SAN FRANCISCO (February 10, 2020) — The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has concluded that American citizen Mark Swidan has been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese authorities in violation of international law. It has urged his immediate release with compensation and other reparations. 

Mr. Swidan is an American businessman who was taken into custody on November 13, 2012 on suspicion of being involved in a conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine. One year later, in November 2013, he was tried by the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court together with 10 other defendants. In April 2019, after 21 delays approved by the Guangdong High Court and the Supreme People’s Court (spanning five years and three months), the court found Mr. Swidan guilty and sentenced him to death with a two-year reprieve. This is believed to be the first time that an American citizen has been sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve by a Chinese court.  

Mr. Swidan immediately appealed the judgement to the Guangdong High People’s Court. A judgement in the appeal has yet to be released, but a hearing was held on January 19, 2020. At this hearing Mr. Swidan defended himself and challenged the evidence against him. Mr. Swidan remains in the same detention center where he has been held for more than seven years. 

As was the case with the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court, the Guangdong High People’s Court can delay its judgment indefinitely provided it gets approval from the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. 

Dui Hua has championed Mr. Swidan’s cause for several years and has written extensively on the case (see “Five Years and Counting” and “Chinese Court Sentences American Mark Swidan to Death with Two-Year Reprieve.”

It has pointed out that the evidence against Mr. Swidan is weak and circumstantial and has decried his treatment in the Jiangmen Detention Center. Dui Hua has also raised his case with the Chinese government on numerous occasions. 

In its Opinion, the WGAD concludes that Mr. Swidan’s detention lacks legal basis (he was not shown a warrant nor advised of his rights) and that the long delay in pre-trial detention without adjudication violated Mr. Swidan’s right to due process and a fair and speedy trial.  

In view of the allegations of mistreatment in the detention center where Mr. Swidan has been held since November 2012, the WGAD has referred the case to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. 

In its Opinion, the WGAD reveals that China has been found in violation of its international human rights obligations in about 90 cases since the body was established 28 years ago. “The Working Group is concerned that this indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in China, which amounts to a serious violation of international law,” the Opinion states. It further asserts that, under certain circumstances, “Widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity.” 

John Kamm, Executive Director of Dui Hua, commends Mr. Swidan and his family for their courage and perseverance. “This Opinion is a step forward in the campaign to win justice for an American citizen who has suffered greatly at the hands of the authorities in Jiangmen Municipality, Guangdong Province. It will hopefully lead China to do away with indefinite detention without trial, a practice that has affected and continues to affect many people, Chinese citizens and foreigners alike.” 

A copy of the Opinion can be found here

For questions, please contact Dui Hua at or here.