'Back in the big prison': dissident Zhu Chengzhi is released from jail

Zhu says the truth about the death of labor activist Li Wangyang 'will out' sooner or later.
By Gao Feng
2022.02.01
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'Back in the big prison': dissident Zhu Chengzhi is released from jail Prominent Chinese rights activist Zhu Chengzhi is shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of activists

Rights activist Zhu Chengzhi, who was detained in April 2018 after visiting the grave of Mao-era dissident Lin Zhao, was released from Jiangsu's Dingshan Prison on Jan. 26 after serving a three-year, nine-month jail term for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zhu, who is currently being relocated to the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou by agreement with state security police, said he regards his release as a transfer from "little prison" to "big prison," given that he will likely face ongoing surveillance and restrictions on his movement.

A Hunan province native, Zhu became one of China's most prominent rights activists after he spoke out about the death in police custody of labor rights activist Li Wangyang in 2013, and had previously been held on suspicion of subversion after he questioned the official verdict of suicide in Li's death.

A Chinese police investigation into Li's death in June 2013 upheld an earlier verdict of suicide, despite widespread public doubts about the claim that the severely disabled 62-year-old hanged himself.

"So, I'm back in the big prison," Zhu told RFA in an interview following his release and relocation. "Don't worry about my health; I can still walk around pretty fast."

He said he had been told he couldn't return to Hunan's Shaoyang city, and had requested relocation to Guangzhou, as his wife lives there, he said.

"In the end, I went from Dingshan Prison to Wuxi Airport, got on the plane under their supervision, and came back here to Guangzhou," he said. "I was in no hurry to get back to my hometown."

"I've been out of normal daily life for 45 months, and the things that were once familiar to me are now unfamiliar," he said. "The past two days has been spent familiarizing myself with various electronic devices."

"After Lunar New Year, I plan to get a total medical examination," Zhu said, who spoke of being singled out for "special treatment" while serving his sentence, but declined to give further details.

Zhu was taken away from the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery on the outskirts of Suzhou alongside fellow activists who laid wreaths to mark the anniversary of Lin Zhao's execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

He was held in the Suzhou No. 1 Detention Center during his pretrial detention, in crowded conditions, he recalled.

"Conditions were overcrowded in the detention center: we slept more than 20 people to a room, everyone packed in close together," Zhu told RFA. "The original specification for jails was supposed to be 14 people to a room, with 10 people to a room in the "elderly and infirm" wing. Typically there should be seven bunk beds [in a regular room], with three bunk beds and four single beds in an elderly and infirm room."

But once he started serving out his prison sentence, he didn't need to work any more.

"I'm 71 now. That's why I didn't have to do labor," he said. "They made us work in detention centers before the pandemic, but it wasn't very high pressure work, six days a week, and no more than eight hours a day. So there was a big change compared with that era."

No regrets for his actions

Zhu said he feels quite fortunate compared with many other Chinese dissidents, despite having been singled out for "unusual" levels of control in jail.

"I spent three years and nine months in jail, but compared with a lot of my friends including Li Wangyang, [that was nothing], because they gave their lives. Others were subjected to torture or other inhumane treatment. I had it easy compared with them," he said.

He said he has no regrets about any of the actions that led to his jailing.

"None of my actions have given me any trouble sleeping at night; I sleep great," Zhu said. "Everything I have done has come from the heart, in the spirit of humanity and natural justice. Why wouldn't I do those things?"

He added: "I don't think too much about all the ramifications. I'm just a very, very ordinary old guy. The things I have done should be done by every other regular person. I have stayed steadfast throughout."

"The truth about what happened to Li Wangyang will come to the surface one day, as part of the natural course of events. But I don't have the power to bear the brunt of revealing that truth all by myself," he said.

But Zhu denied having cut a deal with the state security police.

"And if you wonder whether they offered me some kind of promise [not to speak out], they lost any hope [of cutting a deal with me] way back in 2012. Nobody has set limits on [what I say in public], ever. Even if they did, I wouldn't agree to it," he said.

He said he has no problem with staying away from his hometown.

"I have a lot of relatives, classmates and friends in my hometown ... but I'm going to go wherever seems good to me. The whole world is my village," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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