EVENTS

Refugees, mainly from Syria, make a 300-km trek from Denmark to Sweden. Photo Credit: AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / Claus Fisker

Kamm Visits Scandinavia Amid Refugee Crisis

After a week in Switzerland, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm arrived in Oslo on November 1 for a two-week stay in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Kamm met with senior officials in charge of human rights and Asia-Pacific affairs, parliamentarians, and leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and he also addressed law students at Lund University, site of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

Kamm’s visit coincided with the refugee crisis gripping Europe. As many as 750,000 migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa are expected to arrive before the end of 2015, and up to three million are slated to arrive by the end of 2016. The crisis has led to an increase in ultra-nationalism, calls for established leaders to step down, and great strains on national budgets. All over the continent borders are closing or being tightened.

China Concerns

Every country Kamm visited had its own priorities for human rights in China. Nonetheless, certain issues came up in nearly every conversation: the death penalty, the crackdown on defense lawyers, the draft management law on foreign NGOs, the national security law that took effect on November 1, and tensions in Hong Kong.

Officials expressed optimism that the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which took place in Beijing at the end of November, would be less contentious than in recent years. They generally expected that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs would accept a prisoner list, as it did during the 19th US-China Human Rights Dialogue in August.

Outrage in Oslo

Six weeks before Kamm arrived in Oslo, Geir Lundestad, former secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Institute that awards the Nobel Peace Prize, published a book that revealed the “inside story” of how various laureates were selected. The book violates the oath of confidentiality taken by Lundestad and all members of the committee.

The chapter on Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, provoked the most controversy. Its content was discussed in virtually every conversation Kamm had in the Norwegian capital. Lundestad revealed that the committee’s international advisers, who were chosen for their knowledge of human rights in China, were doubtful that awarding the prize to a dissident would improve the country’s human rights record. The committee debated long and hard about what action to take. Finally, Lundestad claims, the Norwegian foreign minister and a Chinese vice minister pressured the committee not to award the prize to a Chinese dissident. In response, feeling that it had no choice but to exert its independence, the committee awarded the prize to Liu Xiaobo.

A Day in Lund

On his final day in Europe, Kamm traveled to Lund, home of one of Europe’s oldest universities, housed in an imposing structure built in the 12th century in the shadow of Lund Cathedral. There he delivered a two-hour lecture on Dui Hua’s work to law students. The talk included a lively question-and-answer period focused on China’s Criminal Procedure Law. Capital punishment was another key piece of the lecture, reflecting national priorities in Sweden, as well as in Switzerland, Norway, and Denmark. In contrast with the United States, which still executes people for murder, Europe makes abolition of the death penalty a high priority in human rights diplomacy.

PRISONER CASES

Women Imprisoned for State Security Offenses (Part I)

Women account for one in four records in Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB). As of November 30, there were 8,109 women in the PPDB, including more than 1,800 individuals still believed to be in custody. Nearly 80 percent of those currently in custody were charged under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, which outlaws religious sects—most commonly Falun Gong or Almighty God—defined as cults by the Chinese government.

Among the 20 percent of women not charged with cult offenses, 20 were convicted of endangering state security (ESS) crimes. Four of them are serving sentences for splittism in Xinjiang.

Atikem Rozi was a student of Ilham Tohti, the Uyghur scholar convicted of splittism and sentenced to life in prison largely for his work maintaining Uyghur news site uighurbiz.net. Despite the high-profile nature of the case, official media did not report Atikem Rozi’s sentence. Some sources speculate that she was sentenced to between three and eight years in prison. In another case of Internet speech, Gulmire Imin was sentenced to life in prison for posts she made to a Uyghur-language website that officials said instigated the 2009 Urumqi Riots.

More recently, Dui Hua discovered the cases of Gulaman Abdulla and Reyim Abuliz. Both were convicted of joining so-called separatist organizations. In a “confession” published in China Daily in August 2014, Gulaman Abdulla said she joined the organization under her husband’s urging and had translated illegal religious publications. The same month, People’s Daily reported that former schoolteacher Reyim Abuliz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Ili Prefecture in July 2014. She used mobile messaging app WeChat to send “sensitive” images and audio files.

Uyghur Women Imprisoned for Splittism

Name
Sentence
Release Date
Remark
Atikem Rozi Unknown Unknown Studied under Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti
Gulaman Abdulla 13 Years
[May 2005]
December 2018 Translated and disseminated illegal religious publications
Gulmire Imin Life N/a Made online posts that authorities claim instigated Urumqi Riots
Reyim Abuliz 15 years [2014] December 2029 Sent “sensitive” photos and audio over WeChat/微信

Less information is available on ESS cases in Tibetan regions. Tibetan women have taken part in sporadic protests since 2008, but in most instances their names and legal outcomes are unknown. Dui Hua has recorded information on four Tibetan women convicted of ESS crimes. All were involved in protests that took place in 2008.

Dui Hua has joined foreign governments in repeatedly raising Yeshe Choedron’s case with the Chinese government. China has not responded since 2011. According to unofficial media, Yeshe Choedron is in poor health, and prison authorities have sent her to a hospital for medical treatment. In 2008, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison for discussing the March protests with the Tibetan Youth Congress. Three other women, BumoSoe Lhatso, and Tenzin Lhamo, received nine- to ten-year sentences for their involvement in pro-independence demonstrations in May 2008.

Tibetan Women Imprisoned for Protest

Name
Sentence
Crime
Release Date
Remark
Bumo 9 years
[November 2008]
Inciting Splittism May 2017 Participated in pro-independence demonstration in May 2008
Soe Lhatso 10 years Inciting Splittism May 2018 Participated in pro-independence demonstration in May 2008
Tenzin Lhamo 10 years
[June 2008]
ESS March 2018 Participated in pro-independence demonstration in May 2008
Yeshe Choedron 15 years
[November 2008]
Espionage May 2023 Spoke to Tibetan Youth Congress about the pro-independence protests of March 2008

DUI HUA IN THE NEWS

Media outlets from Thailand to France reported on clemency granted to Lai Yiwa, a member of the Church of Almighty God, on whose behalf Dui Hua first intervened in 2013. Lai’s original sentence of seven years in prison was reduced by six months.

PUBLICATIONS ROUND-UP

Featured: Guangdong High Court Asks Why So Few Are Found Innocent (November 5)

A recently freed, wrongfully accused man becomes emotional during a 2014 interview. Credit: Nandu.com

Since 2012, Chinese legal authorities have overturned a series of high-profile convictions and taken steps to prevent miscarriages of justice, but one question is still being asked: why do Chinese courts acquit so few defendants? (In 2013, the acquittal rate rose for the first time since 2000, growing annually from six acquittals per 10,000 adjudications to seven.) Some argue that institutional support for conviction stands in the way of systemic change.

Ethnic Nationalism Along the China-Burma Border (November 30)

Previous DigestNovember 2015

ROOTS

This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.

The Last Tiananmen Trial

In the early 1990s, American businessman John Kamm traveled to Beijing about a half a dozen times a year. The Chinese government, desperate to save its access to the American market, gave Kamm high-level access to air his appeals on behalf of political prisoners. He handed over lists of prisoners, by then his stock in trade.

His interlocutors included senior ministers of the State Council Information Office, Ministry of Justice, Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Public Security, and State Administration of Religious Affairs. He met with officials privately and sometimes gathered them together for banquets, where he would advise which releases would impact American public opinion most significantly.

On these trips, Kamm also held impromptu press conferences. Permission was neither sought from nor given by the authorities. Journalists came to hear about his meetings and the status of prisoners whose names Kamm had raised.

In August 1992, Kamm was heading toward an elevator after a press conferences at the Great Wall Sheraton. Nicholas Kristof, then Beijing bureau chief of The New York Times, followed him.

Kristof began by explaining that a friend had been detained not long after June 4, 1989. The friend was part of Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang’s central brain trust, an economist who wrote for the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. He was also one of Kristof’s sources, and the bureau chief worried that the man’s troubles might have been related to something he had written. Wu Jiaxiang (pictured left) was detained on July 19, 1989, on charges of counterrevolutionary incitement and propaganda. He would soon be brought to trial.

Kristof asked for help and Kamm agreed to look into it. Wu Jiaxiang was 37 when he was detained. A native of Anhui Province, Wu was being held in Qincheng Prison, which was managed by the Ministry of Public Security. He did not participate in the June Fourth protests but allegedly penned supportive slogans and articles. From what Kamm could ascertain, Wu was destined to be the last individual brought to trial in Beijing for counterrevolutionary crimes committed during the 1989 disturbances. The next to last, General Office Secretary Bao Tong, had just been sentenced to seven years in prison.

On that same August trip, Kamm was scheduled to have a private dinner with Zhou Jue (pictured right), a distinguished and influential diplomat who had recently retired from his post as Ambassador to France. Zhou was assisting the State Council Information Office, Kamm’s principal source on prisoners. The dinner was held at Charlie’s, a steakhouse in the Jianguo Hotel. To break the ice, Kamm ordered two rib-eye steaks, medium rare, and an excellent claret.

As the atmosphere improved, Kamm mentioned Wu Jiaxiang. Pointing out the historical significance of Wu’s trial, which was scheduled to take place the next day, Kamm made his pitch. A long sentence, he said, would bring back the bad memories of the last few years. A light sentence would help bring closure to a tragic period in Chinese history. Clearly moved, Zhou said he would do what he could.

The next day, the court sentenced Wu Jiaxiang to three years and five weeks—all of it time served. The economist was carried out of the court on the shoulders of family and friends. Onlookers cheered. The International Herald Tribune headline read: “In Last Tiananmen Trial, Writer Freed.”