Dui Hua Attends 41st Meeting of the Human Rights Council

Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm and Senior Manager for Programs & Publications Lili Cole attended the first week of the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council [HRC] in Geneva from June 24 to June 30, 2019. They met with officials of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and diplomats of the Chinese Mission, the United States Mission, the Swedish Mission, the Swiss Mission, the Dutch Mission, and the Finnish Mission. Kamm and Cole were received by the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer. Kamm’s friendship with Mr. Maurer dates back 15 years.

A principal focus of Dui Hua’s meetings in Geneva was the foundation’s April 2020 Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law, to be held in Hong Kong in April 2020. Dui Hua attended two events relevant to the Symposium. The first was the 41st Meeting of the Human Rights Council (HRC), at which the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice presented its global report on women in detention, to which Dui Hua had submitted testimony in September 2018. The second was a side event at which a report on children deprived of liberty, “Counting Children to Make Them Count: Filling the Data Gap,” led by Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, was presented. A separate meeting was held with Manfred Nowak. Professor Nowak will make a presentation at the Symposium on his global study as it relates to the treatment of girls in the criminal justice systems of more than 100 countries.

Following on the attention paid to human rights in China at the 40th Session of the HRC in March 2019, the situation of Uyghurs in Xinjiang continued to attract attention at the 41st Session. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye, in the presentation of his global report, emphasized the use of artificial intelligence to limit freedom of opinion and expression in Xinjiang. Apparently in response to rising concern about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Aierken Tuniyazi, Vice Governor of the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Region, made a presentation to attendees on the second day of the session. He presented the now-familiar defense of the “vocational training” centers: they are voluntary, “trainees” are allowed to go home on the weekends, and people in the camps are happily engaged in singing and dancing as well as learning how to cook and cut hair. The centers are credited by the Chinese government with having sharply reduced the number of terrorist incidents in Xinjiang.

The Broken Chair, Place des Nations, Geneva. Image Credit: Herbert Wie, Wikimedia

There was also a side event devoted to rights abuses in China, with a special emphasis on developments in Xinjiang, the protests in Hong Kong, and the crackdown on lawyers. It was organized by Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity International, and the International Service for Human Rights, with a video address by Arthur Moses SC, president of the Law Council of Australia. It was well attended, including by diplomats from foreign missions. A representative from the Chinese Mission attended and was invited to address the attendees. He congratulated the presenters on telling lie after lie, and slammed them for never having visited Xinjiang or Hong Kong. In general, developments in Hong Kong did not attract a lot of attention at the 41st Session, even though millions of people there had taken to the streets to protest a proposed extradition law in the two weeks prior to the opening of the session.

The absence of the United States from the deliberations of the Council was much in evidence. This reflects a strategic decision by Washington to address human rights issues in the General Assembly’s Third Committee in New York City instead. The United States views the Human Rights Committee as a body dominated by human rights abusers that is biased against Israel and the United States.


On July 10, 2019, three days before the two-year anniversary of the death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, self-taught legal activist Ji Sijun (纪斯尊) died, at the age of 71, of colorectal cancer. His death, which came  about two months after Ji completed his four-years-and-six-months’ imprisonment, has once again raised questions about China’s treatment of human rights campaigners. In April 2016, Ji was sentenced in Fujian for gathering a crowd to disturb social order and picking quarrels and provoking troubles.  The sentence was upheld by the Fuzhou Intermediate People’s Court in July 2016. Widely lauded as a “barefoot lawyer” by the human rights community, Ji not only taught himself law but also gave advice to petitioners to defend their legal rights against land seizures and forcible demolitions. While imprisoned, Ji was hospitalized several times, as he had been suffering from multiple chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Upon completing his sentence in April 2019, he was again admitted to a hospital and placed in the intensive care unit under police guard. His relatives were only allowed to visit Ji when he was in a coma before his death. His body was immediately cremated, reportedly against his family’s wishes. Since Ji was imprisoned for the first time in 2008, Dui Hua has included his name on seven prisoner lists submitted directly or indirectly to the Chinese government. In 2009, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for counterfeiting official documents and seals, a charge stemming from his efforts to apply for an official permit to hold a demonstration during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.    Two court judgments posted online confirmed that Guo Ran (果然) and Kou Ji (寇稽) were sentenced to 14 years’ and 10 years’ imprisonment, respectively, for subversion, by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court in 2013. Incarcerated in Weinan Prison, the two are believed to have been sentenced in connection with the same case of endangering state security. Kou has been granted two sentence reductions totaling 16 months and is due for release in July 2020. Guo, however, has not received any clemency to date, and will continue to serve his sentence until 2026. The Weinan Intermediate People’s Court has turned down two applications for a sentence reduction filed by the prison for Guo during 2018-2019. The specifics of their cases remain largely unknown. Dui Hua has received no government responses about them, despite repeated inquiries since 2015.     China appears to have extended the use of its vaguely-defined terrorism charges against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to dissidents of Han descent. Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), a member of the now-defunct New Citizens’ Movement that promoted civil rights and constitutionalism, was criminally detained in Beijing on May 28, before the 30th anniversary of “June Fourth.” Police suspected that Zhang was in possession of a gun in his apartment, but they did not clarify whether they had found any firearms. On July 4, Zhang was arrested for promoting terrorism or extremism or instigating terror activities, and picking quarrels and provoking troubles. Since joining the New Citizen Movement founded by Xu Zhiyong (许志永) in 2012, Zhang has been detained multiple times. In March 2015, he completed his two-year sentence for gathering a crowd to disturb public order. He had been convicted of holding a banner in Beijing calling for officials to disclose their assets. In July 2016, he was granted bail after being detained for over a month for commemorating June Fourth.      In July, Chinese news media sources reported that three Buddhist monks, Zhang Zhongcai (张仲才), Yang Kang (杨康), and Wu Yuhui (吴雨辉) had been indicted for embezzlement and disrupting public services in February (Zhang and Yang) and March (Wu). They were part of a group of 11 suspects criminally detained in November 2018 for resisting the installation of drain pipes that were believed to dump industrial waste from a chemical plant near their monastery in Jiangsu. The remaining eight suspects were granted bail in January, but their identities and whereabouts remain unclear. 


Featured: Human Rights Journal: July 24, 2019From Hu to Xi: China’s Grip on Environmental Activism: II of II. Environmental Activism from Above and Below

A poster of Green Leaf Action, an environmental group founded by Xue Renyi, calls on the Chinese government to improve food safety and air and water quality. Photo credit: Boxun

The concept of environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) was entirely foreign to China until, in the nation’s first bid for the Olympic Games in 1993, its delegation was asked by the International Olympic Committee whether China had ENGOs. A year later, China’s first ENGO, Friends of Nature, formerly known as The Academy for Green Culture, was formally incorporated. Both grassroots and foreign-funded ENGOs thereafter emerged, and provided help for victims stricken by environmental disasters. The most famous of these were the deadly floods along the Yangtze River in 1998, caused by deforestation, and the Nu River hydropower project, which would have flooded a natural UNESCO site on the lower reaches of the river in Yunnan, had then-prime minister Wen Jiabo not put a dam-building moratorium on the river due to ecological concerns.

An early criminal case involving six villagers, all surnamed Ye, who joined an environmental non-profit organization, did not garner the attention it deserves. The leading members were sentenced in 2010 to 6-18 years’ imprisonment for multiple violent offenses, including organizing/leading an organization of a gangland nature. The case took place in Guangdong’s Huangshawei Township, not far from another township well-known for ceramics, where a clay quarry began operation in 2008. Southern Farmer’s Daily reported that half of the quarry sites were illegal and over 300 haul trucks without mechanical covers passed through Huangshawei Township every day, causing both safety hazards and considerable dust pollution. As government officials refused to take measures to protect the villagers, the villagers set up The Huangshawei Education Foundation in July 2009 to defend their environmental rights. The foundation used its funds to provide subsidies to affected villagers and hired armed road guards to intercept haul trucks. Within two months of its founding, the foundation successfully pressed the local government and quarry operation for compensation over pollution. In October 2009, a verbal argument turned into a group brawl after the foundation members intercepted a haul trucker who refused to use a mechanical cover. The foundation was then labelled a “gangland” organization and the compensation it had received from the government was cited as evidence of extortion. In 2017, a Chinese government response provided to Dui Hua confirmed that one of the foundation members, Ye Bailian (叶百练), received three sentence reductions, 32 months in total, between 2013 and 2017. Ye is now scheduled for release on May 6, 2025.

According to Southern Farmer’s Daily, similar environmental rights groups had emerged in four nearby villages after The Huangshawei Foundation was founded in 2009. While it is unclear whether they all suffered the same fate, the fact that all of them targeted the same clay mining operations reflected a growing trend in grassroots environmental consciousness. Over the two decades since 1994, there was an exponential growth in ENGOs nationwide. The number had grown from just nine in 1994 to 8,000 in 2017, according to Gulf News, citing the French Embassy in Beijing. ENGOs were said to have enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom – many, in fact, were co-funded by local governments to evaluate the environmental impact of factories and even to critique public policy.

Nonetheless, Xi has tightened his grip on environmental activism, particularly since the Foreign NGO Law came into effect in 2017. The law requires all foreign NGOs to abide by strict requirements related to funding sources and registration procedures, which has sharply limited their ability to support or collaborate with Chinese NGOs, including ENGOs…

See Also: Human Rights Journal: July 17 2019: From Hu to Xi: China’s Grip on Environmental Activism PART I: Mass Protests and the Threat to Activists

In Part I of this featured research, Dui Hua analysed a decade of environmental activism, both mass protests and individual actions, and the price paid by those trying to protect the environment. 

In case you missed it: June 27, 2019: Annual Report 2018 A summary of The Dui Hua Foundation’s activities and achievements for 2018.


John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.

A Teaching Prison

I flew to Beijing from Hong Kong on February 26, 2003 to make final preparations for a visit to Lhasa to see Ngawang Sangdrol, a young Tibetan nun who had been incarcerated in Drapchi Prison as a counterrevolutionary. I was the guest of the Ministry of Justice, but the visit to Lhasa had also been approved by senior leaders of the State Council, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Communist Party.   

Before going to Lhasa to meet Ngawang Sangdrol, I was invited to tour a Chinese prison in the vicinity of Beijing, Yancheng Prison in Yanjiao Township, Hebei Province, about an hour’s drive from Beijing. The visit was to take place on February 27, a cold and dreary day. I was picked up at my hotel at 9 AM, arriving at the prison before 10 AM. The visit lasted two hours.

Yancheng Prison, Beijing Photo Credit: People’s Daily Online

Yancheng Prison is the only prison in China under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice. All other prisons in China are under the control of provincial prison bureaus, with the exception of Qincheng Prison in Beijing, which is under the control of the Ministry of Public Security. Yancheng was opened in October 2002, less than six months before my visit. I was told that I was the second foreigner to visit the prison. The first foreign visitor was the Minister of Justice of Zimbabwe. I thanked the Vice Minister of Justice who accompanied me on the visit for this high honor.

A High Honor

At the time of my visit, the first phase of construction had been completed and the first batch of 100 prisoners had been admitted. Eventually, 1,000 prisoners would be housed in the half-square-kilometer facility until the second phase of construction was completed at the end of 2004, at which time the facility would house 1,600 prisoners.

At full capacity, the prison would hold as many as 400 foreign prisoners. I was told that many of the foreign prisoners would have been convicted by courts in other parts of China but would be held in Yancheng for the convenience of family members who wished to make monthly visits, standard practice in the Beijing Hebei region. Guards speaking foreign languages would supervise the foreign prisoners.

Yancheng Prison was described as a “teaching prison,” a facility where wardens and guards from around the country would learn the most advanced techniques for running prisons. The plan was for there to be a prisoner to guard ratio of 4:1. Prisoners would be organized into groups of 100, each group representing a specific crime (e.g. assault, theft). The administration would experiment with different reform techniques to ascertain which ones are most effective for which crimes.

The prison (known, for its distinctive architecture, as the “White House”) was originally meant to house inmates from Beijing and Hebei serving sentences of 5-10 years, but as time went by it was used to house prisoners who had committed crimes in other parts of China, as well as prisoners serving longer sentences. Such prisoners were often senior government and party officials, including family members, many of whom had been convicted of corruption.

They lived a privileged life. Chinese social media was ablaze with indignant tales of profligate living, including free internet, banquets, heavy drinking, and hosting of sex workers in the former officials’ palatial cells.

One of the most famous prisoners sent to Yancheng was Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, former Chongqing party chief and member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. Bo was in line to join the Standing Committee of the Politburo when he was removed from his posts in 2012. He was convicted of corruption in 2013. He was one of the first “big tigers” felled by General Secretary Xi Jinping. Bo is serving his life sentence in Qincheng Prison.

In August 2012, Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood and given a suspended death sentence, later commuted in late December 2015 to life in prison. She is incarcerated in Yancheng’s female prisoner wing. Unlike almost all other prisons in China, Yancheng has cell blocks for both male and female prisoners.

Other notorious tigers serving long sentences in Yancheng are Nan Yong and Yang Yimin, former vice chairmen of the China Football Association (sentenced to 10 and ½ years for corruption) and Zhang Shuguang, a senior official of the Ministry of Railways (life in prison for taking bribes).

On February 27, 2003, the date of my visit, I was taken to the warden’s office where I was given a brief introduction, including on how the sentence reduction and parole system worked.

I then toured a cell block, the well-equipped infirmary, work spaces, classrooms, and the kitchen offering bountiful dishes, including ethnic food. Each cell held up to eight prisoners. The prisoners slept on bunk beds made of wood with no sharp edges, to prevent suicides. I was also shown the solitary confinement cells. They had yet to be used, I was told. The prison was situated in well-tended grounds with flowers and trees. I was told that soccer pitches and a gym would be provided.

Appeal for a Transfer

Not long after my visit I sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice’s Department of Judicial Assistance and Foreign Affairs, thanking it for the visit. I had been asked by the family to help a foreign prisoner who had been convicted of an economic crime and was incarcerated in a Beijing prison. In my letter to the ministry I asked that he be transferred to Yancheng Prison. My request was eventually granted.

After several sentence reductions, the man was released from Yancheng several years early, around five years after my visit to the prison. 

He thanked me for my efforts on his behalf. He knew I had visited Yancheng, but he remarked that the inmates hated visits by foreign dignitaries. “They make us do lots of work to make the prison spic and span.” he remarked. “We are given toothbrushes to clean the stairs and if any dirt remains we are punished.”

After my visit, I returned to Beijing. The following day I flew to Lhasa via Chengdu to see Ngawang Sangdrol.

Yancheng’s reputation as a luxury prison for high level corrupt officials finally caught up to it. A widely-viewed WeChat posting of life at the prison in 2016 — replete with pictures of abundant food, manicured gardens, and soccer pitches — fueled widespread indignation. The photos appeared shortly before Minister of Justice Wu Aiying was toppled for corruption in early 2017.

In December 2018, a high-level inspection team made up of central party and government officials reported on their investigation into what was going on in Yancheng Prison. It concluded that prison management lacked “in depth study and implementation of Xi Jinping’s socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics.”

The prison also came under fire for lacking an “unswerving spirit to implement the instructions of central leading comrades, including General Secretary Xi Jinping,” and for “serious violations of law and discipline by guards.” It is not known if the findings of the MOJ inspection impacted inmates serving sentences at Yancheng. At least one prisoner who had refused to admit guilt and who was serving a long sentence was transferred to another prison with far worse conditions.


<strong>Yancheng Prison's Point System for Sentence Reduction (based on an interview with a released prisoner)</strong>
  1. Every day, a prisoner starts with a base of 1.2 points. During the day, he must participate in assigned labor and education, obey all disciplinary orders and prison rules and regulations, and maintain a positive attitude towards reform. If for whatever reason (including falling sick, being hospitalized, or becoming incapacitated) the prisoner cannot participate in either labor or education, breaks a rule, or shows poor attitude towards reform, points will be deducted from the allocated 1.2 points.
  2. These daily points are then accumulated and when the total reaches 180 points, the inmate can apply to receive a “biao yang” (表扬), which represents two months of sentence reduction.
  3. At the end of each calendar year, each district (the foreigners’ district has 40 – 50 inmates, while the locals’ districts have 70 – 80 inmates each) will award the top 10% of inmates (based on total points scored), a “jia jiang” (嘉奖), which represents an additional six months’ sentence reduction.
  4. There is also a second level end-of-year award that is called a “ji gong” (记功), representing four months’ time reduction. This is given to the top 35% of inmates, not counting those who have earned the jia jiang.
  5. Hence, if an inmate falls within the top 45% of prisoners on points earned over any one calendar year, he will be able to earn for himself either two biao yangs and one ji gong , totaling 8 months, or three biao yangs and one jia jiang , totaling 12 months. Other prisoners will receive either one or two biao yangs – i.e. two to four months’ sentence reduction.
  6. In addition to daily points earned, the inmate can earn additional points while serving his sentence. If he works in the prison factory, he can earn additional labor points by producing quantities (of whatever is being manufactured at that time) in excess of the allocated quota. Points will be deducted for shoddy work and goods returned by manufacturers who buy the prison’s products.
  7. In the area of education, the inmate can also study and sit for external examinations on subjects ranging from English, computer, and business skills (e.g. accounting) to ideology and politics. Exams are conducted at diploma to degree levels. Points will be awarded for each subject passed.
  8. Additional points can also be given to inmates for being cell-leaders and leaders of “small groups” for activities like music, language studies, football, basketball, and table tennis. Additional points are also given to inmates who “rat” on other inmates’ activities or act as the eyes and ears of the officers within the district.
  9. Additional points can also be awarded to inmates who participate in district- and prison-organized concerts and special events on national holidays. 
  10. If an inmate is caught fighting or committing a serious offense during the course of the year, he will have “significant” points deducted, e.g. two to three points for each infraction.  If the prisoner’s deductions are equal to or in excess of five demerit points throughout any single year, the prisoner will have an additional penalty of 60 points deducted. If the offense is especially serious, whatever points he may have accumulated through the year, up until the time of the incident, may be forfeited. This would take place before imposing the 60-point penalty. Inmates can owe points in arrears.
  11. When an inmate has accumulated the required number of credits and meets certain conditions, he can apply for a sentence reduction. For an inmate whose sentence is 10 years or below, he can submit his first sentence commutation one year after he enters prison (time spent in the detention center is not counted). For sentences over 10 years, an inmate must wait 18 months after entering prison (again, time in detention is not counted). Prisoners serving sentences for political crimes like endangering state security must wait longer than prisoners serving sentences for “ordinary” crimes.
  12. All sentence commutations must first be approved by the prison authorities up to the prison administration bureau of the municipality/province where the prison is located (or even the Ministry of Justice, in certain cases) and then by the local intermediate people’s court before the reduction takes effect. The right of approval lies solely with these authorities. Having the necessary points does not entitle an inmate to an automatic sentence commutation.