Kamm Visits Beijing and Hong Kong for Talks with Chinese Officials and Foreign Diplomats
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Beijing and Hong Kong February 17 to March 4, 2019. He met with senior Chinese officials handling foreign affairs and judicial matters, as well as heads of mission from 11 countries.
Kamm met with the Secretary General of the Boao Forum for Asia, Li Baodong; First Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng; Special Representative for Human Rights Dialogues and Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs International Department Liu Hua; Deputy Director of the International Department of the Supreme People’s Court Yu Xiaoyu; and Head of the Office of Juvenile Courts Judge Jiang Jihai.
Leading scholars with whom Kamm met included Professor Wang Jisi, President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies of Peking University; Professor Dan Wei of the Institute of Procuratorial Studies of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate; and Professor Cheng Lei, Vice Dean of Renmin University School of Law.
Four topics dominated Kamm’s discussions with Chinese officials: the situation in Xinjiang; juvenile justice reform, judicial transparency; and US-China relations.
The Supreme People’s Court Office of Juvenile Courts agreed to participate in the first international symposium on girls in conflict with the law to be held at Hong Kong University in April 2020. Dui Hua is organizing the symposium with the Centre for Comparative Public Law and the Institute of Criminology of Hong Kong University School of Law, London-based Penal Reform International, and Patricia Lee, Managing Attorney of the Juvenile Unit of the San Francisco Public Defenders Office. Kamm also discussed Dui Hua’s hosting of a delegation from the Supreme People’s Court on a visit to the United States in late 2020 or early 2021.
While in Beijing, Kamm received detailed statistics on sentencing and conviction of criminal trials in China in 2017. This marks a significant development in judicial transparency.
Kamm was invited to visit Xinjiang to see for himself the situation in the autonomous region. He intends doing so at a future date. He was told that China plans to eventually close the “vocational training centers.” Every one of Xinjiang’s 106 counties has at least one of these centers. The largest center holds around 2,000 “trainees.”
A highlight of the visit to Beijing was a two hour “working” reception in Kamm’s honor held at the residence of the American ambassador to China Terry Branstad on February 19, 2019. Ten ambassadors attended the reception. The topic of the gathering was “successful strategies for engaging the Chinese government on human rights.”
During Kamm’s visit, he handed over lists of individuals subjected to coercive measures in China. He was given information on 15 individuals most of whom have served or are serving sentences for endangering state security and disturbing social order.
In Hong Kong, Kamm met with US Consul General Kurt Tong as well as scholars, business leaders, and journalists. A topic of discussion was the impending release of the State Department’s annual report on Hong Kong called for under the Hong Kong Policy Act.
Kamm’s visit to Beijing and Hong Kong took place against heightened tensions in US-China relations due to disputes over trade, technology, and national security. Despite these tensions, Kamm’s visit was productive and informative.
Dui Hua received a response from the Chinese government on Quan Ping (Kwon Pyong, 权平), a Chinese national of Korean ethnicity and graduate of Iowa State University. He was released in March 2018 after serving his one year six months’ sentence. Detained on September 30, 2016, he was indicted for inciting subversion for, among other things, wearing a t-shirt with the print “Xitler” and “Xi-Bun” outside a government building in Jilin province. “Xi-Bun” is a satirical nickname given to Xi Jinping after his surprise visit to a chain bun shop in 2013. The visit was widely covered by Chinese media in an effort to paint an image of Xi as an approachable leader. Quan has likely spent the last year subject to deprivation of political rights, an accessory punishment designed to limit an individual’s political activity, which may explain his silence since his release last year. Dui Hua is the first non-governmental organization to obtain an official confirmation about his release.
Ding Lixian (丁立先) is serving his five-year sentence in Shandong Weifang Prison. He was accused of using the printing company that he managed to print more than 60,000 publications containing political gossip and scandal about Chinese leadership. According to the response received, Ding has demonstrated remorse, followed prison regulations, and carried out labor. However, he has not yet received a sentence reduction. Ding is scheduled to be released in August 2021.
Dui Hua received information on political prisoners in Hunan. Authorities granted Zhu Yu’an (朱玉安) medical parole in June 2018. The female Falun Gong practitioner was convicted of “organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law” and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in October 2016.
China Democracy Party member Xie Changfa (谢长发) continues to serve his 13-year sentence in Chishan Prison. The outlawed opposition party has faced suppression since its establishment in 1998. Xie has not received any sentence reductions after being convicted of subversion in 2009. Xie reportedly refuses to demonstrate remorse. He is expected to finish his term in June 2021.
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The term “historical nihilism” has come into vogue among Chinese government officials following Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012. “Historical nihilism” refers to the questioning of the official Chinese Communist Party’s version of Chinese history. A communiqué circulated in 2013 within the party known as Document No.9 calls historical nihilism one of the seven perils that threatens party rule. Under the guise of “re-evaluation,” historical nihilism “discredits revolution under the party’s leadership” and “denies the historical necessity of China’s choice of embarking on the socialist path.”
Jailhouse Informants and Wrongful Convictions
John Kamm Remembers
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.
Ashes and Water: The Death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (Part 2 of 2)
Exemption from “Policy Decision”
My own inquiries were exempted from the policy decision to refuse prisoner lists and provide responses. I was not after all a foreign government. I could continue to submit lists and get answers to my queries.
In March 2012, just before the “policy decision,” I was told that Tenzin Delek had been allowed family visits and that he would get family visits in the future. In November 2013, Tenzin Delek’s family paid him a visit. This would be the last time the family saw him alive.
The last written response to one of my requests for information on Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was given during my trip to Beijing in August 2014. The response implicitly acknowledged that he was ill but pointed out that “sickness alone is not the only criteria for medical parole.” As the response put it, “Tenzin Delek does not meet other criteria. He is a threat to social stability and to himself.”
I concluded that the Chinese government was worried that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche would commit suicide, perhaps by means of self-immolation. Beginning in 2009, Tibetans burned themselves to death to protest rule by Beijing. By the time I received the response, more than 130 Tibetans had self-immolated. I doubled down on medical parole, arguing that a Rinpoche would never approve of violence of any kind, including self-violence.
I was too late. Before my ideas gained traction, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche passed away.
A Call from London
At 3:30 PM on July 15, 2015, I received an email from Mandie McKeown, Campaigns Coordinator the International Tibet Network in London. “I have been given some worrying news,” she wrote. She hesitated, wanting to verify the news from another source. At 8:46 PM she informed me that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had died in recent days.
McKeown’s news was current: Tenzin Delek had died on July 12. The lama’s family got the news in a phone call from the prison authorities at 10 PM Tibet time on the 12th. Large-scale protests broke out on July 13 as demonstrators demanded that the prison authorities hand over the Rinpoche’s body to his family and his monastery. The police reportedly beat the protesters and dispersed them with tear gas. Protests and unrest continued in Yajiang County, site of Orthok Monastery, and Lithang County on July 14 and July 15.
On July 15, McKeown advised me that Tenzin Delek’s body had not been handed over to the family, and that the prison authorities were preparing to cremate his remains without allowing the family or monks to view the body or carry out traditional Tibetan funeral rites. On July 15, the family was told that the cremation would take place the following day, July 16, Tibet time.
Acting on a hunch, I asked Dui Hua researchers to look for regulations on how to deal with the death of prisoners in custody. It turned out that regulations had just been jointly issued by the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs in March 2015, four months before Tenzin Delek’s death.
Article 17 of these regulations states that unless relatives had objections to the cremation or questions about the prisoner’s death, the body should be cremated as soon as possible. Article 19 states that the body should be cremated within 15 days after investigation of death is concluded, and that if the relatives request a delay in cremation, the prison should decide on a case by case basis, but the delay should not be more than 10 days.
The results of the prison’s investigation into Tenzin Delek’s death – if indeed there was an investigation – have never been disclosed. No autopsy is believed to have been performed. He was cremated four days after his death over the objections of his family.
Of special significance, Article 24 stipulates that if the deceased prisoner is a member of an ethnic minority, “handling of the body should respect ethnic traditions.”
I immediately informed Mandie McKeown, who confirmed receipt and advised that she would find a way to forward the regulations to the family. She succeeded in doing so. The family contacted the prison authorities right away and demanded that they act in accordance with the regulations. The authorities relented, and early on the morning of July 16, Tenzin Delek’s sister and niece, together with a small group of monks and nuns, were taken by car to Chuandong Prison. They arrived around 9 AM at this dreaded place and were allowed to enter. They were taken to a room near the crematorium.
The monks washed and anointed the body and changed his clothes from prison garb to monk’s robes. The family was able to pay its respects for about 30 minutes. Tenzin Delek was cremated at around 10 AM. The monks were entrusted with the Rinpoche’s ashes and they set out for Orthok Monastery.
They stopped at a hotel along the way to spend the night. Police raided the hotel, barged into the room, and seized Tenzin Delek’s ashes. They told the monks that the ashes would be dumped in a river. The Chinese government was determined not to allow the holy man’s remains to become a focal point of reverence or protest.
Two years later, almost to the day after Tenzin Delek’s death, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo – widely considered China’s top political prisoner – died of liver cancer on July 13, 2017 in Liaoning Province. He had served nearly nine years of an 11-year sentence in Jinzhou Prison for inciting subversion.
Liu Xiaobo’s final days were very different from the final days of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Liu was granted medical parole several weeks before his death, too late to save him as it turned out. He was taken to a hospital in Shenyang where he was afforded the best treatment available. Foreign doctors – one from Germany, one from the United States – were flown in to conduct a diagnosis. His wife and immediate members of his family were permitted to stay by his side to the hour of his death.