SAN FRANCISCO (March 21, 2012) — Arrests and indictments for “endangering state security” (ESS) in China last year continued their gradual decline from 2008’s historic levels but nevertheless remained high, according to The Dui Hua Foundation’s analysis of partial data released by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) on March 11.

Based on figures included as appendices to the annual SPP work report, delivered to the fifth plenary session of China’s 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) by Prosecutor-General Cao Jianming, Dui Hua estimates that approximately 940 individuals were arrested and 980 were indicted on ESS charges in 2011. Compared with official numbers released for 2010, these estimates indicate that arrests fell 10 percent, while indictments declined 20 percent.

ESS arrests more than doubled from 2007 to 2008 and despite declines in recent years, figures for arrests and indictments have yet to drop to pre-2008 levels. (Click on the graph below for arrest and indictment data dating back to 1998, the first year after ESS was added to China’s Criminal Law.)

The increased pursuit of state security charges over the past four years reflects a renewed willingness to employ the criminal justice system in efforts to maintain political and social stability. Chief targets have been Uyghurs and Tibetans, in part due to a rise in ethnic protests branded by authorities as “splittist” activity, and government critics charged with “inciting subversion” amid fears that the “Arab Spring” would inspire anti-government demonstrations.

The increase in ESS trials reported in Xinjiang in 2011 suggested that ESS trials grew nationwide, but the annual work report of the Supreme People’s Court, also delivered on March 11, did not offer relevant data. Historic data indicates that the number of trials does not necessarily change in step with those of arrests and indictments. This is due in part to the number of defendants per trial, which, for example, averaged more than three per trial in Xinjiang around the turn of this century; the timing of arrests, especially if they occur near the end of the year; and the time between arrests, indictments, and trials. Official nationwide tallies of ESS trials, arrests, and indictments are expected to be released later this year in the China Law Yearbook.

Note on Methodology

As in previous years, the 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—are combined under the legend “other.” There were 1,167 “other” arrests and 1,263 “other” indictments reported for 2011.

The China Law Yearbook releases disaggregated numbers of arrests and indictments for ESS, endangering national defense interests, and dereliction of duty. Assuming that the percentages of arrests and indictments for the combined categories of endangering national defense interests and dereliction of duty as a portion of the numbers of total arrests and indictments are the same this year as in the previous year, the numbers of arrests and indictments for these categories can be calculated and removed from the “other” totals, resulting in estimates of approximately 940 arrests and 980 indictments for ESS in 2011.