Nov 23, 2013 06:28 PM

Captivity in a Chongqing Labor Camp


"I'm going to the Public Security Bureau, and if I don't come back, plea for justice on behalf of me!" On the afternoon of May 21, 2009 a man named Wang Zhongshuai wrote these words in an Internet chat group.

Then 30 years old, the Jilin-born Wang had been working at an advertising company for two years in the Southwestern metropolis of Chongqing. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communication, and since giving a 2007 speech at a forum, had become a vocal critic of ultra-leftist rhetoric. In 2008, he centered his attention on the case of Yang Jia, a man who went on a stabbing rampage against six police officers in Shanghai. The case generated public outcry over Yang Jia's past grievances in police abuses he received following a wrongful arrest.

Then in early May 2009, Wang created an online QQ group in which he posted a "sensitive" image. He was summoned to the Internet supervision department under the city's Public Security Bureau on May 15, and was ordered on the spot to remove the pictures. On May 21, he again received a call from authorities.

At this time in Chongqing, Bo Xilai had been acting as party boss for nearly a year and a half. Wang Lijun had just been installed as police chief of the city on March 26, 2009.

On the afternoon of May 21, 2009, Wang Zhongshuai went to the Public Security Bureau in Shapingba District, after which he was taken directly to a prison Chongqing Municipal Public Security Bureau for questioning. When he was processed at the First Detention Center in Chongqing, his papers did not specify any charges.

Detained for 20 days, Wang Zhongshuai was sent to the Chongqing City Detention transfer station. There, he had his head shaved, and was sentenced to two years in a labor camp. The official decision stated he had been found "attacking state power and the socialist system, and endangering national security."

That afternoon, he was sent more than 270 kilometers away to the Wanzhou Labor Camp in a remote county.

In China, the reeducation through labor system dates back to a 1957 decision by the National People's Congress and allowed police to put suspects in custody without court approval. Sentencing guidelines were not specified until an amendment by the State Council in 1979 capped detentions at four years.

According to CCTV this year, China still had around 310,000 labor camp prisoners. This, added to the wanton violations of civil liberties at these centers, has attracted tremendous criticism in recent years. In Chongqing, the many detentions facilitated by labor camps has been used as a tool to suppress free speech under Bo and Wang.

On June 10, 2009, Wang Zhongshuai arrived at the Wanzhou Labor Camp. It is the furthest away among several camps near the main city of Chongqing, administered by four brigades, two independent squadrons, and has an inmate population of nearly 1,000.

Wang Zhongshuai's "education" consisted of being asked to squat on the ground and endure routine beatings. For days, the inmates would be asked to squat in rows outside to "encourage introspection." The inmates were deprived of food and forced to sing propaganda songs.
The following month, Wang was given an intensive physical regimen – doing push ups, standing under the scorching sun, running. For 40 days, he was not allowed to take a shower or even wash his face or brush his teeth.

After the training, he was sent to a production team to do labor work. Meanwhile, he was subjected to more exercises – for example, standing straight and then bending over to touch the toes with both hands for two or three days every month as part of a "defrosting" method, a term used to describe the breaking-in of new inmates.

At the Wanzhou Labor Camp, Wang Zhongshuai was the only inmate charged with "counter-revolutionary" activity. The camp was mostly populated with drug addicts, thieves, petitioners, religious worshippers and those who were found carrying weapons. But later more people like Wang Zhongshuai arrived. Just one year later, there were three individuals placed in the labor camp for speech crimes.

Wang Zhongshuai did not understand that his writings came just at the beginning of a long wave of political suppression and a dramatic "anti-black, singing-red" campaign initiated by Bo and Wang that ended abruptly with Wang's escape to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in 2011.

With the downfall of Bo and Wang, both the country and its leaders have started to openly recognize abuses committed under the labor camp system. In January, the Communist Party Politics and Law Committee announced China would stop handing down labor camp sentences. In November, it was formally abolished by the party's central committee.

Wang was released in the same year. He was told that he was the eighth person in Chongqing to receive some form of redress for the wrongs he suffered. A group of ex-labor camp prisoners are still trying to free remaining prisoners jailed for speech crimes in Chongqing.

The above are translated excerpts from a feature published in Caixin's Century Weekly Magazine.

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