit together. We depend on each other; your fate is my fate. My comrades from the 709 incident, how are you?

Becoming your colleague has been a misfortune to me and my family, but it has also been the biggest blessing to my growth. Respected teachers and same-age companions—my treasured friends—I didn’t foresee becoming your incomparably close comrade, but we not only got close while in the middle of the 709 crackdown, we walked the same journey together, warming each other by being in the same mental world. We sympathized with one another.

We did not become friends automatically. Our backgrounds, life experiences, personalities, and hobbies are all different. For lack of a better option, we were summoned to our mission by our joint concern for this era. This connected our fates overnight.

I can’t bear calling you “accomplices.” There are no criminals, no defendants, and even no suspects among my 709 friends. We are living as inferior as ants in this country, and we can’t even master our own destiny, especially me.

However, one day when I saw that Zhang Kai had announced his faith, I stood before the Lord continuously, unable to contain my worries for you. I want to look for you and send a greeting to you. How are you, my 709 friends?

You are with me during the cold, rainy nights

There were many thunderstorms in the rainy season of July 2015. Rain drops hit the window hard during the night interrogations. An officer from the preliminary hearing shook the water off the umbrella and sat down. The darkest hour had come again. 

How could I bear the pressure of the pressing winds and showers of the trial, the limited living space and in my living environment, and the questioning via torture with a peaceful heart? I always thought of you when I was trapped in despair. We went through the same procedures. I comforted myself that I could also survive since you made it through. 

"Beep beep, beep beep beep…." You must be familiar with that sound! There were beepers in each of our monitored cells. The endless beeping noise shattered the daily monotone. The frequency of the noise reminded me that there were a large number of you living next door or upstairs in the same building. 

Even our breaths were suppressed. No voices. No texts. No images. No talking. No walking. Our hands, feet, our posture...every body movement was strictly limited. We needed permission for even the most trivial action. 

Every piece of us was confined—including our ability to feel happiness, sadness, and anger—except for one thing; I could always feel the connection between us, even in that lasting fear. My heart is numb after a year of imprisonment. If I retained a trace of anything, it was only because of your news. 

My heart trembled when the interrogator showed me the two pictures of Gao Yue hugging a pillow with troubled facial expression. I also thought of my parents when I heard that Wang Yu had aged a lot from missing her son. After changing cells in the winter, a cold shiver occupied me when I heard the screams of a man next door…. My dear friends, only you can awake the few soft spots in my heart. 

Loving the person you rely on

I miss all of you, but I can’t find any news [of you]. Are you also living in the suburbs of a small town, trying to hide your traces while being closely watched? No social life. Unemployed. Your lives reduced to nothing except the company of your relatives. 

We can lean on our family members like infants, but we have to digest the hardness alone. 

You may be able to take off the mask in front of your family, but you do not dare to show them the scars and wounds directly. You may be able to tell them a small part of what you have been going through, but you cannot pour out all your sorrow and despair. You may be able to comfort them with encouraging words, but you cannot explain the long-term torment, anger, depression, fear, and anxiety you will have to combat.

Just like you all, I have experienced the pain of being separated from the loved ones, and I am trying my best to make it up to them by taking good care of them and loving them, but that is shallow. Could you please teach me how to love them, love the people we depend on? 

Never speaking up

Those who are released, including me, have all compromised and surrendered to the authorities. My dear friends, I rather hope you forget all these, if you can. Who would live a life of instability and terror if one could choose? Happiness is only a step away; we have to cherish it for those we care about. “You can never say a single word.” This sentence was said by the division head of the Tianjin National Security Office, Li, as he pointed at my mother. 

The pain is keen. If you can choose, please never say a single word, only so you can be safe. It is not only about your responsibility and love for your family but also the instinctive preservation of life. 

Unless you are not capable of forgetting, like me. If you can’t appease your inner struggles, if your deep concern for society still binds you, if you still hope to attain true peace and freedom, then let us break the silence, make our voices heard, and gather the courage to be responsible for our choices! 

In silence, we lose our opportunity to fight for real freedom and forever be threatened and bound by the price of sin. Suppression will never disappear without a cause, and now, it is the best time to eliminate it.

I am a coward

I don’t say these things because I’m brave. We are equally timid. I scream when I see rats and cockroaches. I run away when I see a large dog. I don’t dare to look up when watching a horror movie. I cry after I visit the haunted house in an amusement park.

I have already used my parents as a pretense, masking my innermost selfishness, cowardice, and ignorance. I cheated myself of having a clear conscience [by thinking] I compromised for my parents, but I know that when all is said and done, it was because I was unable to bear the injuries and compromised. 

See, I am not more courageous than you. I am a coward. But, if you are with me, your courage plus mine, can we face this world together?

I know; do you fear being retaliated against? Zhang Kai suffered from suppressions after he chose to follow his conscience, but the trouble was temporary. Regarding retaliation, I don’t have a clear solution, but I know that no one has the power to threaten us forever. 

What caused me to speak out

The strength to surpass our enemies rests in God. Among the comrades from the 709 incident, many are brothers and sisters [in Christ]. Our identity as Christians must also bring about in us a spirituality that causes complications. Do not be afraid of the world and reject sin to a fierce degree; this is the regulation that gauges our faith. Brothers and sisters, 

Although we are weak and our environment is harsh, we cannot fix our eyes on worldly affairs. We find God with our confidence. God will not abandon his children in need. We have to adhere to the laws of God in order to extract freedom from oppression. 

These are the things that God has gracefully given me: My parents are my foundation—the tall mountain that I look up to. My parents, over sixty, do not even know how to book a plane ticket. It is hard to imagine that they successfully accomplished the mission of rescuing a family, traveling extensively to save me. 

[They traveled] from the small city of Jiyuan to Beijing, Tianjin to Xianggang and met with human rights lawyers, foreign reporters, NGO workers, and ambassadors, calling on all the world to speak up. [I asked her,] “How did you do this?” My mother said, “I can risk everything to save you.”

My mother had aged and lost weight. White hair, like frost, consumed her look, but she is still beautiful. What is love? What is courage? I behold a great mountain with awe. My mother’s incomparable integrity, courage, wisdom, and fearless love has been by my side and is the foundation for me to be able to see and take this first step. 

I can do anything with you

I thirst to compensate my parent with filial piety, but with what kind of love should I regard them? Is daring not to live out the glory of God loving them? Indignation will eventually erupt; is deceit loving them? Is dragging them to the abyss of fear and frequently worrying them until they lose courage loving them?

If I thoroughly love them, I have to give them freedom without fear. Being bailed out is not freedom. The end of the 709 crackdown is not freedom. The only way to reinstate freedom is to shatter the chains, break the deep-rooted fear of authorities, not let our emotions control and suppress us, and stand reasonably next to each other. 

I took the first step, but at the same time, I promised my mother not to take anymore “risks.” Instead of living in The Truman Show, I hope I can live a life that is independent, autonomous, and true. 

My comrades, would you, after rational reflection, like to join me to care for one another and bolster on another? I can’t guarantee any outcome, but we regard our free life as a treasure; should we abandon that without even trying?

Let the world hear our voices. I don’t have the courage to do it alone, but I can dare to do it with you, because I know there are countless of you. I look forward to seeing you. Blue street lamps are emerging from the morning mist, relatively hopeful. We unite with each other before the dawn.

April 28, 2017


ChinaAid Media Team
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"Bob Fu has dedicated his life to bringing freedom of religion to the Chinese people. His story is a testimony to the power of faith and an inspiration to people struggling to break free from oppression."
—Mrs. Laura Bush

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