Heilongjiang Legal Education Camp. Legal education centers are commonly used for arbitrary detentions.
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China’s abolition of reeducation through labor (RTL) in 2013 added weight to the question of whether other forms of arbitrary detention would be dismantled. On May 3, 2014, Dui Hua staff attended a closed-door seminar on forms of extralegal detention in China with a view towards abolition. The seminar was co-organized by the Centre for Rights and Justice at the Faculty of Law, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), and China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. Speakers and participants included members of CUHK faculty and civil society as well as Chinese human rights lawyers.

Nine types of arbitrary detention were identified including custody and education for sex workers, work study schools for juveniles, legal education for Falun Gong practitioners and petitioners, and shuanggui for party members. Demonstrating the fluidity between various forms of extralegal and legal detention, participants at the seminar noted that Falun Gong practitioners who were serving RTL sentences when RTL was abolished were either sent to legal education centers or, where legal education centers did not exist, detained in detention centers for 37 days (the legal limit for criminal detention without formal arrest) prior to their release.

Participants also noted that some RTL centers had been replaced with community corrections bureaus and that RTL detainees were sent to those centers for 30 days before being released. According to official Chinese media, “‘repeat offenders’ were reassigned to community correction” after RTL camps were abolished.

Community correction is ostensibly a non-custodial measure, but at least some community corrections centers provide accommodation. Starting in 2011, the halfway-house model of community correction was applied throughout Beijing. Sunshine Midway House in the capital’s Chaoyang District can house up to 5,000 “released prisoners.” Moreover, national implementation measures only stipulate the minimum, not maximum, monthly quotas for requisite study and community service hours for people in community correction, perhaps leaving the door open for custodial arrangements.

Strategies for lawyers and human rights defenders to counter arbitrary detention were also discussed at the seminar. These included appeals to the media, dissemination of information via online social media, lawsuits, and requests that official information about all forms and places of detention be made public. Other presentations focused on the utilization of international human rights mechanisms and arbitrary detention in Taiwan. Summing up the urgency of the seminar, CUHK faculty noted that despite its import, few academics pay attention to arbitrary detention in China.


On May 7, 2014, the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Hong Kong publisher Yao Wentian (姚文田) to 10 years’ imprisonment for “smuggling ordinary goods.” Yao’s supporters say his imprisonment stemmed from his work editing “China’s Godfather Xi Jinping,” a book authored by prominent dissident Yu Jie (余杰) and banned in China. The same month, Hong Kong-based journalists Wang Jianmin (王健民) and Guo Zhongxiao (呙中校) were arrested for “operating illegal publications.” Some sources said the two former editors of Yazhou Zhoukan (literally Asia Weekly) were accused of printing two books in Shenzhen that revealed the political rivalry within China’s Communist Party (CCP). According to the South China Morning Post, the pair is being punished for selling Hong Kong-printed magazines to mainland customers.

The aforementioned cases received substantial attention from local and international media, while similar cases of mainland Chinese residents tend to be less widely reported. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) has information on two lesser known illegal publication cases concluded in 2009. 

The Fall of The Red Sun, one of many banned books in China.

Between 2008 and 2009, Zhang Zhimin (张志民)Hao Qinglin (郝清林), and Ma Fuxiang (马富祥) jointly funded the printing of 55,000 copies of pirated books. Among them were The Fall of the Red Sun 《红太阳的陨落》 and Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine《恶魔一一毛时代大饥荒揭秘》, which accused Mao Zedong of causing more deaths during peacetime than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined. Other books positively appraised Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, former CCP leaders denounced in official history for causing “bourgeois liberalization” in the 1980s, and called for the rehabilitation of June Fourth. Some books claimed to narrate the “inside story” about members of the 17th Politburo Standing Committee, which included then president and premier Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, respectively.

According to the verdict, in 2008, Zhang, Hao, and Ma each made 22,000 yuan from book sales in Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuxi, Chongqing, and Lanzhou. In November 2009, Henan’s Jinshui Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Zhang to eight years in prison, and both Hao and Ma to five and a half years in prison for illegal business activity. Zhang is scheduled for release in July 2017, while Hao and Ma are to be released next January. Three other individuals who allegedly assisted these three defendants were given suspended sentences.

In a separate case, Heilongjiang teacher Liang Juntao (梁俊涛) was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for the same charge. After acquiring a bulk of banned books from Hong Kong between 2008 and 2009, Liang reprinted them to sell in his bookshop in Qiqihar. He also sold books online to more than 30 cities. Official sources say the books attacked China’s political system, defamed the party and its leaders, and incited ethnic separatism and social instability. Among the books distributed was Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang 《国家的囚犯:赵紫阳总理的秘密日记》, a book based on about 30 cassette tapes Zhao secretly recorded while he was under house arrest. Another book titled Shared Mistresses《公共情妇》compiled rumors about extra-marital affairs involving senior party leaders, while The Turbulence in Tibet 《西藏之乱》, published three months after the Lhasa riots in March 2008, blamed the Chinese government for demonizing the Tibetan exile community and causing unrest in Tibetan regions. Liang is due for release in September 2015.


In the lead up to the 25th anniversary of June Fourth, The Telegraph published an article on Tiananmen’s last known prisoner, Miao Deshun (苗德顺). According to Dui Hua’s PPDB, which tracks about half of the 1,602 people imprisoned for the political turmoil, Miao is the only one who remains in prison 25 years on. He is due for release in 2018.

Josh Chin of The Wall Street Journal reported on China’s determination to reject prisoner lists and foreign interventions, linking it to growth in the country’s economy and military since 1989. China abruptly canceled human rights dialogues with the United Kingdom earlier this year and is expected to back out of the US dialogue this summer. Executive Director John Kamm told Chin that a policy decision was made in 2012 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop accepting prisoner lists during bilateral human rights dialogues. As communication channels narrow for government interlocutors, Dui Hua continues to discuss prisoners of conscience with the Chinese government.

Find more selected coverage on our website at In the Media.


Featured ArticleAnnual Report 2013 (May 28)

In 2013, Dui Hua recorded milestones in our four core areas. The Chinese government sent us information on three dozen political prisoners. We successfully funded field research in Chinese women’s prisons and detention centers. Custodial punishments for juvenile offenders declined. And our estimates on the number of executions in China were called the “best available” by The Economist.

During Death Penalty Review, No Right to Legal Aid (May 6)

Outside Beijing: Official June Fourth Accounts (Part II) (May 20)

Outside Beijing: Official June Fourth Accounts (Part III) (May 29)

Last month’s Digest: May 2014


To celebrate 15 years of human rights advocacy, we’ll be highlighting a key moment from this month in Dui Hua history.

On June 17, 2002, Executive Director John Kamm met Takna Jigme Sangpo, who served one of the the longest prison terms for counterrevolution in China. The former elementary school teacher was detained in September 1983 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. His sentence was extended twice, by five years in 1988 and eight years in 1991, for joining demonstrations and shouting slogans while in prison.

Jigme Sangpo (left) and Kamm in 2002.

Kamm began working on Sangpo’s case in the 1990s. In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Chinese government began seriously considering releasing political prisoners as a way to bolster Sino-US relations. Kamm took the initiative to propose the release of Jigme Sangpo, then age 72, to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The MFA initially countered that he did not want to leave prison, but after months of negotiations, the MFA granted medical parole. The ministry also agreed to allow Kamm to meet with Sangpo to ask him whether he wanted to seek medical treatment in the United States.

In Lhasa, Kamm first met with officials from the bureaus of prison administration, public security, state security, and foreign affairs. They told Kamm that after Sangpo completed his six-month medical parole, he would go back to prison.

The same afternoon, surrounded by security personnel, Sangpo received Kamm at his family’s home. The Tibetan elder used a cane to steady his slow gait and wore thick, black-rimmed glasses tipped downward for his cataracts. The two spoke for nearly half an hour. Sangpo described his medical problems: high blood pressure, heart disease, and a recent trembling in his hands and feet. He told Kamm that he would like to seek medical treatment in the United States, and Kamm promised to help. One month later, Sangpo arrived in Chicago, after serving 19 years of a 28-year sentence.

As the United States and China forged closer ties in the early 2000s, dozens of Tibetan prisoners like Jigme Sangpo were released. This period of clemency and good will came to an end in 2005, however, following the early release of prominent businesswoman and Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer. Living in exile in the United States, Kadeer continues to speak out and organize against China’s alleged persecution of Uyghurs.