If there is something that does not exist in China is freedom of expression, this total absence of an inalienable right of man and recognized worldwide, was experienced by the blogger Li Tingyu, who after years of living under extreme surveillance managed to escape from China.
For six months Li carefully and secretly planned how to escape from the Asian giant, not even her mother could know about it. With the help of the organization Reporters Without Borders, Li managed to flee to Berlin, on a “safe haven” grant for persecuted journalists.
For reporting social unrest, the blogger was detained in 2016, and after that her life turned into a nightmare. She was accused of “picking fights and stirring up trouble,” and declared an enemy of the Chinese communist state.
Love, activism and prison
Born in Guangdong to a working-class family, from an early age Li showed great interest in reading. When she arrived at Sun Yat-sen University, she majored in English, which opened the door to a new world of knowledge and freedom.
While surfing the internet, she met Lu Yuyu, a young journalist and activist. Soon the young couple fell in love and moved in together. In July 2013, Lu created non-news, a platform to record civil protests. Together they started collecting and reporting on demonstrations from all over the country. And they became the voice of the unheard, those silenced by the Chinese communist regime.
For several years the pair documented China’s social unrest, and although the police started harassing them, they continued to report. Their reports were seen around the world by journalists and human rights activists, and they reported some 29,000 incidents in just one year.
But police harassment was increasing and in 2016 the couple was detained, and severely interrogated. The interrogations lasted for days on end and included brainwashing. Lu was interrogated for a month, every day from 8 am. The police wanted him to admit his guilt. He never did and was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
But Li could not stand so much pressure and ended up accepting her guilt, and for her it represented a negotiation not to go to jail like her boyfriend. And although Li was detained for about 10 months, in April 2017 she was released, and her prison sentence was suspended.
Li had to report regularly to the authorities and was fitted with an electronic bracelet so that she could not leave Foshan, Guangdong.
After finishing her sentence, Li was able to rebuild her life, got a new job and also a new boyfriend. But she didn’t quite fit in and instead felt like she was living someone else’s life.
Li said, “I had to keep lying about who I am, what I believe in, in order to fit in.” She added, “My life was made up of lies.”
Adding to her life of lies was the social rejection that put a great deal of pressure on the young blogger. It was at that point that she began planning her spectacular escape from the Chinese communist regime.
An old but effective habit: Silencing dissident voices
Another case that has drawn the attention of the international community is that of the writer Gui Minhai. He is Chinese born, but with Swedish nationality. Gui was kidnapped in October 2015 while vacationing in Thailand and subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Chinese regime.
Gui was one of the co-founders of the Hong Kong-based Causeway Bay Books publishing house. His work focused on researching the private lives of Chinese leaders. His abduction along with other contributors and subsequent conviction dismayed the international community, especially when he emerged in a video acknowledging his guilt.
Although in 2017 they reported his release, he was actually placed under house arrest. Again in 2018 he was arrested, forced to renounce his Swedish nationality and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “illegally providing intelligence abroad.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Head Cédric Alviani said, “By not acting strongly enough for Gui Minhai, the international community has allowed the Chinese regime to assume the right to kidnap people anywhere in the world, deny their right to consular protection, and arbitrarily detain them with total impunity.”
Gui’s family has not heard from him for four years and has turned to various human rights organizations to demand his release. Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly called for his release and even brought his case before the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Gui, like bloggers Li Tingyu and Lu Yuyu, are not isolated cases within the repressive apparatus of the Chinese communist regime, one of the biggest executioners of journalists who dare to tell the truth.