Tag Archives: Imprisonment

A Brief Update on Liu Xiaobo

Readers may recall that Liu Xiaobo, one of the authors of Charter 08, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Christmas day last year. You would think that following imprisonment, it would at least be easy to keep track of someone, but in China you would be wrong.

Unlike Gao Zhisheng, Mr. Liu hasn’t disappeared, although his family had been prevented from seeing him. But despite regulations that stipulated he be transferred to Liaoning, the province of his hukou registration, he continued to be held in Beijing well beyond his sentencing. This excellent post appeared from on the blog Siweilouzi on May 18:

Under China’s legal system, a defendant in a criminal trial has the right to appeal a decision only once, and the decision of the appellate court is final. Once that decision takes legal effect, we can normally expect commencement of the process of transfer from the detention center (run by the police) to a prison (managed by the local arm of the Ministry of Justice).

In Beijing, where Liu was convicted, this post-trial transfer process works a bit differently than in other parts of China, because special regulations in the capital restrict non-Beijing residents from serving their sentences in Beijing prisons. Convicted criminals whose place of household registration (hukou) is elsewhere are first held in a special “repatriation” detention center pending transfer to serve out the remainder of their sentences in their home provinces.

The verdict in Liu’s case made clear that, despite having lived legally in Beijing for many years, his household registration remained in the province of his birth, Liaoning. (The fact that his status in Beijing could be considered “temporary”—an interpretation that, though not entirely convincing, has at least some basis in Chinese law—helps explain why Liu’s initial six-month period of “residential surveillance” was not carried out in his home.) Under these circumstances, we should expect Liu to serve his sentence in a Liaoning prison.

Recently, though, Liu has apparently been transferred a Liaoning prison. Twitter user yujie89 wrote a post on May 30th (via Chang Ping):

Liu Xia has notified me that she got a letter from the prison on the 26th, saying that Xiaobo had already been moved to the Jinzhou prison [in Liaoning]. Xiaobo has no connection whatsoever with Jinzhou, they are doing things this way to intentionally torment his relatives.

Indeed, the move to Jinzhou is an inconvenient one for his close family, as he had been living in Beijing for many years. But as the Siweiluozi blog indicates, if Liu’s hukou registration is in Liaoning, moving him there does make some sense. But is Liu’s household registration really in Liaoning? In contrast with the article above, most online sources (including what appears to be a letter he wrote himself) cite his place of birth as Changchun, which is in Jilin province.

Of course, Jilin and Liaoning are neighboring provinces, but Changchun and Jinzhou are not particularly close. And if Mr. Liu was born in Jilin, why would he have been moved to a Liaoning prison at all? As always, the machinations of the system are so easily obfuscated by the wall of bureaucrats between, say, Mr. Liu’s wife and himself, that it’s very difficult to tell what’s going on.

I reject the idea that Liu should be in prison in the first place, but if he must be, shouldn’t the proper procedures be followed? Doesn’t his wife have the right to know where he is, when he is being moved, and shouldn’t she get a chance to contact him from time to time?

Gao Zhisheng Resurfaces, Acts Strangely

Gao Zhisheng
Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng suddenly called his friends and family yesterday, saying he had been released. This has come as quite a shock, given that just a few months ago he was “missing,” according to the authorities who were supposedly holding him. Many people, including us, took the odd officialspeak (that Gao “lost his way and went missing”) to mean that he had been secretly executed.

But Gao lives. According to the New York Times, he’s currently staying on Wutai Mountain, the famous Buddhist haven, though no one seems to know why.

In a brief phone interview on Sunday, Mr. Gao said that he was no longer in police custody but that he could not give any details of his predicament. “I’m fine now, but I’m not in a position to be interviewed,” he said from Wutai Mountain, the site of a well-known Buddhist monastery. “I’ve been sentenced but released.”

But from there, the story gets stranger. According to a conversation he had with Reuters, Gao has been released for six months — so he says — but no one, not even his wife, had heard from him until yesterday. Sina’s Hong Kong service and other Chinese news sites are reporting that Gao’s family and friends felt he sounded as though he was lying when he spoke to them. From Sina:

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, missing for over a year, suddenly gave family and friends phone calls yesterday. Although he said he had “already been released for half a year” and that he was at the famous Buddhist Wutai Mountain “because I want to spend some time in peace”, but his wife and the friends who talked to him all say he seemed “insincere,” and that his wording contradicted itself and [his wife and friends] suspected there was someone by his side watching him. This paper attempted to contact the number reported to be Gao’s, but the phone was turned off.

No one doubts the voice was really Gao, though; the story goes on to say that Gao’s wife “confirmed the person on the phone really was Gao Zhisheng.”

What, exactly is going on here? It seems like Gao may still be imprisoned, or at the very least, under strict surveillance. Otherwise, why would he wait six months after gaining his freedom before calling his wife? But the possibilities are nearly endless. I don’t claim to know what’s going on, but I sure wish I did, and I bet Gao’s family does, too.

Apologies to Alex Taggart for stepping on his new post, a translation of Ran Yunfei’s thoughts on domestic microblogging, which is excellent and can be found here.