After being arrested for using a VPN to bypass China’s Great Firewall, 24-year-old Chen Yuzhen (pseudonym) was finally able to flee China. In an interview with The Epoch Times, Chen shared details of his ordeal.
In the early morning of June 10, 2020, Chen, sleeping soundly, was suddenly awakened by sharp and intense knocks on the door. Several plainclothes police officers broke into his small, shared rental apartment, and started checking all of his electronic devices. Everything was turned upside down in no time.
Chen had never expected that such a disaster would befall him.
“I asked what department they belonged to, but they refused to answer. They just kept searching everywhere, and looking for electronic devices, mobile phones, and others. They asked if we had connections to any foreign forces, whether we had joined any organizations, and so on, which we had not.”
Chen later learned that this all happened because he had used VPN (virtual private network) to bypass China’s Great Firewall, and had made some online comments about current affairs.
In an interrogation room at the Public Security Bureau of Haikou city in Hainan Province, the police reviewed all of Chen’s communication history, but found nothing. They only located records of him using VPN on his cell phone.
Bypassing the firewall is not listed as a crime in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) criminal statutes, therefore, Chen was charged with “providing tools to invade computer programs.”
Chen explained, “I looked into the definition of this crime … because many people have been charged with it.”
Chen said he had taught some friends how to bypass the Great Firewall in private. He didn’t know that using VPN would cause him any trouble. He thought China was in the era of reform and opening up, so he didn’t expect things to be so terrible. Otherwise, he would have been more careful.
“But when it happened to me, I knew it was very dangerous,” he said.
The police initially wanted to detain him. However, due to fatigue caused by the overnight interrogation, the hot weather, and emotional tension, Chen was showing a higher than normal temperature when the police tried to check him into the detention center, so the detention center refused to take him.
Therefore, Haikou City Public Security Bureau had to release him on bail pending trial and asked him to pay a bond of $1,563.
The police then issued a “Decision on Bail Pending Trial” to Chen, which states, “The suspect may be sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment or more, and the release on bail pending trial will not cause social danger.”
“They told me it would be resolved within one month. At that time, I felt numb wondering whether they would arrest me or suspend my case,” Chen said. “I thought there would be a result within one month. I was really anxious, every day I could not sleep well.”
But things did not develop as Chen had expected. After several months, the police officers were still asking him to go to the police station for more interrogations.
While anxiously waiting for the result of his case, Chen received his admissions paperwork for studying in South Korea.
On Dec. 31, 2020, he boarded a flight to South Korea.
Chen said he had formed the habit of bypassing the Great Firewall after he studied in Taiwan in 2016 as an exchange student. He saw a different world there. He was inspired and got many opportunities to think.
“When I was in Taiwan, I told people there were good things in China, or I talked about a lot of things they didn’t like, but they would not attack me. They respected different views,” Chen said.
After returning from Taiwan, Chen became a supporter of freedom and democracy, although he had been a “little pink,” a term that refers to young people who are brainwashed into believing in and supporting the CCP.
From then on Chen often posted comments about current affairs on “WeChat,” a Chinese social media platform, and “Zhihu,” a Chinese question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its user community.
But both his WeChat and Zhihu accounts were deleted for “just commenting on things in an objective manner.”
In South Korea, Chen opened a YouTube channel called “Mr. Chen YouTube Channel” to share his analysis and comments on international affairs.
In May, after he criticized the mandatory download of China’s National Anti-Fraud Center app in his WeChat friend group, three of his bank cards were frozen the following day.
Chen said, in mainland China, people are arrested just for bypassing the firewall, but the CCP’s efforts are in vain.
“Many people are bypassing the firewall. If you want to arrest them, you will not be able to arrest them all. As a matter of fact, there is really no need to control that. Some celebrities and government officials are also bypassing the firewall, some media as well, they have also opened YouTube channels.”
Chen said after he exposed his detention experience in China, he received encouraging messages as well as a few abusive comments from mainland China users. Chen will stick to being himself and respect everyone’s opinions at the same time, he said.
Chen’s 18-minute video about how he changed a lot of his views while studying in Taiwan and after being arrested in China has received over 109,000 views since he released it on May 13.
Vanessa Wang contributed to this article.