Zhang Miao, a news assistant for the German newspaper Die Zeit, will be released on Thursday after a nine month detention, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Zhang won’t face any charges.
Zhang’s detention highlights the precarious situation for Chinese nationals working for foreign media, as they often become targets of police harassment and intimidation. Angela Kockritz, the Beijing correspondent for Die Zeit, left China after she also felt pressure from authorities following Zhang’s detention.
Earlier this year, Angela Köckritz wrote about Zhang’s arrest for Die Zeit in a piece titled “They Have Miao.” In the piece, Köckritz details Zhang’s arrest and clashes and intimidation with Chinese police while Köckritz sought Zhang’s release.
During my four years as a correspondent, I’ve often had to write about justice and injustice in China. I’ve attended press conferences at which government officials have told us that China is a country based on the rule of law, or what’s known in specialist circles as a Rechtsstaat. I’ve spoken to farmers who’ve been expropriated, who’ve tried to seek redress but failed, and instead been beaten and carted off to a black jail for supposedly fomenting unrest. I’ve interviewed civil rights activists who’ve sought, with infinite tenacity, to make China into what it pretends to be: a country based on the rule of law. I’ve visited dissidents who’ve been threatened and then vanished one day. Flipping through my telephone book, I see the names of many who are simply gone. When I mentioned this to a Chinese acquaintance, he shrugged his shoulders. Those kind of things happened to dissidents, but not to normal people, he said. Still, after a series of unfortunate circumstances, even the most guileless person can run into trouble with the justice system and security apparatus. It’s like with cancer: Everyone thinks they won’t get it. It’s always other people who are put in prison.
This time, it happened to Miao. And therefore to me, as well. I’d already known that laws in China are only valid when they serve the government’s interests. But experiencing it firsthand was something altogether different.