Executive Director John Kamm and Switzerland’s State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl.
Dui Hua executive director John Kamm visited European capitals from September 20 to October 7, 2017. Kamm discussed developments in China with officials and diplomats in Copenhagen, Brussels, Geneva, Bern, Stockholm, and Oslo. He also huddled with scholars and representatives of non-governmental organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, exchanging information and opinions on the current state of human rights in China. He briefed his counterparts on Dui Hua activities since his last visit to Europe in November 2016.
Kamm attended the last three days of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council. The session was noteworthy for criticisms leveled against China by the United States and the European Union (EU). Having failed to deliver a statement on China under Item 4 of the agenda during the 35th session, apparently because Greece failed to support the move, the EU delivered a strongly worded Item 4 statement at the 36th session. The statement regretted the death in prison of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and called for the lifting of all restrictions on family members; urged China to respect due process in the cases of imprisoned lawyers and give fair trials to Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang, Tashi Wangchuk, and Wu Gan; asked China to implement the Foreign NGO Management Law in ways that do not hinder the development of independent civil society; and called on China to respect cultural diversity and religious freedom in Tibet
The United States made statements under Items 3, 4, and 5 of the agenda. For the first time, it made a statement under Item 3, which deals with enforced disappearances. The United States criticized only two countries, China and Syria, listing China first. It highlighted the disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 and the 2017 disappearance of billionaire Xiao Jianhua “under suspicious circumstances” from a hotel in Hong Kong. Under Item 4, which deals with human rights situations that require the Human Rights Council’s attention, the United States expressed concern over the decision of the Hong Kong authorities to seek tougher sentences for pro-democracy activists who had served their original sentences. It also criticized China for the arbitrary detention, torture, and televised confessions of lawyers and activists; mentioned retaliation against their family members; and expressed concern about conditions “akin to martial law” in Xinjiang and Tibet.
China’s Reaction: Impact on Bilateral Dialogues?
China reacted furiously to the American and European statements (in addition to the EU statement under Item 4, both the United Kingdom and German issued strongly-worded statements under Item 4 and Switzerland issued a statement under Item 2 that called for the lifting of restrictions on Liu Xia’s freedom to travel). The Chinese rebuttal criticized the United States for racism, Germany for the rise of neo-Nazi groups, the UK for fostering modern day slavery, the Netherlands for the rise of xenophobia and far right groups, and Switzerland for its treatment of minorities. It was especially angry at the American Item 3 statement, not only because of its language on Hong Kong, but because the American representative “blindsided” his Chinese counterpart, giving him only 20 minutes to craft a reply.
Prior to the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council in June, Beijing warned the EU that it would cancel the bilateral human rights dialogue if the EU made an Item 4 statement criticizing China. In the event, the EU did not make a statement, not because of the Chinese threat but because, under the consensus rule, Greece effectively blocked the statement by refusing to endorse it. It remains to be seen what the impact of the EU’s and EU member states’ actions at the 36th session will have on the bilateral human rights dialogues currently enjoyed by the EU, UK, and Germany.
On September 21, Kamm addressed the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen. The committee is planning to visit China later this year, making it one of the first groups of foreign parliamentarians to make an official visit to the country after the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party concludes in late October. Unsurprisingly, the discussion centered on what to expect from the congress in terms of human rights and rule of law in China.
On September 29, Kamm went to Bern, capital of Switzerland, where he was received by Ms. Pascale Baeriswyl, State Secretary and head of the directorate of political affairs of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). Ms. Baeriswyl, the second highest official in the Swiss government, has been friends with Kamm since September 2002, the month the FDFA began supporting Dui Hua’s work. The State Secretary briefed Kamm on Switzerland’s relations with China, which have continued to develop following the state visit of President Xi Jinping to the country in January 2017.
Kamm was in Oslo when the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize laureate was announced. So concerned was the Chinese government that the prize might once again be given to a Chinese dissident that it cancelled the Golden Week holiday for all staff at its Oslo embassy. In the event the prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a sound choice given the heightened tensions between North Korea and the West over Pyongyang’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Norway and China have normalized their relationship, and there was concern in some quarters that giving the prize to a critic of the Chinese government would disrupt the normalization process.
In September, Dui Hua received a response from its Chinese interlocutors on 13 prisoners in Shanghai. One of them was Falun Gong practitioner, Chen Huiqun (陈惠群), who was granted medical parole on March 1, 2016, about one year after she was sentenced to an unspecified prison term length. Chen completed her sentence on July 21, 2017.
The same response also indicated that Wang Wei (王伟) received a sentence commutation and was released four months and 12 days early on February 24, 2017. It was his second sentence reduction, about two years after he received his first sentence reduction of seven months in March 2015. In September 2012, Wang was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for illegally procuring and trafficking in state secrets for foreign entities, the same endangering state security (ESS) charge used to convict the prominent journalist Gao Yu. The circumstances of Wang’s case are largely unknown. Dui Hua has observed that within the 12 crimes under the category of ESS, prisoners convicted of state secrets or espionage tend to receive clemency more frequently than those convicted of incitement, subversion, or splittism.
Featured: The Importance of Mental Health Evaluations in Juvenile Cases (Part 1 of 2) (September 26)
According to a National Conference of State Legislatures report, approximately 70 percent—or 2 million—juveniles arrested each year in the United States suffer from a mental health disorder. One in five “suffer from a mental illness so severe as to impair their ability to function,” and in addition, juvenile offenders often suffer multiple disorders at once, substance abuse being the most common co-occurrence with mental illness. Dui Hua has previously pointed out that girls in conflict with the law are more likely than boys to attempt suicide and to self-mutilate. And the disproportionately high rate of girls who are also victims of sexual abuse places them at even greater risk of suffering from multiple mental health illnesses.
Previous Digest: August/September 2017
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s advocacy stories prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999
Discovering Legal Education (Part 2 of 2)
A Response from Guangdong
On November 12, 2003, I received a detailed response from my interlocutor. It confirmed much of what I had been told by Congressman Tierney, but added new details. The picture of Liang Shaolin that emerged from this response was of a strong-willed, defiant woman fiercely devoted to Falun Gong.
The email stated that Liang began practicing Falun Gong in 1996. After the government officially declared Falun Gong to be an “evil cult,” Liang “confronted the government” and conducted activities that violated the law including “gathering crowds and making a disturbance,” promulgating Falun Gong teachings, and collecting and distributing propaganda and publications banned by the government. For these reasons, Liang was sentenced to two years and three months in a reeducation through labor (RTL) camp.
The email went on to say that, after entering the RTL camp, Liang continued her activities, which now included secretly distributing subversive messages written on small strips of paper. Because of this, when her RTL sentence ended, she was sent to the Maoming Legal Education School “to continue her education.” Liang had stayed in the school for a fairly long time because she had continued to try to influence and incite other students. “Recently, she started shouting slogans supporting Falun Gong three times a day. Because the school is in a residential area, her actions have had a negative influence on nearby residents.”
The response concluded by outlining an arrangement under which Liang Shaolin would be freed. Liang, it was claimed, was healthy – aside from an eye infection that she refused to have treated, citing Falun Gong beliefs – and not being tortured. She had received visits by family members, but because of the SARS epidemic, which hit Southern China particularly hard, family visits to the Maoming Legal Education School had been suspended. Liang Shaolin’s husband, who was not a Falun Gong practitioner, had filed for divorce. The school had hired a lawyer to help her.
“The school has indicated to Ms. Liang that if she promises to be a law-abiding citizen after leaving the school, she can leave. The school does not forbid her to believe in and practice Falun Going, so long as she does not practice in public and endanger social stability. She not only refuses to make such a promise, but has also indicated that she wants to continue popularizing and propagating Falun Gong to the society at large.”
A Meeting in Guangzhou
I decided to travel to Guangzhou to explore the proposed arrangement under which Liang Shaolin could be released. I left for Beijing on December 1, and after meetings with Chinese government officials and foreign diplomats, I traveled via Hong Kong to Guangzhou, arriving on December 11, 2003. My interlocutor, a professor affiliated with the research association who held relatively liberal views, and his assistant met me at the train station. It was a cold and overcast day.
We went to a restaurant in the Pearl Island Hotel, a location favored by provincial party and government officials. After settling into a well-appointed private room for a ten-course “light” lunch, we immediately began discussing the Liang Shaolin case.
<p=”justify”>“Legal Education Schools have been built to house ‘seriously poisoned’ Falun Gong practitioners,” I was told. “There are two things you need to know about them. First, the Maoming Legal Education School is by no means the only such school in China. There are many of them. Second, legal education schools have no basis under Chinese law. This is a problem that must be addressed.” (The professor made clear that he favored the abolition of all forms of arbitrary detention.)
The professor and his assistant had previously traveled to Maoming Legal Education School, to look into Liang Shaolin’s situation. The response they had sent me earlier in November was an account of their visit to Maoming. Although they did not directly speak to Liang, they were able to observe her. She appeared thin and her eyes swollen, but aside from this she appeared healthy and energetic. They reported that “Three times a day – in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening – Liang Shaolin shouts in a loud voice: ‘Long Live Li Hongzhi (the founder of Falun Gong), Down with Jiang Zemin (China’s president who initiated the crackdown against Falun Gong).’
If Liang Shaolin were to be released and she took to the streets and shouted such things, I was told she’d be arrested and sentenced to prison under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, which criminalizes organizing religious groups that the Chinese government considers “cults.” “We are prepared to release her and allow her to return home where she can practice Falun Gong,” I was told. “But under no circumstances will the police allow her to publicly propagate Falun Gong. If you were in our shoes, what would you do Mr. Kamm?”
I replied that I did not believe in placing restrictions on free speech. On the other hand, I did not want Liang to be put in prison. I suggested that the authorities continue to practice gentle persuasion, and under no circumstances should she be mistreated. I wondered aloud whether she could be given a passport to travel to the United States to join her brother who lived in Congressman Tierney’s district. The response: “Possible, but not likely. If she were given a passport and allowed to leave, other Falun Gong practitioners would see this as a reward. It might encourage them to behave like Liang Shaolin.”
Better Treatment and Release
After we concluded our lunch, I took the train back to Hong Kong, and soon was homebound to San Francisco. I summarized the meeting held in Guangzhou and sent a memo to Congressman Tierney. He replied by email on January 28, 2004: “As a result of your attention and the intervention of some of your friends in the Guangdong government, Liang Shaolin appears to be receiving better treatment.” Congressman Tierney encouraged me to “do everything possible to insure her safety and good treatment. . . I respectfully renew my request for a member of Liang Shaolin’s family in the United States to contact her at the Maoming Legal Education School via telephone.”
Hubei Legal Education Campus. Image Credit: Aboluowang.
Over the next 14 months I continued to communicate and meet with my Guangdong interlocutor. I submitted two more written requests for information in February and June 2004. In these I asked that Liang Shaolin be allowed to return home and be allowed to communicate with her family in the United States. In January 2005 at a meeting with my interlocutor in Hong Kong, I pointedly asked if it were legal to hold Liang Shaolin indefinitely.
Finally, in early April that year, I was advised that, while Liang Shaolin remained unrepentant, she had been allowed to return home. The authorities in Maoming had presented her with an agreement for her release: if she agreed not to go to the streets and practice Falun Gong and shout slogans, she would be allowed to leave the school. I was told that she tore up the agreement, crumpled it, and threw it back at the authorities. Finally, her sister in Guangzhou, who was not a Falun Gong practitioner, had to be brought to the school and to sign the agreement on Liang Shaolin’s behalf.
In July 2016, an article appeared on a Falun Gong website with Liang’s name. It said that Liang Shaolin had been detained in September 2009 and subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison for “organizing a cult to sabotage implementation of the law.” Another source claimed that her date of release would be September 9, 2018.
I immediately put her name on a list of Guangdong prisoners and submitted it to my interlocutor, and in January 2017 I was advised that Liang Shaolin had been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison on May 18, 2010. She was in Guangdong Women’s Prison (said to be the largest women’s prison in the world). I was told that Liang Shaolin is due for release on December 23, 2017.
Congressman John Tierney lost his bid for reelection in November 2014. In February 2016, he was appointed the executive director of the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation based in Washington D.C. Dui Hua remains actively engaged with its Guangdong interlocutor, and is monitoring Liang Shaolin’s release.