In 2017, Xie Yang was arrested by authorities in China, shackled to a metal chair and ordered to explain why he had joined an “illegal” anti-Communist Party network.
On the second day, he was moved to a secret government facility and told, “Your only right is to obey.”
Finally, on day three, the violence began.
“I’m going to torment you until you go insane,” one captor allegedly said during a torture session designed to get him to confess to crimes he denied committing. “Don’t even imagine that you’ll be able to walk out of here and continue being a lawyer. You’re going to be a cripple.”
The claims, though impossible to verify, are consistent with previously documented forms of abuse against human rights attorneys and other activists in the country. In a detailed account released by Swedish attorney Peter Dahlin in 2017, he describes the harrowing accounts of torture and abuse a group of lawyers and himself were subjected to during a 23-day detention in an underground jail in Beijing.
Missing since Jan. 11
Xie, 44, has been reported missing since Jan. 11. According to an insider, sources in China believe he was arrested by state security in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province.
On Jan. 13, his wife Chen Guiqiu told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times that she found out about Xie’s arrest by State Security staff on the 11th. “The last time I talked to Xie Yang was on the morning of the 10th, Beijing time. I would normally call him and pray for him in the mornings. On the 11th, the phone couldn’t get through.”
She tried reaching him again on Jan. 13, but the call went straight to voicemail. Chen believed state security had confiscated his phone.
Xie’s last tweet was on Jan. 7, when he spoke out in support of economics professor Yang Shaozheng, commenting, “This is inhumane!”
Yang was a professor at the University of Guizhou who was suspended in November 2017 and fired the next year for writing “politically sensitive” writings not in keeping with Party rhetoric. He was then arrested by the Party’s Procuratorate in October 2021 under unknown charges. Prior to the arrest, Yang was placed under “residential surveillance” for 18 months in an undisclosed facility.
Xie was first arrested in the central city of Hongjiang on July 11, 2015, on the third day of what campaigners describe as an unprecedented assault on civil rights attorneys in the country.
The event, known as the “709 Crackdown,” saw the arrests of more than 300 lawyers and human rights defenders who were detained, interrogated and imprisoned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
More than 18 months after that sweep began, at least four of its key targets, including Xie, remained behind bars facing trial for crimes including subversion and disruption of public order.
After standing trial in late 2017, Xie revealed that he pled guilty to “charges of subversion” in exchange for an early release and was told his release was contingent upon him retracting statements saying he had been tortured while in detention.
Disbarred in 2020
In August 2020, the Justice Department of Hunan Province announced that Xie would lose his license after “multiple occasions of disrupting court order” – referencing his work defending marginalized groups in China. It added that he had posted multiple comments on social media that were “defamatory and endangered national security.”
Xie first landed on the CCP’s radar after defending a number of politically sensitive cases. One of his clients included a group of people involved in the New Citizens Movement – a civil rights movement that started a decade ago to encourage China’s transition into a civil, democratic society.
After his disbarment, Xie said he tried multiple times to overturn the government’s decision but was unsuccessful. “There is very little chance of success but I have to exercise my right of defense,” Xie said in 2017.
He said that under Chinese law, administrative penalties could not be applied if the alleged offenses took place more than two years ago.
“The reasons [the department] cited happened in 2015, and this was already beyond the legal period,” he said. “They could not punish me with these charges.”
According to the department’s notice, Xie could lodge an appeal or suit against the department within 60 days if he wanted to try and overturn the ruling.
Champion of human rights
Despite the repeated arrests and attempts on his life, Xie never stopped advocating for oppressed voices in China.
Most recently, Xie offered assistance to Li Tiantian, a 27-year-old pregnant elementary teacher who was forcefully committed to a mental institution after criticizing government authorities in the firing of university lecturer Song Gengyi on Dec. 17, 2021.
“Find a way to save me!” Li wrote in a final text to another internet user after expressing concern for her unborn child as police detained and threatened to use injections to “cure” her. Li was incommunicado until Dec. 26, when social media users reported she had returned home.
An insider told The Epoch Times that Xie’s arrest may have been connected to Li’s case after he traveled to rural Hunan Province late last year in hopes of helping the young school teacher. The source added that his arrest was done quietly because there wasn’t enough evidence to officially charge him with.
“They think Xie has caused troubles for the regime, it’s embarrassing to them,” the source added.