Dui Hua Visits DC for Government, NGO Meetings
Dui Hua staff visited Washington, DC, and New York City in mid-June for discussions with Chinese and American officials on a range of issues dominating US-China relations, including human rights. Executive Director John Kamm and Senior Manager Kevin Li spent two days meeting with State Department officials and NGO representatives active in China.
Discussions centered on the implementing regulations to China’s Foreign NGO Management Law, which are currently being prepared for release before the end of 2016. Even though the new law and the implementing regulations will not take effect until 2017, few foreign NGO programs are expected to take place in 2016. That said, plans are well underway for programs in 2017, including those focused on so-called “hybrid issues” like disability rights and juvenile justice. The current operating environment for foreign NGOs in China is challenging, but none of the dozen NGO representatives Dui Hua spoke with intend to diminish their presence or activities in the country.
Kamm met separately with officials that oversee US-China relations at the State Department and the White House, as well as diplomats at the Chinese Embassy who handle human rights and US-China relations. Dui Hua’s Executive Director briefed staff of the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on the foundation’s work in 2016. In New York, he attended a roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations on the South China Sea. Kamm also huddled with China’s representatives handling human rights at China’s United Nations Mission.
A key takeaway from the discussions in Washington and New York: the annual sessions of the US-China human rights dialogue and the US-China legal experts dialogue are unlikely to take place in 2016. Beijing appears to be making good on its promise to withhold dialogues from countries that signed the Joint Statement delivered by American Ambassador Keith Harper at the March session of the Human Rights Council. Switzerland, which did not sign the Joint Statement, remains the only country to hold a bilateral rights dialogue with Beijing in 2016.
As some American officials have determined that little has been accomplished in past sessions of the human rights dialogue, China’s rejection of bilateral rights diplomacy might provide an opportunity to reassess the value of the human rights and legal experts’ dialogues going forward. The dialogues have been held every year since the Obama administration took office in 2009, and it looks likely that the next sessions, if they take place at all, will occur during the first year of the presidency of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Both candidates have been sharply critical of China in recent months. Secretary Clinton is well known for her critical views on China’s human rights.
In his discussions with American and Chinese officials, Kamm reviewed the latest US-China Strategic Dialogue, held in Beijing June 5-7, and anticipated the upcoming G-20 meeting to be held in Hangzhou in September 2016. Human rights concerns were raised during the S&ED in what one observer called a “testy” environment. Sticking points brought up by the Americans included the continued detention of American citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis, held in Nanning on endangering state secrets charges, the ongoing detention of roughly 20 Chinese lawyers taken into custody in July 2016, and the campaign underway in Zhejiang Province to remove crosses from Christian places of worship—as many as 1,500 have reportedly been torn down. Given that Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang, the topic of the crosses’ removal will almost certainly feature in President Obama’s one-on-one session with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Dui Hua Honors Director Bill McCahill With June Event
On June 30, Dui Hua held an open office event in honor of long time Director Bill McCahill (pictured left, speaking at Dui Hua). More than thirty academics, legal professionals, businesspeople, and human rights advocates from the San Francisco Bay area joined staff at Dui Hua’s home office for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. During the event, Director McCahill delivered remarks covering the current political and economic climate in China, drawing on his 40-plus years of experience as a diplomat and consultant in China. A spirited question-and-answer session followed, covering topics including the South China Sea, the US government’s so-called “pivot to Asia,” and the outlook for the Chinese economy.
When the Chinese government declared Falun Gong an “evil cult” in 1999, the Ministry of Justice reportedly issued directives restricting legal representation for Falun Gong practitioners. Non-compliant defense lawyers risk various consequences, including license revocation. Those who openly criticize the government’s treatment of Falun Gong practitioners face varying degrees of persecution. At least three such lawyers with records in Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database have been sentenced, while one remains in custody.
Wang Yonghang (王永航) began defending and providing legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners in 2007. In 2008, he wrote open letters to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, as well as the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate, criticizing Article 300 of the Criminal Law. Wang was sentenced in November 2009 to seven years’ imprisonment for using/organizing a cult to undermine implementation of the law. Despite calls for clemency by international human rights groups, Wang was not released from Liaoning Number One Prison until completing his full sentence on July 3, 2016.
Prominent lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) served three years in Xinjiang’s Shaya Prison for violating probation rules in December 2011. Apart from Falun Gong, Gao also took on sensitive cases involving house churches and land seized from farmers. After he was given a suspended sentence for inciting subversion in 2006, Gao continued to openly criticize China’s human rights situation until he was detained and held incommunicado in 2009. Upon his formal release in August 2014, Gao was subject to continuing restrictions. In a new book published in June 2016, Gao recounts torture he experienced during this period in incommunicado detention.
A lawyer and Falun Gong practitioner, Zhu Yubiao (朱宇飙) was detained in October 2010 for cult-related offenses ahead of Guangzhou’s Asian Games, reportedly for refusing to sign a written guarantee that he would cease providing legal assistance for other Falun Gong members. Zhu had previously completed a one-and-one-half-years re-education through labor sentence in August 2009. Zhu was sentenced to two years imprisonment before his release from Guangdong’s Beijiang Prison on August 17, 2012.
Wang Yu (王宇) was initially a commercial lawyer before starting to accept abuse cases in 2011, including those involving Falun Gong, Ilham Tohti, and feminist activists. She was among the first of more than 300 legal professionals to be taken away in a sweeping clampdown on lawyers, rights activists, and their family members starting in July 2015, when she was placed under designated location residential surveillance for inciting subversion. In October, Wang was shown on state television, presumably under duress, condemning the failed attempt by Dong Guangping (董广平) and Xing Qingxian (幸清贤) to smuggle her son out of China. In January 2016, Wang was formally arrested in Tianjin alongside her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军).
Featured: Can Recognizing Poverty Reduce Executions in China? (June 9)
Dui Hua has obtained 525 reviews of death penalty decisions by China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) between 2013 and 2015. Of the 525 SPC reviews in the Dui Hua sample, only two percent were reversed–a figure considerably lower than that provided by SPC officials in 2014, when it was estimated that the SPC reversal rate was near 10 percent. Poverty is a mitigating factor that, while sometimes ignored, has the potential to decrease the number of executions China carries out each year.
Previous Digest: June 2016
In the first six months of 2016, Dui Hua was mentioned in well over 200 media articles and other online reports. In June, Dui Hua featured most prominently in stories commemorating fallen Tiananmen square protesters.
Several stories referred to Dui Hua’s recent press release on Miao Deshun, the last known person imprisoned for taking part in the 1989 demonstrations. Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review and Switzerland’s Le Temps both referenced Miao’s imprisonment in retrospective analyses of China’s political climate since 1989—especially in light of the controversial comments of Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in June. French paper Le Monde published an essay on the memory of Tiananmen, while The Economist detailed the outright ban on public remembrances of lives lost on June 4. The New York Times’ Sinosphere blog mentioned Miao Deshun’s case in an article on the ongoing struggles of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group comprising relatives of democracy protesters who died in 1989.
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
Executions of Hong Kong Residents Spur Interest in Human Rights
Before he began his human rights work in 1990, John Kamm was an American businessman based in Hong Kong. As the Hong Kong representative of the semi-governmental National Council for US-China Trade, Kamm worked to open China to trade and investment. He registered the first Chinese factories with the American Food and Drug Administration in 1977 and introduced American firms to investment opportunities on the Mainland. He ran the National Council’s office at the Guangzhou Trade Fair from 1976 to 1980.
After the United States and China established diplomatic relations in 1979, Kamm established a company and began representing American and other firms in China. Leveraging his knowledge of the city and his fluency in Cantonese, Kamm established the first foreign office in Guangzhou in 1979.
Shortly before the Spring Chinese Export Commodities Fair opened in Guangzhou in April 1983, an event took place that focused Kamm’s attention on human rights. China’s first Strike Hard Campaign was launched in August 1983, and offenders were dealt with harshly. It was recently revealed in a Mainland Chinese publication that there were 24,000 executions in China in 1983. Kamm witnessed men being led to their executions in the summer of 1983 as he crisscrossed Guangdong Province buying and selling chemicals.
Two young men from Hong Kong, He Enjie and Liu Zerong, hung a banner from their room in the Guangzhou Hotel denouncing China’s ruling Communist Party. They left the hotel and photographed the banner, then headed for the train station to return to Hong Kong. They were intercepted by public security officers, detained and subsequently tried for espionage. They were convicted, sentenced to death, and had their appeals rejected. The Supreme People’s Court (SPC) in Beijing then approved their executions, which were carried out on September 6, 1983.
Hong Kong prisoners serving sentences for counterrevolution in Mainland prisons were a top priority for Kamm after he turned to human rights work in 1990. One of these early cases was that of Qin Hanbiao, a Guangzhou native who emigrated to Hong Kong in 1979. Qin and Guangzhou resident Qin Yaoche were detained on May 10, 1983 on suspicion of spying for Taiwan. They were tried by the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on September 10, 1983, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The sentence was upheld by the Guangdong High People’s Court on September 21, 1983, after which it was sent to Beijing for SPC review.
The SPC, perhaps influenced by the uproar over the execution of He Enjie and Liu Zerong the month before, determined in October that the damage to China’s national security caused by Qin Hanbiao and Qin Yaoche was not sufficiently serious to warrant the death sentence. The two men were retried in Guangzhou and sentenced to life in prison.
Kamm sought information on Qin Hanbiao from both the Hong Kong government and the Guangdong government. The latter advised him that Qin was serving his sentence in Huaiji Prison in western Guangdong (Huaji had a special cell block for counterrevolutionaries). His sentence had been reduced to a 20-year sentence in March 1986. The sentence was further reduced by 18 months in January 1990. After Kamm’s repeated inquiries, Qin Hanbiao was released on June 24, 1999—shortly after Dui Hua was established, and seven years before the end of Qin’s 20-year sentence imposed in 1986. (In China, people sentenced to life in prison whose sentences are subsequently reduced to a fixed term do not receive credit for time served. Qin did not get credit for the three years he spent in prison before the life sentence was commuted.)
Hong Kong residents who were convicted of counterrevolution in Guangdong usually served their sentences in the province, but other prisoners convicted of counterrevolution—even those residing in the province—were often shipped to Xinjiang in China’s far northwest to serve their sentences. That is what happened to Qin Yaoche. Despite many attempts by Kamm to find out what happened to him, the trail went cold. Then as now, finding information on prisoners in Xinjiang remains difficult.