Top: Executive Director John Kamm; bottom: Tibetan Filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, with his wife Lhamo Tso and their son.
On the evening of February 28, friends of Dui Hua gathered at the foundation’s San Francisco office to celebrate the Spring Festival. Dui Hua was glad to welcome several special guests at this year’s celebration. Dhondup Wangchen, a Tibetan independent filmmaker, whose case Dui Hua had worked on for many years, was joined by his wife Lhamo Tso and their son. Wangchen spent ten years being held incommunicado, detained, imprisoned, and subject to deprivation of political rights in China for his documentary filmmaking. Wangchen reunited with his familyin San Francisco on Christmas Day last year. Professor Chen Taihe, joined by his wife, Jiang Jie, and their sons, was also in attendance. Chen was one of the lawyers detained during the “709” crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists in July 2015.
Just returning from Beijing, where he was received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Supreme People’s Court, Executive Director John Kamm briefed guests on the operating environment for foreign NGOs in China. With the Foreign NGO Management Law now over one year in effect, 2017 ended with more than 300 foreign NGOs having successfully registered with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to establish a physical and sustained presence in China. Before registering with the MPS, these foreign NGOs had to reach agreement with a “Professional Supervisory Unit,” a government or government-affiliated organization approved by the MPS. Another 500 foreign NGOs registered with the MPS for “temporary activity permits” in 2017. By a mid-2016 estimate there were more than 6,000 foreign NGOs operating in China, meaning that many have either pulled up stakes and left China or are operating outside of the law. Moves against dissent continue and opportunities for international intervention are increasingly problematic. In 2017, China held just four human rights dialogues.
In 2018, the foundation will be participating in China’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. Dui Hua is one of a handful of independent human rights organizations that holds Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, allowing it to participate in the review process. Dui Hua plans to focus its review on the issue of judicial transparency as it relates to court websites and figures on special populations.
Dui Hua has received information on prisoners serving sentences for endangering state security who have been granted clemency. An online judgment uncovered by Dui Hua indicated that Yang Changlin (杨长林) received a recommendation of a 16-month sentence reduction from the Henan No.1 Prison in June 2015. A government response stated that Yang was granted another one-year sentence reduction and is now due for release on September 6, 2025. Yang was convicted of contract fraud and subversion and sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment in Beijing in 2011. Dui Hua believes that Yang was involved in the same case as Dong Zhangyi (董占义), founder of the New Era Communist Party, a group with the mission of fighting corruption and overthrowing the Communist Party of China.
Tian Weicheng (田伟成) is one of several Falun Gong practitioners known to have been sentenced for inciting subversion. In March 2015, the Xinjiang No.5 Prison withdrew its recommendation to grant a sentence reduction to Tian. The reason was not stated in the online judgment Dui Hua uncovered. A government response nevertheless indicated that Tian was released on July 27, 2017 following a three-month sentence reduction granted to him in July 2016.
Featured: Despite Tensions, American Attitudes Towards China Improve (March 2, 2018)
Gallup’s annual survey of American attitudes towards foreign countries has been released. It shows that 53 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, versus 45 percent who have an unfavorable view of the country. This marks the first time that the long-running poll has yielded in a majority favorability rating for China since the events of June 1989 nearly 30 years ago.
Previous Digest: February 2018
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999
Lansing and the Sanming Eight
Sanming Intermediate People’s Court. Image Credit: Sanming Court Network.
In 2017, there were more than 200 sister city and state relationships between the United States and China, ties that bind states and cities. The relationships are handled, on the American side, by offices in state and city governments, often manned by volunteers. The relationships exist primarily to foster economic and cultural ties. They have rarely been used to promote human rights and the rule of law.
In the summer of 2004, I hit upon the idea of utilizing sister city relationships to intervene on behalf of political prisoners in the Chinese cities and provinces that had American partners. There were around 120 sister community relationships at that time. I and my colleagues put together a list of contacts in the governor’s and mayor’s offices who oversaw the relationships with Chinese provinces and cities. Our final list had 83 names and addresses of individuals in charge of the sister community relationship.
On August 18, 2004, Dui Hua sent letters to our list of contacts introducing our work and asking if the sister city would be willing to engage their counterparts in a discussion of human rights, and, in particular, whether the state would be willing to submit a list of political prisoners incarcerated in their Chinese counterpart’s jails and prisons.
The response was underwhelming. Of the 83 letters sent out, we received only one positive response. Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, had a sister city relationship with Sanming Municipality, a prefecture-level municipality with a population of 2.5 million, in Fujian Province. Martha Fujita, the Executive Director in charge of Lansing’s Regional Sister City Commission, housed in the Mayor’s office, replied that she would be willing to help Dui Hua. Ms. Fujita advised that a delegation headed by the mayor of Sanming would visit Lansing on September 19-21, 2004.
It so happened that there was a group of eight labor activists who had been detained in April 2002 and sentenced to prison for subversion by the Sanming Intermediate People’s Court in October 2003. The sentences ranged from two to sixteen years. The 16-year sentence was given to the group’s leader, Li Jianfeng, a former court official who had set up an independent trade union and who, the prosecution alleged, had downloaded materials from the Internet which he compiled into a book entitled “Labor Unions.”
Lansing is a city with deep roots to the automotive industry. It has manufactured automobiles at General Motor’s Lansing Plant for decades. Trade unions are strong. National and local unions as well as the local chapter of Amnesty International had already contacted Mayor Tony Benevides asking him to intervene on behalf of the Sanming Eight.
I composed a “Request for Information” and faxed it to Ms. Fujita on August 31, 2004. She agreed to find a way to hand it over, with a cover letter from Mayor Benevides, to the mayor of Sanming when the right moment presented itself.
The Chinese delegation arrived and were hosted to a “Mayor’s Welcome Dinner” and a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. They visited the General Motors plant, Michigan State University, and Sparrow Health Systems. A highlight of the delegation’s visit was sitting in on a Chinese immersion program at an elementary school where the children greeted the guests in Chinese and performed a Chinese folk song for them. The Chinese guests were thrilled and posed for photographs with the children. They also attended a baseball game and sat in the Mayor’s VIP Skybox.
In short, the Chinese delegation was treated to a hearty dose of Midwestern hospitality, setting the stage for the intervention that was to follow.
On September 21, the Chinese group left from Lansing Capital International Airport to make their way back to China via Chicago. While the group was checking in their bags, Ms. Fujita took the mayor of Sanming aside. She explained that Lansing is a city with deep connections to the labor movement, and that an important base of support for Mayor Benevides was labor unions. She then presented Mayor Benevides’ letter and Dui Hua’s request for information to the Chinese mayor. He accepted them without hesitation.
Over the next few years, two of the three labor leaders, including Li Jianfeng, were given sentence reductions and released early. Li was given sentence reductions totaling five years. He was released in April 2013. His five-year supplemental sentence of deprivation of political rights will expire next month, in April 2018. Huang Xiangwei, who was sentenced to six years in prison, received a 10-month sentence reduction and was released after serving just over five years of his sentence.
The use of sister city relationships to promote respect for human rights in China holds potential, but the relationships are rarely used. Boulder, Colorado has had an active sister city relationship with Lhasa, Tibet for more than 30 years. According to the body’s website, it “promotes and implements non-political exchanges of mutual benefit with Lhasa” including in the fields of health care, education, environmental protection, agriculture, and animal husbandry. No mention of human rights, even though human rights abuses in Tibet are often in the news. Houston, which has a sister city relationship with Shenzhen, did little to assist American businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis, even though Ms. Phan-Gillis was the president of the Houston-Shenzhen Sister City Association.
Lansing’s decision to use its relationship with Sanming to help secure the release of the Sanming Eight shows that sister city relationships can play a role in advancing the cause of human rights in China, if city and state governments demonstrate the political will to do so.