Political & Religious Prisoners

Dui Hua’s prisoner advocacy began after the Chinese army’s attack on protesters in Tiananmen Square. Since then, it has broadened to include all those who are detained for the non-violent expression of their beliefs.

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Dui Hua’s advocacy began as an effort to uncover the names and secure the early release of activists imprisoned during the crackdown on the pro-democracy demonstrations that culminated in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Over the years, Dui Hua’s scope has broadened to encompass all individuals detained for the non-violent expression of their beliefs, including:

  • Political dissidents: people imprisoned for expressing their opposition to one-party rule by exercising universally recognized rights to free speech and association; they are often charged with “endangering state security” crimes, such as “subversion” and “incitement”
  • Religious practitioners: people persecuted for holding religious beliefs that are not officially sanctioned, including members of house churches and Falun Gong
  • Ethnic minorities: people labeled “splittists” and jailed for participating in cultural and pro-independence movements
  • Petitioners: people jailed for seeking redress to grievances related to land seizure, demolition, corruption, miscarriages of justice, and other issues

Chinese activists are currently facing the largest crackdown on dissent since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Political and religious prisoners are often mistreated by authorities who interpret their claims of innocence as “unwillingness to reform.” These prisoners are typically subjected to “strict handling” during sentence reduction and parole.

Prisoner Lists

One of Dui Hua’s main activities is the preparation of lists containing the names of political and religious detainees in China for submission to the Chinese government. These prisoner lists have played a vital role in human rights diplomacy between China and other countries and organizations.

Drawing on its prisoner database and years of experience in the selection and presentation of cases, Dui Hua produces many lists each year to hand over to the Chinese government. These lists are delivered both directly and through third parties. Dui Hua has also created prisoner lists for use by the United Nations and nearly all of the countries holding human rights dialogues with China.

Dui Hua has produced lists highlighting people imprisoned in a particular province or prison, individuals convicted of a particular category of crime, and obscure cases which are essentially unknown both in and outside of China. As vehicles for expressing concern about individual cases, the lists have directly contributed to better treatment and early release for hundreds of prisoners.

Juvenile Justice

Dui Hua advocates for a juvenile justice system that addresses the root social causes of juvenile delinquency and emphasizes non-custodial measures.

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Dui Hua advocates for a juvenile justice system that addresses the root social causes of juvenile delinquency and emphasizes non-custodial measures. Working with China’s Supreme People’s Court, Dui Hua has organized and presented five expert exchanges between United States and Chinese legal practitioners on juvenile justice.

Juvenile justice reform became a priority for the Chinese government as unprecedented economic growth and mass migration from rural to urban areas led to a sharp rise in juvenile criminal cases. Delinquency was particularly prevalent among children of migrant workers who were either left behind or taken to the cities where they were denied access to schooling and other social benefits.

Since amending its criminal procedure law in 2013, Chinese courts have emphasized the importance of an independent and standardized juvenile justice system that puts “education first” and includes mentoring, criminal record sealing, social inquiry reports, and the presence of female staff while young women are questioned. In 2011, China amended its criminal law to recommend suspended sentences for youth who commit minor offenses.

While non-custodial measures are possible for juvenile offenders, obstacles remain. Violent crime by juveniles is increasing, offenders are getting younger, and public calls for a more punitive juvenile justice system are on the rise. Dui Hua will continue to advocate for non-custodial punishment and contribute to the establishment and growth of social services, especially for underserved groups like migrant juveniles.

Given that the global population of juvenile offenders has historically been dominated by young men, policies and practices in the juvenile justice system, as well as related research on offending, have focused on male offenders. As a result, there is a relative lack of knowledge about young female offenders. Yet experts see long-term consequences for girl offenders that are often more pronounced than those for boys and are more likely to extend to the next generation.

In November 2020, Dui Hua will present Girls in Conflict with the Law: An International Symposium in San Francisco. This will be its sixth exchange on juvenile justice. The first event of its kind in that it focuses on female juvenile offenders, this symposium will bring together leading experts and practitioners from around the world for a three-day exchange on the unique challenges related to protecting girls in conflict with the law.

Women in Prison

The number of women in prison in China has doubled since 2000. Dui Hua aims to increase dialogue and exchange on incarcerated women in an effort to promote better treatment of women who are suspects, defendants, or prisoners.

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Women comprise the world’s fastest-growing prisoner demographic and are estimated to account for between 2 to 10 percent of national prison populations. In China, more than 5 percent of individuals in prisons run by the Ministry of Justice are women, and the number of incarcerated women is growing faster than that of incarcerated men.

In December 2010, the United Nations introduced a framework for gender-specific corrections by passing the Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). Designed to meet the common physical and psychological needs of women in penal systems built for men, these rules form an integral part of women’s rights advocacy.

To improve the treatment of women detainees, Dui Hua promotes the adoption of the Bangkok Rules through dialogue and exchange. In February 2014, Dui Hua organized an international symposium on women in prison and the Bangkok Rules, which brought together 25 expert presenters from nine countries for three days of discussions on the issues facing women in conflict with the law. China represented the largest contingent, and international bodies such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross were also in attendance.

China’s first anti-domestic violence law came into effect on March 1, 2016. Although the law does not take into account some important areas such as sexual abuse and violence between divorced couples, it defines domestic violence for the first time, addressing an issue long thought to be taboo and private.

Women who defend themselves in domestic violence cases can face severe punishment ranging from 10 years’ imprisonment to death. The Supreme People’s Court estimates that domestic violence occurs in approximately one quarter of Chinese families and that nearly 10 percent of intentional homicide cases are related to domestic violence. It is a leading cause of the rising number of women in prison in China, which has nearly doubled since 2000.

Criminal Justice

In order to protect internationally recognized human rights and ensure the humanitarian treatment of people at odds with the law, Dui Hua focuses on criminal justice issues ranging from criminal procedures to capital punishment.

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When there is little presumption of innocence and widespread support for retributive justice, everyone in conflict with the law is at risk. In order to protect internationally recognized human rights and ensure the humanitarian treatment of people at odds with the law, Dui Hua focuses on criminal justice issues ranging from criminal procedures to capital punishment.

Dui Hua has paid particular attention to the reform of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL). For the first time in 16 years, the National People’s Congress passed amendments to the law on March 14, 2012. While the law strengthened procedural protections for most suspects and defendants, it consolidated a separate, less-regulated criminal justice system for those accused of state security offenses, a charge often used against those exercising their rights to free speech and association. Of the most troubling distinctions in treatment for political prisoners are the “disappearance clauses,” which allow those accused of state security offenses to be held in an undisclosed location for up to six months. 

Dui Hua has actively promoted China’s death penalty reform since 2007, when Executive Director John Kamm chaired a plenary session on China at the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Paris. The Executive Director regularly discusses death penalty reform in direct dialogue with members of China’s judiciary and also provides consultation to foreign governments, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations.

Dui Hua regularly publishes estimates of the number of executions in China, while the actual number remains a state secret. Through independent research and consultations from informed sources, Dui Hua estimates that there were 2,000 applications of the death penalty in China in 2016, 2,200 applications in 2017 and 2,000 applications in 2018. The number of executions dropped significantly after the Supreme People’s Court regained the power to review all death sentences in 2007. There is a very slight downward trend in the number of applications of the death penalty since 2012, but this has likely been offset by an uptick in death sentences handed down during the anti-terrorism campaign in Xinjiang and the nationwide campaign against corruption.

Dui Hua maintains a Death Penalty Log, which was expanded in 2016 with the acquisition of materials from a Supreme People’s Court website that recorded the results of death penalty reviews from 2013 to 2015. The Economist has called Dui Hua’s research on the number of executions in China “the best figures available”.