Kamm’s Trip to Beijing
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Hong Kong and Beijing from March 24 to April 10, 2017. His trip was bracketed by two important events: the election of Hong Kong’s fourth chief executive on March 26 and the visit to the United States of Chinese President Xi Jinping from April 6 to April 8. President Xi held several hours of face-to-face talks with American President Donald Trump at the latter’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Hong Kong Election
Carrie Lam, Beijing’s clear favorite, was elected Chief Executive with 777 votes out of nearly 1,200 votes cast by the Hong Kong Election Committee. Polls suggested that her main opponent, former Financial Secretary John Tsang, was more popular, but he lacked Beijing’s support, in part because he was seen as too close to the United States and the United Kingdom. Pro-Beijing commentators pointed out that he had spent 18 years in the United States, and had served as the private secretary of the last British governor, Chris Patten. Unlike Lam, Tsang had not condemned the Umbrella Movement which had paralyzed the city for more than three months at the end of 2014.
The day after the election, Hong Kong police arrested nine of the principal organizers of the 2014 protests.
Carrie Lam will take the oath of office on July 1, 2017, the 20th anniversary of the resumption of Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong. Chinese President Xi Jinping is widely expected to preside over the ceremony. Hong Kong security forces are bracing for expected large-scale protests.
Kamm arrived in Beijing on April 2 for a week of discussions with senior Chinese diplomats, members of the judiciary, leading academics, and foreign diplomats.
On April 6, Kamm and Program and Development Manager Ms. Yin Yu were received by judges of the Office of Juvenile Trials under the Supreme People’s Court’s Research Department. Agreement was reached to hold a seminar on juvenile court reform in China and the United States. The program, Dui Hua’s fifth expert exchange on juvenile justice, is slated to take place in November in China.
On April 7, Kamm was received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Vice Minister Li Baodong and colleagues responsible for human rights diplomacy. Vice Minister Li hailed the increased cooperation between the Chinese government and Dui Hua, and voiced support for the foundation’s work with the Supreme People’s Court on juvenile justice.
In his discussions with Madame Liu Hua, Senior Director for Human Rights Dialogues, Mr. Yang Zhilun, Director of the Human Rights Division, and Ms. He Fen, deputy director of the division, information and opinions were exchanged on a wide variety of topics, including recent trials of lawyers in Tianjin, the situation at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sichuan, and the Foreign NGO Management Law which took effect on January 1.
Kamm and Yu held meetings with the Charge of the American Embassy and the ambassadors of Norway, Sweden, Canada, and the European Union. In these and other discussions with lower ranking diplomats, talks centered around a letter signed by 11 countries that was delivered to the Minister of Public Security in late February. The letter called for an independent investigation into allegations of torture of a number of Chinese lawyers and activists. The letter was rejected by the ministry and returned to the Canadian embassy, one of the initiators of the letter.
“Shirt Sleeve Summit” at Mar-a-Lago
The talks between the two presidents, held on April 6 and 7, covered the full gamut of issues in US-China relations. An agreement was reached to come up with a plan to reduce the American trade deficit. Another big issue discussed by the two men was North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. On the eve of summit, Pyongyang fired another ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. As if to underline the new American president’s willingness to use force to address international crises, President Trump, during the banquet for President Xi, ordered an American warship to launch more than 50 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase that was allegedly used to drop chemical weapons on a stronghold of the government opposition.
Human rights figured in discussions between American and Chinese officials both in the run-up to the summit — Secretary Rex Tillersen visited Beijing in March to lay the foundation for the meeting– and in the talks between the two presidents at Mar-a-Lago. Kamm was told by officials of both governments that the Trump administration — in line with its “Put America First” foreign policy — would prioritize the cases of American citizens held in detention centers and prisons in China, as well as the interests of American NGOs grappling with the new Foreign NGO Management Law. As Kamm’s trip ended, Beijing announced that a total of 62 foreign NGOs had registered under the new law, a small fraction of the number of foreign NGOs operating in China in recent years.
Dui Hua previously reported on cases of Uyghurs detained or tried on charges of “endangering state security” (ESS) outside of Xinjiang, where the majority of the ESS cases nationwide in China occur. Official documents revealed that two Uyghurs were tried by the Tianjin Number One Intermediate People’s Court for “inciting splittism” in 2015, but available sources disclosed no further details of the cases. In March, Dui Hua received an update from its interlocutors on them. Mehtiyasin Osman completed his one year and six months’ imprisonment on June 26, 2016, and is serving his two-year deprivation of political rights sentence. In a separate case, Nijat Kamili was released on December 26, 2016, after serving his two years’ sentence.
In the same official response, Dui Hua was given an update on Falun Gong practitioner Su Jianming (苏建明), who was sentenced to a lengthy term of 10 years’ imprisonment in December 2010. Su received his first sentence reduction of one month in December 2014. The second one-year sentence reduction was granted in May 2016. The response hinted at the possibility of granting Su a sentence reduction of seven months in July 2017. If it comes true, Su will be released in December 2017.
In February 2016, Dui Hua reported on a political prisoner case involving 79-year old Christian leader Li Baocheng (李保成). An official document indicated that he suffers from severe hypertension and cerebral hemorrhage. In September 2016, he sought approval to serve his four-year sentence for subversion and fraud at home. Henan’s Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court reviewed the application, but the outcome remains unknown at the time of writing.
In countries across the world, punitive policies are contributing to serious prison overcrowding issues, with many national prison systems holding more than double their official capacity. And what’s more is that the number of women in prison is growing at a faster rate than men. Part of the problem is incarceration itself: instead of deterring repeat offenses, prisons act as ‘schools of crime’ that increase the likelihood of women prisoners to re-offend. Prisons function to isolate offenders from their family support networks, reduce job skills, and harm the mental health of offenders. By contrast, non-custodial measures have routinely proven to prevent recidivism and lower the number of women in prison.
Previous Digest: March 2017.
“The Locust Man”
In China, prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolution and endangering state security who commit political crimes while behind bars make up a special group of political prisoners. They are treated especially harshly. For committing “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” while in Drapchi Prison, Tibetan nun Ngawang Sangdrolhad her sentence extended three times. Omer Akchi, a Uyghur farmer sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1997 for forming the “Islamic Party of Allah,” a counterrevolutionary group, had his sentence extended to life imprisonment in 2006 for committing the crime of “splittism” while serving his sentence.
In the early 1990s, Robin Munro, a China specialist working for Human Rights Watch and a friend of American businessman John Kamm, came into possession of a collection of model cases of June 4, 1989 offenses compiled by China’s Supreme People’s Court. One of the cases in the collection was that of a young man, Liu Baiqiang, who had been sentenced by a Guangdong Province court in 1988 to 10 years in Shaoguan Prison for robbery.
In June 1989, pro-democracy protests erupted in Beijing and other cities. Liu and his fellow inmates heard news of the protests.
According to the account of the case in the Supreme Court compilation, translated by Robin Munro and published in his and Mickey Spiegel’s Detained in China and Tibet (1994), “Liu secretly wrote out three leaflets bearing the words ‘Down with Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng,’ ‘Long Live Freedom,’ ‘Deng Xiaoping Should Step Down,’ and ‘Tyranny.’ After showing these to his cellmates, Liu attached them to the legs of locusts and released the insects from his prison cell.
Liu was subsequently convicted of “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” by the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court. Eight years were added to the remaining nine years of his sentence for a combined total of 17 years, followed by five years’ deprivation of political rights. His new date of release was set at June 5, 2006.
Shortly after publication of Detained in China and Tibet, Kamm began putting Liu Baiqiang—dubbed “The Locust Man”—on prisoner lists. He raised the case at both central and local levels, and in June 1995, Liu received his first sentence reduction of one year and three months. In April 1998 Kamm learned that Liu had not received any further sentence reductions. The businessman pushed harder, and the following year Liu’s sentence was reduced another 15 months. By that time, his sentence was due to expire on December 5, 2003.
On June 2, 1999, in hopes of securing another sentence reduction, Kamm boarded a train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou where he was received by a small group of senior party reformers at the Pearl Island Guest House. (Designed by Chairman Mao’s wife Jiang Qing in the early 1970s, by the late nineties it was still the Communist Party’s principal venue for receiving guests.)
Kamm’s visit coincided with a difficult period in US-China relations. Less than a month before his trip to Guangzhou, the United States had bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. China exploded in anger. The US Embassy in Beijing was trashed, and Beijing announced it would suspend all discussions with the US about human rights.
At the Pearl Island Guest House meeting, Kamm pressed hard for the early release of Liu Baiqiang whose name topped the list of 20 Guangdong prisoners that Kamm presented to the party seniors that day. Within three months after Kamm’s visit to Guangzhou, Liu was granted another sentence reduction, this one for 18 months. His new date of release was fixed at June 5, 2002.
In July 2001, American Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Beijing. As a result of the visit, the two countries agreed to resume their bilateral human rights dialogue. Dates were set for October, and despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks—perhaps because of them—a Chinese delegation arrived in Washington. (For an account of President Jiang Zemin’s strategic decision to use the 9/11 attacks to improve China’s relations with the United States, see “To Lhasa for Jigme Sangpo.”)
Prior to their departure from Beijing, the Chinese side accepted a list of more than 90 names of political prisoners from the US Embassy in Beijing. More than half of the names had been contributed by Kamm’s Dui Hua Foundation, all of them counterrevolutionaries. Among the names was Liu Baiqiang.
During the bilateral talks the Chinese side presented a written response to the prisoner list, providing information on nearly all the names. In April 2001, Liu Baiqiang, by then serving his sentence in Meizhou Prison. had been granted a one-year sentence reduction. The Locust Man had been released on June 5, 2001, five years before the end of his extended sentence.