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128 days in ‘China’s Guantanamo’: writer tells of secret detention on mainland after Occupy Central visit

Mainland writer Kou Yanding still does not know where she was ­detained on the mainland for four months after visiting Hong Kong in the early days of the Occupy Central movement.

Kou, 51, a volunteer for education and charity NGOs, was picked up and blindfolded by ­security officials on her way from Beijing to Mount Wutai in Shanxi province in October 2014.

She was held for 128 days at a secret site, without access to family or legal counsel in what one of her interrogators described as “China’s Guantanamo”.

Kou details her detention in her book How is an Enemy Made? – Chinese Who Don’t Have the Right to Remain Silent, ­becoming one of the few people to speak publicly about their time in custody on the mainland and shedding light on how civic movements in the city and Taiwan have touched a nerve in Beijing.

Launching the book in Hong Kong last week, Kou said her family had no idea where she was or what had happened to her until she was released in February last year. She asked repeatedly to see a lawyer and relatives but her ­requests were denied on state ­security grounds, she said. “Doesn’t the United States have Guantanamo?” she quoted one officer as saying. “Well this is the Guantanamo of China.”

The officer told her that she was being held for subversion.

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Kou said she was deemed dangerous also because she had been in Taipei to witness the sunflower student movement in March 2014. She went back to the mainland before going to Taiwan again six months later, when she met Wang Dan, an exiled leader of the 1989 student movement on the mainland.

She then went to Hong Kong to visit the Occupy Central site and meet Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Chan Kin-man, one of the campaign’s organisers.

Two weeks after returning to the mainland, Kou was blindfolded and bundled off to a detention centre. “Occupy Central is Hong Kong independence! The sunflower movement is Taiwanese independence! The overseas democratic movement is subversion … You are in the middle of everything,” she recalled an officer shouting at her.

During her detention, Kou, a veteran observer of Hong Kong and Taiwanese current affairs and a writer on civil society, was not allowed to speak to anybody other than her interrogators.

The furniture and the walls of the room where she was held were covered in plastic foam, presumably to prevent self-harm. She did not know how big the building was but she overhead guards talking of a fourth floor.

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She had no sense of the passage of the seasons because the air conditioning in the room kept the temperature constant. She was told not to look around, turn her head, close her eyes, drink water or go to the bathroom without ­approval.

Kou said her biggest fear during interrogation was not for her own safety but for the Occupy protest. “I was very afraid to say anything wrong that would prompt them to make up their mind for a bloody clean-up,” she said.

Kou said her detention came after a young woman she knew in Beijing was arrested for printing leaflets with Occupy Central’s symbolic yellow umbrella.

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The woman’s Taiwanese boyfriend went to the mainland to look for her only to be arrested himself, Kou said. Police discovered that the man came from a Taipei training camp for non-violent resistance, and targeted Kou, who had also been to the camp and had introduced the couple.

The authorities eventually decided not to prosecute Kou but stopped her from coming to Hong Kong last year because she was still on parole.

She is one of many activists on the mainland to have been detained without charges in the last two years but one of the few to speak about it. Kou said she wondered if the authorities would retaliate but decided to write the book anyway. She has since returned to her home in Shandong province..