Final China Trip of 2015
From September 16–27, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm made his last trip to China for 2015. Travelling to Hong Kong and Beijing, he met with Chinese officials, foreign diplomats, scholars, journalists, representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and activists.
Speaking frankly about Chinese prisoners of conscience, Kamm submitted lists of cases of concern to provincial and central authorities in the Chinese government. In return, interlocutors provided information on nine prisoners involved in cases of incitement, illegal publications, and “cults.”
Among the Chinese officials Kamm met in Beijing were Professor Wang Jisi, President of the Chinese Institute for International Strategic Studies; Senior Judge Ma Dong of the Supreme People’s Court Juvenile Court Guiding Group; and Director Jiang Yingfeng of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights Division.
Foreign diplomats who met with Kamm in Hong Kong included US Consul General Ford Hart, Acting US Ambassador Kaye A. Lee, European Union Ambassador Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, Swiss Ambassador Jean-Jacques de Dardel, and Norwegian Ambassador Svein Saether. Also joining meetings were embassy officials from Australia, Austria, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Kamm’s visit to Beijing coincided with President Xi Jinping’s US state visit, and expectations for the visit were a principal topic of discussion. Other topics spanned the plight of American businesswoman Sandy Phan-Gillis, the special pardon announced on August 28, the quickening pace of bilateral human rights and rule of law dialogues, non-custodial measures for women and juveniles, and the draft foreign NGO law.
While Kamm was in Beijing, the Ministry of State Security formally detained Phan-Gillis, who had already spent six months of “residential surveillance in an undisclosed location”, on suspicion of espionage and theft of state secrets. Kamm pressed for a quick resolution of the case, noting that the entrepreneur suffers from serious medical problems. He also expressed the hope that the case would not become an issue in US-China relations as 2016 presidential campaigning gets underway in the United States.
Marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war against Japan, last month’s special pardon was the first passed by the National People’s Congress since 1975. Nationwide more than 10,000 prisoners are expected to be freed. The pardon covers four classes of prisoners not considered threats to social stability including veterans, juveniles, and prisoners over the age of 75 who suffer from serious medical conditions. Prisoners convicted of endangering state security crimes are not eligible. Provinces are drawing up lists of beneficiaries, in line with implementation rules not yet made public. While the pardon affects less than one percent of people in Chinese prisons, it could open the door to more acts of mass clemency. Dui Hua previously advocated for special pardons to mark the 2008 Olympics and 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2009.
The Chinese delegation to the US-China Human Rights Dialogue, held in Washington, D.C., in August, accepted a list of cases of concern, raising hopes among other bilateral dialogue partners that they too might successfully submit prisoner lists. In mid-October China is slated to hold a round of the US-China Legal Experts Dialogue in Beijing and human rights consultations in the Hague with the Netherlands. Also on China’s calendar are human rights dialogues with Germany and the European Union in November. Several foreign diplomats noted China’s greater willingness to engage in human rights discussions defined by patient and courteous exchange rather than heated rhetoric. They did not, however, observe discernible changes in China’s long-held positions.
In September, Dui Hua received information from Chinese interlocutors on nine people in custody in Guangdong Province. Four received sentence reductions. Women involved in Falun Gong, an outlawed group, accounted for three of the four acts of clemency. Cheng Li (成丽) and Dai Guandi (戴观娣) each saw their sentences reduced in December 2014. Sentenced to 11 years in prison in May 2010, Cheng is due for release from Guangdong Women’s Prison on September 23, 2018, following a 10-month sentence reduction. Dai is scheduled for release in 28 months. Her 2012 sentence of six and a half years was reduced by four months. Xu Ruilian (徐瑞连) was released three years early from an eight-year sentence on October 22, 2013. Government sources did not specify when her sentence was reduced.
In August, Dui Hua received the first official response regarding Fan Baolin (范宝林). Fan received a two-year sentence reduction after his life sentence was commuted to a fixed term of 18 years. Fan was convicted of illegally procuring state secrets for foreign entities in Xi’an. Unofficial media sources say that Fan is a former state security bureau employee sympathetic to the June Fourth protests. He was arrested in July 1999 after faxing an internal document to a Chinese activist based overseas. Fan is scheduled for release from Shaanxi’s Weinan Prison on November 30, 2016.
Featured: China Adds Life Without Parole to Anti-Corruption Arsenal (September 17)
Just before passing the ninth amendment to the Criminal Law in late August, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress inserted a new provision not included in draft amendments circulated for public consultation. This last-minute provision altered Article 383, covering the offense of corruption. Effective November 1, the provision authorizes courts, in certain cases, to sentence individuals to life in prison without possibility of sentence reduction or parole.
Previous Digest: September 2015
This section delves into the human rights activism of John Kamm between 1990 and 1999, the year he established Dui Hua.
In Bid for MFN, 2000 Olympics, China Freed Catholics
The attempt by US Congress to attach human rights conditions on the renewal of China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status narrowly failed when Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell could not muster the votes necessary to override President George H. W. Bush’s veto in the summer of 1991.
Beijing knew that the fight to renew MFN in 1992—a presidential election year—would be a tough one, and that it would be necessary to continue making human rights concessions to achieve renewal of that trade status without conditions. Adding to China’s willingness to compromise was the 2000 Summer Olympics. Beijing announced a bid to host the games in February 1991 and the winner would be determined in September 1993.
American businessman Kamm, who by late 1991 was increasingly seen as a middleman in securing the release of Chinese prisoners of conscience, had an idea for how China could demonstrate its commitment to human rights. He suggested the release of “underground Catholics.” As the early 1990s began, dozens of Catholic clergy and laity were being held in prisons and re-education through labor (RTL) camps as well as “homes for the elderly,” detention facilities for elderly clergy operated by the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). For many Catholics, their only offense was refusal to join the Catholic Patriotic Association under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.
In meetings with a number of Chinese government agencies—including the State Council Information Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Catholic Section of SARA known as the Second Department—Kamm argued that releasing underground Catholics, served China’s twin goals of renewing MFN and securing the 2000 Olympics.
Kamm stressed the high percentage of Roman Catholics who were members of US Congress, and the large number of countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia with majority Roman Catholic populations. He used the information obtained during his visit to Meizhou Prison in late 1991—that elderly prisoners are eligible for medical parole—to concentrate his early efforts on bishops and priests in their seventies.
From January 1992 to September 1993, Kamm intervened on behalf of more than 20 Catholic clergy, many of whom were brought to his attention by Giancarlo Politi, a Catholic priest in Hong Kong. Kamm put their names on lists, raised their names in meetings, unleashed a barrage of letters and faxes, and, as a Roman Catholic, requested to hear Mass said by the clergy and to send them Christmas cards.
By September 1993, virtually all of the bishops and priests for whom Kamm advocated had gained early release, including:
- Bishop Liu Guandong (刘冠东), the de facto president of the underground Chinese Bishops Conference, was sentenced to three years of RTL on May 21, 1990. He was released one year early on May 21, 1992.
- Father Jin Dechen (靳德辰), sentenced to 15 years in prison for counterrevolutionary crimes in 1982, was released on parole on May 21, 1992.
- Monsignor Wang Yijun (王益俊), one of the longest serving Catholic prisoners who was sentenced to prison for counterrevolution in 1981 and then sentenced to an additional three years of RTL in February 1990, was released on parole on May 21, 1992.
- Pei Ronggui (裴荣贵), a Trappist priest and leader of a Catholic village attacked by security forces in 1989, was released on parole on March 31, 1993, after serving three years of a five-year sentence.
- Father Li Fangchun (李芳春), arrested in February 1983 and subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison for counterrevolutionary crimes, was released on medical parole in June 1992. After two sentence reductions, his sentence expired on February 24, 1993.
China’s effort to win renewal of its MFN trade status was successful in 1992, and in 1993, President Bill Clinton eschewed legislative action in favor of an executive order that was eventually abandoned as China’s economic clout and lobbying prowess began to rise. As for its Olympic bid, after leading in four of five rounds of voting, China was finally edged out by Sydney, which won by two votes. To this day, Catholics, like other religious groups, continue to be persecuted in China, and elderly clergy can still be found in government-run “homes.”