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  • Former U.K. Consulate Staffer Alleges Torture While Detained in China

  • Translation: “The ‘Coral Reef’ Below the Ship of Chinese Internet Censorship”

  • Netizen Voices: “Hang in There Hong Kong,” Mainlanders Stand With You


Photo: Solidarity With Hong Kong Protesters (Vancouver, CA), by Edna Winti

Solidarity With Hong Kong Protesters (Vancouver, CA), by Edna Winti (CC BY 2.0)

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Former U.K. Consulate Staffer Alleges Torture While Detained in China

Simon Cheng, the 29-year-old Hong Kong resident formerly employed by the U.K. consulate who was detained in China for 15 days in August and accused in state-affiliated media of “soliciting prostitutes,” has now accused China of torturing him while he was detained in a public Facebook post. At The Guardian, Verna Yu and Patrick Wintour report:

Cheng, 29, was detained while trying to return to Hong Kong from a day trip to Shenzhen, a mainland Chinese city that borders Hong Kong. In an interview with the Guardian, he said he was tortured for days before being forced to falsely confess that he and the British government had played a role in the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which were largely peaceful at the time.

During lengthy interrogations in windowless rooms, Cheng said he was called “an enemy of the state” and “a British spy and secret agent” working for the UK government by his captors, who threatened him with subversion and espionage charges.

Cheng, who said he was held in solitary confinement from the second day of his detention, was also pressed to confess falsely that he “had been used by others”. He was forced to say that the British government was masterminding protests in Hong Kong and that he had secured financial aid and resources for the protesters, who the Chinese authorities insisted were “rioters”.

He was at first put in what is known as a “tiger chair” – a metal chair with bars that disables a detainee’s movements – and prevented from wearing his glasses until he was released. He was not allowed to contact his family or a lawyer.

Police told him he had been reported for “soliciting prostitutes” and said that if he “cooperated” he would face a lesser punishment of administrative detention, which normally involves 15 days of detention, otherwise he would be given the much more severe punishment of criminal detention. Cheng said he had no choice but to make a false confession. [Source]

More on Cheng’s allegations, and on official comments from the U.K. government, from the BBC’s John Sudworth:

Following our interview, the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab summoned the Chinese ambassador.

“We are outraged by the disgraceful mistreatment that Mr Cheng faced when he was in detention in mainland China… and we’ve made clear that we expect the Chinese authorities to review and hold to account those responsible,” Mr Raab told the BBC.

[…] He claims he was subjected to sleep deprivation, with his interrogators forcing him to sing the Chinese national anthem to keep himself awake.

And, he believes, he was not the only Hongkonger undergoing such treatment.

“I saw a bunch of Hong Kong people getting arrested and interrogated. I heard someone speak in Cantonese saying: ‘Raise your hands up – you raised the flags in the protest didn’t you?'” [Source]

Torture and the extraction of forced confessions is alleged to be a systemic practice in China, and is believed to have led to the deaths of detained activists. Despite reforms aimed at mitigating the practice, including government rulings to nullify evidence obtained through torture and the banning of police torture, independent investigations by international NGOs and the U.N Committee Against Torture have shown that torture remains a routine interrogation method.

The Hong Kong Free Press’ Holmes Chan quotes Amnesty International on Cheng’s allegations, contextualizing them into the wider use of torture and arbitrary detention in China:

Amnesty International’s China Researcher Patrick Poon said that Cheng’s case was a “callous attempt” by Chinese state officials to intimidate anyone perceived to be linked to protests in Hong Kong.

“The horrific abuse Simon Cheng described in his testimony, such as being shackled and placed in stress positions, is in line with the endemic torture and other ill-treatment in detention we have repeatedly documented in mainland China,” Poon said.

“He is yet another victim of arbitrary detention in China, where activists can be held incommunicado for long periods of time. China must investigate Cheng’s claims and ensure any police found responsible for torture or other ill-treatment are held to account.” [Source]

The AP reports on the Chinese foreign ministry’s rejection of the U.K. government’s concerns:

China’s foreign ministry responded angrily to the allegations and the summoning of the ambassador at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming will “by no means accept the so-called concerns or complaints raised by the British side,” ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

“The Chinese ambassador to the U.K. will lodge the complaints with the U.K. to express our strong opposition and indignation to the U.K.’s wrong words and deeds on Hong Kong in these days,” Geng said.

Geng did not address Cheng’s allegations directly, but cited a statement by Shenzhen police from August saying his lawful rights had been protected and that he had “admitted his offence completely,” an apparent reference to a confession of soliciting prostitution that Cheng says was coerced. Cheng has strongly denied the charge.[Source]

Hong Kong’s justice secretary claimed “no opinion” when questioned about the accusations by reporters. From Reuters’ Alistair Smout:

Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, speaking to reporters at the Chinese embassy in London, said he should report the matter to the relevant Chinese authorities.

[…] “There are many things that are often reported and sometimes it is extremely important to gather the whole facts and veracity of it before any view is to be formed,” Cheng, who is not related to Simon Cheng, said in English when asked if she was alarmed by the account of torture.

“So I prefer to hold my opinion until I have the opportunity to collect and analyse any information that I might have,” she added.

The justice secretary, who sustained a wrist injury in London last week when she was pushed to the ground by people protesting against the Hong Kong government, drew a parallel between the incident and the alleged mistreatment of Simon Cheng. […] [Source]

Official Chinese statements have blamed the ongoing protest movement on encouragement by “foreign forces.” Cheng’s allegations came hours after the U.S. senate passed bills aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong and banning the export of crowd-control munitions to Hong Kong police.  At The Globe and Mail, Nathan VanderKlippe quotes local Hong Kongers who support international pressure amid the increasingly violent five-month standoff between protesters and police:

China has long accused hostile foreign forces of fomenting discord in Hong Kong, where protests have continued for five months, bringing frequent and fierce clashes to the city’s streets.

But the additional international pressure on Beijing was welcomed by protesters and pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong, who have sought outside support in their attempt to fend off what they call China’s encroaching influence on the city.

“I hope this could help at least make the police, or the people in government or those in Beijing, be less aggressive in cracking down on the movement here,” said Ying Chi Lee, a dentist who is on Hong Kong’s Election Committee, the electoral college of 1,200 people who choose the city’s chief executive. She and others shut down some streets in the downtown Wednesday afternoon in a lunchtime protest that was met by dozens of riot police, who at one point surrounded a young finance worker and threatened him with arrest.

[…] He was furious – and grateful for the advocacy of other countries.

“Somebody has to stop the police from doing what they are doing. It’s just nonsense,” he said. [Source]

The treatment that Cheng, a Hong Kong resident, alleges he was subjected to evokes the initial concerns that ignited the movement movement in June, specifically opposition to a proposed extradition bill that was formally withdrawn in September. The bill’s broad language, had it passed, would have allowed for extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, where they could be subjected to sham trials, torture, and confession extraction.

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Translation: “The ‘Coral Reef’ Below the Ship of Chinese Internet Censorship”

In August, Matters News published an interview with CDT founder and Editor-in-Chief Xiao Qiang. The interview, by freelance writer Xiran, examines the events and motivations that led Xiao to become a human rights activist and later found CDT, and relays Xiao’s opinions on the development and future of both Chinese internet control and resistance. The translated intro to the interview is provided below. Read the entire translation on the China Digital Space wiki.

Matters: The “Coral Reef” Below the Ship of China’s Internet Censorship

by Xiran, freelance writer traveling in the U.S., August 8, 2019

Since the late 1990s, internet censorship in China seems to have moved in lock-step with the popularization of the internet. As the world’s first “great internet nation,” the Chinese people’s craze for online trade, finance, and invention and their pursuit of an open, free digital space have been inextricable from each other; at the same time, the Chinese internet is an increasingly restrictive place where big data, artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and speech recognition are harnessed to control society.

To confront this enormous “ship” of internet censorship, Xiao Qiang, adjunct professor at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Information and head of the Counter-Power Lab, built China Digital Times (CDT), launching the English website in 2004 and the Chinese site in 2011. Over the past 15 years, Xiao and his team have been monitoring and archiving censored material (especially “self-media” platforms), relying on human editors and automated aggregation to select and organize digital content. Xiao believes that CDT is more than just a battlefront for an alternative record of history. It is also a place of connection, where he and his compatriots can create a collective experience. “CDT is like a growing coral reef of resistance to internet censorship. One day, the reef will be so big that it will tear into the hull of the dictators’ legitimizing language.”

In the summer of 1986, Xiao Qiang, then 24 years old, graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, then came to the United States for a doctoral program in astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame. In June 1989, he saw “June Fourth” unravel on TV. He felt awakened by these tremendous events and made up his mind to go back to China; he resolved to “stand on the side of justice” and to “become a part of this historic moment” through action. Two months later, he returned to the U.S. and started on the path of a professional human rights activist. In 2001, Xiao received a MacArthur fellowship in recognition of his leadership in human rights. In September 2003, Xiao joined the UC Berkeley School of Journalism (later moving to the School of Information), where he launched the CDT website, embarking on an intensive 15-year study of China’s internet censorship and digital ecology.

Xiao points out that CDT’s most important source of both content and readers is the growing number among China’s 800 million netizens who disavow dictatorship and censorship. He quotes Kahlil Gibran’s poem “On Freedom,” from The Prophet: “And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed. /For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their won pride?” “I hope that our [heartfelt, genuine] readers and authors are all ‘free and proud,'” Xiao said. “CDT exists for them.”

On one hand, Xiao Qiang firmly believes in the internet’s power to liberate, that the connections forged by information circulation and self-expression have the power to turn collective experience into affirmation of the rights of citizenship, promoting civil society by protecting the rights and interests of citizens. On the other hand, faced with the development of the digital space on authoritarian soil and the global rise of digital authoritarianism, Xiao speaks frankly about information technology’s power to control, in particular his own underestimation of the role of large corporations and governments. As the “empire strikes back” by co-opting internet technology, Xiao foresees an ongoing tug-of-war among different powers in the coming years, a challenge that the whole world, including China, will have to face.

In January 2019, I interviewed Xiao Qiang in California. He talked about how CDT got its start, introduced the projects he and his team are working on, and reflected on the present and future of internet censorship and internet technology in China, and the influence of these developments on the global internet. Below is a condensed version of our conversation (edited and abridged): […] [Source]

Translation by Anne Henochowicz.

Read the translated interview in full at the China Digital Space wiki. See also CDT’s translation of a 2018 RFA interview with Xiao Qiang, or a 2015 McClatchy profile of CDT.

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Netizen Voices: “Hang in There Hong Kong,” Mainlanders Stand With You

As protests in Hong Kong continue past the five-month mark, online support for the city’s pro-democracy movement has continued to pour in from various corners of mainland China despite efforts by government censors to block all references to the political crisis. A Cantonese version of Les Miserables’ “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, performed by a group of Hong Kong students and posted on YouTube, has attracted an outpouring of supportive comments from self-identified mainland Chinese users. The song, which has become the unofficial anthem of protesters in Hong Kong, has been taken down from all major music platforms in mainland China.

The following are translations of select comments and words of encouragement left by Chinese users who circumvented the Great Firewall to view the censored music video. These comments were curated by CDT Chinese and translated by Yakexi:

Shuxiao Wang: Hang in there. Sending you support from the mainland. Please forgive me for not being able to support you in a tangible way. Please forgive most of us for not knowing the truth, or for lacking the courage. If you see vile comments and unkind words on mainland Chinese social media, please forgive them!

Frederick Insights: Hang in there, Hong Kong. There are many mainlanders who support you, it’s just that most of us are silenced. Please don’t mind those Boxers who hopped over the GFW to give you trouble, they are just products of ideological indoctrination. Civil rights, liberty, and the rule of law are invaluable. Please hold up!

village zhang: It’s such an irony, this song is banned in the mainland. They sure are afraid of the people. They are afraid of the free and the brave.

江沉 (JiāngChén): Hang in there, Hong Kong! Sending you support from the mainland. Forgive us for not being able to speak up. Forgive us for not being able to learn the truth from official channels. Forgive us for staying silent because that’s all we can do. The conscientious mainlanders are standing together with you!

Ada Zhong: Hang in there, Hong Kong! I’m outside the GFW now and I see many truths. It’s the first time in my life that my heart is so close to Hong Kong. I am moved by Hong Kong! Hang in there, Hong Kong! I salute HK warriors! Thank you for fighting for all of us Chinese people!

Self Liberate: I understand Hong Kong. I refuse to stand with evil. I’ve seen through the mainlanders’ level of understanding and their values, now leaving here is my only way out. Hong Kongers, please take care. I will remember the kind deeds you did for the mainland. I will remember each and every step of your pursuit of human civilization. No matter what, please live with hope. Fight, or leave.

Huang LiJi: Supporting Hong Kong from Guangxi via VPN!

Jessica W: I’m from the mainland. I just got a YouTube account. There are many mainlanders watching and supporting you in silence. Please hang in there!

Hailey: From Zhuhai, close to Hong Kong and Macau! After June 9, I turned from a “blue ribbon” to a “yellow ribbon.” I woke up from the “no CCP, no new China” indoctrination. I now understand what brainwashing is. Hong Kong people are in solidarity. Please hang in there!

Eirca Huo: Hang in there, Hong Kong. Perhaps many mainlanders like HK for its shopping and entertainment, but I like you guys because of your liberty. You can commemorate June 4th. You have many books that cannot be published in the mainland. What’s more important is that, from time to time, Hong Kongers show a great sense of love for their land and the courage to fight for freedom and justice. When I first heard some of the songs made for June 4, I realized that music could express our beliefs and values in such an emotional way. And the culture of Hong Kong is not only the pop music and films that we can still listen to and watch. Thank you, Hong Kong.

刘晨 (LiúChén): I am a high school student in mainland China. Hong Kong, hang in there. Those who are fighting for your rights, hang in there. A country can only be united when its people stand in solidarity.

zhangye fan: This song was banned yesterday, plain and simple. I wanted to listen to it again specifically because it was banned. That’s how I stumbled upon your version. Hang in there.

G Fujinshi: When the Tiananmen Incident happened, Hong Kong stood with the pro-democracy movement in the mainland. Then there was Operation Yellowbird. And every year the June 4th gathering at the Victoria Park serves as a miniature version of Hong Kongers’ support for the fight in the mainland. Today, as someone who grew up right next to Tiananmen Square and living overseas, all I can do is to leave this comment and say “hang in there, Hong Kong!” Even the smallest favor should be returned with utmost gratitude. I’m ashamed this is all I can do.

MIKE MIKE: Hang in there! I am from Inner Mongolia, mainland China. I support Hong Kongers’ fight against the evil extradition bill. I respect the frontline democracy fighters with all my heart.

二十一世紀青年 (ÈrshíyīShìjìQīngnián): I am from Chengdu. Hang in there, Hong Kong!

eo L: Hang in there, Hong Kong! Sending support from Guangdong.

Fiamma Sun: This made me cry. The only place in the country where humanity still shines. What Hong Kong is experiencing breaks my heart. I want to say sorry to you. Across from the Shenzhen River, I’m sending you support! Please do not fall!

CS tudent: I hopped over the GFW to read about the ins and outs of what happened. This is how I understand how the official mouthpiece cherry-picked their stories and reversed right and wrong. It makes me sick! There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can say but this: please hang in there, please persist.

zs z: No matter how badly the rain pours on it, the flower of freedom will still blossom. Hang in there, Hong Kong! [Chinese]

At, a group of individuals from mainland China penned an open thank-you letter to the people of Hong Kong, in which they expressed their gratitude to those in the city who are fighting for their collective freedom. CDT has translated the original letter:

We are a group of mainlanders who have been educated and raised in the mainland. Since the launch of the first anti-extradition rallies on March 31, we have been closely watching the development of events in Hong Kong. We deeply admire your courage and persistence, and feel sad for the price you are forced to pay. At the same time, as a mainlander, I want to say thank you for everything you have done! Thank you–what you have done is not only fight for your freedom, but also for our freedom.

The Chinese Communist Party has ruled China for a full 70 years. In the past 70 years, rounds of political movements have brutally destroyed the audacity of this nation. Today, no one dares speak out in an atmosphere of political oppression, while those of low moral status hold power. There is not a word of truth in the entire country, moreover there is no freedom. As mainlanders, we cannot see hope. We cannot even divulge the grief and pain in our hearts. However, your presence has given us hope, has allowed us to see that there is still hope in at least one place in this dark land. What is even more valuable is that you have let us see our long-lost audacity, courage and integrity, and the character of civil disobedience. You face tyranny like the towering Lion Rock, never bowing.

Thirty years ago, when Beijing fell into crisis, you gave us the strongest of support. Thirty years later, when you need support, you get the incomprehension and cynicism of the mainland. As mainlanders, we are ashamed of it. However, we want you to know that there exists a group of mainlanders who support you. They also long for a society of judicial independence, social fairness, democracy, and freedom. They also long for the light of modern civilization to shine on every mainlander. They know that the Hong Kong people are not only fighting for their own freedom, but also fighting for the freedom of those on the mainland.

It is a pity that as mainlanders, we cannot stand with you in your fight for freedom. We don’t even dare to say our name and stand up and support you. Please forgive our weakness, but we hope that you know that you are not alone. There is a group of mainlanders who have your back and are rallying for you.

Finally, we hope that you will take care and keep safe.

–A group of mainlanders

September 1 [Chinese]

After violence broke out this week on the campuses of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong, Chinese university students from across the globe launched a virtual campaign to show online support for students in Hong Kong. Modeled after the physical Lennon Walls that have been popping up in Hong Kong and elsewhere, these students are showing solidarity by displaying their student ID cards and diplomas alongside handwritten messages of support to the Hong Kong universities that are under siege. Many of these students, especially those based in China, are risking their own safety to voice their support. In order to prevent being identified by authorities, many have written their messages using their non-dominant hand. According to a letter posted online, mainland exchange students studying in Hong Kong are being forcibly evacuated by the Chinese government.

Elsewhere, in answer to the question of “what are you most proud of as a mainlander?”, an author at Matters News reflects on the systemic forces that have shaped the worldview of certain segments of the Chinese population, and calls for those from the mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to come together to communicate and understand one another without prejudice:

“If I were to introduce mainland China to someone from Taiwan or Hong Kong, what would be the thing that I am most proud of about the mainland?”

I have thought of a lot of possible answers in my head, but none of them satisfy me. Regardless of ideology, just mentioning economic and social “achievements” such as rapid economic growth, express e-commerce shipping, and convenient mobile payment, makes it difficult to ignore the set of superpower logic and systemic exploitation that exist behind the “miracle” that we see.

I once discussed this topic with a friend. I really like the answer that she gave. She said: “One thing that I am proud about the mainland is the fact that, despite being under such a powerful authoritarian system, there are still many people who are serving civil society and have independent thinking abilities.”

[…] Every time I browse the internet and saw friends from Hong Kong or Taiwan express their political opposition to the mainland, I become very restless. On the one hand, I know that they are telling the truth. On the other hand, I want to tell them that this is the view point of only part of the population. Of course, maybe it is the viewpoint of quite a few people, but not everyone. Instead of repeating the stereotypes of Chinese people over and over again and creating more hostility, it is better to think about this issue together, and ask why some mainlanders are the way they are. Only by really understanding the cause can we change what really oppresses us all.

[…] Although I have not yet figured out how I identify with my nation, I will make it my responsibility to cleanse the label of what it means to be Chinese. Not because I identify with this label, but because I believe that it is unjust to be biased against any one group, and that it is unfair to use stereotypes to generalize each individual within that group. This era has already been torn apart enough. I want to find a way to cast aside prejudice and to have conversations with all regardless of whether we share the same viewpoint.

This is what I think: that it is the responsibility of everyone born in this era to think independently. [Chinese]

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