The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) building in Beijing. Dui Hua is eager to plan new juvenile justice exchanges with the SPC as soon as uncertainties arising from the NGO management law are dispelled. Photo source:

Kamm Holds Talks in Beijing, Hong Kong

Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm made his first trip to China of 2016 in the last week of January. In Beijing, he met with Chinese officials and leading scholars from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Supreme People’s Court (SPC), Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Peking University, and Renmin University Law School. In Beijing and Hong Kong, Kamm met with senior foreign diplomats—representing Australia, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States—as well as business people, journalists, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on civil society, religion and labor.

Topics discussed during the meetings included:

  • People detained for state security and public order offenses. Kamm made individual inquiries and obtained information on more than a dozen individuals, including news of several acts of clemency.
  • The “Bookstore Five.” Concern over the case of five Causeway Bay Bookstore managers and employees dominated discussions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong residents representing the entire political spectrum believe that mainland Chinese agents abducted the booksellers. Two ethnic Chinese managers—a Swedish citizen living in Thailand and a British national living in Hong Kong—made statements in China from undisclosed places of detention. Some speculated that their statements were made under duress.
  • The Foreign NGO Management Law. This controversial law has divided Chinese government ministries and even ministerial departments. Detractors worry that the law concentrates too much power in the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign governments and NGOs were alarmed by the detention of Swedish NGO activist Peter Dahlin, who was released and deported after strong interventions by the Swedish government.
  • The Chinese economy. China’s economic growth slowed in 2015, and many observers expect more of the same this year. Chinese stock exchanges have been performing particularly poorly, with the Shanghai exchange dropping 20 percent in January. This is the first year of China’s latest five-year plan, the road map for China’s economic development during the period 2016-2020.
  • American politics. Chinese officials and academics quizzed Kamm on likely outcomes of the 2016 presidential election and what various scenarios might mean for US-China relations. Kamm noted that foreign policy, which normally takes a back seat to economic issues, is dominated by the struggle against terrorism. He also opined that poor performance of the Chinese stock markets could become an issue if it weakens, or is perceived to weaken, American markets. Since January 1, Americans have lost significant amounts in the values of their individual retirement accounts.
  • Juvenile justice reform: Dui Hua and the SPC are eager to begin planning new juvenile justice exchanges as soon as uncertainties arising from the NGO management law are dispelled. Kamm met with the SPC Office of Juvenile Courts to outline an ambitious agenda of future exchanges. Dui Hua has organized four expert exchanges with the SPC since 2008.
  • Special pardon: While Kamm was in Beijing, Chinese media announced the results of the special pardon that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Reflecting China’s emphasis on juvenile justice reform, nearly 30,000 young people benefited from the pardon.


Septuagenarian Christian Leader Imprisoned for Inciting Subversion

The Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced 77-year-old Li Baocheng (李保成) to four years in prison for inciting subversion and fraud on December 15, 2015, official sources say. The religious-turned-political leader received a much shorter sentence than 60-year-old Dong Zhanyi (董占义), who, as founder of the New Era Communist Party of China, received a life sentence for subversion and contract fraud in 2011.

Li became a leader of the Huangjinduo Christian Church (黄金垛基督教会) in Henan’s Nanzhao County in 1961. Over the last 50 years, he developed 24 church branches in Nanzhao and surrounding cities.

Despite earlier brushes with the law, Li was celebrated for his charitable contributions and economic development efforts in the late 1980s and 1990s. During the Sino-Vietnamese border clashes near Yunnan’s Laoshan Mountain in 1987, Li organized church members to make 8,800 pairs of insoles for Chinese soldiers, delivering them to the battlefront at his own expense. Li was also a successful entrepreneur who raised funds from his adherents to found carpet and dye factories in Henan and Hubei provinces and to invest in the mining industry. The United Front of Henan, a monthly political journal published by the provincial government, praised Li and his church for their diligence and patriotism in 1995.

Li did not appear in the headlines again until last summer, when a short article in Henan’s Dahe Daily called him a fraud. Accused of extortion, Li reportedly charged 500 yuan per baptism and had amassed a total of 141,500 yuan in “baptism fees” since April 2015.

An official source uncovered by Dui Hua explains that Li was also charged with inciting subversion. During religious meetings held between October 2014 and April 2015, Li and four other church leaders allegedly discussed plans to establish a new political party (Jinhua Aimin) to replace the Communist Party of China (CPC) and save the nation from US imperialism. The Christian-led party reportedly intended to rename China (from zhong guo to jin guo) and Beijing (from Beijing to “xiandu”), as well as to adopt the Kuomintang’s (KMT) emblem and an eight-star flag. Li reportedly said that both the CPC and KMT were destined to “self-destruct.”

On April 15, 2015, Li and more than 200 church members held a demonstration in Nanzhao County, chanting slogans such as “Topple American imperialism”; “Smash public security, procuratorates, and courts”; and “Long live Jinhua Aimin Party.” The next day, public security detained Li and other church leaders for holding an illegal demonstration, then criminally detained them for inciting subversion on April 17, and formally arrested them on May 19.

Back in the 1970s, Li was sentenced to three years’ in prison for counterrevolution, just a few months before the Cultural Revolution ended. In 1983, Li was detained during the first strike-hard campaign, receiving a five-year sentence for disturbing social order.

From counterrevolutionary to patriot to enemy of the state, Li will spend his 81st birthday in prison if he completes his original sentence. The four other church leaders—sentenced to 10-18 months in prison for inciting subversion—are scheduled for release between February and October of this year.

Women Imprisoned for State Security Offenses (Part III)

Inciting subversion

While still relatively small, the number of women charged with inciting subversion has increased in recent years. One of the most sensational cases is that of prominent feminist Su Changlan (苏昌兰). Police formally arrested Su on December 3, 2014, for circulating online messages and articles in support of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protesters. Since taking the case over for review on May 3, 2015, the Foshan procuratorate has twice returned it to public security for supplementary investigation due to insufficient evidence. Su spent 13 months in detention before she was indicted on November 13. She applied for bail on the grounds that she has a heart condition, but police denied her application.

Amid the nationwide crackdown ahead of the 25th anniversary of June Fourth, police detained Huang Fangmei (黄芳梅in Hubei Province. Huang’s indictment alleges that she participated in a series of “meal gatherings” organized by activists who made negative remarks about party leaders and discussed sensitive issues including petitioning, Bo Xilai’s trial, and the abolition of re-education through labor. Huang was detained while attending a sermon hosted by Xu Zhiqiang (徐志强), an “anti-Communist” Buddhist master who performed rituals for protesters killed during the suppression of protests in the spring of 1989. The Wuhan Intermediate People’s Court brought Huang to trial on April 21, 2015.

Police have put at least three women under “residential surveillance in designated locations” for inciting subversion since the nationwide clampdown on lawyers began in July 2015. Wang Yu (王宇) was among the first lawyers named in the official smear campaign as benefitting personally from rights defense by mobilizing protesters and posting inflammatory articles. Wang first became involved in controversial human rights cases when she lodged complaints about the abusive practices of police in Tianjin. As a result she was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for disrupting official business in 2009. Wang has also taken on sensitive cases, including those of Falun Gong practitioners. She was arrested for subversion along with Zhao Wei (), assistant to rights lawyer Li Heping (李和平), on January 8, 2016, shortly before the expiry of their six-month terms of residential surveillance. The same day, Zhao’s colleague Gao Yue (高月was arrested for “helping to destroy evidence.”

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) also includes the case of Sun Fangyun (孙芳云), convicted of inciting subversion and involvement in a cult. While police occasionally charge practitioners of banned spiritual sects with inciting subversion during the early stages of investigation, in most cases court convictions are reduced to cult crimes. Sun’s verdict does not specify her religious affiliation. An Anhui court sentenced her to 10 years in prison in September 2009. Following a 15-month sentence reduction in January 2014, she is scheduled for release from Anhui Women’s Prison this year.


Several international news organizations have cited Dui Hua publications thus far in 2016. The Wall Street Journal’s China blog quoted Executive Director Kamm saying that Chinese officials seriously violated the due process rights of Mark Swidan, an American citizen who has been detained in China for more than three years without a determination of guilt or innocence. News media from Japan to Russia reported on the special pardon that resulted in early releases for nearly 30,000 juveniles in 2015—a story Dui Hua brought to English media via Human Rights Journal. A New York paper also reported on Dui Hua’s analysis of the rise in the number of women in prison in China.


Featured:China: Juveniles Biggest Winners in 2015 Special Pardon (January 29)

Just before last September’s 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) passed a decision—subsequently issued by President Xi Jinping—to grant a special pardon to selected prisoners. Xinhua reported last week that the government pardoned 31,527 people in 2015. The total number of pardons exceeded estimates by members of the NPC Legal Committee more than threefold. Ninety-five percent of recipients were under 18 at the time of their offense.

China Mulls Ranking System for Lawyers (January 5)

Previous Digest: January 2016


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

Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin, holding a June 1998 press conference in Beijing, listen to an American reporter raise the issue of releasing prisoners sentenced in China for counterrevolutionary crimes. Source: YouTube screengrab

The Campaign to Free Counterrevolutionaries

China’s most recent Criminal Law was adopted by the National People’s Congress on July 1, 1979, and came into force on January 1, 1980. It has been amended nine times, most recently in September 2015.

The most sweeping amendment to the Criminal Law took effect on March 14, 1997, when lawmakers removed the chapter on counterrevolutionary crimes and added another on crimes of endangering state security (ESS). The new chapter covered some, but not all, of the acts formerly classified as counterrevolutionary offenses. For instance, the counterrevolutionary crimes relating to “reactionary sects,” organizing a jailbreak, and plotting and carrying out airplane hijackings were reclassified as crimes other than ESS in the amended Criminal Law.

American businessman John Kamm had been intervening on behalf of prisoners convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes—most of whom had been convicted for offenses committed during the Spring 1989 disturbances—for nearly seven years when the amended Criminal Law took effect. From exchanges he had with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), he obtained information on individual cases as well as the number of counterrevolutionaries serving sentences in prison: 2,016 as of the end of 1996. By the end of 1997, almost nine months after counterrevolutionary crimes had been removed from the Criminal Law, there were still 1,946 people serving prison sentences for the defunct crimes.

In early 1998, Kamm began lobbying the SPC and the MOJ to release these prisoners in accord with both Chinese and international law. In China, there is no such thing as “crime by analogy.” An offense cannot be an offense simply because it is like another crime, and counterrevolution and ESS are different.

Kamm also relied on an interpretation of Article 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998 but has not ratified. Article 15 states that, “If subsequent to the commission of an offense, provision is made for the imposition of a lighter penalty, the offender should benefit thereby.” Kamm argued that, after their removal from the Criminal Law, the legal penalties for counterrevolutionary crimes became nonexistent.

Surprisingly, Chinese officials were sympathetic. An SPC official told Kamm that if his arguments were accepted, many prisoners and their families would be forever grateful. An MOJ official told Kamm that the ministry’s own analysis somewhat aligned with his: under international human rights law, the prisoners should be released, but under Chinese law, this was impossible.

The MOJ expanded on its position in a letter to Kamm dated April 17, 1998, citing Article 12 of the amended Criminal Law, which states: “Before the entry into force of this law, any judgment that has been made and has become effective according to the laws at the time shall remain valid.”

Around the time Kamm received the letter, President Bill Clinton was planning a state visit to China. Kamm appealed to Jeff Bader, who headed China affairs at the National Security Council, to present Kamm’s proposal for clemency to the president. Clinton agreed to raise the issue with President Jiang Zemin.

On June 27, 1998, Clinton met Jiang at the Great Hall of the People. After the meeting, they held a press conferenceat which President Clinton revealed that he had suggested to President Jiang that “Chinese citizens who were in prison for crimes no longer on the books” should be released.

On a subsequent trip to China, Kamm asked a senior adviser what President Jiang thought of the suggestion. The advisor said, “President Jiang was impressed by President Clinton’s deep knowledge of Chinese law.”

To this day several dozen people remain in prison for counterrevolutionary crimes committed before 1997. One of the longest still in prison is Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde, who was detained in 1987 and subsequently sentenced to life in prison for counterrevolutionary sabotage. His life sentence was commuted in 2004, and there have been no sentence reductions since then. Jiang, who reportedly suffers from schizophrenia, is not due for release until August 22, 2024, by which time he will be 71 years old.