My co-blogger indicated in a previous post that China’s State Security forces had beaten up some innocent persons over Ivan’s identity. He is not joking.
In this post, I will give a brief account of my American Twitter friend Ge Xun’s latest encounter with China’s State Security agents in Beijing. Ge’s ordeal highlights the arbitrary and yet bizarre ways in which the intelligence community in China operates. The abuse of power is a regular feature rather than an anomaly.
Ge’s story is related to me personally, and also to this blog, in the following ways:
Ge was beaten up in order to protect my identity;
My names were mentioned twice during the course of Ge’s interrogation; and
The interrogators admitted that this blog is under surveillance by China’s intelligence agencies. This admission explains our blog’s unusual traffic pattern since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ge Xun and I met at Twitter. We have both been tweeting about Chen Guangcheng in order to draw public attention to Chen’s case of illegal house arrest. At the start of this year, Ge invited me to contribute to the Free Chen Guangcheng website. The website is designed with a very simple objective in mind: to aggregate online information about campaigns launched by netizens who care about the suffering of Chen and his family. It is run by a group of geographically very diverse volunteers. Our coming together for a single course is made possible due to the power of the Internet. In fact I have so far only met one of the volunteers in person because of location proximity.
On 24 January 2012, I woke up to an email alert and learnt that Ge Xun’s mother had passed away. Ge said he was very upset and would stop blogging for a week. I sent my condolences via a reply email. The next day, I received another email from Ge, who said that he was making preparations to go to Beijing for his mother’s funeral.
I did not hear from Ge until 3 February 2012. As I was browsing through my Twitter timeline, I came across this tweet that he had posted the day before:
“on board UA888 to sf waiting take off. 2 days before schedule. had a terribl exp”
I also read other tweets that were posted subsequently and came to the realisation that Ge had been illegally detained, interrogated and beaten by China’s State Security Police while he visited Beijing. He was then forced to leave China ahead of his scheduled return flight.
In reply to my tweet: “It’s terrible. Glad you’re OK now.”
“Thank you. Extremely terrible, I’ll tell story, There is your name too.”
I could not figure out why China’s State Security would interrogate my Internet friend about me. So I sent this tweet to Ge in order to find out more about what he meant by “There is your name too”. I wrote:
“Can you tell me more about my name & what PRC state security did with it? when you have time …”
“Oh, sorry, regarding your name. It was mentioned twice, all about what they saw on freeCGC blog and your own blog.”
Over the next few days, details of Ge Xun’s kidnap and illegal detention were gradually revealed. The abridged English version was published in two parts at the Seeing Red in China blog on 8th and 9th of February 2012. The full Chinese version appeared almost simultaneously at the Human Rights in China Biweekly.
Ge Xun was illegally detained when he attempted to visit his friend, Professor Ding Zilin, one of the Tiananmen Mothers. He was taken to an unknown location, where he was interrogated for more than 20 hours. During such time, Ge was not allowed to contact the US Consulate in spite of his repeated requests. No warrant or relevant document had been presented to him to explain why he was under detention. Ge was beaten up twice: once in order to force him to surrender his Twitter and Gmail passwords; the second time in order to snatch his laptop computer. While he was interrogated, Ge was asked detailed questions about the identities of human rights activists, including each individual volunteer whose name appears at the Free Chen Guangcheng editorial list. Towards the end of the interrogation, he was forced to sign a document to acknowledge the illegal detention as a “state secret”. He was also asked to refrain from doing anything that will harm China’s reputation.
I had some email exchanges and a telephone call with Ge Xun subsequent to the publishing of his horrific accounts. I contacted him in order to clarify details about the circumstances in which the Beijing State Security agent mentioned me by name. The followings are what I have learnt:
Ge Xun refused to surrender his Twitter password because among some of the Direct Messages I sent him were information about my identity and my Gmail address. Unfortunately he finally had to succumb to torture. So now the Beijing State Security is in possession of what they believe to be my names and contact details.
During the course of interrogation, the State Security agent in charge mentioned my name twice, both in English and in Chinese, and asked about my blog posts at the Free Chen Guangcheng website and the Under the Jacaranda Tree blog. It seems the agent has difficulties believing that I (and other volunteers) work on a voluntary basis. He repeatedly asked Ge which government or human rights organisation sponsored my Internet activism. They also wanted to know whether I, or any of my co-bloggers, were currently residing in China. Ge said that he had never met me in person, and therefore was unable to answer their questions.
When questions about me were asked, Ge Xun had a distinct impression that the agent was familiar with the Under the Jacaranda Tree blog. The agent’s own admission suggests that this blog is currently under intelligence surveillance in China. In fact access to this blog had been blocked in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, our traffic record suggests that someone from within China regularly visits our blog directly without going through a proxy server. The only entities able to do so are China’s “state security” agencies.
There is nothing unusual about a country’s intelligence services monitoring Internet activities of foreign websites hosted abroad. What is unusual, in this case, is that a foreigner is interrogated and tortured illegally, even by the standard of Chinese law, simply for the purpose of gathering information about overseas activists who are totally and utterly outside of the agent’s jurisdiction and whose internet activities cannot be read by any civilians within the PRC. This kind of behaviour of targeting obviously innocent foreign nationals for intelligence gathering defies logic and common sense. Either these agents are paranoid, or they have run out of excuses to justify the continuous witch hunt that they are currently conducting in the name of “stability maintenance” against equally innocent victims, such as the blind activist Chen Guangcheng.