Dui Hua Visits Europe after UN Human Rights Council Showdown
After a two-week speaking tour on the East Coast of the United States, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm flew to Geneva to begin a three-week trip to Europe. In Geneva, he met with officials of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, diplomats from more than a dozen countries, and senior members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Kamm arrived in Geneva two weeks after the conclusion of the confrontational 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). During the session, western nations voiced concern over China’s “deteriorating” human rights situation, with American Ambassador Keith Harper reading a statement signed by 12 countries. The March 10 statement mentioned a wide range of issues, including the arrests of activists, civil society leaders, and lawyers; recent disappearances of Chinese and foreign citizens in Hong Kong and Thailand—the individuals were reportedly forcibly removed to mainland China and, in the Hong Kong case, the ambassador claimed this was a violation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law; and a surge in the number of individuals put on state television to confess their alleged crimes before being formally charged or tried.
The statement marked the first time that a United Nations member state had been subjected to this kind of criticism in the 10-year history of the HRC. In response, impassioned Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong attacked the United States for abuses committed at Guantanamo Bay, gun violence, and racism.
The next day, China was further incensed by the warm welcome received by the Dalai Lama. He attended a “Nobel Laureates on Human Rights” event moderated by UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore and organized by the American and Canadian missions at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. Afterward, he went to the park in front of the Palais des Nations, which houses the United Nations Office in Geneva, where he addressed an estimated 3,000 Tibetans.
By the time Kamm arrived two weeks later, the joint statement and the Dalai Lama events were still major topics of discussion. Some foreign diplomats raised the possibility that more joint statements would be issued at future sessions of the HRC. Meanwhile, Chinese diplomats made clear that countries that signed the joint statement would “pay a price.” As April ended, it appeared likely that bilateral human rights dialogues and consultations between China and countries that signed the statement would be suspended or cancelled.
Kamm left Geneva for the capitals of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—three countries that signed the joint statement—to discuss human rights developments in China with officials of each country’s ministry of foreign affairs. In addition to the joint statement and the situation in Hong Kong, talks focused on cases of prisoners serving sentences for political crimes, such as Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was named a finalist on April 27 for the Martin Ennals Prize for Human Rights Defenders, which is awarded by the international human rights community.
Kamm also met with Scandinavian NGOs to discuss the impending passage of China’s Foreign NGO Management Law and, near the end of the trip, spoke about Dui Hua’s work to an audience of two dozen scholars, journalists, and officials at Copenhagen Business School.
Feng Chaoxi (冯朝喜) and Wu Xiaoling (吴筱玲), two people convicted of spying for Taiwan in Shaanxi Province, received sentence reductions in November 2015. The sentence reductions came four months after Dui Hua submitted a prisoner list including their names to government interlocutors. Feng was as a general manager at a Xi’an-based company, when in January 2002, he allegedly joined a Taiwanese intelligence agency. Sentenced to life in prison in September 2002, Feng received four sentence reductions totaling 87 months since his sentence was commuted to a fixed term of 18 years in 2005. With his latest 23-month sentence reduction, Feng was released from Weinan Prison on March 29, 2016.
Wu Xiaoling was released nearly four years early from a 12-year sentence in Shaanxi Women’s Prison. Sentenced in April 2007, she received her first sentence reduction of 24 months in 2012 and had her remaining 21-month sentence commuted by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court in November 2015. Information was not provided on whether Wu, a resident of Taiwan, will need to serve her three-year sentence of deprivation of political rights, which follows after her prison sentence, in mainland China. Wu’s husband, Taiwan resident Yu Wengong (于文恭), is scheduled to remain in prison on the same charges until 2022. No sentence reductions have been reported in his case.
Dui Hua was mentioned in nearly 70 media reports in the first four months of 2016. In April, coverage of Dui Hua’s estimates of Chinese executions spanned the globe, with reports from Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Germany. A Polish news outlet reported on last year’s release of American geologist Xue Feng, and the Chinese-language edition of Radio Free Asia caught up with professor and lawyer Chen Taihe. Chen was reunited with his family in the United States this spring after several months under coercive measures in China.
Featured: China’s Average “Death Row” Prisoner Waits 2 Months for Execution (April 27)
Based on Dui Hua analysis of more than 500 Supreme People’s Court decisions, China’s average “death row” prisoner can expect to wait roughly two months from the time the high court approves their death sentence to the time of their execution. This period can vary considerably, however, with a small handful of people waiting more than 200 days, and others waiting less than a week. Based on our sample, the median length of time on “death row” was 50 days.
Previous Digest: April 2016
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
Kamm Visits a Chinese Prison (Part 1 of 2)
Reflecting his background as president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in 1990, the early trips businessman John Kamm made to Beijing to engage Chinese officials on human rights were hosted by the Chinese Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). It was with the assistance of the CCPIT that Kamm first met with China’s Prison Administration Bureau (PAB), under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), on October 17, 1991.
During that meeting, Kamm sat down with PAB Deputy Director Wang Mingdi and MOJ Foreign Affairs Department Deputy Director Zhang Yaochen to discuss the possibility of visiting one of the approximately 700 prisons under the control of the PAB in 1991.
The MOJ told Kamm that while it was not prepared to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit Chinese prisons, it welcomed foreign visitors to its 31 “model prisons” and had hosted more than 20,000 of these visitors since 1979.
Opining that model prisons were unlikely to be representative of general prison conditions, Kamm asked the MOJ to consider allowing him to visit a prison that 1) had never been visited by a foreigner, 2) was not a model prison, 3) housed prisoners convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes (which are now mostly reclassified as endangering state security crimes), and 4) was located in a coastal region (coastal prisons were alleged to make goods for export).
Wang said the ministry would consider his request and asked if Kamm had any prisons in mind. Kamm named Huaiji Prison in western Guangdong Province, following a tip from Hong Kong businessman Luo Haixing, who was previously incarcerated there, that it had a specialized cellblock for people who had committed counterrevolutionary crimes. Wang said he would pass along the request, making clear that China would decide which prisons to open to outsiders.
The next day, on October 18, 1991, Kamm received a phone call inviting him to visit a prison that met all of his conditions: Meizhou Prison in northeastern Guangdong Province. He was told that no photography would be allowed during the visit.
Kamm immediately returned to Hong Kong to put together as much information as he could on Guangdong’s counterrevolutionary prisoners and Meizhou Prison. Using reports issued by international human rights organizations, Kamm put together a list of 13 people convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes who might be in Meizhou.
Armed with the list, Kamm took the train to Guangzhou on October 21 and flew to Meizhou on October 22. He was met at the airport by Guangdong’s Prison Administration Department Director Chen Weixiong and Meizhou Prison Warden Zhou Xiongxiang.
The men repaired to a small room at the airport where Chen and Zhou gave Kamm a “brief introduction” to Meizhou Prison, and Kamm gave them his list.
In late 1990, the Guangdong Prison Administration Department managed 20 prison and reform-through-labor brigades as well as several reeducation-through-labor camps. Only one facility was open to foreigners: the juvenile reformatory in Guangzhou. Generally speaking, prisons are used to house people with prison terms of 10 years or more, while detention centers run by public security bureaus house people awaiting trial as well as those sentenced to one or two years in prison who, because of the length of their sentences, are not transferred to prisons.
In 1990, the largest prison in Guangdong Province was Shaoguan Prison in the north, housing 3,000 prisoners. Huaiji held 2-3,000 prisoners, while Meizhou was considered average size at 1,500 prisoners and 300 staff who lived and worked at the prison with their families. Eighty percent of Meizhou prisoners had been convicted of a violent crime in Meixian, Shantou, and Heyuan municipalities; 30 percent had been convicted of murder; 20 percent of economic crimes, like embezzlement and corruption. Only about 10 prisoners had been convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes, typically of spying for Taiwan. Meizhou did not house any people convicted for offenses committed during the 1989 June Fourth protests.