Zhou Yongjun, a./k./a. Zhou Yazhou and Majer Zhou, a student leader of 1989 pro-democracy movement of China, who is a legal permanent resident of the USA, was sent back to China from Hong Kong by Hong Kong’s immigration authorities with no legal reason on or about September 30, 2008 and was secretly detained without any legal action under the law over seven months. Zhou’s whereabouts were not released by the Chinese authorities until May 8, 2009 and he was then officially arrested by the local police department with a charge of fraud. He was recently indicted and the trial was postponed due to the coming event of the PRC’s 60th Anniversary.
This is Zhou’s third arrest since 1989, when he was first arrested as a student leader (Zhou was the first elected leader of the Autonomous Students Federation of Beijing Universities) and as a leader of the Beijing Autonomous Workers Federation. Unfortunately, his third arrest has not gained much attention in the international community. His family has not been allowed to visit him; his circumstances in detention were unclear; his right to counsel has been interfered with; and his family members have also been threatened.
Who is Zhou Yongjun
Zhou Yongjun was born in Pengxi County, Sichuan Province, China on September 26, 1967. He was the first elected chairman of the Autonomous Students Federation of Beijing Universities in the student movement which occupied Tiananmen Square in 1989. At the time, he was in his last year of study at the University of Political Science and Law of China. In May of 1989, he joined the Beijing Autonomous Workers Federation (BAWF). Just before the June 4 massacre, he was elected a member of the Standing Committee of the BAWF.
After the June 4 massacre, he was arrested and detained from 1989 to 1991. In June 1992, he fled to Hong Kong. He was then admitted as a refugee by the United States after arriving there in February 1993. Based on his refugee status, he was subsequently adjusted to the status of Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder) of the United States. He had already applied for and had been awaiting the citizenship swearing-in. He is the father of two US citizen children.
Zhou Yongjun’s Previous Arrests
Zhou’s First Arrest
Zhou Yongjun’s first arrest took place in June, 1989 after the June 4 massacre, when he was placed in prison along with other movement leaders. In March 1990, he was officially charged with a crime of Counter-revolutionary Propaganda and Incitement. However, under pressure from the international community, Mr. Zhou was released without prosecution in January 1991. After the release, he was under surveillance of the local Chinese government until his flight to Hong Kong in 1992.
Zhou’s Second Arrest
In December 1998, Zhou secretly entered China via Hong Kong and was arrested in Guangzhou. He was intensely interrogated by Chinese police about his political activities in the United States. After six months of arbitrary detention in Guangzhou, he was transferred to the police of his hometown in Sichuan province. The local authorities there sentenced him to three years of Re-education-through-labor, an administrative punishment without trial, for the original illegal exiting of China in 1992. During the three years in the labor camp, he was subjected to degrading conditions, forced to labor, and was also tortured. After being released, he was not allowed to register in the Household Registration under his real identity and therefore could not obtain proper identification under the Chinese Resident Identification Regulations. With the help of the US Embassy in China, he returned to the US in 2002.
Zhou’s Current Arrest, Detention, and Charge
Zhou left Los Angeles on September 26, 2008 to attempt to return to China to visit his family, particularly when his father who is stricken with debilitating heart disease. Because he was not able to obtain a return permit from the Chinese consulate in the US, he tried to enter Hong Kong from Macau with a Malaysian passport. However, Hong Kong police held him at the airport to investigate several alleged fraudulent letters under the name on his Malaysian passport, Wang Xingxiang, which requested two transfers from Hang Seng Bank to two separate accounts of the same owner at other banks. The Hang Seng Bank found out that the signature did not match their records. The Hong Kong police got involved. After a few hours of questioning with the signature verification, Hong Kong police authorities released Zhou with a conclusion that Zhou did not engage in fraud. However, the Hong Kong immigration authorities notified him that he was not allowed to enter Hong Kong, but also was not allowed to return to Macau or the US. He was held for 48 hours at the airport, when he became sick severely.
On September 30, 2008, Zhou was secretly sent to Shenzhen, a city in mainland China over the border from Hong Kong, and his case was handed over to the Chinese police authorities or State Security authorities. From then, Zhou was put into secret detention.
Mr. Zhou revealed his real identity on November 7, 2008, but the Chinese authorities refused to book him under his real identity in the jail despite knowing his real identity as Zhou Yongjun from the beginning. He was given a prisoner number of #20 in the First Detention Center of Shenzhen city. In late November 2008, he was transferred to the Yantian Detention center of Shenzhen city under the name of Wang Hua, an alias given to him by the police. Mr. Zhou refused to sign the transfer papers under the name of Wang Hua, and instead signed his real name, Zhou Yongjun. Nonetheless, he was still booked under the name of Wang Hua after the transfer to the Yantian Detention Center.
His family had been looking for him after his disappearance in late September 2008. In November 2008, Zhou through his cellmates passed information to his sister, who is a judge in Chengdu in Sichuan Province. Zhou’s sister flew to Shenzhen, trying to visit him in the First Detention Center. The jail authorities denied her visit application with the reason that there was no such inmate of Zhou Yongjun or under number 20 in the facilities.
After seven months of secret detention, Zhou Yongjun was transferred to Suining city in Sichuan province. On May 8, 2009, Suining police processed the arrest procedure under the Criminal Procedure Law of the PRC (official arrest) with the charge with fraud related to the fraudulent letter that Hong Kong police had already investigated and dismissed. The police department of Suining City notified Zhou’s sister about his arrest. This was the first time that Chinese authorities admitted to holding Zhou Yongjun.
The case was later transferred to Shehong County. The Shehong County People’s Procuratorate indicted Zhou on August 4, 2009. Zhou was charged with attempted fraud under Article 266 of the Criminal Law of PRC with the allegation that Zhou sent several letters to Hang Seng Bank of Hong Kong under the name of Wang, Xingxiang attempting to transfer two sums of the money under Wang’s account in Hang Seng Bank. Please refer to Indictment in the attached Appendix.
The Chinese authorities have refused to let Zhou’s family visit him since he was detained, and had not allowed him to meet with an attorney until May 25, 2009. His family hired Mo Shaoping, an attorney renowned for defending political dissidents in Beijing. Mr. Mo and his associate lawyer Chen Zerui met with Zhou on May 25, 2009 at the Suining detention center. From the attorney’s notes at the meeting, please refer to Transcript of Interview in the attached Appendix. However, Mr. Mo Shaoping was dismissed from the representation while his assistant Mr. Chen has remained counsel of record.
Concurrently, a local attorney Mr. Tang was also retained to represent Zhou. The local Suining authorities refused to let Mr. Tang review Zhou’s file and meet him until August 6, 2009. After meeting with Zhou, however, this attorney became fearful to take on the case, expressing that this involved complicated political matters, though he did comment that there is no evidence to support the criminal charge of fraud. Further, Shehong county court did not let Mr. Chen and Tang review the complete file. Many important documents listed as evidence in the Court file were withheld.
Zhou’s sister, a judge in Chengdu, tried to represent him as a family member, which under Chinese law is allowable. The local Suining authorities refused her to represent Zhou, alleging that she did not establish the sister-brother relationship. Further, Zhou’s sister has received threats to her life and her job.
From Zhou’s cellmates, we learn that Zhou was severely tortured in the detention center.
Zhou Yongjun’s case alerts us about the legal treatment accorded to political dissidents in the following aspects, which demonstrate that the Chinese authorities are more aggressively violating its law and regulations and ignoring the international criticisms, even involving the cooperation of Hong Kong authorities in violation of Hong Kong’s law and international responsibility to protect human rights.
1. No reason but the political motivation is behind the case. Hong Kong police’s investigation on alleged counterfeit signatures on letters looks like a normal criminal investigation, which was one of hundreds of such investigation. The Chinese government would not have been interested in such a routine criminal investigation unless the Government of China was interested in the person, a political dissident. Zhou’s political background and contacts with groups such as Falun Gong and Zhong Gong are the true reason behind it.
2. This is the first case in which the HK immigration directly transferred a political dissident to Mainland China from the airport. Hong Kong authorities have no legal basis for directly handing Zhou Yongjun to the Chinese police. There is no question of extradition or rendition (on which there is no agreement between Hong Kong and the Chinese Central Government) as Zhou never entered into Hong Kong. Normally a non-HK resident refused entry to Hong Kong would be sent back to his place of origin i.e. the place from which he travelled to Hong Kong. In this case, Zhou would be sent back to Macau, Malaysia, or to the US. For this legal concern, the HK government shall have to answer.
3. The Mainland China has no jurisdiction for prosecuting Zhou. Zhou is currently charged with attempted fraud with alleged letters requesting a Hong Kong bank to transfer a sum of money to two other bank accounts. If Zhou were a criminal suspect, only Hong Kong police have jurisdiction to make investigation and/or referral to prosecute this case. The Hong Kong police in this case questioned and lost interest in Zhou and returned him to the care of HK immigration authorities.
Even if under the jurisdiction of person under Article 7 of the Criminal Law of the PRC, there are some contradictions in this case. First of all, Zhou held a Malaysian passport. The Chinese government would not have jurisdiction over a Malaysian where the alleged crime occurs in Hong Kong. Second, if the Chinese authorities knew Zhou’s identity, the Chinese government should notify his family and the U.S. consulate under protocols. Third, Zhou has maintained U.S. legal permanent resident status and his domicile is in California, USA. He had no relationship to Shehong County.
Further, personal jurisdiction must relate some interests. The crime was alleged in Hong Kong. The potential victim is Hang Seng Bank of Hong Kong. There is no explanation of why a county government in Sichuan would take on a case that Hong Kong authorities declined to prosecute.
4. The Chinese police authorities had secretly detained Zhou without disclosure of his identification for over seven months. According to the procedure law of China, the police authorities must inform Zhou’s family with 48 hours and prosecute Zhou in 7 days or 37 days by extension. This time limit for prosecution might be tolled when the identity of the suspect remains unclear. However, the Chinese government claims the jurisdiction of person in this case, indicating that the Chinese authorities knew the identity of Zhou at the very beginning. From the record, it is also clear that police officers from Sichuan province met Zhou on November 27, 2008. One or two officers knew about Zhou when Zhou was arrested in 1998 and served in a labor camp in Sichuan for over two years. Thus, from November 27, 2008, this prosecution time limit should start running. However, Sichuan local police did not disclose the arrest until May 8, 2009, over seven months into this case.
5. The Chinese authorities have violated Zhou’s right to counsel by pressuring Zhou’s family and Zhou, disallowing the services of Mo Shaoping from Beijing. Further, the Court did not permit Zhou’s attorney to review the complete file.