In recent years, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) has sometimes solicited public opinion on legislation being considered for enactment. Opinions are solicited following a bill’s second reading by either the full congress or its standing committee, which has the power to pass laws.
On June 4, shortly after Executive Director John Kamm visited Beijing, the period of public consultation came to an end for the draft Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations. During his May trip, Kamm discussed the law with Chinese and foreign officials as well as with scholars and foreign NGOs operating in China.
Concern was widespread among Kamm’s interlocutors, who feared that the law would severely curtail the activities of the roughly 6,000 foreign NGOs that operate in China. As drafted, the law empowers the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and its subordinate bureaus to vet and approve all foreign NGOs operating in the country. (NGOs without approved offices would have to operate under temporary one-year permits.) The law would place restrictions on program activities, funding sources, and hiring decisions, while granting broad investigatory powers to the MPS. Organizations and personnel deemed to be in violation of the law would be subject to criminal and administrative sanctions.
Even before the law was released for public consultation, several foreign NGOs were forced to curtail operations in the country. Domestic NGOs that had received funding from foreign governments or organizations were shuttered.
As it stands, the draft applies to virtually every foreign organization with activities in China, including chambers of commerce, trade associations, university and alumni groups, sports and cultural organizations, and nonprofits like Dui Hua that have organized programs on such topics as juvenile justice. Nearly all of the foreign organizations that submitted comments to the NPC voiced deep concern over the possible impact on their activities in China. Many stated that the law would have a severe impact on their work, and could even harm China’s network of people-to-people exchanges, which has grown steadily over the last 30 years. During his talks in Beijing, Kamm noticed a climate of fear among both foreign and domestic NGOs. Plans for exchanges in 2016 are on hold.
The public consultation exercise elicited submissions from a wide range of foreign organizations with activities in China. Foreign governments weighed in as well. The new law was a focus of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue held between China and the United States in Washington in late June.
In light of the possible impact on our work, Dui Hua made its first submission to a public consultation exercise in China on June 3. Although broader concerns include the legal definitions of “activities,” who will be covered by the law, and which governmental bodies are to be designated supervisory agencies (yewu zhuguan danwei), Dui Hua’s submission focused on the specific portions of the law (e.g., Articles 18 and 20) that might affect similarly situated organizations that lack representative offices in mainland China.
Consistent with Dui Hua’s non-confrontational approach to interactions with the Chinese government, the submission began by emphasizing that, since 2008, Dui Hua has partnered with the Supreme People’s Court to hold successful exchanges on juvenile justice and women in prison. In order to ensure that these exchanges continue, Dui Hua proposed amending the law to eliminate current ambiguities on how to obtain “temporary activity permits” (linshi huodong xuke) and “approval documents” (tongyi wenjian) from supervisory agencies.
In late June, Chinese government sources updated Dui Hua on the status of seven Guangdong prisoners, five of whom were sentenced under Article 300 of the Criminal Law for “cult” offenses. Three of the individuals were women who received lengthy sentences between 2004 and 2010 for their involvement in Falun Gong. Government sources confirmed that all three women received sentence reductions at unspecified times. Cai Caiying (蔡彩影) was released five years and seven months early from a 12-year sentence in September 2010. Guo Yafen (郭雅芬) was released four years and four months early from an 11-year sentence on August 3, 2012. Dui Hua believes that Cai and Guo both received multiple sentence reductions.
After having her sentence reduced by nearly two years, the last of the three women, Lu Hongfei (卢洪飞) is scheduled for release from Guangdong Women’s Prison on October 23, 2022. She is currently serving the maximum penalty under Article 300, 15 years in prison. Amendments to the Criminal Law currently under consideration by the NPC include increasing the maximum penalty for “cult” crimes to life imprisonment. The Chinese government declared Falun Gong a cult in 1999.
Official sentencing information for Falun Gong prisoners is more readily available than it is for other types of political prisoners. Official information aggregated by Dui Hua shows that at least 254 Falun Gong prisoners received either sentence reductions or parole in the first 11 months of 2014. (Sentence reductions were much more common, accounting for more than 90 percent of these instances.) Women accounted for more than 60 percent of prisoners receiving clemency. Shandong reported 20 percent of these early releases followed by Jilin (15 percent), Anhui (10 percent), and Guangdong (five percent).
Members of Almighty God, an unorthodox Protestant sect also identified as a cult by the Chinese government, do not receive sentence reductions as frequently as members of Falun Gong. Since the Chinese government instituted a nationwide clampdown on Almighty God in December 2012, Dui Hua has yet to learn of a single instance of clemency given to a member of the sect. Official media reports say that in Guangdong, one of the provinces where Almighty God is most active, 179 Almighty God members were formally arrested and 130 were indicted in 2014.
Government sources recently informed Dui Hua that two Almighty God members, Lai Yiwa (赖亦瓦) and Huang Mingfei(黄明妃), remain in prison without clemency. Lai is in Guangdong’s Beijiang Prison, where he has four years remaining on a seven-year sentence for printing publications that warned of an impending apocalypse in late 2012. At Guangdong Women’s Prison, Huang is scheduled to complete her five-year sentence on September 26, 2018. She was convicted for hosting more than a dozen religious gatherings at her home for a total of 39 people. Official sources describe Huang as an unemployed woman in her forties with a primary-school education.
Dui Hua continues to press for clemency for Chen Yulin (陈瑜琳) and Wei Pingyuan (魏平原), former senior officials at Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong. Both men are British citizens who were sentenced to life in prison for espionage one year after a half a million Hong Kong people marched against proposed state security legislation in 2003. (The Chinese government does not recognize their British citizenship.) Chen has received a sentence reduction every two years since his life sentence was commuted to a fixed-term of 19 years and 6 months in 2007. With his last sentence reduction of 19 months granted in March 2013, Chen is currently awaiting approval for his next reduction. Wei received his last two sentence reductions at a two-year interval and may be eligible for another in 2016. Both are scheduled for release in 2021.
Dui Hua was cited in more than 190 news articles and NGO reports in the first half of 2015. In June, the BBC’s China Blogwrote about the growing number of women held in Chinese prisons using information published in Human Rights Journal. Peru’s Diario Correo referenced last month’s Digest to report on the sentence reduction of Miao Deshun, China’s last known June Fourth prisoner, and Austria’s Der Standard quoted Executive Director Kamm in a story about the draft NGO law currently moving through the National People’s Congress.
Between 2003 and 2014, the number of women incarcerated in Chinese prisons soared 46 percent, 10 times faster than growth for the population of incarcerated men. By comparison, the number of women in US prisons grew 15 percent over the period, about one and a half times faster than the growth rate for men. Gender-based violence, poverty, and political activism are possible causes. The results appear to be overcrowded prisons and a greater need for the Bangkok Rules.
Last month’s Digest: June 2015
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
After his early trips to Guangdong in the first half of 1991, Executive Director Kamm headed north to Beijing to discuss human rights and raise the names of prisoners. In May of that year, a senior official of the Supreme People’s Court told Kamm that the case of the Li brothers—two young Hunan labor leaders—would be settled. They were released shortly after his visit.
Kamm’s host in Beijing in the early 1990s was the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), an organization that Kamm had extensive dealings with in the 1970s and 1980s in his capacity as an officer of the National Council for US-China Trade, based in Washington DC, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
Of the many meetings the CCPIT organized for Kamm during the early 1990s, none was more important than the meeting with Communist Party of China Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan on November 25, 1991. The meeting was held in the Great Hall of the People, and representatives from central government ministries, including the State Council Information Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice, were present. (Li was a carpenter who helped build the Great Hall.)
The meeting began with Li Ruihuan thanking Kamm for helping to preserve China’s trade in the United States. Kamm responded by thanking Li for China’s decision to drop charges against labor leader Han Dongfang and to allow the early release of student leader Wang Youcai. Kamm argued that more of these releases would translate into better prospects for approval of Most Favored Nation tariff status.
“Releasing people from prison is no big deal,” Li replied. He said that when foreigners come to China and ask “why” (wei shenme) we don’t release such and such a person, we reply “for no particular reason” (bu wei shenme). Sometimes releases become more difficult when foreign governments are vocal about a specific case, since Chinese leaders never want to appear to give in to foreign government demands.
Li went on to say that the Chinese government was well aware of American concerns about particular prisoners. Some Chinese leaders have asked, when reflecting on President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, why neither Deng Xiaoping nor Hu Jintao, both in jail at the time, had their cases raised by American visitors.
Li went on: “It’s true that Americans often don’t understand how the Chinese people feel. But it’s also true that Chinese often don’t understand how American people feel.”
Li recounted that upon President Nixon’s arrival in China, he was driven to the Diao Yu Tai Guesthouse. Opposite the entrance of the guesthouse was a large concrete sign proclaiming in Chinese characters, “We Will Definitely Liberate Taiwan!” When Nixon was given a translation, he was furious. Premier Zhou Enlai immediately rushed to the President’s suite and asked him not to pay attention to such slogans: “They are empty cannons!”
When Kamm met with Li in November 1991, Beijing was in the grip of a campaign against “spiritual pollution” and littered with slogans. Everyone in the room chuckled at Li’s reference to “empty cannons.” Shortly after the meeting, Kamm was authorized to ask about and receive information on prisoners from the Ministry of Justice and to visit Chinese prisons under their management.