——Speech on winning the Religious Freedom and Rule of Law Defenders Award
On February 19, 2011, I was grabbed by a group people who refused to identify themselves, blindfolded and forced into a vehicle. Two hours later, we arrived at a place where they locked me up. Surrounded by a wall of darkness, I could hear my heart beating. I could also hear a voice deep in my heart asking, “Is it worth it, what you are doing? Are you going to continue?”
What followed was 70 lonely days of detention. Someone was in the room 24 hours a day closely monitoring me. Occasionally, someone would come to interrogate me, it was always about the articles I’d written and the human rights cases I’ve handled. I could endure the physical abuse, but emotional torture was particularly agonizing. I was told: “Don’t talk about that law nonsense. Stop thinking of yourself as a lawyer or a college instructor and even stop thinking of yourself as a human being.” I was deprived of all contact with the outside world and couldn’t get any information. I had no information whatsoever about what was happening to my family and friends and the outside world. Since no official procedures were followed, my fate did not rest on any law or civilized rules. I was deprived of all my hopes for the future. I didn’t know whether this was a short-term imprisonment, a long-term imprisonment or an eternal disappearance.
At this time, all I could do was pray. I had often attended house church gatherings and I had seen the prayers of many Christians. Many times I was moved, but I had never prayed myself. But when there was nothing in my life that I could count on, I found that praying was quite natural. Before that self-existent, eternal God, I began to pray. And miraculously, I quickly calmed down. I was no longer terrified, no longer anxious and no longer lonely.
After two weeks of detention, I was further deprived of the right to bathe, forbidden to sing, to exercise and to write. Moreover, I was required to sit straight up on the floor and face the wall from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight. Later, they handcuffed me—for 36 days, 24 hours a day. There was no sunlight, no sound, no news of my loved ones and no information of or contact with the human world. I didn’t even have the freedom to close my eyes, the freedom to speak, the freedom to sleep and the freedom to control my body. Actually, this kind of physical and mental torture is intended to deprive a person of everything that being a human means. --- But by listening to that life-giving voice deep in my soul, I maintained my dignity and my strength.
I discovered that power can take away everything, but it can’t take away your spiritual life and it can’t stop the prayer deep in your heart. This may be the reason why every ruler who regards himself as omnipotent hates freedom of religion.
In 2005, I, along with Gao Zhisheng, Fan Yafeng and others, defended the innocence of Cai Zhuohua. Pastor Cai Zhuohua and his family were imprisoned for printing Bibles and planning to distribute them to other believers. In addition to Gao Zhisheng’s impassioned defense, what I will never forget is the scorn for legal procedure shown by the chief judge You Tao and his trampling of freedom of religion. That was the first time I became involved in a religious freedom case. Later, I participated in the founding of Christian Human Rights Lawyers of China, which provides legal assistance to house churches.
In 2007, Li Heping, Li Xiongbing, I and three other lawyers from Beijing were involved in the case of Falun Gong practitioner Wang Bo. On the basis of our deep analysis of the law and understanding of the case, we were in total agreement that the so-called “legal basis” for cracking down on and punishing Falun Gong practitioners was totally untenable. In our defense [at the trial], we solemnly stated the principles of separation of church and state, religious freedom and freedom of thought. These are clearly written in the Chinese Constitution and the human rights covenants that China has ratified. But in actual practice in China, these principles are brutally trampled upon. After the trial, four furious court employees grabbed me by the arms and legs, carried me down the high stairs of the Shijiazhuang Intermediate Court and threw me to the ground outside the main door of the courthouse.
I’ve seen my friend Gao Zhisheng imprisoned and tortured for appealing on behalf of Falun Gong practitioners. I’ve seen thousands of people die from torture and persecution because they believed in Falun Gong. I’ve also seen many people locked up for telling others about this religion or even simply because they were not willing to give up their beliefs. I’ve seen Protestant and Catholic house churches in various parts of China being persecuted. I’ve seen the religious belief and political and cultural rights of Tibetans and Uigurs insulted and trampled upon. --- Fighting for religious freedom and the rule of law, this is certainly an extremely dangerous road.
In 2008, about a dozen lawyers and I released a statement to express our willingness to provide legal assistance to arrested Tibetans. This became the fuse that led to my lawyer’s license being revoked. But I think that regardless of whether one has a lawyer’s license or not, every citizen should make an effort to defend human rights. The suffering of the Tibetan people is so deep, but so many people stay silent because of fear or apathy. So many Tibetans are setting themselves on fire, but the intellectuals simply can’t see “the elephant in the room” and they hear nothing. I think that this kind of silence is a source of great shame. I firmly believe that the foundation for ending hatred, healing rifts, and achieving peace and security has to be a system that protects freedom of thought and religious freedom.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said if a madman on a rampage drives a car into a crowd, what we should do is not only to help the injured and the dead, but also to stop the madman driving the car. The story of the saint Bonhoeffer who died in resisting the Nazi and the words in blood of the Chinese saint Lin Shao written often inspire me. Their phenomenal courage came from a deep faith. In contrast, we can already see quite clearly the depravity, chaos and brutality of a society that lacks faith and the rule of law.
But those sins and that depravity aren’t necessarily things that have nothing to do with us. We need to save ourselves.