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.