Protesters burn a copy of a white paper on “one country, two systems” outside the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Image credit: South China Morning Post
Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Hong Kong from August 16‒25. During his stay in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) he met with Hong Kong and Guangdong officials, foreign diplomats, journalists, religious leaders, businessmen, and human rights activists. The principal topic of these meetings was the then upcoming announcement by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of a proposal for election procedures for the SAR chief executive in 2017.
The Standing Committee announced on August 31 a proposal that would have Hong Kong’s next leader elected by universal suffrage with no more than three candidates nominated by a committee said to be broadly representative of the Hong Kong people, but widely expected to be dominated by Beijing’s allies in the SAR. Candidates would also need at least 50 percent of nominating committee votes to appear on the ballot.
The proposal’s limited scope for grassroots, multiparty democracy was no surprise, especially after the State Council Information Office released a white paper on Hong Kong in June that made clear that Hong Kong’s autonomy was not inherent but was rather conferred on the territory by Beijing. (The white paper also declared that administrators, including judges, had to be “patriotic” and love China.) Nevertheless, several of the officials and activists that Kamm met thought that the Standing Committee would ultimately show some flexibility.
One senior diplomat opined that if Beijing were to lower the threshold for nomination to any percentage under 50 that might be sufficient to win enough pan-democrat votes to pass the reform package in the Legislative Council (Legco). The Chinese government’s refusal to budge an inch could well lead to Legco voting down any reform package that sticks closely to the Standing Committee decision. While Kamm was in Hong Kong, all 27 pan-democrats signed a pledge not to vote for a bill that does not give the Hong Kong people genuine democracy.
The same senior diplomat predicted that Occupy Central, a mass civil disobedience campaign that could paralyze the city’s financial district, would fizzle and not pose a serious threat to Hong Kong police. A businessman familiar with the police department explained that, with 33,000 uniformed officers (not including maritime police and other units) and after months of training, demonstrations could be handled with a minimum of force. Calls from former Chinese officials based in Hong Kong, together with pro-Beijing voices in Hong Kong, to use the People’s Liberation Army garrisoned in SAR to quell unrest raised eyebrows, as did rumors of the massing of more troops on the border. In late August, armored personnel carriers loaded with Chinese troops were deployed in early-morning exercises in Kowloon.
The diplomat’s prediction appeared to be borne out in the immediate aftermath of the Standing Committee decision when one of the organizers of Occupy Central conceded that the threat to paralyze the financial district had had no discernable effect on Beijing. The organizer lowered the estimate of how many people would take part in any sit-in and promised to hold demonstrations at times and in places least likely to inconvenience Hong Kong people.
Kamm met with a former Chinese parliamentarian who maintains good contacts with both Beijing and its opponents in Hong Kong, notably students. The parliamentarian observed that, while the leadership of Occupy Central might back down, student leaders were unlikely to do so. While Kamm was in Hong Kong reports began circulating that students would stage a territory-wide strike at all colleges and universities in the last week of September.
According to Chinese officials that Kamm met with, Beijing remains deeply concerned over what it perceives as interference in Hong Kong affairs by the United States. They cited reports that the US Department of State would resume reporting on Hong Kong under the Hong Kong Policy Act. The last report was provided to Congress in 2007. If such a report was written, it would almost certainly involve “fact-finding” missions to the SAR. Contrary to the expectations ofthese officials, however, the American government’s response to the Standing Committee decision was muted. In response to a reporter’s question, the State Department spokesperson simply said that the United States supports universal suffrage in accordance with the Basic Law and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom appeared to cautiously welcome the decision, which elicited howls of protest from the pro-democracy camp.
Tensions are high in Hong Kong. Kamm witnessed several confrontations between locals and visiting mainlanders, and the increasing animosity is beginning to show up in reduced visits from mainland Chinese, and reduced retail sales at the luxury shops that cater to them. Tensions are set to rise even further as the Hong Kong government undertakes another round of consultations before it releases the bill to be voted on by Legco. If the bill passes, Hong Kong will become the first Chinese city to elect its leader, albeit one acceptable to Beijing, by one-man, one-vote. If the bill fails to pass, the chief executive will be selected in 2017 as in 2012, by a nominating committee dominated by businesspeople allied with Beijing.
According to a government response received by Dui Hua in August, two Guangdong prisoners serving sentences for espionage have received sentence reductions. Following his fourth sentence reduction in May 2012, Wei Pingyuan (魏平原) received an additional 15-month sentence reduction this April. Wei was one of the three senior officials at Xinhua News Agency accused of providing the United Kingdom with state secrets about Sino-British handover negotiations in the 1990s. The men were convicted by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in 2004, one year after an estimated half a million people protested the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the mainland in 1997. Wei is now scheduled for release on July 20, 2021.
Former air force logistics officer Wang Ruiquan (王瑞泉) had his sentence commuted to 19 years’ imprisonment on November 12, 2013, after serving four years of a life sentence in Guangzhou. The verdict against him stated that Wang was recruited by Taiwanese intelligence agents in 1994 to take pictures of secret documents about China’s military plans to curb Taiwanese independence. Wang is now scheduled for release on November 21, 2032.
Outside Guangdong, three espionage prisoners were released this year following sentence reductions of 5‒6 months, according to official sources. Prisoners convicted of espionage seem to receive clemency more frequently than those convicted of speech and association offenses.
|Name||Sex||Province||Original sentence||Sentence reduction||Release date|
|Liu Yulin 刘玉林||M||Shandong||10 years (2007)||6 months||April 9, 2014|
|Ye Shouqing 叶寿青||M||Fujian||15 years (2002)||5 months||February 20, 2014|
|Zhou Lijuan 周丽娟||F||Hunan||6 years (2009)||5 months||June 5, 2014|
Serving Time for What’s No Longer a Crime
A government source told Dui Hua that six people are still serving sentences in one province for counterrevolution and hooliganism (CR-H)—crimes that were removed from China’s Criminal Law 17 years ago. No details on the prisoners were provided. Dui Hua research indicates that they were likely sentenced to life in prison or death with two-year reprieve for counterrevolutionary espionage or “organizing/using a sect or feudal superstition to carry out counterrevolutionary activities” in the 1980s and 1990s.
If we extrapolate the number of CR-H prisoners nationwide based on the ratio of this province’s CR-H prisoners to its total population, an estimated 75 to 100 people across China may still be in prison for the long defunct crimes.
This estimate contrasts sharply with Chinese media reports that in 2010 called Niu Yuqiang (牛玉强) China’s “last hooligan.” Arrested in 1983 for stealing a hat and getting into a fight, Niu is expected to be released from Xinjiang Shihezi Prison in the next year or two. In addition to Niu and the six prisoners mentioned above, Dui Hua believes that a number of people still serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism are Uyghurs incarcerated in Xinjiang in the aftermath of large-scale riots in 1990 and 1997.
The Baren Township Riot in April 1990 was the first major political violence in Xinjiang since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1978. While the Chinese government blamed “independence insurgents“ for instigating thousands of “uninformed” villagers to join the “counterrevolutionary rebellion,” western scholars pointed to villagers’ longstanding dissatisfaction with religious oppression, lack of reproductive freedom, nuclear weapons testing, and natural resource exploitation. The riot began on April 5 and was suppressed by the Liberation Army within two days. Forty protesters were convicted. Some were sentenced to life in prison; others to death. Since the protest is officially called a counterrevolutionary rebellion, some of the convicted are presumed to have been charged with counterrevolution.
Characterized in official narratives as “beating, smashing, and looting” masterminded by the three forces of “separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism,” the Ghulja [Yining] Incident was a series of demonstrations in Ili [Yili] Prefecture that lasted two days starting on February 5, 1997. According to unofficial news media, the protests left over 100 dead and were sparked by the executions of more than two dozen Uyghurs and a crackdown on a Meshrep, a traditional Uyghur gathering.
Amnesty International reported that more than 50 protesters involved in the incident were sentenced at public rallies in 1997. Xiernali Shadeke was sentenced to life imprisonment for hooliganism. Three Uyghurs were sentenced to death with two-year reprieve. Among them was Perhat Mollahun, who was convicted of the counterrevolutionary crime of “conspiring to subvert and split the state.” According to Radio Free Asia, Mollahun died in prison in August 2013 after his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. The vast majority of people sentenced to death with reprieve see their sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Between 1990 and 1997, police used the crime of “organizing, leading, and actively participating in a counterrevolutionary group” to imprison Uyghur leaders who participated in numerous lesser-known incidents of political resistance. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database has information on two such cases. Eysa Yusan was sentenced to life in February 1995 for counterrevolution, robbery, and setting explosions for his part in a series of bombings in Akesu Prefecture in July 1994. To date, he is not known to have received any sentence reductions.
Religious leader Kerem Abduweli was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1993 for attempting to establish an “Islamic Reformist Party.” After five sentence extensions that involved additional charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement, he is scheduled to remain in prison until 2019. He is reportedly in poor health due in part to a 270-day hunger strike that he ended in June 2012.
Gao Zhisheng in Beijing in 2011. Image credit: AP
Several media outlets, including the Associated Press, mentioned Dui Hua or Executive Director Kamm in their coverage of the release from prison of rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟). Dui Hua released a press statement with a translation of Chinese regulations describing “deprivation of political rights,” the subsequent sentence that Gao is now serving from his father-in-law’s home in Urumqi.
The Globe and Mail quoted Kamm on the role of diplomatic pressure in helping foreign detainees in China in a report on the detention of a Canadian couple operating a coffee business and providing aid to North Korea. A South China Morning Postarticle on the death sentence handed down to a German citizen quoted Kamm on the likelihood of having the sentence overturned.
For links to more selected coverage, please visit our website at In the Media.
Featured Article: Gao Zhisheng Begins Sentence of Deprivation of Political Rights (August 7)
On August 7, Chinese rights defense lawyer Gao Zhisheng completed his three-year sentence for inciting subversion and went with his brother and a police escort from a remote Xinjiang prison to his father-in-law’s house in Urumqi. Gao immediately began a one-year sentence of deprivation of political rights (DPR), curbing his freedom of speech and movement. Dui Hua translates the little known regulations that pertain to DPR and Gao’s circumstances in the year ahead.
Zhonggong: The Subversive Business of Qigong (August 14)
Justice for Some, Notoriety for Others: Public Law Enforcement in China (August 26)
Last month’s Digest: August 2014
To celebrate 15 years of human rights advocacy, we’ll be highlighting a key moment from this month in Dui Hua history.
Executive Director John Kamm met with prison wardens at Xiamen Prison.
On September 15, 2003, Executive Director Kamm was invited to tour Xiamen Prison in Fujian Province along with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Fujian Province Prison Administration Bureau. Kamm had the opportunity to view all sections of the facility—one of China’s so-called model prisons—including the solitary confinement cells that are seldom open to visitors. At the time of his tour, the five-year old prison held about 2,000 prisoners and 200 administrators and staff within its 16-acre plot in the Dongan District. Many of the prisoners were officials convicted of corruption. (Fujian gained notoriety as being the location of one of the largest corruption cases in the past 50 years, involving a $6 billion smuggling operation run by business mogul Lai Changxing.)
The prison tour enabled an in-depth examination of the eight-step process of sentence reduction and parole. Back in early 2003, in a response to Dui Hua, the Supreme People’s Court stated that sentence reduction and parole for endangering state security (ESS) prisoners—including prisoners sentenced not to ESS crimes but their predecessor, counterrevolutionary crimes, which were removed from Criminal Law in 1997—is to be “strictly handled.” When Kamm asked the Xiamen warden when strict handling is applied, he answered “at every step,” during reviews by fellow inmates, correctional officers, committees, and courts.
Such scrutiny, in accordance with national and provincial regulations, ensures longer waits and unequal treatment for ESS prisoners who tend to be political prisoners. Enlightened by the trip to Xiamen, Kamm urged the United States and China to hold a Legal Experts Dialogue on sentence reduction and parole. The first round of the now annual dialogue was held in 2004. Although China contends that all prisoners are treated equally before the law, strict handling continues to be applied to political prisoners.