Wednesday, July 20, 2022

“All People Act Together” Supporters Imprisoned, Part II: Public Disruption, Limited Reach

A logo used by the APAT. Image credit: 時事能見度 YouTube page 

The “All People Act Together” (APAT), or quanmin gongzhen (全民共振) social media campaign was launched in early 2018 by Chinese dissidents overseas. The campaign encourages rights defenders to engage in collective action and protests on days of importance to China and the Chinese Communist Party.  

Part I of this article focused on how the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” is used against APAT supporters. In such cases, supporters were imprisoned for their behavior on social media, including deleted private conversations. Part II looks at cases where supporters were charged with disrupting public services and preparing for a terrorist activity. 

Disrupting Public Services 

Dui Hua’s research into court judgments revealed that Li Yunzhu (李韫竹) was found guilty of injuring stability maintenance officers and sentenced to eight months in prison in Yinchuan, Ningxia, in August 2019. On February 24, 2019, the officers were sent by guobao, China’s domestic security police, to Li’s home to give her “thought reform” after she circulated footage with an APAT thumbnail tag of “Down with the CCP.” The video allegedly incited the Chinese people to defend their rights and take to the streets every day at 3 PM during the “Two Sessions,” China’s biggest annual gathering of its rubber stamp parliament and political advisory body which discuss plans for national priorities. 

It is unclear what prompted Li to circulate the video or why she was drawn to APAT. The judgment only stated that Li was planning to lodge an appeal in Beijing in December 2018 over a consumer lawsuit but was persuaded by police to stay in her home province Ningxia. The police arranged for her appellate trial to begin the following March. Li refused the arrangement. She expressed concerns about being unable to travel to Beijing during the Two Sessions, despite knowing full well that transport disruptions are commonplace in order to allow for senior government and party leaders to travel to Beijing during the Two Sessions.  

Li was angry upon discovering that the appellate trial date was decided without her consent. She allegedly insulted the stability maintenance officers and asked them to leave her home. She ended up throwing a kitchen knife which left one of them injured. Li completed her eight-month prison sentence for disrupting public services on October 25, 2019. 

Preparing for a Terrorist Activity  

Ethnic Korean Jin Bo (金波) was released from a Heilongjiang prison on April 26, 2022 for plotting what prosecutors called a “violent APAT activity” on May 1, 2018. He was found guilty of preparing for a terrorist activity, one of the terrorism/extremism offenses added to the Criminal Law in 2015. The charge stemmed from him possessing explosive devices and Molotov cocktails which prosecutors believed Jin would use on the Labor Day holiday in connection with APAT. 

Jin admitted to making the explosives primarily to seek revenge for his 444-day wrongful imprisonment. In August 2014, Jin was taken into custody on suspicion of extortion. He was later acquitted and given state compensation. Jin’s father and father-in-law passed away while he was incarcerated. Jin felt guilty for not being able to arrange for their funerals and blamed his business partners for framing him. He also expressed disillusionment with petition bureau officials who repeatedly ignored his complaints. Jin scaled China’s Great Firewall to learn about APAT and took part in online discussions after his unsuccessful attempts to seek redress.  

Jin’s case indicates that some people who lose trust in China’s justice system find APAT appealing. A substantial portion of the prosecutor’s arguments focused on the “reactionary,” “anti-party,” and “anti-China” comments Jin made online. In April 2018, he wrote “What is APAT for? For revolution! What is Revolution? As the name suggests, it aims to overthrow the old and establish the new.” Days before he was criminally detained on April 27, 2018, he claimed to have lost confidence in China and expressed desires to begin retaliation. He ordered materials to make explosives via WeChat, claiming that he might set himself ablaze and throw bombs at his business partners. Although Jin confessed to posting radical comments online, he stated in his defense that he did not personally know any “overseas pro-democracy activists” nor did he join any overseas terrorist organizations. 

In this case, prosecutors characterized the whole APAT campaign as a “violent political activity” organized by overseas forces because of Jin’s way of expressing grievances. However, there is insufficient evidence that other APAT supporters in China or overseas call for violent political resistance. 

Members of San Francisco’s Chinese community participating in the "May 1st National Resonance" event in front of the Chinese Consulate. Image credit: CK via RFA 

APAT fell flat. Fewer netizens in China have answered the APAT appeal than during 2011 “Jasmine Revolution.” Overseas APAT supporters in the United States, Canada, and Australia reportedly organized small rallies outside of the Chinese consulates in 2018-2019, but these had  limited reach in China due in part to pervasive internet censorship and surveillance. Additionally, APAT was hotly disputed even within Chinese dissident circles, with some saying that it was an entrapment attempt devised by the Ministry of State Security to round up political dissenters in one fell swoop. Regardless of the controversy, Dui Hua believes that the four people discussed in this post represent a small portion of criminal cases and more people could have been sentenced for espousing support for APAT. More research is needed to uncover the fate and the acts of other APAT supporters, as well as their motivations for sympathizing with the campaign.  

Thursday, July 14, 2022

"All People Act Together" Supporters Imprisoned, Part I: Social Media Campaign Draws Ire

A screenshot from a video about the “All People Act Together” campaign. Image credit: 一平論政 Youtube page 

“All People Act Together” (APAT), or quanmin gongzhen (全民共振), is a social media campaign launched in early 2018 by Chinese dissidents overseas. The campaign calls on rights defenders to collectively seek redress and make their voices heard by staging street protests across Chinese cities on occasions of special historical, social, or political importance such as International Workers’ Day (May 1), the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (July 1), and National Day (October 1).  

Proponents of APAT believe that resistance movements can “reverberate” or “resonate” around the country and overwhelm the stability maintenance regime if the outbreaks are simultaneous and sustained. They predict CCP’s eventual demise when it runs short of resources to keep up its increasingly expensive operations.  

The CCP’s zeal in crushing dissent to maintain stability has created a domestic security system so costly that it is sapping funds required elsewhere to support the country’s economic health. APAT emerged against the backdrop of China’s spending on internal security, which has exceeded the national defense budget since 2010. The rise in spending on domestic security is most evident in western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, but a sizable portion is spent in Han-majority regions keeping potential troublemakers in residential surveillance, running “black jails,” or forcing dissenters to “travel” elsewhere — all part of the longstanding scheme designed to muzzle protestors during sensitive occasions.  

Part I of this post focuses on APAT’s reach and cases in which supporters were charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble (PQPT).” Part II will look at cases involving charges of disrupting public services and preparing for a terrorist activity. 

The nature of APAT is similar to the online calls for the 2011 Tunisia-inspired “Jasmine Revolution” manifested in the form of “strolling” protests around McDonald’s on Wangfujing shopping streets and spots in other cities. Chinese state media have been largely silent on the planned protests, but social media accounts recounted major shows of police force to disperse small crowds of seemingly curious onlookers that had gathered in Beijing and Shanghai. 

APAT appears to have limited reach in China. No visible protests linked to APAT have been reported. However, prominent dissidents including Hu Jia were reportedly warned by police not to take part in or publicly discuss APAT. There was scant media coverage and the fate of those who openly espouse APAT in China has gone largely unnoticed. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database has information on six individuals who were given coercive measures for heeding the calls of APAT. Of them, four received prison sentences for a variety of crimes ranging from PQPT and disrupting public services to preparing for terrorist activities. 

Picking Quarrels & Provoking Trouble

Xue Renyi, an advocate of Greenleaf Action, who was arrested on May 1, 2018 for walking in Jiefangbei Square in Chongqing while wearing a green leaf. Image credit: Twitter via RFA 

The first APAT supporter known to have been imprisoned is Xue Renyi (薛仁义). He was taken into custody on May 1, 2018 after posting a photograph of himself “strolling” in Chongqing People’s Liberation Monument Square while carrying a green leaf in his shirt pocket. Some other people were seized on the same day; they were warned off speaking out online or giving interviews with foreign media after being released from custody. 

Xue is the founder of Green Leaf Action, an environmental group which promoted food safety, clean air, and clean water. The group stood accused by police of being “controlled” and “manipulated” by foreign forces. Xue’s three-year sentence became known to the outside world only when his fiancée received his letter from prison one year after he was detained. Xue completed his sentence for PQPT in Dianjiang Prison without receiving a sentence reduction. He was released on April 30, 2021. 

Gao Zhigang’s case materials and ID card. Image credit: Provided by Geng Guanjun via RFA 

In a separate case, Gao Zhigang (高志刚) was sentenced to 10 months in prison for PQPT in 2020 even without showing up at any APAT protest spot. Gao was accused of forwarding a video which called on people to join a rally in Taiyuan’s Wuyi Square on the 2019 National Day. Additionally, Gao sent the video to an “overseas democracy activist” known by the name of Geng Guanjun (耿冠军). Geng fled to the United States in 2018 and has been a target of attack by patriotic internet users for his “reactionary” views and anti-China remarks. After completing his sentence in August 2020, Gao spoke to Radio Free Asia claiming that he never expected the conviction would be based entirely on his private conversations from his social media account which he had deleted prior to his detainment in October 2019. 

Read Part II here.