Chinese Ex-Spy Speaks Out

A former member of China's highly secretive intelligence community calls on other countries to take Beijing to task for its abysmal human rights record.

2009.03.19
Li Fengzhi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 19, 2009.
AFP

WASHINGTON—A former Chinese spy called today for greater world attention to human rights in China, saying abuses in the country are worsening.

Speaking through an interpreter at a news conference here, former Ministry of State Security (MSS) intelligence officer Li Fengzhi said, “The improvement of human rights in China will be realized by the Chinese people themselves.”

“But help from the international community is definitely effective and is very important.”

Li said that China’s government “does all it can” to hide the truth of its abuses from other countries.

He added that world leaders should speak out more clearly to defend the Chinese people’s rights to dignity and social justice.

'Abuse' of resources

Li, now 41, said he quit the MSS and came to the United States “several years ago.”

He criticized what he called the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s “abuse” of China’s resources to “monitor, suppress, and persecute” the Chinese people.

“They include political dissidents, people who freely express themselves, spiritual groups like the Falun Gong, grassroots citizens who protest unfair treatment, unemployed workers, poor farmers who lost their land, and so on.”

“Besides the police, other state agencies—including state security departments—are all participating in these atrocities,” Li said.

Employees of China’s state security system should instead serve and protect the country, he said, adding that many MSS officers are “furious” at the Communist Party’s manipulation of their role.

“Many government departments have become closed groups that seek economic and social benefits for themselves,” Li said.

“All these benefits are actually robbed from ordinary citizens.”

Able to walk away

Li worked in an MSS office collecting information in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, according to a Washington Times article on March 19. He has now applied for political asylum in the United States.

Calls seeking confirmation of Li’s identity and status from the Chinese embassy in Washington went unanswered.

Also speaking to the press, California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher called Li an example of someone who was able to “walk away” from his role as an “instrument of repression.”

“No one who is in that position should think they have no alternative. We now have an example before us who knew that, yes, there is an alternative, and that is to walk away.”

'A very serious matter'

In a separate interview, Li said that he resigned his post in 2004 because he had become disillusioned with the Communist Party and wanted to find another job. The MSS considered his resignation "a very serious matter" and circulated a document identifying him as a potential source of trouble, he said.

After arriving in the United States, Li, now a Christian, studied international relations and then worked at a series of jobs to help support his family, who were able to come with him from China.

Li finally decided to speak in public, he said, after seeing news reports of police brutality toward petitioners, Chinese citizens trying to file complaints with the country's central government, during meetings of the National People's Congress in Beijing earlier this month.

Li also said that his father, who lives in the United States and was aware of his feelings, encouraged him to "stand up."

Li declined to discuss any details of his former work for China as an intelligence officer, adding that he has not been threatened or harassed since beginning to make public appearances.

Original reporting by Richard Finney and Joshua Lipes. Produced by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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