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FOCUS: "I have no way to go back"

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Wednesday 19 April 2023

FOCUS: "I have no way to go back"

Wednesday 19 April 2023


A Chinese dissident on holiday in Jersey thanks to a local charity that gives respite to torture survivors and prisoners of conscience has opened up about her work fighting for human rights, being arrested in the middle of the night and her longing to see her parents again.

In 2019, Jessie Mou left China for the final time.

Forced to leave home

Having lived under close surveillance by the police and under the constant shadow of arrest, she finally managed to make her way to the UK and was granted asylum in 2021.

She was forced to leave her home, her parents and her livelihood - all for reporting on the pitiful state of human rights in China. 

Now 41, Jessie was brought up to be critical of the Communist Party Regime as her parents were both victims of persecution. Mou's father was been arrested for criticising the Chinese Communist Party when he was a student, and sent to a forced labour camp in 1957 for nearly 20 years.

"I know a lot of similar families that would just never talk about such things, but my parents did"

Jessie said that of the nearly five million writers and intellectuals imprisoned by the CCP during the cultural revolution, just half of them survived.

Her mother belonged to one China's 'Black Five Categories'. In other words, she was considered an enemy of the revolution, and therefore unable to attend university and forced into becoming a factory worker, because her family was relatively wealthy, being owners of a salt factory. 

Tianamen_square.jpg

Pictured: Both of Jessie's parents were victims of persecution by the Communist Party. 

She said: "My parents never hid their experience. Every time I asked them, they told me.

"So, somehow, I think I eventually chose this career because I was so influenced by my parents... I know a lot of similar families that would just never talk about such things, but my parents did."

The power of Twitter

Jessie first began to engage with other likeminded people who were dissatisfied with the state of human rights in China on Twitter in 2010.

Normally inaccessible in China, activists would use VPNs to try and get around the restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall that cuts the Chinese public off from most of the internet.

"Twitter is quite an interesting social media, especially for Chinese users, because in Chinese 140 characters can express more than in English... so there was quite a huge group of us, more than 10,000 users, who found that we could discuss all the sensitive political topics." 

As well as offering support for human rights lawyers facing travel bans to and from China, Jessie also used the platform to share her research about what really happened in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, a hugely sensitive topic.

"A lot of friends of mine on Twitter were arrested"

However, it soon became apparent that Twitter was not a completely safe forum.

"A lot of friends of mine on Twitter were arrested. I could feel that I was at risk. Every Twitter user was at risk.

"We made a deal that every day we would post one tweet, just to prove that you were safe. If one user disappeared for several days, we would know that they had been arrested." 

Twitter_China.jpg

Pictured: "Twitter is quite an interesting social media, especially for Chinese users, because in Chinese 140 characters can express more than in English."

Later on in 2010, Jessie posted a Tweet in support of Chinese human rights campaigner and Nobel Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, who was imprisoned at the time. The tweet was effectively a joke.

She tweeted: "If there is really an anti-Japanese demonstration in Chongqing, I will carry a banner saying, 'Congratulations, Uncle Xiaobo!' "

"They just broke down our door and arrested me when I was sleeping"

That night, she was arrested. "They arrested me in the middle of the night. They just broke down our door and arrested me when I was sleeping. I didn't expect a joke could provoke such a huge response." 

She was detained for over 24 hours, time which she spent arguing with the Police.

"When the Police asked me, 'Do you know who Liu Xiabo is? I said, 'Who knows? But he's a Nobel prize winner. As a Chinese citizen, we should be proud of such things, so why have you arrested me?' I just argued with them... They said, 'He's a criminal! I said, 'If he's a criminal, why the Nobel Peace Prize?'

"I have to say I was really scared, but I think I was aware that I was not wrong. I didn't do anything wrong... I found my courage."

"The phone did not stop ringing"

Through her Twitter community, people from the outside world got to hear about her plight and bombarded the police station where she was held with calls.

"The phone did not stop ringing." Under pressure, the police let her go. 

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Pictured: Jessie was detained by the police for 24 hours after posting a joke on Twitter.

In 2014 Jessie joined the 'Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch', a Chinese news website that researches and reports on rights issues in China.

While working for them, she would research and write on a range of issues, from police abuses and government corruption, to air pollution and travel bans. Notably, she also published reports on child abuse in China, collecting over 300 cases. 

The 'Ankang System'

One of her main areas of focus was the 'Ankang System'.

Officially, the 'Ankang System' is a series of asylums and psychiatric hospitals  organised by the Department of Public Security used to house criminals with mental illnesses.

Unofficially, these hospitals are used to house political dissidents, "people who they want to keep silent", who have no mental illnesses.

"The experience in psychiatric hospitals... is so terrible"

"Victims could be locked in hospitals for days, for months, or for years... After you've locked them into a psychiatric hospital, you can misguide people into thinking that they're real psychiatric patients.

"The experience in psychiatric hospitals, I have to say, is so terrible. If you were released, you would not want to experience such things again, so you would probably just give up." 

Jessie said that inmates suffer torture, including beatings, being tied down to a bed for days on end, and electrocution. 

"The real scale of victims is impossible to know"

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Pictured: People who the government "want to keep silent" are locked in psychiatric hospitals and are frequently tortured. 

"The real scale of victims is impossible to know. Our organisation, in our database, we have over 800 victims. We have interviews with over 100 of them talking about their own experiences." 

Soon, the research of the CRLW drew government attention. In 2016, the director Liu Feiyue was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for "inciting state subversion." 

"These things happen. It wasn't out of sorts. We know these things are just a question of time. We know the police searched his house and took a lot of documents including our salary list. So almost everyone was in danger.

"Such things always happen in China." 

Later that year, Jessie took over the role of director of the CRLW.

"As director, I think your biggest responsibility is to remind your people to protect themselves rather than, you know, do you job. At the same time, our organisation needs to operate. So I just let all the journalists deliver the reports directly to me, and I had the responsibility to publish everything." 

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Pictured: "They harassed me, and traced me and had my personal life under close surveillance."

However, things began to heat up again in 2018 when Jessie was invited to travel to Taiwan by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, to go to Taipei and research Taiwan's transition to democracy.

However, their security was poor and details of Jessie's trip were leaked to the Chinese authorities.

"They harassed me and traced me"

"When I returned home, my situation had gotten much worse and very dangerous because the police they clearly were aware of what I had done in Taiwan. They harassed me, and traced me and had my personal life under close surveillance."

As a result, Jessie realised she would have to leave China or face arrest. She applied for fellowship at the University of York aimed specifically at 'human rights defenders' who may be at risk. She was accepted and subsequently planned to leave China. 

"One day in November I went to the airport. I had no idea if I had a travel ban at that moment. When I swiped my passport, I had no idea if it would be a red light or a green light

"Fortunately it was a green light, so I got aboard my flight to the UK. Actually, because my plane was at midnight, there was no one on duty to check my passport. Just after I landed, I received a message from my mum. The police had been to her house to ask where I was." 

"I miss them so much"

Having completed her fellowship, she realised she would be unable to travel back to China. She decided to enrol for a BA in Politics at the University of York, where she is now in her second year. She has not seen her parents since she left. 

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Pictured: Jessie was granted asylum in the UK in 2021. 

"I miss them so much. Unless the Communist Party crash somehow, I think I have no way to go back. I just hope my parents can come to see me. They promised me they would attend my graduation with me." 

LEARN MORE...

Jessie is currently on a restorative holiday offered to her by the Prisoners of Conscience Jersey Holiday Fund, a local charity that brings torture survivors and former prisoners of conscience to Jersey.

As part of her trip, she will be delivering a talk at the Town Hall this evening (Wednesday 19 April) at 17:30, where she will discuss her research and particularly the Ankang System.

Anyone who wishes to help the work of the POJHF, either practically or financially, should contact Collette Crill on cozcrill@gmail.com or 07797 717012.

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