Senior Vice Minister Li Baodong of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) meets with Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm. Image credit: MFA
For more than 20 years, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm has traveled to Beijing several times a year for discussions on human rights with the Chinese government. Kamm’s latest visit took place from August 11‒16, 2014. In addition to discussions with Chinese officials, Kamm met with foreign diplomats including US Ambassador Max Baucus, Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen, French Deputy Chief of Mission Jacques Pellet, Swiss Deputy Chief of Mission Salome Meyer, and diplomats focused on human rights in nine other embassies.
Conversations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
One of the highlight’s of the recent trip was an August 14 meeting with Senior Vice Minister Li Baodong, who is in charge of multilateral issues including human rights at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Li and Kamm spoke in-depth about the current state of US-China relations and how the relationship affects interactions on human rights. Li voiced support for Dui Hua’s programs in China and commended Kamm for his efforts to promote respect for human rights.
Li introduced Kamm to Ms. Liu Hua, the MFA Special Representative for Human Rights, and her colleagues in the International Department of the MFA Human Rights Division. The next day Liu and Kamm had an hour-long meeting.
Liu reviewed Chinese progress in the protection of economic, cultural, and social rights as well as civil and political rights. She noted that China brought 16.5 million people out of poverty and found jobs for more than 13 million urban dwellers in 2013. This year, China plans to lift another 10 million people out of poverty. Liu said that China’s report to the United Nations on its compliance with the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights was praised by the commission as “exemplary.”
With regard to civil and political rights, the Chinese government has fundamentally reformed the household registration system by eliminating the distinction between rural and urban dwellers, abolished the system of detention known as reeducation through labor, reduced the number of executions, and increased legal assistance to those in need, Liu said.
Looking ahead, China is carrying out a mid-term review of its current National Human Rights Action Plan. The upcoming plenum of the 18th Party Congress will focus on promoting the rule of law and judicial reform.
Turning to international cooperation, China completed its second Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, accepting 204 out of 252 recommendations put forward by state parties.
According to Liu, the bilateral human rights dialogue between the United States and China has been suspended “for reasons known to all,” i.e., President Obama’s February 2014 meeting with the Dalai Lama. She noted that whether the dialogue resumes is up to the United States, stating that the Americans need to meet China half way. High-level meetings between foreign leaders and the Dalai Lama are a red line that cannot be crossed, Liu said, adding that there is no flexibility on this point. China’s most recent bilateral dialogues were with Australia in February and the United Kingdom in May.
Chen Guangcheng (left) walks out of the US Embassy in Beijing with US officials on May 1, 2012. Image credit: US State Department
Although some bilateral dialogues continue, Liu said that as a matter of principle reflecting the independence of China’s judiciary, China has decided to no longer accept prisoner lists before, during, or after these dialogues. If lists are accepted due to special circumstances, responses will not be given. Kamm’s discussions with foreign diplomats indicate that China has provided no responses regarding individual cases to any government since mid-2012. This policy appears to have come about following what Beijing sees as the botched handling of Chen Guangcheng’s (陈光诚) case in 2012.
Despite China’s position on prisoner lists drawn up by foreign governments, the MFA will continue to receive and respond to Dui Hua enquiries. In his capacity as executive director of Dui Hua—a non-governmental organization with friendly relations with the Chinese government, Kamm submitted a short prisoner list and received from Liu detailed information on several individual cases.
Sitting with the Supreme People’s Court
After his meetings with the MFA, Kamm went to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) where he met with senior judges, foreign affairs officials, and researchers to discuss topics in juvenile justice, women in prison, and future cooperation. Talks on juvenile justice and women in prison focused on records sealing and sentencing criteria, respectively. Conversations on women in prison were a continuation of issues explored during Dui Hua’s international symposium on the UN Bangkok Rules in February.
Kamm was also updated on the case of Li Yan (李彦), a woman in Sichuan whose death sentence for killing her abusive husband was recently overturned in a landmark decision by the SPC. According to Director Chen Min, a domestic violence expert at the Center for Gender and Law Studies at the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence of the SPC, since the 1990s Chinese women who fought violence with violence and killed their abusive spouses have only been sentenced to death in extenuating circumstances. In Li Yan’s case, those circumstances were the dismemberment of her husband’s body.
Li’s case has been sent back to the Sichuan High People’s Court for retrial. No date has been set for the trial as of this writing, but the SPC confirmed that the judges who hear the case will be different from those who heard Li’s appeal in the trial of the second instance.
Abdullah Mehmet (阿卜杜拉•麦麦提), a Uyghur from Moyu [Karakash] County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, was 22 when in 2009 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five years’ deprivation of political rights for splittism. Dui Hua recently learned that he received two nine-month sentence reductions in November 2011 and May 2014, respectively. Authorities attributed the clemency to Mehmet’s confession and active participation in political, cultural, and technical classes as well as prison production.
Mehmet’s sentence reductions are the only acts of clemency for a Uyghur prisoner convicted of a crime of endangering state security that Dui Hua has learned of since Rebiya Kadeer was granted medical parole in March 2005. The Chinese government was upset by Kadeer’s decision to advocate for Uyghur cultural, economic, and political rights following her exile to the United States. She was a prominent business leader in Xinjiang.
In 2009, Mehmet was one of 23 defendants tried by the Shenyang Intermediate People’s Court in Liaoning Province for allegedly advocating for Xinjiang independence. The defendants are believed to be members of Hijrah Jihad (伊吉拉特), a group identified by the Chinese government as a terrorist organization along with Hizbut-Tahrir (伊扎布特) and the East Turkestan Movement. Hijrah Jihad has been implicated in plane hijackings and bombings in the past, but no information and no foreign media reports have been found on the specifics of this case.
While Mehmet’s lengthy prison sentence seems indicative of the severity of the criminal activity involved in the case, severity doesn’t necessarily indicate violence. In the past, Uyghur defendants have faced harsh punishments for nonviolent political resistance. On December 10, 1999, Abdughani Imin (阿不都艾尼•依明) and Obulkasim Abliz (吾布力卡斯木•阿不力孜) raised the East Turkestan flag above a local courthouse in Yuepuhu [Yopurga] County, Kashgar Prefecture, during Ramadan. They were detained in less than two months by public security, and on October 10, 2001, they were sentenced to 15 and 13 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for inciting splittism. As of this writing, neither of these individuals is known to have received any sentence reductions. Obulkasim Abliz was scheduled for release from Xinjiang’s No. 3 Prison in March 2013. Abdughani Imin is believed to be serving the last six months of his sentence in Xinjiang No. 1 Prison.
Convicted in Shenyang, Mehmet is serving his sentence in Liaoning No. 1 Prison; however, Uyghur prisoners sentenced in different provinces and municipalities are routinely sent back to Xinjiang to serve their sentences. In Shanghai, Rahman Abdureyim (热合曼•阿不都热衣木), Ehmet Ebley (艾买提•艾比力), and Abdukerim Eysa (阿不都克日木•艾沙) were criminally detained (PDF) in September 2002 on suspicion of using religion to incite ethnic separatism within the local Uyghur community. The Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court handed out sentences of 1.5 to 3 years’ imprisonment for inciting splittism. All three men were sent back to Xinjiang to serve their sentences.
The New York Times published an op-ed titled “China Rethinks the Death Penalty” in July. The piece begins by discussing the Chinese Supreme People’s Court’s recent decision to overturn the death sentence of Li Yan (pictured right), a woman charged with the murder of her violent and abusive husband in November 2010. It goes on to cite a study finding that only about 58 percent of the Chinese public are in favor of the death penalty and plot a decline in the use of capital punishment over nearly the last decade. Citing Dui Hua statistics, the article notes that China is believed to account for more executions every year than all other countries combined.
The op-ed was translated and published on the Chinese edition of the Times and later picked up by China’s state-run media outlet Cankao Xiaoxi (参考消息). The Cankao article emphasized in its title that China’s increasingly cautious application of the death penalty has garnered public support, in part because of several publicized instances of wrongful execution. This is an important message given that a common argument against abolition in China has for years been public support for capital punishment.
For links to more selected coverage, please visit our website at In the Media.
Featured Article: Identifying Cult Organizations in China (July 10)
After a killing by alleged “cult” members, Xinhua published an article on the “truth” about cults in China. Image credit: xinhuanet.com
Chinese media scrambled to identify “cult” organizations after a woman was reportedly beaten to death by six members of Almighty God at a McDonald’s restaurant in May. Dui Hua takes a look at some of the dozens of organizations Chinese authorities have labeled “cults” and finds that their activities rarely involve violence and sometimes include political activism.
Last month’s Digest: July 2014
To celebrate 15 years of human rights advocacy, we’ll be highlighting a key moment from this month in Dui Hua history.
Dui Hua uncovered one of its earliest cases shortly after it was established to find the names of political prisoners through open-source research. After Dui Hua became operational in August 1999, Dui Hua founder and Executive Director John Kamm traveled to a library in Hong Kong to look through provincial newspapers, believing them to be a rich source of information for prisoner information. However, hours of scouring through rows of newspapers yielded no findings.
Discouraged and tired, Kamm wandered through the vast library until he came across a large collection of public security and court records published in mainland China. He picked up a copy of the 1997 Shanghai Public Security Yearbook (1997上海公安志) and discovered a number of hitherto unknown cases, including that of Jiang Cunde (蒋存德).
Jiang was a labor leader from Shanghai who called for the establishment of an independent trade union modeled after Poland’s Solidarity. In 1987, police arrested Jiang and two of his friends for allegedly plotting to hijack a plane bound for Taiwan. Jiang was sentenced to life in prison on charges of “counterrevolutionary sabotage” and illegal possession of weapons. Since discovering Jiang Cunde’s name, Dui Hua has repeatedly inquired about him on prisoner lists submitted to interlocutors in the Chinese government. We learned that Jiang was released on medical parole in 1993 due to schizophrenia but was rearrested after becoming politically active again in 1999. His life sentence was commuted to a 20 year fixed-term sentence in August 2004, and he is believed to remain in prison, suffering from psychotic episodes.
The discovery of profiles like that of Jiang Cunde in legal yearbooks was a breakthrough in Dui Hua’s advocacy work on behalf of political prisoners. Since then, Dui Hua has uncovered and documented the names of more than 30,000 prisoners and has helped hundreds of previously unknown prisoners obtain better treatment and clemency.