Interview: 'The Police Take Me Grocery Shopping and Tap My Phone'

china-sun-wenguang-aug-2013.jpg Sun Wenguang speaks to a reporter at his home in Jinan, Shandong province, in a file photo.

Chinese prodemocracy activist and retired Shandong University physics professor Sun Wenguang, who turns 80 this year, is no stranger to dissent. Punished as a "rightist" in the early 1960s, Sun was pilloried and locked up for more than five years during the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) for his outspoken criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong. He served a further seven years for writing critical articles in 1978, before being finally rehabilitated as a university teacher in 1992. He has continued to publish online, speaking out against the government and promoting human rights and democracy. He spoke to Cheng Gong of RFA's Mandarin Service about his recent experiences with China's state security police in an interview marking his 80th birthday.

Q: I saw a report on [a rights website] on Sept. 5 saying that you were being held under house arrest 24 hours a day, and that you weren't even being allowed out to buy a newspaper, take out the garbage, or buy food. Is that a recent development?

A: The situation you are talking about was only for a brief time. It was like that.... The way things are right now, five [state security police officers] take turns watching me from 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. The rest of the time, there isn't anyone there.

Q: So are you free to go out the rest of the time?

A: They watch me from the gate, and follow me when I go out. If I go to a meeting, or to meet someone, they can track my cell phone to pinpoint my location, then the police escort me back home.

Q: Did they put something in your cell phone?

A: No. With today's cell phone technology, they can always pinpoint your position, no matter where you go. That's how far the technology has gone ... so they can always get you back again.

Q: So what factors are causing such tight surveillance?

A: I have been under surveillance since last May ... for the past 16 months, since we were preparing to arrange a memorial service for the 24th anniversary of  June 4 [the 1989 Tiananmen Square prodemocracy movement], and they tried to stop us from getting together because otherwise we would post the pictures about our gathering, which would have an impact.

During that period of time, they didn't want me to go out, and they watched me 24/7. There were cars and officers there.... Later on there were some sensitive dates in Jinan, such as the trial of Bo Xilai, so they tightened up surveillance on me, mobilizing 60 to 70 people to make sure I wouldn't be able to conduct any activities. They managed to stop me from going out to meet friends and they also stopped others from visiting me. Twice this year, AFP reporters wanted to interview me. That makes them very nervous and upset, so they stationed 40 to 50 people around my residence to make sure foreign reporters wouldn't be able to approach me. Even my friends couldn't visit me...they would stop them downstairs if they were coming to visit me.... Sometimes they would post someone to watch at the 21st floor.... They also warned people not to come, that there would be trouble for them if they did. After that, not so many people came to visit me.

Q: A few years ago, you had four ribs broken, which upset people around the world. Have there been any more violent incidents like that since?

A: In April 2009 [I was attacked by security personnel, and my ribs were broken]. But there haven't been any similar incidents since then. I think they were strongly criticized for that, and they probably felt they had lost face. It didn't happen at night, under cover of darkness. It was in a park dedicated to a woman martyr. On Qing Ming [the grave-sweeping festival], a lot of people came, around 50,000 people.... There were a lot of people at the roadside looking, so it was all very visible. They would just beat people up as they came across them. Since then, there haven't been any more attacks [on me]; they are probably too ashamed. They just stop me from going anywhere.

Q: Do you think your surveillance has anything to do with [the investigations around former security chief] Zhou Yongkang?

A: At the moment they are speaking to me very nicely, acting like they care about how I'm doing. They don't act all rude and fierce like they used to.... Sometimes they drive me to buy groceries or take me to the swimming pool.

Q: I heard that [blind U.S.-based activist] Chen Guangcheng sometimes calls you up from America, is that right?

A: Chen Guangcheng did call me up this year from the United States, and the next day, when [the police] were driving me to go swimming, they said to me, "so Chen Guangcheng called you last night." The point was to let me know that they even knew about this phone call.

Q: Did they come and question you about what Chen Guangcheng said to you?

A: They don't question me so much these days, because I impose certain conditions.... I won't have them question me at home, with all my family there, so we have to go out to talk, which means that all their officers trail along behind.... I also limit the time to about 20 minutes, because when they question me, I also ask them a whole bunch of questions, like what they did with my computer which they confiscated from my home.

Also about going to Japan. I haven't been allowed to leave the country for a few years now. So every time they question me, I ask when I'll be allowed to go to Taiwan to see my brother, and when they'll give me back my computer.  I also ask them if they've managed to track down the guy who broke my ribs. I just keep asking them questions, and now they don't seek me out for "chats" anymore.

Translated by Jia Yuan and Luisetta Mudie.


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