In July 2016, Hideji Suzuki, now 65 and director of a youth exchange association between Japan and China, was arrested by China’s Ministry of State Security, charged with cracking down on the ‘spying. Suzuki remained incarcerated until October 11, 2022. What was it like for him after his sudden arrest at the airport and being held for months without charge in a sunless hotel room? Below, the Mainichi Shimbun traces his ordeal, based on his testimony.
It was a hot summer day in Beijing on July 15, 2016. After meeting an acquaintance at a restaurant inside a hotel near the Japanese Embassy, Suzuki boarded a taxi, preparing to return home to Japan. Around 3 p.m., his taxi arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport and he noticed a large white van parked nearby, with six well-built men standing beside it. He got out of the taxi, collected his luggage and started walking when a voice called him.
“Are you Suzuki? one of the men asked him in Chinese. When Suzuki replied “Yes”, the men jumped on him. Although he weighed 96 kilograms, Suzuki was no match for them. They pushed him from the center of the three rows of seats in the van to the back row and then to the rear corner furthest from the door.
“Who are you?” Suzuki demanded. One replied, “We are the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Suzuki asked for ID but was told emphatically “it’s not necessary”. He then asked again, “Why are you detaining me? A thin man wearing glasses unfolded a sheet of paper bearing the name of the office manager. He authorized them to detain him on suspicion of espionage.
The man then forced a black eye mask on Suzuki and confiscated his cell phone, watch and even his belt.
After driving for what felt like about an hour, he was led out of the vehicle, still blindfolded. They entered a building and took the elevator to an upper floor. Suzuki then did several laps. It was confusing his sense of direction. He was walked down a hallway and into a room.
“Sit down,” ordered one of the men. He felt like he was next to a bed. When he sat down, his eye mask was finally removed.
The interior was reminiscent of an old business hotel. When he looked up at the ceiling, he saw camera lenses covering the room in all directions. After a while, he was ordered to leave the room. He entered the hallway and was led to room 504, diagonally across from room 502, where he had been. It looked like the kind of interrogation room shown in the movies. There was a table at the back of the room and three men were sitting on chairs. They were all dressed casually. The middle one, a chubby man, who looked about 40 years old, said to Suzuki, “You’re a spy,” then said, “You must call me ‘laoshi’ (teacher).
The first day ended with a review of Suzuki’s belongings, after which he was returned to room 502, with two men guarding him.
“It’s 10:30 p.m. You can go to bed,” he was told. But when he went to turn off the light, we told him. “You can’t turn it off.” As Suzuki remained sleepless, the two men were eventually replaced by two others.
“Rise.” A voice roused Suzuki from a light slumber. There was no clock in the room so he had no idea what time it was. His breakfast consisted of a Chinese steamed bun, or “mantou”. He sat on the bed and ate in silence. Two men stared at him silently. The heavy curtains remained closed, and even though it was morning, inside the room it was as dark as night.
Suziki was prohibited from seeking the services of a lawyer. He repeatedly asked his captors to contact the Japanese embassy and, in his memory, it was on July 27 that a member of the embassy finally surrendered. But when he walked to the meeting room to see the staff member, the three people from the interrogation room were there and they were filming the exchange. The embassy employee explained that Suzuki was under “residential surveillance”, a procedure based on Chinese law. In reality, however, he was incarcerated. The embassy employee told him, “It’s going to be a long battle.
As the interrogation progressed, Suzuki gradually came to understand the “suspicions” against him. A conversation Suzuki had over a meal in a restaurant in Beijing on December 4, 2013, with a senior government official (Official A), whom he had met in Japan, was apparently considered problematic.
The interrogator who asked to be called “professor” was aware of this conversation with Manager A. One day he said to Suzuki, “You mentioned North Korea, didn’t you? It was a sensitive subject, and it was illegal.”
Suzuki’s mind returned to his conversation. Just before he dined with the official, the South Korean government announced that it suspected Jang Song Thaek, son-in-law of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, had been executed. Suzuki asked the official: “What do you think?” to which the official replied “I don’t know”.
Suzuki protested to his interrogators. “The news of the execution had been reported publicly. And I was only told ‘I don’t know’. Why is it illegal?” The “teacher” replied, “If it was not reported by the Chinese news agency Xinhua, then it is illegal.”
The interrogation sessions continued after that. Suzuki was not allowed to read and there was no television. Pens and paper were also prohibited. And there was no one to talk to. Suzuki felt like it was losing its mind. Then one day, about a month after being taken into custody, he said to the “teacher”: “I want to see the sun”. He was told: “We will discuss it, so wait.
The next morning, when he went to room 504, the interrogator told him, “You can have 15 minutes. He was led into the corridor of the hotel, and when he sat down on a chair placed there, he saw the sun. Tears welled up in her eyes. He then tried to approach the window, he was scolded and told “No”. It was probably because he would be able to see the surroundings of the building from the window, he supposed. It was a place shrouded in secrecy.
Fifteen minutes later, a man’s impassive voice echoed down the hall. “Time is up.”
(This is part 2 of a series. The next article will be published at 9 a.m. on November 12.)
(Japanese original by Mainichi Shimbun, Imprisoned Japanese Nationals Reporting Team)