Monday, January 2, 2017

A human rights activist, a secret prison and a tale from Xi Jinping's new China - Xi Jinping’s unforgiving offensive against civil society

Peter Dahlin spent 23 days in a ‘black prison’ in Beijing, where he says he was deprived of sleep and questioned with a ‘communication enhancement’ machine. Here he tells the story of his incarceration and expulsion from the People’s Republic


In the four years since Xi became China’s top leader in November 2012, feminist campaigners, journalists, academics, bloggers, publishers, human rights lawyers & even foreign non-governmental organisation workers such as Dahlin have all been targeted in what experts suspect is a coordinated Communist party push to prevent the development of organised opposition to the regime. The political situation, which some call the most dire since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, has deteriorated so fast under the current leadership that one scholar claims Xi has built “the perfect dictatorship” 

“They’ve kidnapped people several times here before,” says the 36-year-old Swedish human rights activist, chain-smoking Marlboro cigarettes as he remembers the 23 days he spent in secret detention in China. It has been a year since Dahlin became one of the first foreign victims of President Xi Jinping’s war on dissent. On 3 January 2016 Chinese security agents encircled the activist’s Beijing home and spirited him and his Chinese girlfriend, Pan Jinling, off to a covert interrogation centre he now calls “The Residence”.

Months have now passed but the memories of that spell in custody have proved hard to shake. “These facilities are built to break you,” the campaigner says during a seven-hour interview at a home in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand where he and Pan have lived since he was deported from China amid one of the most severe crackdowns in decades.

The story of Peter Dahlin, told here in unprecedented detail, offers a rare and troubling snapshot of Xi Jinping’s China, where an unforgiving offensive against civil society is now unfolding. In the four years since Xi became China’s top leader in November 2012, feminist campaigners, journalists, academics, bloggers, publishers, human rights lawyers and even foreign non-governmental organisation workers such as Dahlin have all been targeted in what experts suspect is a coordinated Communist party push to prevent the development of organised opposition to the regime. The political situation, which some call the most dire since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, has deteriorated so fast under the current leadership that one scholar claims Xi has built “the perfect dictatorship” – an ever-more repressive system that nevertheless avoids major international censure.

During his stint behind bars the Swedish activist says he was given a firsthand taste of the harshness with which that battle for control is being waged. He claims he was blindfolded and confined to a cell with expressionless guards who refused to engage in conversation but noted down his every move; was for days deprived of access to his embassy, the right to exercise or even to sunlight; was forced to endure exhausting late-night interrogation sessions conducted by hectoring inquisitors determined to paint him as a spy; subjected to a lie-detection machine intended to extract information about his work; and suffered periods of sleep deprivation that he believes were intended to weaken his resolve.
Dahlin, who until his detention had run a Beijing-based rights organisation called the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group or China Action, said during the seven years he lived and worked as an activist in China friends and diplomats had always considered him an optimist about the country’s future. Those illusions have been shattered by the things he witnessed in the lead-up to his incarceration at The Residence. “For the first time I am not optimistic any more,” he says. “This is how China will operate for the next 20 years. Now it’s a new hard line.”

The underground activist
Peter Dahlin arrived in China from his native Sweden in the summer of 2004, a 23-year-old political science graduate keen for a taste of the world outside a lecture theatre. “I was just there to backpack and learn,” recalls Dahlin, whose travels took him through Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, the south-eastern port where Xi served as vice-mayor in the 1980s. Three years later he returned, throwing himself into human rights work alongside Hou Wenzhou, a Chinese activist he had met online.

Dahlin’s first project was a report denouncing the existence of an illegal nationwide network of secret detention facilities called “black jails”. It identified eight such prisons in Beijing. About the same time Dahlin met Wang Quanzhang, a crusading civil rights lawyer known for his defence of China’s downtrodden and outspoken criticism of the government. Together, in 2009, they founded China Action, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to supporting human rights defenders in the one-party state. Increasingly draconian laws make it effectively impossible for such non-governmental rights organisations to operate legally in mainland China. Instead the pair registered their group as a company in Hong Kong and decided they would strive to operate in the shadows so as to avoid attracting attention. 

“I decided we had a shot at doing something quite special,” Dahlin says of the group’s creation. The Swedish activist says he was partly driven by “middle-class guilt” but also a conviction that people should be the masters of their own destinies.  “I’ve never been particularly political,” he says. “I’ve never paid attention to Tibet and these issues very much. “I just believe in the idea of self-determination.

“Whether it is Scottish people, the Catalan people, the Tibetan people or even just a village somewhere in China; that the people there should be the ones that have an influence, whether it is by forming an organisation, a labour union, their own media, whatever.” Guided by those beliefs, Dahlin set about building China Action into a small but potent force for social change… read more:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/03/human-rights-activist-peter-dahlin-secret-black-prison-xi-jinpings-new-china

see also
Will Hutton - Politically bankrupt China dare not tolerate freedom of the press