HONG KONG (March 12, 2010) – Arrests and prosecutions for “endangering state security” (ESS) in China last year retreated from 2008’s historic levels but remained high, according to new estimates produced by The Dui Hua Foundation after examining partial data revealed earlier by China’s chief prosecutor.

Based on figures appended to copies of the annual work report delivered on March 11 by Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) Prosecutor-General Cao Jianming at the annual plenary session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), Dui Hua estimates that during 2009 as many as 1,150 individuals were arrested and nearly 1,050 individuals indicted on state security charges in China.

Reflects heightened concerns for stability

More arrests and indictments for ESS were carried out in China over the past two years than in the entire five-year period from 2003 to 2007. The acceleration of state security prosecutions reflects a concerted effort by Chinese security forces to rein in ethnic unrest, impose heavy penalties for “subversive” speech and association, and combat perceived threats to political and social stability.

“After a lull of a few years, state security arrests began rising again in 2006, after Chinese leaders began to worry about the potential impact of so-called ‘color revolution,’” noted senior Dui Hua researcher Joshua Rosenzweig. “The numbers for ESS in 2008 were so high that we knew they had to drop last year, but whether you look at absolute numbers or percentages over the past couple years, these are still levels not seen in over a decade.” (See the graph below to view data on ESS arrests and indictments in China since 1998.)

In a departure from previous reports, the Supreme People’s Court did not release detailed statistics on criminal trials held in 2009. But recent data from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) suggests that the crackdown on ethnic unrest likely contributed to the high number of ESS arrests and prosecutions in 2009. On January 15, Rozi Ismail, president of the XUAR Higher People’s Court, reported a 63 percent increase in ESS trials in 2009 compared to 2008. Although national criminal justice statistics in China are rarely broken down by offense or region, Dui Hua research has established that since the early 2000s, trials of Uyghur defendants have accounted for as much as two-thirds of all the country’s ESS trials. Given the sustained crackdown in response to last July’s violent ethnic clashes and the ongoing protests by Tibetans throughout the Tibetan plateau, Dui Hua believes that a substantial percentage of those being prosecuted on state security charges are likely to be members of these two ethnic groups.

“The sense that China is facing imminent threats from ethnic separatists, rights activists, political dissidents, and ‘hostile foreign forces’ has apparently strengthened the hands of those in the leadership who favor imposing ‘stability above all else,” Rosenzweig said. “Against this backdrop, one expects to see more prosecutions for crimes like ‘subversion,’ ‘splittism,’ ‘incitement,’ and ‘providing state secrets overseas.’”

Discussion of methodology

The version of the 2009 SPP work report distributed to NPC delegates, members of the media, and other observers included charts breaking down arrest and indictment totals according to crime categories found in China’s Criminal Law. In these charts, the three smallest categories—ESS, “endangering national defense interests,” and “dereliction of duty by military personnel”—were combined under the legend “Other.” Based on more than a decade of published data from the China Law Yearbook, Dui Hua has identified relative stability in the number of arrests and prosecutions made for endangering national defense interests and dereliction of duty by military personnel, with arrests in these two categories remaining at a fairly consistent annual rate of about seven per 20,000 total arrests. If one assumes continued stability for these categories in 2009, then most variation in the “Other” category should be attributable to ESS.

Proceeding from these assumptions, Dui Hua estimates that Chinese law enforcement authorities formally arrested nearly 1,130 individuals for ESS in 2009, down sharply from 1,712 in 2008 but still reflecting a 280 percent increase over the historic low reported in 2005. Similar calculations for ESS indictments yield an estimate of roughly 1,040 in 2009, down from 1,407 in 2008 but a 200 percent increase over 2005.

Based on previous years’ experience, Dui Hua does not expect the actual figures for ESS in 2009 to be publicly available until that year’s edition of the China Law Yearbook is published in late 2010, when it may be revealed that the numbers for 2009 are even greater than Dui Hua’s estimate. The China Law Yearbook containing 2008 data showed the actual ESS figures for arrests and indictments that year were 5.5 percent and 6 percent higher, respectively, than the 2008 estimates released by Dui Hua following the NPC session in March 2009.

The Dui Hua Foundation
San Francisco, California
March 12, 2010