In 2007, Dui Hua opened its Hong Kong office. Ten years later, the foundation looks back on a decade of achievement. Dui Hua’s Hong Kong office, manned by dedicated and skilled professionals, carries out tasks that are central to the foundation’s mission of promoting human rights through a well-informed and respectful dialogue with the Chinese government and civil society. It is the foundation’s front-line presence in China. Hong Kong staff are supplemented by frequent visits from managers and associates based in San Francisco.
The Hong Kong office maintains the foundation’s political prisoner database (PPDB) and death penalty log; conducts research online and in local libraries; draws up lists of cases to be presented to the Chinese authorities; organizes programs and outreach events; maintains contact with donors; hosts and attends meetings with foreign diplomats, including those attached to local consulates and those working out of Beijing; keeps in close touch with local human rights groups; and contributes to Dui Hua publications, including Dui Hua’s Digest, Annual Reports, Human Rights Journal, and Reference Material blogs.
Political Prisoner Database Adds Thousands of Names
Over the last ten years, Hong Kong managers and associates have added more than 20,000 records to Dui Hua’s PPDB, making it the largest and most comprehensive repository of the names of individuals detained in political and religious cases in China. The PPDB is used to generate prisoner lists submitted to the Chinese government through direct and indirect channels.
Names for the database are acquired by a variety of means: communications with family members and activists; monitoring of Chinese and English language media and NGO reports; online research; and library research.
Of particular importance in recent years is the acquisition of names found on court websites in China. In 2016 alone, more than 1,000 names of political and religious detainees were found on the judgement websites of the Supreme People’s Court and intermediate courts, as well as websites of other judicial organs like the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
Library research has become less fruitful in recent years as the Chinese government imposes stricter controls on the kinds of publications allowed to be sent from China. Ironically, most volumes on political crime that Dui Hua uses for its research are now found in university libraries in the United States.
Programs and Outreach Events
One of the most successful Dui Hua programs ever conducted was the international symposium on women in prison, which focused on the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Prisoners. The event was held in February 2014 at Hong Kong University.
The symposium brought together government officials, including correctional officers, scholars, and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) representing ten countries and UN bodies. Greater China accounted for half of the 50 participants. Thirty papers were presented by 23 experts on a wide variety of topics related to the surging number of women in prison, including health care, violence against women, non-custodial measures, children of incarcerated mothers, juvenile offenders, international human rights institutions and mechanisms, and staffing of prison personnel.
Highlights of the symposium included the presentation of a report based on field research carried out by Professor Cheng Lei of China’s Renmin University School at five Mainland Chinese carceral facilities for women , and a study tour of Hong Kong’s largest correctional institution for women at Lo Wu Correctional Institute.
Dui Hua’s Executive Director John Kamm visits Hong Kong at least twice a year. He uses the occasion of these visits to give speeches to Hong Kong audiences. In March 2008, not long after the Hong Kong office was established, Kamm gave the keynote address at the 12th Human Rights Press Awards ceremony held at the Foreign Correspondents Club. He often speaks at local academic institutions.
Meetings with Foreign Governments and Local NGOs
The Hong Kong office occasionally hosts visits from local consulates and foreign embassies in Beijing. In any given month, staff from San Francisco and Hong Kong host briefing sessions or attend programs put on by local missions like those of the United States, European Union, and Canada.
Many of the world’s leading human rights groups have presences in Hong Kong. Dui Hua enjoys good working relations with all of them, including Amnesty International and China Labour Bulletin.
Dui Hua has recently moved its office to a new location in Hong Kong. The foundation looks forward to many more years of productive work and strong relationships in Hong Kong.
Many publishers on the mainland have been sentenced for printing or selling politically sensitive books. But unlike the cross-border abductions and detentions of Hong Kong-based booksellers, these cases have garnered little or no media attention. In August, Dui Hua uncovered two previously unknown cases where the defendants were sentenced for selling books that are deemed problematic by the Chinese government.
The first case involved a Han Chinese man from Henan surnamed Wang, who was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 yuan in Inner Mongolia in February 2014. The punishment was relatively light because Wang was only able to sell 651 copies of “prohibited” or “illegal” CD-ROMs about June Fourth and other unspecified historical records, while the remaining 1,449 unsold copies were confiscated. It is unclear whether Wang lodged an appeal. Assuming the sentence remained unchanged, he completed his sentence in July 2014.
Another case involved eight employees working at a Chengdu-based book publisher. One of the employees was an ethnic Tibetan by the name of Namjee. All eight were convicted of illegal business activity, with punishments ranging from suspended sentences to three years’ imprisonment. The company was accused of printing and disseminating three Tibetan-language publications titled “Showing the Light of Justice,” “Tibet-China Peace Talk: Policy and Historical Evolution of the Middle Way Approach,” and “Letters from the Dalai Lama to the Han Chinese Political Leaders” — described in the judgment as reactionary for advocating Tibetan independence. Through Namjee’s referral, a Tibetan customer placed a purchase order of over 10,000 copies of the above mentioned titles.
Zhao Yangjun (赵杨军), the person-in-charge of the publishing company, ordered his staff to typeset, bind, print, and deliver the books. Over 9,000 copies circulated in Qinghai. Due to the sensitivity of the case, Zhao and Namjee were initially investigated by Chengdu’s state security bureau in June and July 2012. After they were released on bail in July, public security authorities took over and detained them and the other employees on the non-state security charge of illegal business activity (The customer was also detained, but handled in a separate case). Although it was not classified as a state security case, the trial in Sichuan’s Jinniu District People’s Court was closed to the public. All the employees were sentenced in September 2013. Zhao received the heaviest sentence, three years’ imprisonment, which expired on July 30, 2015. Namjee was sentenced to 22 months’ imprisonment. He was released on May 26, 2014.
Featured: The “Hidden Rules” of China’s Criminal Justice System (July 6)
Xi Jinping made judicial reform a priority item on his agenda after fully taking power in 2013. He promised to “construct a rule-of-law country” and repeatedly emphasized the need for governing with respect to Chinese law and the constitution. Legal institutions were the focus of the “Fourth Plenum” meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2014, which pledged to “strive to let the popular masses feel justice in every court case.” Since then, efforts have been undertaken to “deepen” reform of the country’s legal institutions and officials have been served notice to achieve their reform targets before the upcoming 19th Party Congress later this year.
Previous Digest: July 2017
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s advocacy stories prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999
Discovering Legal Education (Part 1 of 2)
Following the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1995, the Chinese government stopped giving me information on political prisoners. I asked several American senators and members of Congress to write letters to the Chinese government urging the Ministry of Justice to resume providing information on political prisoners to me.
From June 1996 to June 1997, such letters were sent to Chinese Ambassador Li Daoyu by Senator Craig Thomas (D-Wyoming), Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), Congressman Matt Salmon (R-Arizona), Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), and Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Nebraska). Congressman Ed Royce (R-California) sent a detailed letter to Chinese Premier Li Peng asking him to instruct the Ministry of Justice to resume cooperation with me.
The Third Taiwan Straits Crisis of 1995-1996. Image Credit: ForeignPolicy.com
Thanks to these letters, and the support of the White House, the “prisoner information project” resumed in 1998 following Jiang Zemin’s state visit in 1997. While it was no longer necessary to ask members of Congress to write letters to the Chinese government on my behalf, I stayed in close contact with members, attending congressional hearings, roundtables, and forums at their invitation.
One such event that I participated in was a breakfast meeting with members of the House of Representatives organized by the Aspen Institute on July 17, 2002. One of the congressmen attending the breakfast was Congressman John Tierney (D-Massachusetts).
An Email from Congressman Tierney
On January 28, 2003, I received an email from Congressman Tierney asking for assistance on behalf of a constituent whose older sister, Ms. Liang Shaolin, had been detained in a Chinese labor camp for practicing the banned spiritual practice known as Falun Gong.
In his email, Congressman Tierney described Liang Shaolin’s situation:
<p=”justify”>“In September 1999, Shaolin is reported to have been detained in her workplace, the Maoming Oil Company, and not allowed to return home. She is said to have continued working but escaped after one month and seized as she made her way to Beijing ‘to appeal on behalf of Falun Gong.’ The police in Guangzhou sent her to a local detention center from where she was released after a seven-day hunger strike. Not long after, she was again detained by police and in January 2000 was sentenced without trial to two years in Sanshui Labor Camp; (she was) denied visitors, including family members. In 2002, the family received a phone call saying she had been transferred to the Legal School of Maoming City, yet to this day she is not allowed contact.”</p=”justify”>
Congressman Tierney then asked if I could find a way to obtain some relief for Liang Shaolin.
I was familiar with Falun Gong, but had never heard of a “Legal School” used as a carceral facility.
Falun Gong is a popular spiritual movement that arose in the early 1990s, initially in China’s northeastern region. The practice involves a mix of beliefs and practices that combine Buddhism and Taoism with qigong, defined by Wikipedia as “a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training.”
Falun Gong spread rapidly in China in the 1990s, and by the end of the decade the movement reportedly had a following of tens of millions of Chinese practitioners. The rapid growth and popularity of the movement alarmed China’s top leaders. In April 1999, as many as 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners traveled to Beijing where they surrounded the central leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, in a mass demonstration calling for the release of imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners. The event had an immediate impact, and soon many more practitioners and their leaders were detained by authorities. In July 1999, Falun Gong was classified by the government as an “evil sect,” and repression intensified, repression that has continued to the present day.
After receiving Tierney’s email, I began looking into “legal schools,” but could find little information about schools being used as detention sites. I found one or two references to “legal education schools” or “legal education bases” as places where petitioners and adherents of unauthorized religious groups were placed for indeterminate periods of time.
Heilongjiang Legal Education Campus
I phoned Congressman Tierney’s office and we agreed that we would meet on my next visit to Washington in April 2003. When I arrived at his office I couldn’t help but notice the striking painting that hung behind his desk. It was a large oil painting of a scene from the Salem Witch trials, a troubling page in American history. In colonial Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693, twenty people, mostly women, were prosecuted and executed for practicing witchcraft. Salem, a city in Congressman Tierney’s district, was famous for being at the center of the mass hysteria which resulted in the executions. The congressman told me that the painting served to remind visitors that religious persecution was no stranger to the US, and that Americans should reflect on their own past before criticizing others for human rights violations.
A Plan to help Liang Shaolin
We settled on a plan to help Liang Shaolin. I would try my best to put Liang’s name on all requests for information on prisoners submitted by the US government to China, and I would activate my relationship with a provincial research association based in Guangzhou to seek information on Liang Shaolin. Congressman Tierney’s staff would help by composing a letter on the case that I could send to my Guangdong interlocutors.
Upon my return from D.C., I received the letter on Liang’s case by fax. The letter provided helpful information including the name, address, and telephone number of the legal education school in Maoming, the names and phone numbers of the officials in charge of the legal education school, the name and address of Liang Shaolin’s former employer, Maoming Oil Company, and the names and phone numbers of the officials in charge of the company’s “610 Office,” a specialized unit established in offices and enterprises across China in charge of suppressing Falun Gong practitioners. In the following months, I managed to get this letter into the hands of my Guangzhou interlocutor and put Liang Shaolin’s name on a prisoner list submitted by the International Commission on Religious Freedom.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit Guangzhou until September 18, 2003. I took the train up to Guangzhou from Hong Kong and met with my interlocutor that same day. Liang Shaolin’s case was raised. I included it on a new list of five prisoners in Guangdong Province about whom I was concerned. I followed up the meeting with an email sent on October 15, 2003 . In less than a month, I would receive a response from my interlocutor.
To be continued in Dui Hua’s October Digest…