Artist and activist Chen Yunfei has been tortured in prison, his lawyer Sui Muqing said after meeting him in a Sichuan prison on Friday.

Sui was detained himself for over ten hours after he tried to snap a photo of Chen’s injuries.

Chen Yunfei is an artist and activist who was detained in March 2015 after he organised a “tomb sweeping” memorial at the grave of a Tiananmen massacre victim. He is known for using performance art to criticise the Communist Party and bring attention to the victims of the 1989 massacre. He calls himself a “beast tamer,” with “beast” referring to the Chinese authorities. He participated in the movement as a student in Beijing. Chen was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a charge often used against dissidents.

Chen Yunfei. Photo: Weiquanwang.

Chen told his lawyer Sui that he was tortured twice for violating the rules of the detention centre. His hands and feet were cuffed and shackled for over ten days after he refused to say the standard greetings to prison officials, Sui told US-backed Radio Free Asia.

“The second time his hands and feet were handcuffed together, also for many days – coincidentally a lawyer came to see him, so they took them off a few days ahead of time.”

Communication restricted 

Chen’s communications with the outside world are also being restricted, Sui said. Materials that he wanted to pass to the outside world such as defence materials were not permitted to be brought outside the prison.

Prison authorities denied that Chen was injured, Sui said, so he wanted to take a photo of the scars on his hands and feet as evidence.

“I took a photo of him, and was preparing to photograph his scars, and the detention centre guards came in and told me I couldn’t take it.”

When he tried to leave after the meeting around 11am, “they said I couldn’t leave, took my lawyer’s ID, and said they would get the Bureau of Justice to handle the matter, saying that I was taking photographs against the rules,” Sui said.

Sui Muqing (far left) visiting Chen’s mother (centre left). Photo: RFA.

He argued with the staff at the detention centre, and was verbally summoned by police from a local station. Sui was released around 12:30am. Police took materials that Chen gave him, including a letter to his wife.

China’s official professional association for lawyers’ code of practice stipulates that lawyers can take photos of detained suspects as long as they have their permission. However, individual detention centres may have their own rules, which should be communicated to lawyers, Ran Tong, Chen’s former lawyer, said.

Chen was supposed to go on trial in December, but the case was adjourned after Chen dismissed the lawyers who originally represented him because he deemed them unable to safely represent him under the circumstances.

The Tiananmen massacre occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.