A Safer, More Harmonious China?

SAN FRANCISCO (March 11, 2014) — On Monday, March 10, China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), China’s highest prosecutorial organ, released statistics on arrests and indictments in criminal cases in 2013. According to the SPP’s annual report delivered to the National People’s Congress, arrests in 2013 dropped to 880,000 from 970,000 in 2012, a decline of more than 10 percent. Indictments fell five percent to just over 1,324,000.

Chinese indictments for endangering state security (ESS) declined an estimated 21 percent year-on-year in 2013. During the year, 830 people were indicted for the category of crimes that includes subversion, splittism, and incitement, putting ESS indictments at their lowest level since 2007, according to Dui Hua’s analysis of official data. According to the SPP report, 1,150 people were indicted for ESS, endangering national defense and interest (ENDI), and dereliction of military duty (DMD) in 2013, compared with 1,389 people indicted in 2012. The SPP noted that a category called “other” comprised these three crimes. (In previous years Dui Hua assumed these three crimes were in fact the components of the “other” category, but this is the first year that the SPP made explicit this definition in the work report.) As in 2012, the report did not include data for ESS arrests.

Data from 2010 and 2012 consistently indicate that ENDI and DMD account for about 0.024 percent of all criminal indictments in China. Using this ratio, we find that among the 1,324,404 people indicted nationwide, approximately 320 were indicted for ENDI and DMD. The remaining 830 people in the “other” category are then attributable to ESS.

ess

Source: Dui Hua, China Law Yearbook, Supreme People’s Procuratorate Annual Work Report 2013
Note: * All data are as reported by China Law Yearbook, except the 2013 figure, which is a Dui Hua estimate.

Lack of Transparency

Of these 830 people, Dui Hua knows the names of no more than a dozen confirmed or likely to have been indicted last year. (This is indicative of low transparency and the fact that indictments are less widely reported than detentions and sentences.) Inspired by the New Citizens’ Movement, most were activists charged with inciting subversion for joining a series of protests calling on officials to disclose their private assets.

Huang Wenxun (黄文勋), Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华) and Yuan Bing (袁兵) were accused of inciting subversion for disseminating information about “Bright China,” according to an indictment opinion issued by the public security bureau in Chibi, Hunan, in September. “Bright China” advocates for the end of one-party dictatorship through a “Xinhai”-styled revolution. The Xinhai Revolution ended China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911.

Gu Yimin (顾义民) was arrested in Jiangsu after circulating online messages and applying for a protest permit calling for the rehabilitation of June 4. He was tried by the Changshu Intermediate People’s Court in September.

Yang Lin (杨林), an anti-corruption petitioner and vocal critic of the Communist Party, was arrested in Shenzhen on July 19. He was tried by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court late last month.

Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志) was re-indicted for inciting subversion in May. By that time, he had been under residential surveillance for months in Shaoyang, Hunan. Zhu was initially detained in June 2012 for taking photos at the scene of Li Wangyang’s death and sending them to overseas media. A veteran democracy activist who had served more than 20 years in prison, Li died under suspicious circumstances while under police guard at a Chinese hospital.

Dui Hua is only aware of one possible indictment for ESS crimes committed by members of China’s Uyghur and Tibetan minorities. Czerha (才扎) was arrested for inciting splittism between July and August for “fabricating” a self-immolation case in May and sending “false” information to overseas media. In August, official sources confirmed that his case was being reviewed for indictment. This is significant as, according to official statistics, the bulk of trials for ESS take place in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Shifting Tactics

The decrease in ESS indictments may signal a change in tactics: political dissidents appear to be increasingly charged with non-ESS crimes, thereby obscuring the political nature of their contested acts. An internal notice published by the SPP in June 2013 calls on prosecutors to “resolutely combat” criminal activity like illegal assembly and gathering a crowd to disrupt social order “where there is a goal of subverting state power.”

The New Citizens’ Movement provides several instructive examples of this shift in tactics. In May, Li Sihua (李思华), Liu Ping (刘萍) and Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) were detained in Xinyu, Jiangsu, for “inciting subversion.” By the time they went on trial in December, they were being charged not with incitement, but with “disturbing public order.” In Yichang, Hubei, authorities initially charged Liu Jiacai (刘家财) with “inciting subversion” in August. They revised the charges to “causing a serious disturbance” on November 18.

Perhaps the most well-known advocate of the New Citizens’ Movement, Xu Zhiyong (许志永) was never charged with ESS, but his case also shows a blurring of the lines between political and non-political crimes. Xu rallied the public to protest multiple central government bureaus between 2012 and 2013. The Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” in January. According to the Criminal Procedure Law, with the exception of ESS cases or cases which may involve life or death sentences, all trials of first instance shall be tried by district courts. If Xu was not charged with ESS (i.e., political) crimes, why was he tried by an intermediate court?

According to the SPP report, the number of people indicted for impairing public order administration, the category of crimes that includes “gathering a crowd to disturb social order, rose by more than 11,000 in 2013.

How Will Delegates React?

The SPP’s claim that crime in China dropped sharply in 2013 is being scrutinized by NPC delegates who will shortly vote on whether or not to adopt the SPP’s report. In the past, SPP reports have generated unprecedented levels of opposition in a body seen in the West as a “rubber stamp” parliament. Last year, less than 80 percent of NPC delegates voted to accept the SPP’s report.