For the third consecutive year, the National Committee on US-China Relations invited Dui Hua to participate in an event for the Public Intellectuals Program (PIP). The program aims to support up-and-coming China specialists with events in Washington D.C., San Francisco, and China. On April 24, Executive Director John Kamm and Publications & Programs Officer Jonathan Kinkel received the PIP Fellows for a luncheon in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Kamm spoke about the 25 years he has spent working with China on human rights policy as well as Dui Hua’s ongoing efforts on behalf of political prisoners and women in prison. During the event, the fellows asked several questions regarding China’s changing political climate.
On April 13, police officers in western Beijing released five women’s rights activists who were detained in early March for attempting to raise awareness about sexual harassment. Dubbed the Beijing Five, the activists were released on guarantee pending further investigation, or qubao houshen, a measure similar to bail.
Professor Jerome A. Cohen of the US-Asia Law Institute at New York University has previously noted that release on guarantee pending investigation has frequently been used as a “face-saving” measure, whereby detainees in sensitive cases may be released without authorities having to acknowledge wrongdoing or lack of evidence. It also appears to be a legal means to wrap up detentions that were intended merely as punishment or intimidation.
That said, qubao houshen does carry limitations on personal liberty. During their release on guarantee, the Beijing Five may be barred from travelling without permission, must appear promptly when given a custodial summons, and may be prohibited from communicating with certain designated persons, according to Article 69 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL). A period of release on guarantee may last up to 12 months before police are legally required to end their investigation, and guarantee collateral may be returned after that time, according to articles 77 and 71 of the law, respectively.
China faced a strong political backlash for detaining the Beijing Five two days before International Women’s Day. The detention also appeared out of step with what seemed to be China’s growing recognition of the seriousness of domestic violence, evidenced by the case of Li Yan and the consideration of the anti-domestic violence law.
The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) bring together the issues of women’s rights, non-custodial measures, sexual harassment, and domestic violence within the context of criminal justice. The rules advocate for the use of non-custodial measures and for histories of victimization to be taken into account in their application. For women who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse, detention can be an especially triggering experience.
In China, detention is applied as a routine measure, taking little account of its necessity to the case or its impact on the women behind bars. A reduction in the use of custodial measures in China would be a welcome change.
Dui Hua research recently uncovered four noteworthy cases involving inciting subversion, an endangering state security (ESS) crime commonly used to suppress freedoms of speech and association. The first took place amid the nationwide clampdown on activities commemorating the 25th anniversary of June Fourth. Nie Zhanye (聂占业) was arrested on June 12, 2014, in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on suspicion of inciting subversion. He was criminally detained on May 30, four days after using social media (QQ) to circulate articles that authorities said discussed “mourning June Fourth” as a means to “instigate” demonstrations in Beijing. The court said a total of 10,781 members of the chat group received the June Fourth articles. Authorities accused Nie of circulating seven other articles containing “false” and “defamatory” information about China. Among them was an article about the trial of Liu Ping (刘萍), a member of the New Citizens’ Movement who was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for attempting to run for office as an independent candidate in Xinyu, Jiangxi Province. Similar to several members of the New Citizens’ Movement, Nie initially faced inciting subversion charges but was ultimately convicted of provoking a serious disturbance. He received a suspended sentence on January 6, 2015.
In Anhui’s Guoyang County, a 26-year old farmer surnamed Liu received a one-year sentence for inciting subversion on January 27, 2015. Although articles 19 and 20 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law stipulate that intermediate courts have jurisdiction over ESS cases, the Guoyang County People’s Court heard the trial of first instance. Liu’s conviction was upheld upon appeal to the Bozhou Intermediate People’s Court on April 10, 2015. Liu is believed to have been taken into custody in Shenzhen on August 19, 2014, and formally arrested on September 30. The reasons for his arrest and sentencing remain unclear.
Xinjiang is known to account for a large number of China’s ESS trials, with most defendants believed to be Uyghurs seeking greater cultural freedom. The last two incitement cases shed light on a different type of Xinjiang ESS case: Han Chinese men tried for their involvement with Falun Gong. Anhui native, Li Qishan (李奇山) received a suspended sentence for “using/organizing a cult to undermine the implementation of the law” in February 2001. In a separate case, on May 13, 2009, the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to eight years’ imprisonment and four years’ deprivation of political rights for inciting subversion. A year and a half later, on November 18, 2010, the same court sentenced Tian Weicheng (田伟成) to eight years in prison and three years’ deprivation of political rights for inciting subversion. Both men are currently serving their sentences in Xinjiang No.5 Prison. On January 27, 2015, the prison sent recommendations that both Li and Tian receive sentence reductions to the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court. Shortly thereafter, the prison withdrew the recommendations on the grounds that the Urumqi Intermediate People’s Court did not have jurisdiction over the cases. Neither Li nor Tian are known to have received sentence reductions as of this writing. They are due for release on July 1, 2015, and October 27, 2017, respectively.
Dui Hua was named in nearly 80 news articles and NGO reports in April. Most articles devoted their attention to the release of American political prisoner Dr. Xue Feng. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the BBC all published stories on the case, citing Dui Hua as both a primary source and advocate for Xue’s early release. National Public Radio’s Morning Edition quoted Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm regarding the underlying reasons for the Chinese government’s decision to stop accepting written requests for information regarding prisoners of conscience after Chen Guangcheng, a rights activist and blind self-taught lawyer, evaded police captors and fled to the US in 2012. Another New York Times article cited Dui Hua in its discussion of the landmark decision by China’s Supreme People’s Court to overturn the death sentence against Li Yan, a domestic violence survivor who killed her abusive husband.
Featured Article: Dui Hua Welcomes Release of American Geologist Xue Feng (April 3)
American geologist Dr. Xue Feng (薛锋, pictured left) has been released from Beijing No. 2 Prison after serving all but 20 months of his eight-year sentence for “illegally procuring state secrets.” In accordance with the verdict, Dr. Xue was deported the same day. He arrived home in Houston on the evening of April 3. At the time of his release, he was the only American citizen serving a sentence in a Chinese prison for the crime of endangering state security.
Life Sentence Commuted for Opposition Party Leader Dong Zhanyi (April 13)
Paraplegic Petitioner Jailed for Disturbing Real, Not Online, Space (April 23)
Last month’s Digest: April 2015
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
John Kamm was a private businessman based in Hong Kong when he was granted a meeting with Vice Minister of Justice Jin Jian and Prison Administration Bureau Director Wang Mingdi in April 1992. At the time, US Congress was debating whether to extend Most-Favored-Nation tariffs to China, and Kamm was one of the principal proponents in favor of granting China this treatment. The Chinese government decided to support Kamm’s effort by releasing information on cases and granting clemency to prisoners Kamm named in meetings and lists.
During the April meeting, Vice Minister Jin offered to respond to any prisoner inquiry Kamm submitted, provided that the name was given in accurate pinyin or, even better, in Chinese characters. Kamm immediately asked about Wei Jingsheng, arguably China’s most famous political prisoner known for his essays in support of democratic reform published during the brief period of political liberalization of the late 1970s. True to the vice minister’s word, Director Wang Mingdi responded to Kamm’s inquiry. Information included in the response was published the next day in The New York Times, which referred to the correspondence as “the first time that the [Chinese] government has provided extensive details of the imprisonment of Mr. Wei.”
Two years later, Kamm was compelled to look into a lesser-known case. In February 1994, Human Rights Watch published Detained in China and Tibet: A Directory of Political Prisoners. The 632-page tome contains information on approximately 1,700 prisoners and remains a valuable resource for scholars and activists.
Buried in the section “Long-Term Prisoners Sentenced Prior to 1989” was an account of a counterrevolutionary party, the Preparatory Committee for the Northeast China Autonomous People’s Republic, set up in Jilin Province in the early 1980s. The account was based on the transcript of a Changchun Radio broadcast recorded by the BBC. It gave the names of the three ringleaders—Cheng Xiaogang, Shi Dongting, and Zhao Fengxing—thought to remain in prison.
Kamm wondered whether the names were recorded correctly and if a written account of the case could be found in a provincial newspaper. On a hunch, he visited a Hong Kong library and searched Jilin newspapers published in late 1983. After several hours, he came across a detailed account of the case in the December 2 edition of the Jilin Dailythat named the party leaders as Cheng Xiaogang, Xu Dongping, and Zhao Fengping.
Armed with Chinese characters and accurate pinyin, Kamm immediately filed an inquiry with the Ministry of Justice. In response, the ministry advised Kamm that all three men had been convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes. Cheng Xiaogang was sentenced to 15 years in prison and paroled on December 1, 1987. Xu Dongping was sentenced to 20 years in prison and released on medical parole in 1991. Zhao Fengping was given a life sentence, which was commuted to 13 years on December 20, 1989. Zhao’s sentence was due to expire on December 19, 2002. Kamm continued to inquire about Zhao after founding Dui Hua—until the ministry reported that he had been released two and a half years early on April 21, 2000.
The prospect of finding the names of political prisoners in open source materials seemed absurd until John Kamm went to a library in 1994. Five years later, Kamm would establish Dui Hua, which, due in part to the contribution of open-source research, now maintains the world’s largest database of Chinese prisoners of conscience.