SAN FRANCISCO (December 4, 2007) – The number of political cases handled by Chinese courts in 2006 increased by nearly 20 percent over the previous year, according to statistics published recently in an official Chinese legal yearbook.
Based on data from the 2007 China Law Yearbook, Chinese courts received 344 cases involving charges of “endangering state security” (ESS) in 2006, compared with 288 cases received in 2005. This is the highest number of ESS cases brought before Chinese courts since the category was introduced into the country’s criminal law in 1997. Chinese courts concluded a total of 310 ESS trials in 2006, up from 299 in 2005.
“Using a conservative estimate of two defendants per trial on average, this would mean that more than 600 individuals were tried in political cases in 2006,” notes John Kamm, executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation. “Add to that the fact that Chinese courts convict roughly 98 percent of defendants in such cases, and you have a significant increase in the number of political prisoners in China.”
The Dui Hua Foundation reported on November 27 that Chinese prosecutors approved the arrest of 604 individuals on ESS charges in 2006, more than double the number for 2005 and the highest number of such arrests since 2002. (The figure of 604 was erroneously cited in a letter to the International Olympic Committee published on November 29 by Reporters Sans Frontières, in which it was claimed that the number of ESS trials had doubled in 2007 over 2006.)
“There are a number of reasons why the numbers for arrests and trials don’t match up from year to year,” explains Joshua Rosenzweig, The Dui Hua Foundation’s manager of research and programs. “A major reason is that political cases such as these tend to drag on as investigators compile evidence and judges seek guidance from superiors regarding how to handle sentencing. Even though Chinese law calls for speedier processing, it’s not unusual for a defendant to spend a year or more in detention waiting for the outcome of a case to be finalized.”
Unlike the figures it provides for arrests, the China Law Yearbook does not specifically list ESS trials in annually published statistics. Since 1999, the number of ESS cases has been combined with cases involving “dereliction of duty by military personnel” in a category of trials simply labeled “other.” Based on a comparison with earlier statistical data, however, Dui Hua estimates that 99 percent of the cases covered by this “other” category involve ESS crimes.
Under Chinese law, “endangering state security” crimes include prohibitions against subversion, “splittism,” and incitement that are primarily aimed at suppressing political dissent in the name of protecting national security. Other, non-ESS charges are also commonly brought against individuals who lead “rights-defending” protests against instances of perceived injustice or participate in unauthorized religious groups.
“When one considers all of these other cases alongside the more explicit political cases in China,” points out Kamm, “it’s difficult to conclude that China”s human rights situation is improving in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.”
The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
December 4, 2007