Executive Director Kamm talks to supporters about Dui Hua’s 2015 achievements and challenges.

Executive Director Addresses Friends of Dui Hua in San Francisco

At the annual Friends of Dui Hua holiday celebration, Executive Director John Kamm addressed 50 Dui Hua supporters at the Presidio Golf Club in San Francisco. Honorable guests included local judges and leading lawyers, human rights activists and juvenile justice advocates, Dui Hua board members and staff, and the close relative of a Chinese prisoner of conscience. Dui Hua Director Bill Simon was honored for his support for human rights in China dating back to 1976. Judge Lillian Sing was cited for her visit to the death row at Central Valley Women’s Facility.

In his remarks, Kamm outlined Dui Hua’s achievements and challenges in 2015. Looking forward to 2016, he revealed an aggressive travel schedule that will involve frequent trips to China, Europe, and the US East Coast.

In 2015, Dui Hua played a key role in convincing the Chinese government to resume the acceptance of prisoner lists during the country’s bilateral human rights dialogues, including those with the United States and European Union. It also directly submitted to the Chinese government 22 prisoner lists and received unique responses on 35 prisoners. Dui Hua learned of clemency for nearly 20 prisoners who have been named on prisoner lists in recent years.

In the area of women in prison, Dui Hua completed a draft translation of Penal Reform International’s e-course on non-custodial measures for women in conflict with law. Chinese distribution of the e-course will begin in 2016.

Continuing its work on juvenile justice, Dui Hua began discussions with China’s Supreme People’s Court for a fifth expert exchange. The topic of the exchange is non-custodial measures for juvenile offenders, with a special focus on girls and the children of migrant parents. The migrant crises in Europe and the United States, and the vulnerabilities of migrant children in China—the great majority of juveniles arrested by Chinese police are the children of migrants who live outside their place of legal residence—adds urgency to the exchange.

During the year, all of Dui Hua’s existing government and foundation grants were renewed, and Dui Hua secured a new three-year grant from the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor. Individual donations also showed strong growth, accounting for more than a third of Dui Hua’s revenues.

Dui Hua’s tracking of Chinese prisoners of conscience is more important than ever. Police have ramped up campaigns against lawyers, labor activists, journalists, and religious and ethnic leaders. Meanwhile, civil society is under siege by the looming threat of a law regulating the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations. As Beijing tightens its political control, tension is also growing in Hong Kong, where Dui Hua maintains a branch office.

Kamm’s 2016 travel schedule will begin with a trip to China in mid-January. In March and April, he will head to the East Coast to conduct research and give lectures at leading universities. Later, he will continue eastward to European capitals and Geneva, the seat of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international humanitarian organizations.

The Friends of Dui Hua event concluded with the debut of a short film. “The First Intervention” tells the story of Kamm’s first experience intervening on behalf of a Chinese prisoner of conscience at a banquet hosted by a senior Chinese official in May 1990. That intervention launched Kamm’s human rights career and led to the founding of Dui Hua in April 1999.


Women Imprisoned for State Security Offenses (Part II)

In the last issue of Digest, we looked at endangering state security (ESS) charges that Chinese authorities brought against Uyghur and Tibetan women. We now expand the conversation to Han Chinese and one American citizen charged with revealing state secrets.

One of the most sensational ESS trials in 2015 resulted in a seven-year prison sentence for 71-year old journalist Gao Yu (高瑜). In April Gao was convicted of illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities in Beijing. She stood accused of providing an overseas media group with a copy of Document No.9, a “confidential” central government memo that warns of the dangers of western perils such as judicial independence and press freedom. On November 26, the Beijing high court reduced Gao’s sentence to five years and allowed her to serve the remainder of her term outside prison.

No less controversial is the case involving US-citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis (潘婉芬), an American trade delegate who was detained in Zhuhai en route to Macau on March 19, 2015, on suspicion of espionage and stealing state secrets. A business consultant and frequent visitor to China, Phan-Gillis served as president of the Houston Shenzhen Sister City Organization, promoting business opportunities between the two cities. Authorities placed Phan-Gillis under “residential surveillance” in Nanning for about six months. She was formally arrested on October 26 and is currently being held in Nanning No.2 Detention Center.

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) has information on two women who remain in prison on charges of spying for Taiwan: Yao Jiazhen (姚嘉珍) and Wu Xiaoling (吴筱玲). Convicted of espionage in July 2000, Yao was sentenced to life in prison in Beijing. Authorities accused Yao and Zhang Wei (张玮) of working for Taiwan’s Central Intelligence Agency collecting political and economic intelligence and military secrets regarding mainland China. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, Zhang is believed to have completed her sentence by the end of 2015. Following a two-year sentence reduction in January 2012, Wu Xiaoling is expected to complete her sentence in 20 months. Wu was originally sentenced to 12 years in prison in Xi’an in April 2007. According to the verdict in her case, she and her husband used their role as Taiwanese business people to collect Chinese military intelligence between 1994 and 2001.

Little is known about the case of Sun Yi (孙奕). A native of Heilongjiang Province with a doctoral degree, Sun was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Changchun in June 2011. She is scheduled for release from Jilin’s Women’s Prison on September 23, 2019.


On Christmas eve, Dui Hua spoke to The South China Morning Post about the conviction and suspended prison sentence handed down to human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. While some observers saw the suspended sentence as a victory, Executive Director John Kamm advised of the difficulties to come. “Pu is not free; he has been convicted, he is serving a sentence through compulsory measures and is subject to various regulations that strictly regulate his life.” Should the authorities find that Pu transgresses those regulations, he may end up in prison—as did rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Convicted of subversion for his legal defense work, Gao was incarcerated in 2011 not long before he was scheduled to complete a five-year suspension period for a three-year prison term.


Featured: China: State Security Indictments Hit Record High in 2014 (December 21)

Sources: Dui Hua; China Law Yearbook (various years)

China indicted more people for endangering state security crimes in 2014 than in any year since China Law Yearbookbegan reporting the figure in 1999. The number of people indicted rose to 1,411, up 2 percent from 1,384 in 2013. These indictments spanned 663 cases, compared with 608 cases in the previous year.

Chinese Court Amends Charges Against Guo Feixiong Before Conviction (December 17)

Previous Digest: December 2015


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

Student protesters gather at the Qingdao Municipal Government Building, Shandong Province, in June 1989. Photo credit:

Early Release of Shandong’s June 4 Protesters

One month before The Dui Hua Foundation was established in April 1999, American businessman John Kamm traveled to the port city of Qingdao in Shandong Province. He was accompanying a producer of polyvinyl chlorine window frames who was looking for a partner in a joint venture. Kamm was familiar with the city and the work. He had visited Qingdao on several occasions in the late 1980s to negotiate another joint venture, a sodium silicate plant, with then Mayor Yu Zhengsheng—now a member of the Politburo Standing Committee—and became an honorary professor of Qingdao University in April 1990.

When Kamm visited Qingdao in March 1999, the city was reeling from the Asian financial crisis. Like other cities in Shandong, Qingdao saw substantial South Korean investments dry up, as many firms pulled up stakes and departed. Newly established investment zones took on the appearance of ghost towns.

Desperate to attract new investment, leaders of the Qingdao Branch of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) asked to meet with John Kamm. Shortly after pleasantries were exchanged, the leaders asked Kamm if he would be willing to serve as honorary chairman of the Qingdao branch.

Kamm was incredulous. He asked the leaders if they knew that he had worked for more than eight years to persuade the Chinese government to free political prisoners, focusing initially on people imprisoned for supporting the spring protests of 1989. The CCPIT leaders said they were aware of Kamm’s work.

After China declared martial law in Beijing on May 20, 1989, and after the killings that followed, protests erupted in hundreds of cities all over the country. Qingdao was the site of especially large protests and accordingly not a few trials for “counterrevolutionary activities.” There was a relationship between the speediness of local trials and the lengthiness of individual sentences. Less time between arrest and trial generally correlated with longer sentences. Shandong held its trials before the end of 1989 and handed down some of the longest sentences in the nation. Many people were convicted of counterrevolutionary incitement and propaganda.

At the meeting, Kamm looked the leaders squarely in the eye. He spoke of the sentencing records in Qingdao and Shandong and declined their invitation. It seemed as if it was the first the leaders had heard of the long sentences being served by those who had engaged in the protests that once paralyzed large parts of Qingdao and Jilin. They asked Kamm if he had a list of names.

Kamm had come prepared. He handed over a list of 10 names and mentioned three individuals: Chen Lantao, a fresh graduate of the Qingdao Oceanography University, sentenced to 18 years in prison in August 1989; Zhang Jie, an unemployed worker, sentenced to 18 years in prison in October 1989; and Niu Shengchang, a farmer, sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The CCPIT officials thanked Kamm for considering their request and promised to look into the list.

Seven weeks later, Niu Shengchang was released nearly two years early. Less than two years later, on December 31, 2000, Chen Lantao was released six and a half years before the end of his sentence. Two weeks after Chen’s release, Zhang Jie was released six and a half years early.

Kamm, by then executive director of Dui Hua, received the news of Chen Lantao’s release while visiting Beijing No.1 Prison in early 2001. There to accompany the foreign visitor, an official of China’s Ministry of Justice stepped aside to take a call. When the official returned, she told Kamm the “good news.” Chen Lantao, then serving one of the longest sentences for counterrevolutionary incitement and propaganda committed during the 1989 protests, had been released.