China's Broken Olympic Promises

While he was being held in the "Hotel of Agriculture," the police uncovered material it believed to be incriminating. In a stack of papers removed from Ji's apartment, they found three nondescript, stamped forms that his clients had to fill out so that he could serve as their legal representative. The forms are harmless, containing standard information such as a client's name, age, address and marital status, and they were all stamped to indicate that they had been received by the judicial authority. The innocuous words on the red, oval stamp read: "Justice Center -- Confirmation of Legal Representation." The police, and later the district attorney, claimed that these forms were forged, and that the forger was Ji Sizun.

They now had a case and an indictment and it was enough to enable them to remove Ji from his house arrest on Sept. 18. He had already been detained for a period that exceeded the legal time limit for house arrest under Chinese law. Ji was taken to the Fuzhou Number 2 detention facility in the southern part of the city, near the main highway to Xiamen, where the city gives way to fields and factories, and where the ditches are filled with rank tropical vegetation. The only external feature identifying the facility as a prison is its tall gate, flanked by stone lions and surveillance cameras in every corner.

Accusing the authorities of torture without hearing their side of the story is a risky proposition. But the police in China have no press office worthy of the name and the Interior Ministry is not receptive to questions of this nature. For this reason, it is only possible to relate the story Ji told his attorneys, which is that the police tortured him with sleep deprivation while he was in pretrial detention. According to his account, he was once interrogated for hours and forced to stay awake for 16 hours. On a separate occasion, he was kept awake for 25 to 30 hours, a practice so abusive that even the prison warden objected.

When Ji still refused to confess to his alleged crimes, they threatened to place him in a cell with the corrupt officials he had helped put behind bars. That was when Ji told them what they wanted to hear: That he copied the forms himself and forged the red, oval stamp.

A Grotesque Photo

The authorities had their confession, and on Jan. 7, 2009, they had a conviction. Even though Ji recanted his confession during a hearing, saying that he had made it under duress, the judge, in a hearing closed to the public, sentenced him to a three-year prison term. Despite the secret proceedings, the news traveled quickly, spread by friends, attorneys, the Internet, text messages and word of mouth. That was why Jan. 7, 2009 represented the first time that there was any word of Ji after he had disappeared without a trace for a full 148 days. At least his supporters now knew that he was alive, and that he would file an appeal.

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