In a June post titled, <strong>"Second Lawsuit Accuses Cisco of Enabling China to Oppress Citizens,</strong>" I wrote about a lawsuit filed in Maryland on behalf of three writers in China, alleging that Cisco Systems supplied the Chinese government with technology and training that enabled it to oppress and imprison these writers and other political dissidents. In a disturbing development this week, one of the three named plaintiffs in the case was detained and interrogated about the lawsuit.
Dan Ward, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, Du Daobin et al. v. Cisco Systems, Inc., let me know that on Tuesday morning, Du was detained in the city of Yingcheng in Hubei Province by Chinese police and interrogated by senior officials from China's Ministry of Public Security. It's difficult to know what to make of the fact that Chinese authorities would be so bothered by a lawsuit filed in the United States on behalf of Chinese citizens against a U.S. company operating in China. In fact, they were bothered enough to arrange for the interrogation to be directed by two top Yingcheng security officials: Wu Xiaodang, deputy political commissar of the Yingcheng Public Security Bureau; and Chen Enhong, captain of the Yingcheng State Security Guards.
According to Ward, the interrogators warned Du about his Internet activity, which is monitored by the authorities; demanded information about his role in the lawsuit against Cisco; and sought the names of his contacts in China and the United States who had anything to do with the lawsuit. Presumably, that would include Ward.
I had interviewed Ward for my June post, and he explained what's at stake. Here's an excerpt from that interview:
It's not selling them shackles. They'll make their shackles on their own. It's not selling them an iron maiden. They can make that on their own. This is the means to track and immediately detect the individual who's sitting in an Internet cafe in Beijing and thinks he's got a level of anonymity. But because there's such a great interconnectivity from the Internet police to the street cop, that guy who's two blocks away can be notified within minutes that there's someone sitting in Chair 4 of the Lao Wei Internet Cafe that just posted to China Observer; they can tap him on the shoulder, and he's gone. It's like a quiet Tiananmen to me. It's not crushing people protesting in a square. It's crushing words, bit by bit. Cisco has provided the backbone and provided a great deal of the technology and training that has allowed China to do that.
For all I know, my name's on some list in Yingcheng, too, for writing about the case and providing a forum for Ward to spread the word about the lawsuit. If so, they probably won't like it that I'm including this excerpt from a statement Ward released on Tuesday:
Mr. Du's persecution began in 2003, when he received a four-year prison term for posting pro-democracy articles online. In 2008, his sentence was re-instated and he was imprisoned for an additional two years. During his imprisonment, Mr. Du was subjected to extreme physical and psychological torture. By the time of his release in 2010, Du was suffering from extreme malnutrition and cardiac issues. Du can no longer walk without assistance and depends on a wheelchair for movement.
Following his release, Du became aware of Cisco's role in engineering the CCP's [Chinese Communist Party's] "Golden Shield" and "PoliceNet" systems, the surveillance systems used to identify and track him and countless other pro-democracy activists and writers across China. Despite fear of retribution, Du chose to hold Cisco accountable. In June 2011, Mr. Du, along with Zhou Yuanzhi and Liu Xianbin, filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against Cisco and a number of Cisco executives for their knowing and willful aiding and abetting of the CCP's harassment, arrest, and torture of Chinese political activists.
The CCP seeks, once again, to undermine Mr. Du's fundamental human rights through coercion and intimidation. These tactics of fear and oppression have not deterred Mr. Du. We call upon Cisco to use its extensive ties with the CCP to ensure that Du Daobin, Zhou Yuanzhi, and Liu Xianbin are not subjected to harassment, interrogation, detention, or physical abuse as a result of their involvement in Du v. Cisco.
Calling on Cisco to use its clout in China to get the authorities to back off and stop harassing and abusing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit in which it's named as the defendant is pretty gutsy stuff. Maybe Cisco executives in China will scoff at the idea. Or maybe - just maybe - they'll remember their American roots and what those roots mean, and they'll pay a visit to the police headquarters in Yingcheng as soon as they possibly can.