Dui Hua Celebrates its 20th Anniversary 

In April 1999, The Dui Hua Foundation was registered as a non-profit organization with the California Secretary of State. On December 6, 2018, more than 70 friends, directors, and staff of Dui Hua gathered at a private club in San Francisco to celebrate the foundation’s 20th birthday.

Executive Director John Kamm kicked off the celebration by reviewing Dui Hua’s challenges and achievements in 2018. He cited two major challenges: 1) US-China tensions, and 2) the increasingly problematic situation with respect to political and civil rights in China. US-China tensions are frequently referred to as a trade war, but in fact confrontation between the two countries takes many forms. “It’s a new Cold War being waged on many fronts: economic, technological, security, and ideological,” he pointed out. Moreover, the Trump administration’s policy towards China enjoys wide bipartisan support; it may be the only Trump policy that enjoys such support, meaning it is unlikely to change when the new Congress takes over in January 2019.

As for human rights in China, Kamm focused on the serious situation in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Uyghur and other minorities are said to be interned in camps – or, as the Chinese government calls them, “vocational training centers.” The autonomous region is experiencing state surveillance on a scale never seen anywhere in the world, and there is speculation that the system will be exported to other parts of the country.

Kamm pointed out that the internment of large numbers of people in camps – clearly a coercive measure – is not in accordance with Chinese law, specifically Article Eight of the Legislative Law, which requires that citizens can only be subject to the loss of personal freedom if a law passed by the National People’s Congress provides for it.

Faced with these obstacles, Dui Hua nevertheless had a year marked by achievements. It held 23 meetings with Chinese officials, handed over 49 lists with 180 prisoner names, received written responses on 68 prisoners, and learned of 55 acts of clemency or better treatment for prisoners on its lists. Considerable progress was made on arranging an international symposium on girls in conflict with the law to be held in Hong Kong in April 2020.

The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion moderated by Dui Hua director Michael McCune. Four Dui Hua directors – John Kamm, William Simon, Magdalen Yum, and William McCahill – were asked what the biggest change they had seen in China in the last 20 years. Before they spoke McCune read a note from Director Tom Gorman who was in Hong Kong and unable to attend the celebration.

Director Gorman pointed out that 1999, the year of Dui Hua’s founding, was a year of many historic milestones: the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the 40th anniversary of the normalization of US-China relations, the centenary of the May 4th Movement, the 30th anniversary of the tragedy of Tiananmen, and also the end point of the colonial era in Asia with Macau’s return to China.

“On a lighter note,” Mr. Gorman remarked, “1999 marked the opening of the first Starbucks in China.”

McCune then turned to the four panelists. What, he asked, were the biggest changes they had witnessed since 1999.

One by one the directors pointed out that:

  • Civil and political rights in China have retrogressed, especially in the six years Xi Jinping has been in power. Xi has achieved a degree of power unseen since Deng Xiaoping and possibly Mao Zedong himself, and he has used that power to stifle dissent and calls for greater minority rights.
  • It is too early to say whether the 90-day truce in the tariff war announced between President Xi and President Trump will result in a resolution of the current state of tense Sino-American economic relations. In Director McCahill’s words, “I have very modest expectations.”
  • The breath and scope of the Chinese surveillance state, built in a short period of time, is impressive. Citizens can now be identified by their face, their voice, and their gait. “Surveillance is taking place on a grand scale and Xinjiang is the laboratory,” said Kamm. He remarked that, 20 years ago, many dissidents were able to exit China without detection. That is rarely the case now. He also mentioned that Beijing is building a vast DNA database and is set to launch a social credit system that will rank citizens by their behavior.
  • China is wealthier and stronger, but its citizens are also very materialistic. Yet in this atmosphere, religion is making a comeback. “I still come across young people asking me how to become a Catholic, but it is materialism that drives them,” said Director Yum.
  • The young people of Hong Kong are increasingly unhappy with the cost of housing, health care, and education. Restrictions on expression, academic freedom, and the media are of great concern.
  • While much has changed, one thing hasn’t: China is still governed by the Communist Party. “The most unanticipated change is that there hasn’t been much change in some respects,” said Director Simon. “There is tremendous prosperity and incredible commercial vitality, but governance has not changed. I thought, along with many, that once someone achieved a good standard of living, people would spread their elbows and say we want freedom, but that hasn’t happened.”


In November, Guo Quan (郭泉) was released from Pukou Prison in Jiangsu province. Guo was convicted of subversion in 2009 for founding the China New Democracy Party which called for the end of one-party leadership under the Chinese Communist Party. The former Nanjing Normal University scholar served his full 10-year sentence without any sentence reductions. Guo refused to “demonstrate remorse,” a prerequisite for prisoners seeking clemency. In an interview given to Radio Free Asia, Guo expressed that he was “fortunate” not to have died in prison as had been the fate of many of his activist friends and that he is still in fairly good health. Although his wife and son emigrated to the United States in 2012, Guo stated that he has no plans to leave China.

Huang Yunmin (黄云敏), a retired Han Chinese judge from Xinjiang, is serving his ten-year sentence for splittism – a charge that is more commonly applied to Uyghurs and Tibetans advocating for independence. Huang was initially indicted for terrorism after downloading a large number of videos about the Urumqi Riots in July 2009. One of them was sent to a friend via WeChat. Critics believe that the conviction was a form of retaliation against Huang for his criticisms of government policies in Xinjiang and efforts to help veterans, workers, and farmers pursue their legal complaints. Huang’s brother Huang Xiaomin (黄晓敏) is currently detained for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” in Sichuan for supporting Zi Su (子肃). Zi is a former professor who was sentenced to subversion for penning an open letter in which he criticized Xi Jinping.

Italy-based advocacy group Bitter Winter reported that Almighty God leaders Bao Shuguang (包曙光), Jiang Xingmei (蒋兴梅), Bai Lanxiang (白兰香), Chen Hong (陈红) and Gu Liya (顾丽娅) were sentenced to 11-13 years in Shandong in October. The judgment also indicated that an unnamed member was sentenced to five years. Per Article 300 of the Criminal Law, leading members of a cult group face imprisonment sentences of at least seven years if the circumstances of a case are deemed particularly serious. The five leaders in this case received the lengthiest sentences known to have been given to Almighty God members convicted of Article 300. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database indicated that sentences received by Almighty God members averaged 3.5 years.

Dui Hua’s research into online judgments revealed that Jin Andi (金安迪) completed his eight-year sentence in July following his first sentence reduction of six months that was granted by a Shaanxi court in May. The sentence reduction was granted a few days after he was deemed ineligible for parole by the Beijing High People’s Court. Jin was accused of publishing articles on overseas websites such as Boxun and New Century News with Lü Jiaping’s (吕加平) from 2000-2010. The articles were particularly critical of Jiang Zemin, calling him a traitor for ceding a vast territory in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang in the early 2000s. Jin completed his sentence in Weinan Prison. His first sentence reduction application was rejected last year as he refused to show remorse. Since his incarceration in 2012, Dui Hua has included Jin on nine prisoner lists to the Chinese government.


On November 13, 2018 the Chongqing Number One Intermediate Court rendered its judgment in the appeal of American citizen Wendell Brown against his June 28 conviction by the Chongqing Yubei District Court for the crime of assault with intent. The Chongqing Court reduced Mr. Brown’s sentence from four years to three years in prison, the lowest sentence for the crime of intentional assault under Chinese law. Dui Hua played a role in bringing about the reduction of the prison sentence, lobbying both governments and calling attention to the case in American media. It served as an advisor to Mr. Brown’s family and team of supporters.

In November, Executive Director Kamm spoke to The Atlantic ahead of President Trump and President Xi Jinping’s meeting at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. In response to a question about whether Xinjiang and the rhetoric of human rights was being instrumentalized by senior U.S. officials as part of a broader anti-Beijing offensive, Kamm stated  “If this is just a negotiation tool, then it can be dropped as a negotiation tool at any time. If Trump and Xi get together in Buenos Aires [for the G20], and they patch things up and there’s a big trade deal and the relationship is back on track, if as part of that … it turns out that this was just a negotiating tool, of course I’ll be very disappointed.”


Featured:  Will Revisions to the Lay Assessors Law Help Limit the Number of Executions in China?

Lay assessors sitting in court alongside judges in China. Image Credit: China Daily.

In April, the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s national legislature, passed a revised Lay People’s Assessor’s Law (renmin peishenyuan fa), substantially affecting the role that ordinary citizens play on adjudicatory panels in criminal cases in China. Revisions to the law had been contemplated since at least 2015, when a series of pilot projects were launched to determine the feasibility of enacting nationwide reforms. Whether the law’s revisions will affect criminal trials and sentences involving the death penalty is a major question especially in light of China’s efforts in recent decades to limit the number of executions.

American Citizen Wendell Brown’s Sentence Reduced on Appeal

United States and Chinese National Security Policies Raise Memories of World War II

November Digest

John Kamm Remembers

John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.

Li Yan Has Survived! (Part 1 of 2)

The events of June 4, 1989 in Beijing – known in the West as the Tiananmen Massacre – had a catastrophic impact on China’s image around the world, especially in the United States, China’s largest trading partner. By one measure, Gallup’s annual poll of attitudes among Americans to foreign countries, China’s favorability rating among Americans fell by 50 percent between early 1989 and the summer of that year. China went from being the “cuddly Communist” to an international pariah virtually overnight.

Seizing on China’s bad image as a violator of human rights, in 1990 the United States Congress began considering legislation that would strip China of its Most Favored Nation trading status. In May of that year I made my first intervention on behalf of a political prisoner. In the ensuing months and years, I intervened on behalf of hundreds of political prisoners, often with good results. A principal weapon in my arsenal was the argument that by releasing prisoners China’s image in the United States would improve.

After the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a War on Terror. In carrying out that war, the United States took a series of actions that affected its global image. It incarcerated scores of captured Islamic militants without trial at the naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba. It built an extraordinary rendition program under which detainees captured in a foreign country would be transferred to the United States or another jurisdiction, without due process.

In March 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein.  The United States military, with its new Iraqi allies, undertook “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding, viewed by many as torture, at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Baghdad. As evidence of these abuses began to become public, many were outraged, and America’s image took another hit.

By the mid-2000s, polling data suggested that China’s image around the world was better than that of the United States. The argument that China should release political prisoners to improve its image lost much of its potency.  Beijing had little incentive to deal with me and Dui Hua.

Expanded Mission: Juvenile Justice

Faced with this situation, I decided to find other reasons for the Chinese government to engage with me on human rights. I hit upon the idea that Dui Hua should expand its mission beyond advocating for political prisoners to advocating for other groups of prisoners at risk. One group in particular caught my attention: juvenile offenders. In its third reform plan covering 2004-2008. China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) prioritized the reform of the country’s juvenile justice system. Maybe Dui Hua could help by engaging in expert exchanges with the court’s Office of Juvenile Courts.

In June 2007, I traveled to Beijing to explore the idea of holding expert exchanges on juvenile justice. I had a meeting at the SPC on June 13. Present were three judges from the Office of Juvenile Courts under the SPC’s Research Department. After a review of where things stood insofar as the reform plan was concerned, the Chinese judges said that they would be open to discussing a delegation to the United States to study the American juvenile justice system.

On August 27, 2007, Dui Hua held its annual meeting in Tiburon, California. During my executive director report, I proposed that Dui Hua undertake a new program on juvenile justice. Directors expressed concern that the new program would sow confusion amongst supporters who might see it as diluting Dui Hua’s core mission of helping political prisoners.

According to the minutes of the meeting: “Kamm responded to the concerns, assuring directors that the new initiative would in fact be supportive of the core mission by opening up new relationships, demonstrating to the Chinese government that we’re willing to help in an area identified as a high priority for legal reform.” A consensus was reached that the initiative should only be undertaken if financial support could be secured, and if the initiative did not detract from Dui Hua’s ongoing work identifying and assisting individuals detained in political cases, some of whom, including Tibetan nun Ngawang Sangdrol, were juveniles.

Working with colleagues and partners in Chicago, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, preparations began for hosting a delegation from the SPC in the spring of 2008. Unfortunately, the devastating Sichuan earthquake put paid to those plans, but the visit was rearranged to take place in the autumn. The delegation was a success, and it was followed by a delegation of American experts to China in 2010 and another Chinese delegation to the United States in September 2012.

A few months before the September 2012 delegation, China’s National People’s Congress adopted the amended Criminal Procedure Law. For the first time, the law contained a chapter on the handling of juvenile cases. Many of the ideas explored in Dui Hua’s exchanges with the SPC were included in the chapter, including diversion (referred to as “postponed prosecution” in the law) and sealing of juvenile records.

Women Prisoners and the Bangkok Rules

In December 2010, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted the United Nations “Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders.” Reflecting the strong support of the Thai royal family, the rules became popularly known as the Bangkok Rules.

And in early 2011, Dui Hua began covering the plight of Chinese women in prison in its publications. At its annual meeting, held in San Diego in October 2011. Dui Hua’s board endorsed my proposal to expand our work from juvenile offenders to female prisoners in the framework of promoting adoption of the Bangkok Rules in China. We decided that I should explore the idea of holding an international symposium on the Bangkok Rules in Beijing.

Unfortunately, while China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported the idea, China’s Ministry of Justice didn’t. The Justice Minister, Wu Aiying, herself a woman, was dead-set against any form of cooperation with Dui Hua or for that matter other governments and NGOs on issues related to the rights of prisoners. I decided to explore other partners and other venues.

In March 2012, I traveled to Geneva with my colleague Daisy Yau. We were invited to attend a side event on the Bangkok Rules organized by the Thai Mission to the United Nations. After the side event, which was sparsely attended (no one from either the Chinese Mission or the US Mission attended), Ms. Yau and I huddled with Rachel Brett of the Quakers’ Office in Geneva and Andrea Huber of Penal Reform International in London. Both women had played important roles in developing and promoting the Bangkok Rules. We agreed to work together on an international symposium.

It took nearly two years of preparation until the International Symposium on the Bangkok Rules took place in Hong Kong at the end of February 2014. There were four partners: The Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong (CCPL); Dui Hua; Penal Reform International; and the Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform (CCPR) at Renmin University of China Law School. The CCPL oversaw logistics, including securing the Law School’s new conference room and arranging rooms for participants. The CCPR undertook field research at five places of detention for women on the mainland and presented its findings at the symposium. PRI lent its expertise in the Bangkok Rules to selecting topics and making suggestions for expert presenters.

Dui Hua was in charge of fundraising and retaining interpreters. In addition to securing support from several individuals, the foundation received grants from the governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Ford Foundation.

Experts from countries in Europe, Asia, and North America attended and made presentations and interventions. Especially gratifying was the high turnout from Mainland China. More than a dozen judges, judicial officials, and scholars came to the symposium. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Justice declined to attend, even though they had been invited a year in advance. The ministry claimed it was too busy. Not only did it refuse to attend, the ministry actively tried to sabotage the symposium by pressuring a presenter from China’s Prison Society to withdraw at the last minute, claiming illness.

After two days of listening to presenters and engaging in lively exchanges on a wide range of issues, the participants toured Hong Kong’s women’s prison at Lo Wu. Hong Kong turned out to be a good choice for the symposium. The territory has one of the highest percentages of women in its prisoner population of any country or territory in the world. The symposium, attended by officers of the Hong Kong Correctional Services, raised questions as to why this was so, and what could be done about it.

Domestic Violence: Li Yan

One of the topics explored at the symposium was violence against women. On the first morning, two experts – Elizabeth Brundige, Executive Director of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice in the United States, and Chen Min, one of China’s leading experts on domestic violence at the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence under the Supreme People’s Court – made presentations.

Using national and provincial statistics, Chen Min outlined the stark realities of violence against women in China: in China as a whole, nearly 25 percent of women experience domestic violence during their marriages, and in Shaanxi Province, 171 women were serving time in the provincial women’s prison for violent crimes, more than 90 percent of them had killed their spouse due to prolonged domestic violence.

While there were no national statistics on the reasons for women’s incarceration, Chen Min, drawing on local data, concluded that the main reason for women’s incarceration was their experience of domestic violence and for their fighting that violence with violence.

Chen Min’s presentation was timely. China’s NPC was considering the country’s first domestic violence law. Legislators finished drafting the law in November 2014, and it was passed by lawmakers in July 2015. It took effect on March 1, 2016. Although flawed (the law has been criticized for failing to address violence in relationships other than marriage), the law was an important step in addressing the pandemic of domestic violence in China.

There was another reason why Chen Min’s presentation was timely. In November 2010, a woman by the name of Li Yan, a then 41-year-old resident of Anyue County in Sichuan Province. murdered her husband Tan Yong. The couple, who ran a noodle shop, had married the year before. It was Tan’s fourth marriage. He boasted of abusing his previous wives, and it wasn’t long after his marriage to Li Yan that he began subjecting her to horrific violence, beating her, sexually assaulting her, stubbing cigarettes out on her face, and locking her outside on cold winter nights.

To be continued in Dui Hua’s January Digest.