Yang Jianjun travelled to Beijing this week from his native Shandong Province to find his younger brother Yang Jianli, an outspoken, U.S.-based dissident who was detained six weeks ago and has not been heard from since.
But he was leaving on Saturday frustrated, empty-handed, and out of options.
His fruitless trip highlights a criminal justice system analysts say is rife with loopholes that often leaves suspects incommunicado in detention or jail for months without charges, and baffling for those trying to seek recourse.
The older Yang left no stone unturned in his search for his brother, who was black-listed after the 1989 democracy protests and has been barred from entering China since then.
Yang Jianli was caught on April 26 in southern China after entering on a friend’s passport and travelling around the country for a week with a fake identification card. In May, China’s Foreign Ministry said he was in custody and being investigated.
Yang Jianjun decided to come to Beijing shortly after his brother’s wife, a U.S.-citizen who has consistently been denied Chinese visas, was turned away at Beijing airport late last month when she tried to enter the country to search for her husband.
Earlier this week, he hit the ministries of Public Security, State Security and Foreign Affairs for information, but was turned away by officials who said they had no knowledge of Yang Jianli’s whereabouts and refused to pass a request for information to higher offices.
“They were supposed to notify family within 24 hours of the arrest. All I want to do is find out where he is and then hire a lawyer to look into his case,” Yang Jianjun, who has been a Communist Party member for some 20 years, told Reuters.
“It’s my right and I haven’t broken any laws, so I’m not afraid,” he said. “If the government ultimately finds that he committed a crime, then so be it. That’s for them to decide.”
A Beijing lawyer who was considering taking up the case told Yang Jianjun he could not do anything without knowing where his brother was.
Cases such as Yang Jianli’s are not uncommon, says Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law who has helped several U.S.-based academics and business people who have run into trouble in China.
“They (the police) often do not give the notice that they are supposed to give and they often deny the right that the suspect normally has to see a lawyer right away,” Cohen said.
Last year when another U.S.-based scholar, Gao Zhan, was arrested, nobody knew where she was for three weeks, Cohen said by telephone from New York.
Another example has been the detention for the past five weeks of Beijing-based lawyer Zhang Jianzhong, who headed the section of the Beijing lawyer’s association responsible for protecting criminal defense lawyers, Cohen said.
“They gave notice to his law firm that he was detained and why, but they have denied him access to a lawyer without giving him any reason,” Cohen said.
Police have only said they were investigating Zhang for having given false evidence, he said.
In cases involving state secrets, police can deny a suspect access to a lawyer, Cohen said, but that right was frequently stretched to cover a broad range of cases.
Sometimes the police simply give no reason for lengthy detentions, he said.
If there is anything Yang Jianli’s family and friends can take solace in while they wait for news it is precedent.
Beijing has a record of deporting high-profile dissidents, often on face-saving medical grounds, after convicting them and slapping them with hefty prison terms.
Gao Zhan was allowed to leave on medical parole two days after being sentenced to 10 years for spying.
In 1998, Wang Bingzhang, a pro-democracy activist living in the United States, sneaked into China, was arrested after a nationwide manhunt and later expelled.
And in 1995 renowned dissident Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese prison camps, was arrested trying to enter China and expelled after being sentenced to 15 years in jail for spying.
Experts say U.S. pressure has helped secure the release from jail and deportation of them and other Chinese dissidents.
The case of Yang, who heads the Boston-based Foundation for China in the 21st Century, which he says is an independent think tank that advocates non-violence and democracy in China, would be on the radar screens of the U.S. State Department, Cohen said.