After Trip to China, Kamm Visits Europe
After spending three weeks in Hong Kong and Beijing, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm arrived in Geneva, Switzerland on November 6, the start of a two week tour of Switzerland and Scandinavia. In addition to Geneva, he visited Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen. In Geneva, he met with senior officers and staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), more than a dozen diplomats posted to missions in Geneva who the activities of the Human Rights Council including the ambassadors of China and the United States, and ranking staff of treaty bodies and international humanitarian organizations. In Scandinavia Kamm met with leaders of the respective countries’ ministries of foreign affairs as well as senior staff of non-governmental organizations.
Two days after arriving in Geneva, Donald Trump scored a shocking upset victory over Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. Trump’s election was the main topic of conversation in virtually every meeting Kamm held on his swing through Europe. Officials and diplomats in Geneva were especially concerned over what President-elect Trump’s election might portend for America’s traditional support for promoting democracy and human rights. Many recalled that Mr. Trump had praised the Chinese government for the strength it had shown in putting down the 1989 worker and student protests in Beijing, and wondered how his statements about America crushing “radical Islamic terrorism” would translate into policy. Worries were also expressed about the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate change accord, both of which Trump had attacked during the acrimonious election campaign.
A few weeks before Kamm arrived in Geneva, the Martin Ennals Prize was awarded to a prominent Uighur prisoner, Ilham Tohti, currently serving a life sentence in China for splittism. While the prize is awarded by a group of 12 human rights organizations, the award ceremony is held in Geneva and the high commissioner for human rights traditionally presents the award. This year High Commissioner Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein presented the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The reaction from the Chinese government was furious. It denounced Zeid’s presentation of the award as a violation of the United Nations Charter and declared, in effect, a complete severance of relations between China’s Mission in Geneva and the OHCHR. There would be no more high level meetings nor would the High Commissioner or his deputy be welcome to visit China. Financial support for the work of the OHCHR would be terminated.
Another topic of conversation was recent developments in Beijing and Hong Kong. All agreed that Xi Jinping’s recent elevation to the “Core” of China’s Communist Party marked a further consolidation of the Chinese leader’s power in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress at the end of 2017. Many expressed surprise that the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress had issued an interpretation of the Basic Law article on oath taking while the issue was still before the courts in Hong Kong.
Kamm briefed his hosts in each of the four countries he visited on his recent meetings in Beijing. There was special interest in the agreement between Dui Hua and the Office of Juvenile Courts of the Supreme People’s Court’s Research Department to hold a program on juvenile justice after the foreign NGO Management Law takes effect on January 1, 2017. This program appears to be the first agreed to under the “temporary activity permit” provisions of the new law. No one with whom Kamm spoke knew of any NGOs that had identified a Professional Supervisory Unit (PSU) through which to register a permanent presence. The list of PSUs was scheduled to be issued by China’s Ministry of Public Security by the end of October. It had failed to do so by November 19, the date Kamm returned to San Francisco.
Annual Friends of Dui Hua Holiday Party
On December 8th, the annual Friends of Dui Hua Holiday Party took place at the Presidio Golf and Concordia Club. More than 60 supporters, Directors and staff of Dui Hua attended the Event. Executive Director John Kamm reviewed our developments in 2016, as well as challenges and plans ahead for 2017.
Former Legal Daily journalist Qi Chonghuai (齐崇淮) was granted his first one-year sentence reduction in 2014, according to an official document Dui Hua recently acquired, and is scheduled for release from Shandong’s Luning Prison on June 25, 2018. Believed to have been retaliated against for his investigative work publishing photos of the opulent Tengzhou City government building, a poor county back then, Qi has been incarcerated for nine years since his detention in June 2007. He was first sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for extortion in May 2008. Two weeks before his release in June 2011, the Tengzhou City People’s Court “retried” him based on allegedly new evidence and sentenced him to an additional eight years’ imprisonment.
Featured: Is Life Without Parole a Signal of China’s Will to Reduce Executions? (November 30)
Former high-ranking officials Bai Enpei and Wei Pengyuan have become the first individuals in China sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of a sentence reduction or parole (“life without parole,” or LWOP). The sentences for Bai and Wei were made possible by last year’s amendments to the PRC Criminal Law, which included a new provision that authorizes judges to issue LWOP along with suspended death sentences in extremely serious corruption cases.
Featured: The Case of Feng Zhiming: A Question of Accountability (November 8)
Previous Digest: November 2016
A Victory for Rights Diplomacy: Xi Yang Released Eight Years Early
On September 23, 1993, journalist Xi Yang, a reporter for the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao was detained on suspicion of “stealing state secrets.” His detention took place in Beijing shortly after the funeral for his mother, a senior cadre working for the Xinhua News Agency. Xi was tried and convicted on March 28, 1994. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison with two-year subsequent deprivation of political rights.
The state secrets that Xi allegedly stole concerned unpublicized interest rate adjustments made by the People’s Bank of China and China’s international gold transactions. The information was allegedly provided by a PBOC official who was given a 15-year prison sentence.
The detention of Xi caused an uproar in Hong Kong, which was still recovering from the shock of the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in June 1989, and which eyed with growing apprehension that scheduled hand over of the colony to China on July 1, 1997, less than four years after Xi’s detention. Politicians from all political parties joined in calling for Beijing to provide an explanation. Large protests demanding Xi’s release took place.
American businessman John Kamm added Xi’s name to his prisoner lists. He met frequently with Xi’s family in Hong Kong and Beijing.
On February 9, 1996, Kamm met with Xi’s sister in Hong Kong. The businessman had picked up a rumor that the real reason that Xi was detained had little to do with his acquiring secrets related to interest rate adjustments and gold transactions, but rather concerned articles on Li Peng’s health that had appeared in Ming Pao. The Chinese premier had been hospitalized for a heart condition in April 1993, and though he was healthy enough to be seen in public again by late summer, his illness had touched off speculation about his political future.
Xi’s sister confirmed that the Hong Kong journalist had in fact obtained information on Li Peng’s heart attack. Xi’s mother was in the same hospital for senior cadres as Li Peng, albeit in a different ward. Li’s doctor was also Xi’s mother’s doctor, and he shared information with the Xi family when they visited her. Xi relayed the information to Ming Pao which, based on the information, published an article confirming the premier had indeed suffered a heart attack, but that it was mild and not life-threatening. Li was furious that private information on his health had been leaked and published in a Hong Kong newspaper. The doctor who gave the information to Xi Yang was given a two-year prison sentence.
Following the Taiwan crisis in 1995 – a crisis which saw China launch numerous missiles in the direction of Taiwan and the United States dispatch two carrier groups to the area – Washington and Beijing began looking for ways to mend the relationship. Robert Suettinger, then China Director of the National Security Council, was determined that human rights remain at the center of US-China relations. Over a period of several months starting in March 1996, Suettinger and Kamm worked together to assemble a list of eight “illustrative cases” of Chinese political prisoners. Knowing that Li Peng would play a central role in any rapprochement with the United States, Kamm made sure that Xi’s name was on the eight-name list.
The list was handed over to the Chinese government by National Security Adviser Tony Lake on his visit to Beijing in June 1996. There was no immediate response from Chinese officials with whom Lake met, but separately, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official hinted to Kamm that Xi might be released as part of the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s reversion to China in July 1997.
In August 1996, NSC Director Suettinger came up with an idea that he shared with Kamm. In return for releasing prisoners on the list handed over by Lake in June, as well as taking other steps including signing and ratifying the two United Nations human rights covenants and allowing visits to prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States would drop its sponsorship of a “China resolution” at the Human Rights Commission’s meeting in Geneva to take place in March 1997.
Suettinger’s proposal was presented during the visit of State Department official Jim Steinberg to Beijing in October 1996, and presented again during the November 1996 visit to Beijing of Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Christopher went over the package with senior Chinese officials, including Li Peng. The Chinese showed interest in pursuing the Suettinger initiative.
On January 25, 1997, Xi Yang was released on parole from Beijing Number Two Prison. Despite his deprivation of political rights sentence, Xi was allowed to return to Hong Kong. In a communication from the Ministry of Justice to Kamm, the reason for Xi’s release – more than eight years before the end of his sentence – was that Xi had acknowledged his guilt and demonstrated a willingness to reform.
Xi’s release proved to be “too little, too late.” The United States again sponsored a China resolution at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 1997, and the resolution was again soundly defeated by China and its allies. But it provides a striking example of how human rights diplomacy can win the release of political prisoners.