Against the backdrop of rising tensions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea, and a debate over a draft law managing the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGO) in China, Executive Director John Kamm visited Hong Kong and Beijing from May 21–31, 2015. There he met with Chinese officials, foreign diplomats, human rights activists, scholars, business leaders, and journalists.
In Hong Kong, public attention is focused on the impending vote on political reform legislation by the Legislative Council (Legco). The bill is based on a proposal issued by the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on August 31, 2014, regarding the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. That proposal, and the legislation before Legco, provide for universal suffrage, i.e., “one man, one vote,” but limits the field of candidates to two or three individuals vetted by a nominating committee dominated by the city’s pro-Beijing elite.
Passage of the bill requires that two-thirds of Legco members vote in its favor. The so-called pan-Democrats, who hold 24 seats in Legco, have the power to veto the legislation, which they have pledged to do. The bill will be formally introduced on June 17, 2015, and a vote is expected within a few days. Virtually everyone Kamm spoke to in Hong Kong expects the bill to fail, leaving in place the current system in which a nominating committee of 1,200 people selects the chief executive.
Calls for universal suffrage galvanized the Occupy Central movement that paralyzed Hong Kong for 79 days at the end of 2014. Beijing initially accused the United States and other Western powers of instigating the civil disobedience, but a Chinese government source told Kamm that Beijing ultimately concluded that the White House and US Department of State played no role in organizing Occupy Central and actually favor passage of the legislation that offers limited political reform.
In Beijing, the topic on everyone’s minds was the draft foreign NGO law, which one astute observer believes is better described as a law managing people-to-people exchange. Following its second reading, the law was published on the NPC’s website for public comment in May. The period of public comment ended June 4, with more than a thousand submissions made by a diversity of organizations including human rights groups, chambers of commerce, trade groups, and foreign embassies.
The proposed law shifts responsibility for foreign NGOs from the Ministry of Civil Affairs to the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and sets up an elaborate structure of partners, hosts, and monitoring bodies. NGO “activities,” a term not defined in the law, are to be cleared in advance and subjected to strict evaluation and monitoring. Fundraising by foreign NGOs is to be prohibited in China, and all their expenditures passed through a local host body. Foreign NGOs who do not presently have a registered office in China must apply for one-year permits from the MPS.
During the Beijing trip, Kamm had hoped to make progress on new Dui Hua initiatives, especially efforts to promote the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). Given the uncertainties surrounding the draft foreign NGO law, however, it is likely that it will become more challenging to hold programs on the mainland in the near term. Nonetheless the law is not expected to affect programs in Hong Kong, where Dui Hua maintains an active presence.
A highlight of Kamm’s visit to Beijing was a meeting with Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Li Baodong on May 29, 2015. The two men discussed the upcoming US-China human rights dialogue scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., on August 4-5, 2015. Vice Minister Li spoke highly of Dui Hua’s cooperation with China on human rights issues, while taking a firm line on both the South China Sea and Hong Kong. If conflict breaks out in the South China Sea, the vice minister stressed, there will be “very serious, long-term consequences for US-China relations.”
Kamm also met with senior representatives from 10 foreign embassies in Beijing, including the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, the European Union, and Norway. Kamm was unable to meet with American Ambassador Max Baucus, who was traveling in Tibet. In recent weeks, a number of foreign embassies have been given permission to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Chinese sources recently informed Dui Hua that Miao Deshun (苗德顺), China’s last known June Fourth prisoner, received a one-year sentence reduction on June 18, 2012. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database tracks about half of the 1,602 people imprisoned for the political turmoil in 1989, and Miao is the only one in the database who has yet to be released. China’s last known June Fourth prisoner convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes, Jiang Yaqun (姜亚群), was released in late 2012.
Beijing courts convicted Miao of arson. A 25-year-old factory worker from Beijing, Miao was sentenced to death with two-year reprieve for throwing a basket at a burning tank during the Tiananmen Square protests. His sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1991 and to 20 years in prison in 1998. Fellow June Fourth prisoner Zhu Gengsheng (朱更生), released in 2011, met Miao in Beijing No.2 Prison. Zhu claims that Miao refused to admit that he was guilty of arson and that he had suffered from a serious bout of hepatitis. After being diagnosed with mental illness in 2003, Miao was transferred to Beijing’s Yangqing Prison, which houses prisoners who are elderly, sick, and disabled. Miao is scheduled release on September 15, 2017.
In May, Chinese sources provided Dui Hua with updates on four prisoners in Tianjin. Land rights activist Ding Shuyin (丁树银) received her second sentence reduction in April 2015. The 10-month reduction follows a 19-month reduction in March 2012. Ding is now scheduled for release from Tianjin Women’s Prison on January 12, 2017. In June 2007, Ding was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months in prison for disrupting official business and gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic. Hers was the longest sentence handed down in a case against 14 farmers who attempted to stop railroad construction in protest of unlawful land grabs.
Dui Hua also asked about Tianjin prisoner Liu Yong (刘镛). Sources said that the Tianjin No.1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison for illegally procuring/trafficking in state secrets/intelligence for foreign entities in 2011. Dui Hua is seeking more information on this case.
Research into official sources recently uncovered the case of 38-year old Mettursun Eziz, a Uyghur convicted of inciting splittism. Henan’s Nanyang Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Mettursun to four years in prison and three years deprivation of political rights on May 17, 2015. The prosecutor alleged that Mettursun used voice messaging apps including WeChat and Talkbox to download a large number of “extreme religious materials” produced by the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP) and circulated them through his personal cloud storage, receiving a total of 3,659 views and 480 downloads. The United States labeled ETIP a terrorist organization in 2002. The Chinese government attributes a number of Chinese bombings and hijackings to the group, but these claims are not typically verified by independent media accounts. Mettursun is scheduled for release on April 2, 2018.
According to a Global Times article published on June 4, Nanyang has become a popular transit route for hijrah, a migratory process to preach Islamism and take up residence overseas. Due to tightened border controls between Xinjiang and Central Asia, an increasing number of Uyghurs have attempted to exit the country through Nanyang, Henan, as well as Heilongjiang, Guangxi, and Yunnan provinces.
Featured: Annual Report 2014
In our 15th year, Dui Hua cemented its status as the only organization in the world, other than the United Nations, that receives information from the Chinese government on prisoners of conscience. In 2014, we asked about 64 prisoners and received responses regarding 38 people and 13 acts of clemency. We also engaged China by holding an international symposium on women in prison and a seminar on the sealing of juvenile records.
Last month’s Digest: May 2015
Dui Hua was mentioned in more than 180 news articles and NGO reports in the first five months of 2015. In May, Reutersnamed Executive Director John Kamm among those advocating for the release of the Beijing Five, women’s rights activists detained days before International Women’s Day for organizing a campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment. Taking cues from the Bangkok Rules, which emphasize the use of non-custodial measures for women in conflict with the law, Kamm suggested that the activists be released on bail. Following Kamm’s fourth meeting with Vice Minister Li Baodong in less than two years, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a photograph of Kamm and Li on its website on May 29, underscoring Dui Hua’s long-standing dialogue with the ministry on human rights and US-China relations.
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
After stepping down as President of the American Chamber of Commerce at the end of 1990, American businessman John Kamm, now executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation, stepped up his efforts to engage the Chinese government in a dialogue on human rights. In 1991, he made 11 trips to mainland China, seven of which were to cities in Guangdong Province.
His concentration on Guangdong was deliberate. It was China’s top exporter to the United States, with half of its exports destined for America. It was the principal site for foreign investment in China. Guangdong was the “home country” for the majority of Chinese Americans, whose relatives had emigrated to the United States as early as the 1840s. Since 1956, Guangdong’s capital began holding biannual export commodities fairs, and this venue soon became China’s most important window to western countries and firms wishing to do business with the country.
Kamm enjoyed deep roots to the government and people of Guangdong. Fluent in Cantonese, he had attended every Guangzhou trade fair since 1976, and had established the first foreign office in Guangzhou in 1979. He had visited every prefecture in the province and was an honorary professor at the Guangzhou Foreign Trade Institute. Professor Qian Yimin, president of the Guangzhou Foreign Trade Institute, became close friends with Kamm and closely followed Kamm’s testimony to US Congress in 1990.
Kamm approached Qian to see if the professor could win the support of Guangdong’s senior leaders for a series of fact-finding missions on three general themes: 1) the fates of individuals serving sentences in Guangdong prisons for the peaceful expression of their political and religious views; 2) the living conditions of individuals recently released from prison sentences for counterrevolutionary crimes; and 3) the conditions in the province’s prisons. Senior leaders agreed to support Kamm’s request, and the trips began in February.
Prior to Kamm’s March 1991 trip, he submitted to the prison administration department a short list of individuals serving sentences in Guangdong prisons for political and religious offenses—the first of hundreds of prisoner lists Kamm submitted to the Chinese government. The 10-name Guangdong list included Yi Danxuan and Chen Pokong (陈破空), June 4 activists who organized the obstruction of the Pearl River Bridge in protest of the suppression of the student-led protests in Beijing; Luo Haixing (罗海星), a Hong Kong trade representative who helped organize the escape from China of those fleeing the suppression of the protests, and two individuals sentenced with him, Li Peicheng and Li Longqing (李龙庆)); Democracy Wall activists Wang Xizhe (王希哲), He Qiu, and Liu Shanqing (刘山青)); and house church pastors Mai Furen and Sun Ludian.
By the end of the year, Yi Danxuan, Luo Haixing, Mai Furen, and Sun Ludian had been granted early release from prison. He Qiu and Li Shanqing were released after serving their full terms, though Liu was allowed to return to Hong Kong despite having been given a supplemental sentence of deprivation of political rights, which usually bars individuals from exiting the country. The remaining four prisoners were released in 1992 and 1993, three prior to the expiration date of their sentences. Only Chen Pokong was released after serving his full sentence.
Kamm made a point of paying several visits to individuals who had served sentences for counterrevolution and were rebuilding their lives in Guangzhou. These included the prominent house church leader Lin Xiangao, known in the West as pastor Samuel Lamb; Father Tan Tiande of the Sacred Heart Cathedral; and Li Jengtian, a leader of one of the Li Yizhe Democracy group active in Guangzhou in the mid-1970s.
Kamm visited Pastor Lamb on three occasions in his Madazhan house church located on the second floor of a “shop-house” in the old city. At the time, Lamb was holding four services a day, attracting 400 worshippers at each service. A few months before Kamm began his visits, police had raided the church and confiscated its bibles. When Kamm arrived for his first visit he had to pass through a police post on the ground floor.
Gaining access to Father Tan also proved difficult. A representative of the local Catholic Patriotic Association initially refused to let Kamm see the elderly cleric, but Kamm sought a meeting with the officially recognized bishop of Guangzhou, who ultimately approved the meeting with Father Tan. Both Pastor Lamb and Father Tan had spent more than 20 years in labor camps for their faith.
In addition to handing over his first prisoner list in 1991, Kamm made his first visits to Chinese prisons. In May, he visited the Guangzhou Juvenile Prison in Shi Qing and witnessed young people assembling radios for export to Southeast Asia. In October Kamm toured the Meixian Prison in northeast Guangdong, where he was informed that pastors Sun and Mai had recently been released on medical parole due to their old age.