Symposium participants visit Lo Wu Correctional Institution in Hong Kong, February 27, 2014.

Human rights and democracy featured prominently in news about greater China in 2014, with coverage dominated by reports of high-profile arrests and trials of mainland activists, unrest in Xinjiang, an election in Taiwan that swept the pro-China governing party from power in most locales, and the 10-week long Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong. Against this backdrop of political and social instability, Dui Hua made progress in all of the areas in which it works, ending the year in a strong position to push for yet more progress on improving the treatment of detainees-at-risk in 2015.

Women in Prison

After more than a year of preparation, Dui Hua held an international symposium on women in prison in Hong Kong in February 2014. The symposium examined the relevance of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women in Prison and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). It was jointly organized by Dui Hua and three partners and funded with grants from the governments of Denmark, The Netherlands, and Norway, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ford Foundation. The symposium brought together 23 presenters and 27 guests from 14 countries and regions and consisted of two days of presentations, one day of interactive dialogue, and a field visit to Hong Kong’s largest women’s prison.

Prior to the symposium, Professor Cheng Lei of Renmin University of China Law School, one of Dui Hua’s partners, conducted independent fieldwork in five Chinese women’s prisons and detention centers. His presentation was a highlight of the symposium that also featured research on violence against women, the children of incarcerated women, healthcare, women correctional officers, and female juvenile offenders.

In addition to introducing the Bangkok Rules to decision-makers in China, the symposium played a role in the decision by Hong Kong Correctional Services to implement the rules in Hong Kong’s women’s prisons. It also contributed to the landmark Supreme People’s Court (SPC) decision to overturn the death sentence of Li Yan, a domestic violence survivor who killed her abusive husband. Papers presented at the symposium provided the basis for Dui Hua’s submission on China’s women prisoners at the 59th session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva in October.

The same month, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm was received at the Great Hall of the People by Wang Shengming, Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress Judicial Committee, the organ that writes China’s laws. Wang told Kamm that China is studying the Bangkok Rules and recognizes that women require different treatment than men in the use of custodial and non-custodial measures. He stated that China is considering enacting legislation to implement the Bangkok Rules.

Juvenile Offenders

Participants of the 4th US-China Juvenile Justice Exchange gather in front of the Supreme People’s Court.

Dui Hua has worked closely with the SPC Office of Juvenile Courts to help reform China’s juvenile justice system. Dui Hua’s latest exchange with the SPC took place in October 2014. Approximately 50 judges from around China attended the full-day seminar, which was preceded by a visit to the Haidian District Juvenile Court and focused on the sealing of juvenile records. Presentations were made by Judge Leonard Edwards (ret.), a leading expert on the subject; Judge Jiang Ming, director of the SPC Office of Juvenile Courts; and Melodee Haynes, former director of the US Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Haynes is the wife of American Ambassador to China Max Baucus.

Political and Religious Prisoners

Chinese government officials provided Dui Hua with written information on about 40 cases in 2014 regarding prisoners in Beijing, Guangdong, Henan, Jiangsu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Tianjin. Information was generally of higher quality than information provided in previous years. In several instances, responses revealed the legal bases for the treatment of prisoners and information on previously unknown acts of clemency.

Logging information from these responses and other sources, Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database grew to nearly 30,000 cases by year’s end. We completed a major revamp of the database, migrating to a secure online platform, adding data on prior arrests, and improving analytical and reporting tools.

Prisoners Facing the Death Penalty

In June the SPC made the landmark decision to overturn the death sentence against Li Yan (pictured left). Li had been sentenced to death by an intermediate people’s court in Sichuan Province in August 2011, and her sentence was sent to the SPC for approval in January 2013. Following intense domestic and international pressure, which included behind-the-scenes interventions by Dui Hua, the SPC sent the case back to the Sichuan High People’s Court for retrial. The SPC’s decision is believed to be the first time a death sentence on a domestic violence survivor convicted of killing her abusive husband was overturned.

At the end of 2014, official media reported that China’s National People’s Congress planned to eliminate nine crimes from the list of offenses carrying the death penalty. Among them was illegal fundraising. Dui Hua was active in promoting clemency for Wu Ying, an entrepreneur sentenced to death for illegal fundraising in 2011. She was resentenced to life in prison in 2014.

In October, Dui Hua estimated that China executed 2,400 people in 2013. While still the world’s largest executioner, China decreased executions by an estimated 20 percent year-on-year in 2013. Thirty years ago, in 1983, China executed as many as 24,000 people in one year.

The Year Ahead

Dui Hua enters 2015 with renewed energy and commitment to assist at-risk prisoners through dialogue and exchange with the Chinese government. Executive Director John Kamm is scheduled to take his first trips of the year to Beijing and Hong Kong in January.


Dui Hua obtained official confirmation that Mao Yan (毛雁) received a sentence reduction of 11 months in the summer of 2014 for good behavior. A Han Chinese man in his late-40s, Mao was convicted of subversion and sentenced to six years in prison in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Based on release and sentencing information, Dui Hua believes that Mao was detained in September 2009 and spent 17 months in detention before obtaining a verdict. As we reported in November, Mao was released from Nanjing Prison on October 15, 2014.

Clemency is rarely granted to those convicted of subversion, an endangering state security (ESS) the crime that usually results in long sentences for individuals who build political opposition to the Chinese Communist Party. Through its research and exchanges, Dui Hua has documented nine instances of sentence reductions in subversion cases over the last five years.

Instances of Sentence Reductions in Subversion Cases, 2009-2014

Release Date
Sentence Reduction(s)
Huang Jinqiu
JiangsuChina Patriotic & Democratic Party
12 years
Dec 201145 months
Li Jianfeng
FujianLabor and Employment Research Association
16 years
20135 years
Li Wenshan
GansuChinese People’s Democracy Party
13 years
May 20112 years
Li Zhi
SichuanChina Democracy Party
8 years
Nov 200921 months
Mao Yan
JiangsuUnknown6 years
Oct 201411 months
She Wanbao
SichuanChina Democracy Party
12 years
Mar 201026 months
Song Bukun
ChongqingChinese People’s Worker-Peasant Anti-Corruption Army, Southwest Yangzi River Division
12 yearsSep 201311 months
Wang Sen
SichuanChina Democracy Party
10 years
Jul 201010 months
Xu Wanping
ChongqingChina Democracy Party
12 years
Apr 201436 months
Source: Dui Hua Foundation

As ESS prisoners are subject to “strict handling” when they apply for sentence reduction and parole, many convicted of subversion have been denied early release. Dui Hua has documented 11 people currently serving sentences for subversion who have received no clemency to date. Five of them have served more than half of their sentences, namely, Guo Quan (郭泉), Jia Jia (贾甲), Liu Xingrong (刘兴荣), Long Hongfei (龙宏飞), and Yang Tongyan (杨同彦). Despite suffering from intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, nephritis, hypertension, and other ailments, Yang Tongyan’s applications for medical parole have been denied.

Individuals Currently Serving Sentences for Subversion

NameProvincePolitical GroupSentenceRelease Date
Guo Quan
JiangsuNew People’s Party
10 years
Nov 2018
Jia Jia
ShanxiChina Democracy Core Party
8 years
Oct 2017
Li Nanhang
YunnanChina Democratic Republican Party
10 years
Apr 2020
Li Tie
HubeiChinese Social Democracy Party
10 years
Sep 2020
Liu Xingrong
GuangxiChina Workers Party
11 years
Sep 2016
Long Hongfei
GuangxiChina Workers Party
10 years
Sep 2015
Ma Houzhi
ChongqingMao Zedong Thought Communist Party of China
10 years
Oct 2019
Ren Ziyuan
ShandongMainland Democratic Front
10 years
May 2015
Wei Jinxiang
ChongqingMao Zedong Thought Communist Party of China
10 yearsJun 2021
Xie Changfa
HunanChina Democracy Party
13 years
Jun 2021
Yang Tongyan
JiangsuChina Democracy Party
12 years
Dec 2017
Source: Dui Hua Foundation


In December, international media cited Dui Hua’s estimate of the number of people China executed in 2013 in coverage of death penalty reforms currently under consideration in China and of organ harvesting from executed prisoners. The New York Times and Radio Free Asia (Mandarin) cited the estimate in articles about the Inner Mongolia High People’s Court overturning the guilty verdict that sent an innocent teenager to death in a murder and rape case dating back to 1996.


Featured ArticleRiding the Rails: Political Investigations by China’s Railway Police (December 4)

While its focus has shifted over the past few decades in response to new challenges to the communist party’s grip on power, political investigation by railway police has continued to be an important part of stability maintenance. From its origins in fighting overseas forces, political work along the rails has come to tackle the homegrown protests and dissent of rights-conscious Chinese citizens.

Why Feng Zhiming’s Arrest Is Not Enough to Prevent Injustice (December 22)
Last month’s Digest: December 2014


In January 2005, Dui Hua received an unusual fax from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The unsigned documents comprised four lists of information on sentence reductions and parole for 56 Chinese prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolution or ESS. Nearly all of the information was new, and most of it related to prisoners whose names were unknown outside China. The information came from provincial prison bureaus in 11 provinces, with the bulk of it out of the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Fujian.

At the time we received the fax, the United States and China were engaged in talks about sentence reduction and parole systems in the two countries. (These talks were the forerunner of the present-day Legal Experts Dialogue.) The United States, based on its own research, contended that China discriminated against prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolution and ESS in the country’s sentence reduction and parole system. China denied this accusation, and by providing information to Dui Hua on more than four dozen acts of clemency, hoped to buttress its claim.

The amount of case information the Chinese government provided in that single fax is more than it gave Dui Hua during the full year 2014, yet even a decline in information cannot change that fact that Dui Hua remains the only non-governmental organization in the world to exchange information on prisoners directly with the Chinese government, and the only body in the world other than the United Nations to receive written information on prisoners from the Chinese government. In fact as China increasingly guards its prisoner information from foreign governments, Dui Hua’s receipt of information on 40 cases in 2014 is no small feat.