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“‘I Want to Be a Man of My Word’: A Summary of the Guo Feixiong Case and His Political Goals”

December 24, 2013

Rights defender, Guo Feixiong, was detained on August 8, 2013, and formally arrested on September 14 on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disrupt order in public places.” Guo’s lawyer, Zhang Xuezhong, argues that through reviewing the case file and a meeting with Guo, not only are the Guangzhou police’s allegations against Guo unfounded, but, in addition, the evidence used to arrest, imprison, and charge Guo and other defendants amounts to downright political persecution. Zhang says Guo is an outstanding representative of the ambitious compatriots striving to promote national progress and a civilized society in China.

"I want to be a man of my word"

A Summary of the Guo Feixiong Case and His Political Goals

Zhang Xuezhong

December 24, 2013

[English translation by Human Rights in China]

On December 18, 2013, I accepted a request from Guo Feixiong (original name Yang Maodong) to represent him as his lawyer in his case, in which he is charged with “gathering crowds to disrupt order in public places.” Through reviewing the case file and a meeting with Mr. Guo, I discovered that there were two main aspects in the charges brought against him by the Guangzhou police:

First, the police charged Mr. Guo with “organizing Yuan Bing, Yuan Xiaohua, and others at the entrance to Southern Weekly on January 6-9, 2013 to hold up signs, make speeches, and use other methods to attract large groups of spectators to disrupt public order.” But there is no basis for these charges.

Everyone knows that the Southern Weekly Incident in early 2013 was caused by the alteration of Southern Weekly's annual New Year’s message in violation of regulations. It was because a group of journalists who loved Southern Weekly publically protested the alteration that people learned about this and went to the entrance to the Southern Weekly, of their own volition, to show their support for the newspaper.

Individuals including Guo Feixiong, Yuan Bing, and Yuan Xiaohua are just like others—they went to the scene on their own out of concern about the alteration incident. Those at the scene who held up banners or spoke out were just expressing their own belief in freedom of the press and the ideals of constitutional democracy—not to disrupt public order there. In fact, not only did Mr. Guo not disrupt order at the scene, he actually tried hard to educate the people around him to maintain order in the area and to use peaceful means to express their own aspirations and demands.

On January 6-9, 2013, there was a large police presence at the scene. At the time, both the police officers and crowds of spectators were able to keep calm and exercise restraint, and thus were able to effectively maintain order at the scene. Let us imagine:  if the behavior of Guo Feixiong and the others really constituted the crime of disrupting public order, could so many police officers there have possibly just stood by and watched this criminal behavior without doing anything, and allowed it to go on for as long as four days?

Second, the police charged Guo with “conspiring with Xun Desheng, Yuan Bing, and others to plan to carry out ‘raising-placards-on-the-street’ protests in eight cities—beginning with Wuhan, where the 1911 Revolution erupted, and moving southward along the Wuhan-Guangzhou Railway to Wuhan, Yueyang, Changsha, Zhuzhou, Hengyang, Chenzhou, Shaoguan, and Guangzhou—to demand that officials make public their personal assets and urge the National People's Congress to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The police’s charges were not only completely baseless, they in fact prove that the arrest and detention of Guo Feixiong and others, and the charges against them, are acts of political persecution through and through.

All that Xun Desheng and Yuan Bing did was to pose with others for group photos as mementos in scenic spots, squares, and other public spaces in several cities while holding a couple of banners. Moreover, in calling on officials to make their assets public and urging legislative bodies to ratify an international covenant, they were just exercising the rights of citizens to express themselves and make suggestions— rights that are clearly stipulated in the Constitution. Based on the photos collected by the police, public order at the time was not disrupted in any way. I believe that if these people had not been displaying their banners while posing for the group photos, the police for sure would not have viewed what they did as breaking the law. However, if charging someone with criminal conduct for merely unfurling a banner to express personal opinions is not political persecution, then I don't know what is.

Xun Desheng, Yuan Fengchu, Li Yonglin, and others were detained after unfurling this banner in Wuhan.
Xun Desheng, Yuan Fengchu, Li Yonglin, and others were detained after unfurling this banner in Wuhan.

The first time I met Mr. Guo was in our meeting on December 19, 2013, although prior to this I was already very much familiar with his name. He clearly looked much thinner than in photos before his being taken into custody. But his attitude was still very positive and optimistic. Through a 30-minute chat with him, I could tell that he is a person of strong intelligence and steadfast determination, and a man of extraordinary noble character. Even while he is in prison, what he is most concerned about is the safety of others who had been picked up, as well as the situation of friends who had not been imprisoned.

In order to better understand my client, I collected and read many articles written by Mr. Guo previously. I discovered that he possesses an extremely strong aptitude for political analysis and discussion, and that not only does he have strong training in political theory, but also a very good sense of political realities, and that he has written probing and meticulous commentaries on the political situation in China.

Mr. Guo differs from other scholars in that he is a person who combines knowledge with action. He not only possesses the ideals of freedom, democracy, and constitutionalism, but also has the courage to propagate and put into practice the ideals which he cherishes. As a result of this, he has been imprisoned twice (he served a total of five years), and once was the victim of extremely brutal torment. But he has never once abandoned his ideals because of that.

The case material demonstrates that after Mr. Guo was arrested by the Guangzhou police this time, he adopted a strategy of refusing to answer any questions posed by his interrogators to protest political persecution by the police. Only when he was protecting others from the same kind of persecution did he offer some concise explanations. During our meeting, he said one sentence that made a deep impression on me: "No matter how difficult things are, I will strive to be a man of my word."

The conduct and deeds of Mr. Guo over the years—including participating in the case to recall village officials in Dashi Village, supporting freedom of the press at Southern Weekly, urging officials to reveal their personal assets, and calling on the National People's Congress to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—were all for the purpose of promoting, fighting for, and putting into practice political rights.

He once said to me: "Political rights are the starting point for all other civil rights, they are also what guarantees all other civil rights, and these other civil rights are often the natural result gained from political rights. As soon as the people are able to enjoy and exercise political rights, government power will inevitably be restrained, and all civil rights will naturally be protected. But in order to promote and strive for political rights we must first start with putting these rights into practice; putting political rights into practice is the most effective way to uphold and fight for such rights. Only if the people have the courage and ability to implement political rights will they be able to make these rights that now only exist on paper become actual rights.”

Mr. Guo is not only a brave and resolute man, but also a man of calm intellect. When we met, he said to me: "Although I myself have made all sorts of preparations for my sacrifice, in every public incident and activity, I did my utmost to reduce the danger to other participants so as to attract more people’s concern for and participation in public affairs. To achieve this, I have taken care to bring every activity into the framework of existing laws, and strived to legalize political actions and ‘procedural-ize’ legal actions. In this way, we could not only reduce the risk to participants, but also use people's rational and orderly participation in public affairs to thoroughly shatter all attempts to humiliate and belittle the Chinese people and the prejudice and lies that they are not qualified to enjoy freedom and democracy."

My trip to Guangzhou to meet Mr. Guo was my first time to visit that city. The neat appearance of Guangzhou and the friendliness of its citizens made a very deep impression on me. I even found it difficult to imagine that this beautiful, prosperous, and friendly Guangzhou of the 21st Century still harbors a backward, uncivilized, and unfeeling Guangzhou of the Middle Ages. In this invisible Guangzhou of the Middle Ages, a group of Chinese compatriots—dedicated to promoting national progress and a civilized society—are right now suffering undisguised political persecution at the hands of the judicial authorities of their own country.

My client Mr. Guo Feixiong is among the most resolute, brave, and admirable of these Chinese compatriots.