A rights lawyer detained after calling for a trial by jury system in China has arrived in the United States. Chen Taihe, who hails from the southwestern region of Guangxi, was reunited with his family in San Francisco after learning that the charges against him would be dropped, according to U.S. rights group the Dui Hua Foundation. Chen was detained amid a nationwide crackdown on the legal profession on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," among other charges,last July. He spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about life inside a police-run detention center:
RFA: What were the conditions like in the detention center?
Chen Taihe: I felt so bad I wanted to die when they locked me up in there. I had nothing; no bowl or spoon to eat with, no cup to drink from, no toothbrush, toothpaste or toilet paper. What were the daily necessities of life on the outside became luxury goods on the inside. You couldn't get hold of them unless you got onto good terms with the cell boss. Seven people slept in a room two meters by 1.8 meters. I couldn't even lie flat; I had to sleep propped up. There was a squatter toilet, but someone had deliberately removed the fixture that stops the smell from wafting back out of the toilet, so a foul smell emanated from it the whole time. It was extremely hard to sleep in there.
RFA: What was the hardest thing about it?
Chen Taihe: There was no privacy whatsoever. When the weather was hot and we had to wash, everyone would just strip off and stand there. The place where you had to squat to go to the toilet was open, so that everybody could see you. These toilets usually have water flushes, but they deliberately didn't bother fitting them. You had to scoop water from a bucket to flush the toilet. Everything was done to make things difficult.
RFA: What kind of people were in there with you?
Chen Taihe: I was there with death row prisoners who were awaiting appeal verdicts, who were kept in irons day and night. You would think that manacles and leg irons would be a symbol of humiliation, but no, they became a symbol of domination over other prisoners, because their attitude was that they were dead men walking and you had better not mess with them or they would think nothing of killing again. They were always surrounded by a bunch of sidekicks, and they ruled the roost in there, and would launch a torrent of verbal abuse from time to time. In the cell, there was a platform like a bed with a mattress on it, with room for six people, but the cell boss slept on it with four other people. I asked if they would let me sleep in the spare place, but they said: "There's no way we're going to allow that. Who do you think you are?"
RFA: What do you think about the experience, looking back?
Chen Taihe: In such a hideous environment, what hope is there that people will regret their behavior or change their ways? So many people all crowded in together are just going to learn bad things. I have seen it with my own eyes. As soon as a bunch of drug addicts arrives, they ask who is selling, and whose drugs are the cheapest. They trade information. What hope is there of reform? They will just spiral downwards from there.
RFA: Do you have anything to say to the government?
Chen Taihe: I hope that the Chinese government will treat the other detained lawyers and citizens with humanity and compassion. They are all good, honest and upright people, and worthy of respect. From my experience in jail, I can say that they are probably being treated very badly right now. They should be treated according to due process. They should be allowed to see their lawyers, or better still, released on bail. I think if they had any real, solid evidence against them, they would have made it public by now. And if you are hoping to cow them into submission through long periods of detention, then all you are doing is creating artificial enemies. That was the thing I said most often to the police in the detention center: "Why do you insist on treating me as the enemy?"
Reported by C.K. for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited in English by Luisetta Mudie.