Geopolitics

A Rare Glimpse Into The Horrors Of Life On Chinese Death Row

After being subsequently acquitted and released, a 42-year-old falsely accused of multiple murders, and sentenced to death, recounts a decade of torture and forced confession in a Chinese prison. It’s an experience few have lived to describe.

A Rare Glimpse Into The Horrors Of Life On Chinese Death Row
Liu Jinsong

BEIJING - Chen Ruiwu was acquitted after having been imprisoned and tortured for 10 years while awaiting his execution. He spent that decade locked up in a detention center in Hebei Province, China. This past Sunday, Chen recounted publicly for the first time his brutal prison experience, providing unusual testimony since most never emerge alive from China's death row.

Chen, 42, comes from China's northeast province of Heilongjiang. Ten years ago, while he was working in Bazhou City, he was accused of involvement in two shocking murder cases, one of which involved the killing of a local tax inspector and his family. Chen was prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter in 2001 by Bazhou's Public Security Bureau, and subsequently sentenced to death.

At the Hebei Provincial High Court from 2002 to 2009, Chen Ruiwu and the other six men allegedly involved in the two murder cases were tried and then retried on six occasions. The case was full of flaws, and lacked any credible evidence to prosecute the seven accused of committing the crimes.

After numerous appeals, Chen was pronounced innocent in 2009. But Chen was not in fact set free until early November.

Speaking at a Nov. 27 legal seminar in Beijing, Chen spoke about his case, and described his treatment on death row.

Chen said the only reason he was accused of the murder was because he had a meal with Yuan Weidong, a man from his hometown, who happened to be opening a restaurant next to the home of one of the murder victims. Both men were arrested, though neither was present in Bazhou on the day of the murder, and had alibis to prove it.

A simple method

From the first day of his detention, Chen was subjected to torture, as authorities sought to extraction a confession. The method was simple. Bronze wires from an old hand-cranked telephone were wrapped around his fingers and toes. The telephone handle was then cranked, sending an electric current through the wires. This is called: "being connected". Repeatedly, the guards shook him and tried to wring a confession out of him. "Now can you remember what you have done?" they would ask. "Are you going to confess now?"

Chen said he had no idea why he'd been arrested. "The police never asked specific questions. They just kept on pressing me to give an account."

When the police were not satisfied with his answers, they "connected" him. "As an instrument of torture, this old appliance is worse than being hit with a baton. It is extremely painful. You wish you could just die," said Chen.

According to reports, Chen complained of his torture during his court appearances. He spoke of shocks to his genitals from an electric baton, forced drinking of hot-chili water, suffocation with a plastic bag, burning the soles of his feet with a lighter, squeezing his fingers with pliers, as well as the telephone wire technique.

The most horrific experience was when he was connected to five telephone appliances on his hands, feet and ears at the same time. He tried to commit suicide by biting his own tongue, and was hospitalized and treated with seven stitches before returning to prison.

After more than a month of continual torture, Chen almost surrendered. He told his torturers "Write whatever you like. There's no need to beat me anymore." Nevertheless when the policeman pulled his hand to sign on the hearing record, he deliberately erred in signing his family name, signing with a Chinese character that is slightly different from the one in his family name. He did this with the faint hope that "If I really died, maybe the superior court would find that my signature was false, and maybe they'd investigate…I didn't want to shame my family name."

Yang Hongyi, who was acquitted at the same time as Chen Ruiwu, as well as the other three involved but released earlier for the same case, all claimed to have been subjected to similar torture.

Read the orginal in Chinese

Photo - madamepsychosis

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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