Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Detained for 128 Days in China's "Guantanamo"

Writer Kou Yanding who was detained somewhere in China for 128 days
A mainland writer was "disappeared" for 128 days as punishment for visiting Taiwan during the sunflower student movement and Hong Kong at the start of the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

Kou Yanding, 51, has no idea where she was detained on the mainland but only that she was picked up and blindfolded by security officials while on her way from Beijing to Mount Wutai in Shanxi province in October 2014.

She was held for over four months without access to family and legal counsel, and has now published her ordeal in a book called How is an Enemy Made?  -- Chinese Who Don't Have the Right to Remain Silent.

She went to observe the sunflower movement in Taiwan...
The book was launched in Hong Kong last week and she is one of the few people who has publicly spoken out about her time in custody and how civic movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan have touched a nerve in Beijing.

While Kou's family had no idea of here whereabouts, she asked repeatedly to see a lawyer and relatives but was denied on state security grounds.

"Doesn't the United States have Guantanamo?" she quoted one of the officers as saying. "Well this is the Guantanamo of China."

The officer told her she was being held for subversion.

When she was in Taiwan, she saw the student movement in March 2014, and six months later went back again to see exiled 1989 student movement leader Wang Dan.

Then she went to the Occupy Central site and met with Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Chan Kin-man, one of the campaign's organizers.

... and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014
Two weeks later when she was in the mainland, Kou was blindfolded and bundled into a detention centre. "Occupy Central is Hong Kong independence! The sunflower movement is Taiwanese independence! The overseas democratic movement is subversion... You are in the middle of everything," she recalled an officer shouting at her.

During her time in detention, Kou was not allowed to speak to anyone except her interrogators and she could not look around, turn her head, close her eyes, drink water or go to the bathroom without permission.

The furniture and walls of the windowless room she was held in were covered in plastic foam, presumably to prevent her from harming herself. She had no idea how big the building was that she was in, except overhearing the guards talk of a fourth floor.

While she was concerned about her safety, Kou was also worried about the Occupy protest. "I was afraid to say anything wrong that would prompt them to make up their mind for a bloody clean-up," she said.

The authorities eventually decided not to prosecute Kou, but stopped her from coming to Hong Kong last year because she was still on parole.

She is one of many activists on the mainland to be detained without charges in the last two years, but one of the few to speak about it. Kou wondered if the authorities would retaliate, but decided to write the book anyway.

Kou is a brave woman -- some people would have been to scared to speak out at all, let alone write a book about her terrifying experience. She has let the world know a bit more about China's use of intimidation but also its insecurity, with very little tolerance for what it believes is subversion.

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