Executive Director John Kamm and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Baodong exchange views on human rights. Image Credit:fmprc.gov.cn
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm discussed human rights issues with senior Chinese officials and foreign diplomats in Beijing in January 2018.
He was received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Vice Minister Li Baodong on January 15 (pictured above). This was the fifth meeting between the two men since the vice minister returned to Beijing from New York, where he served as China’s ambassador to the United Nations, in 2013. Kamm also met with Deputy Director of the Department of International Organizations and Conferences and Special Representative for Human Rights Affairs Madame Liu Hua and Division Director Chief Yang Zhilun. Kamm was hosted to a working luncheon by Special Representative Liu.
On January 16, Kamm was received at the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) by Director General of the Research Department Yan Maokun. Joining the meeting was Judge Jiang Jihai, the newly-appointed head of the Office of Juvenile Trials.
The talks with Vice Minister Li and Director General Yan focused on two areas of cooperation between Dui Hua and the Chinese government: the November 2017 China-US Juvenile Trial System Reform Seminar, organized by Dui Hua and the SPC’s Office of Juvenile Trials, and the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record to be held in Geneva in November 2018. Dui Hua, which holds special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, will make a submission to the UPR before the end of March 2018.
Left to right: Program & Development Manager Yin Yu, Executive Director John Kamm, Director General Yan Maokun, Judge Jiang Jihai, Judge Yue Lin, and Zhao Xin at the Supreme People’s Court, January 16, 2018.
Kamm was told that an inter-agency meeting reviewed the 2017 Seminar, and found that it represented the successful implementation of the Foreign NGO Management Law. As for China’s 2018 UPR, Kamm advised both the MFA and the SPC that Dui Hua would focus on judicial transparency, with a focus on the posting of criminal judgments on the SPC websites. Around 70 percent of all criminal judgments, including some involving sensitive cases, are now available online.
Kamm took the opportunity to discuss cases of concern with officials of the relevant departments.
During his five days in Beijing, Kamm was hosted to a dinner by the Ambassador of The Netherlands, His Excellency Ed Kronenburg and to a lunch by the Ambassador of Sweden, Her Excellency Anna Lindstedt. Kamm met with ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission from Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. He also met with officials of the European Union, The United Nations, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Kamm met with leading scholars, journalists, and NGO representatives during his stay in Beijing.
After Beijing, Kamm traveled to Hong Kong. In addition to meetings with Chinese officials and foreign diplomats, Kamm met several of Dui Hua’s supporters in the Special Administrative Region.
Dui Hua has received information on prisoners serving sentences in Guangdong Province, including six women held in Guangdong Women’s Prison, who are convicted of “organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.”
Dui Hua learned that Cheng Li (成丽) was granted a sentence reduction of ten months, her second sentence reduction since 2015. She is now scheduled for release in November 2018. Cheng was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment in 2010.
After receiving a total of 22 months of sentence reductions, Lu Hongfei (卢洪飞) was granted a further reduction of ten months in February 2017, and will complete her sentence in December 2021. Lu was sentenced to the maximum penalty under Article 300 of the Criminal Law to fifteen years’ imprisonment in 2010 (Amendment to the Criminal Law in 2015 increased the maximum penalty to life imprisonment).
Li Aiqun (李爱群) and Li Meiping (李美萍) received their first sentence reduction of ten months and seven months, respectively. The former was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in 2013, and is due for release in December 2019. The latter was sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment in 2014 and is set for release in November 2018.
The response also indicated that Zeng Hui (曾慧) was released about two years early on June 27, 2016. She was sentenced to eight years and six months’ imprisonment in March 2011.
Almighty God member Huang Mingfei (黄明妃) was released in October 2017 after receiving a sentence reduction of 11 months. She was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in 2013 for organizing a gathering of a dozen Almighty God adherents at her home.
Featured: Dui Hua Book Review: The People’s Republic of the Disappeared (February 8, 2018)
Dui Hua examines the stories of dissidents held under the coercive measure “residential surveillance in a designated location” in Michael Caster’s The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from Inside China’s System for Enforced Disappearances (Safeguard Defenders, 2017). As the waves of repression in China have intensified over the past decade, one encounters the strange phrase “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) with greater frequency.
Previous Digest: January 2018
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999
To read part one click here.
A Prison for Foreigners (Part 2 of 2)
Dongguan Prison in Guangdong Province. Image Credit: Baidu.com.
Cell Block Nine
As we approached Cell Block Nine, Warden Li informed me that this block was used to house Hong Kong and Macau prisoners. There were more than 300 such prisoners spread across five floors of cells. The rest of the Hong Kong-Macau prisoner population – totaling around 400 inmates – was placed among the general population, or were in the prison hospital. Most of the Hong Kong-Macau prisoners were serving sentences for drug trafficking and smuggling of common goods. A few of them were serving sentences for espionage. On the wall of the cell block were lists of prisoners whose behavior was “exemplary, normal, and sub-standard.”
The prisoners could receive monthly visits from members of their families living in the two special administrative regions, Taiwan, and overseas. Although representatives of civil society had visited, no Hong Kong official had ever visited a Hong Kong person in Dongguan Prison.
Our small party entered the cell block and walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor. The cells were oblong, opening onto a hallway where there were chairs and a television set on which inmates could watch the seven o’clock news. There was a telephone where prisoners could receive calls from relatives. Each cell had a small balcony. I noticed the smell of cigarette smoke. Contrary to practice in every other prison I have visited in the world, prisoners were apparently permitted to smoke. Each cell had six bunk beds. Space was at a premium.
We left the cell block and headed for the product exhibition hall. Before we got there, I asked about Chen Meng. The warden recognized his name. Chen, he said, was in the general population, when he wasn’t in a hospital bed. His medical expenses were borne by the hospital, and he was exempt from physical labor. Family members paid regular visits. He had not received any sentence reductions, and was not being considered for medical parole. (Chen Meng served his entire sentence. He was released on March 13, 2007).
The exhibition of arts and crafts products contained a wide variety of items, ranging from models made with wooden sticks, to plastic flower displays, to paintings. I was asked to sign the visitor’s comments book, and given a Chinese calligraphy brush to do so. I found the brush unwieldy, so I jotted down a few phrases: “Nice work! Congratulations!” and signed the book using my Chinese name, Kang Yuan.
Years later, an assessment of Dongguan Prison attributed to me appeared in a local Chinese newspaper, much to the amusement of friends. “Even John Kamm, head of the American Human Rights Dialogue Foundation, who has consistently been a critic of China’s prisons, sighed with emotion.” The article went “Your work inspires confidence. I am a fairly serious person who rarely writes inscriptions when visiting prisons, but I was happy with everything I saw today, for which I express my thanks.”
After the visit to the exhibition hall, we left the prison for lunch at a local seafood restaurant. We dined on rice sparrows, a delicacy during cold weather, washed down by beer and maotai. After lunch, I was driven to the train station, where I boarded the express train to Hong Kong, arriving at my hotel in the early evening.
I didn’t know it at the time of my visit, but Xu Zerong began serving his sentence for endangering state security in Dongguan Prison in the first half of 2002.
Xu was a respected scholar and historian who resided in Hong Kong but who, because of his distinguished family background (his father and mother were senior officials in the People’s Liberation Army and Zhongshan University, respectively), traveled to Guangzhou frequently. Xu, aka David Tsui, earned his PhD from Oxford University in 1999, after which he returned to China where he assumed positions at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences and Zhongshan University. Xu’s area of specialization was China’s role in the Korean War. He also studied and wrote articles on China’s support for communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia, a sensitive topic.
Xu was detained on June 24, 2000, accused of having photocopied and sent out of China excerpts from books on China’s military strategy during the Korean War, which had ended in 1953. Although marked internal (nei bu), Xu believed the books had been declassified. He was also accused of running an illegal publishing business. He was placed in the Guangzhou State Security Bureau Detention Center, and formally arrested on July 29, 2000. He was tried on August 7, 2001 by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court and sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years subsequent deprivation of political rights on December 12, 2001. His appeal was rejected and he was moved from the detention center to Dongguan Prison sometime in the first half of 2002.
Not long after he was detained, Xu’s friends at universities in the United Kingdom and the United States asked me to help. I began making inquiries. I was finally told that he was serving his sentence in Dongguan Prison.
Since I had already established a good relationship with Warden Li Jianping, I decided to try a novel approach to helping Xu Zerong. I would write letters to the warden asking him to look after Xu Zerong. On March 14, 2003, I mailed a letter to Warden Li from Hong Kong.
The first thing I did in the letter was to establish a personal connection to Xu. The two of us had worked together on Professor Ezra Vogel’s One Step Ahead in China. I had contributed a chapter while David had helped with translation for the Chinese edition. Vogel’s work on Guangdong over many years had resulted in his having many friends in the provincial government. The professor gave me permission to use his name in making appeals on Xu’s behalf.
In my letter, I pointed out that Xu had a number of medical conditions, and asked that he be placed in the prison hospital. “Because Dr. Xu is a scholar, it would help if he could receive books and scholarly journals,” I wrote. “You might also consider exempting him from physical labor and employing him, if he is not too ill, as a librarian or teacher.”
To my surprise, Warden Li replied on April 15, 2003 to my letter. The letter was written in English. He confirmed that Xu Zerong had been taken into custody at Dongguan Prison. Li said that the prison would look after his health and “dispose him to rational labor work required by rehabilitation.”
I wrote a second letter to Warden Li on May 28, 2003. By then, the SARS epidemic was raging in China. I offered to donate to the prison’s medical fund to help combat SARS. I again recommended that Xu be placed in the medical ward and be employed teaching English to his fellow inmates. “I think being able to receive letters and reading material . . . would help his morale and assist his rehabilitative progress,” I wrote.
Warden Li replied on June 11, 2003. He thanked me for my concern over SARS, and said not a single case had been diagnosed in the prison. As for Xu Zerong, “he is now emotionally stable and physically healthy (and) makes use of his advantage of English language helping the other inmates with the English classes.”
Teaching English to prisoners constitutes meritorious service, and qualifies the prisoner doing the teaching to receive points that can be used to obtain sentence reductions.
In his June 11 letter, Warden Li confirmed that Xu had the right to receive a small quantity of commodities including books, but pointed out that the books would be examined by prison administrators before they reach prisoners “to safeguard the security of the prison.”
I immediately set about trying to mail books to Xu in Dongguan Prison. I quickly discovered, from friends with ties to the provincial prison bureau, that books in English would have to be translated into Chinese! (One of the books I sent to Xu was the English-language translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.) I subsequently discovered that books published in Hong Kong and sent from the Special Administrative Region attracted extra scrutiny. Finally, on a trip to Shanghai, I purchased books and sent them via domestic mail to Dongguan. Those books made it to Xu Zerong.
I sent my third letter to Warden Li on July 25, 2003, but I never got an answer. Xu Zerong was transferred in November 2003 to Xicun Prison, also known as Guangzhou Prison. Xicun Prison is considered the best prison in Guangdong, and Xu was treated well there.
Xu received a nine-month sentence reduction in 2006. This was followed by a 10-month sentence reduction in 2008 and a five-month sentence reduction in 2011. He was released two years early on June 23, 2011. Despite having a supplemental sentence of three years deprivation of political rights, Xu was allowed to return to Hong Kong.
Not long after he arrived in Hong Kong, Xu gave an interview to Open Magazine. In the interview, published on August 6, 2011, Xu credits my efforts on his behalf – visiting the prison in the company of an official from the Ministry of Justice, mailing him books, frequently submitting lists with his name on them – for his better treatment and early release. My visit was covered in the prison newspaper. Xu claimed that with my attention, “prison conditions improved, and all prisoners benefited.”
A few years after Xu’s release, I was told by one of my interlocutors in the Guangdong government that Warden Li Jianping had been criticized for engaging in the exchange of letters with me. He was transferred to another prison, but otherwise was not punished.