RSDL round-up for April

This is a monthly round-up of all news related to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) in China. It includes updates on victims, legal developments and commentary on China’s legalized practice of “Enforced Disappearances.”

Before we start this month’s round-up, a quick recap of what RSDLMonitor has been doing: On 10 April we released our in-depth report, Scripted and Staged: behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions  which attracted intense media interest, and has sparked a discussion on how journalists should ethically report this human rights abuse here (CDT)  and in this piece by Swedish scholar Magnus Fiskesjö here (Made in China). Alarmingly, less than two weeks after the release of our report, Chinese state TV broadcast yet another confession, this time of two Chinese brothers, thought to both have Canadian citizenship, linked to the case of Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui.

 

Yu Wensheng out of RSDL, video released indicates torture

Police stop Li Wenzu’s march for Wang Quanzhang

US may take action on Uighur abuses, number of prisoners rise

Court rejects Wu Gan’s appeal

Zhen Jianghua denied lawyer access

 

 

Yu Wensheng out of RSDL, video released indicates torture

On 19 April, exactly three months after being scooped off the street by a police SWAT team, Lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was formally charged with inciting subversion of state power and obstructing public service. His formal arrest is an indication his period of RSDL was over, finally allowing him access to legal counsel. When the two lawyers appointed by his family were apparently dismissed by Lawyer Yu, his wife then released videos (and below) of her husband indicating that he was likely tortured or threatened to force him to fire his lawyers, or that Lawyer Yu’s signature was forged. The videos, recorded last year, show Lawyer Yu saying that the only reason he would accept government-appointed lawyers would be if he was tortured.

 

 

As Lawyer Yu faces a possible 10 years in jail, ABC’s Bill Birtles remembers how Yu Wensheng was one of the only lawyers brave enough to speak out back in 2016. When he asked Lawyer Yu if it was dangerous for him to do so, Mr. Birtles remembers him saying: “It doesn’t matter.” He was “jovial, very forthright and extremely passionate about advocating for a rule of law,” he said.

 

Police stop Li Wenzu’s march for Wang Quanzhang

After disappeared human rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang (余文生) passed the 1,000 day mark in incommunicado detention, his wife Li Wenzu (李文足) and supporters began a protest march from Beijing where she lives to the No.2 Detention Centre in Tianjin, where Lawyer Wang is supposed to be held to demand information about his condition. Less than a week into the march, police forced everyone to return to Beijing and for a day or so Ms. Li was kept under house arrest. According to a ChinaChange translation of her second day she wrote: “The plainclothes police at the door told us that if we go out the door, they will kill us.”  Ms. Li remains defiant telling RFA that : “I definitely won’t stop speaking out … for as long as Wang Quanzhang doesn’t come home and the authorities fail to deal with his case according to law.”  Curiously, at the end of April, Tianjin police travelled across the country to Kunming to question Lawyer Lin Qinlei (蔺其磊) about an old court case connected with Lawyer Wang.

 

US may take action on Uighur abuses, number of prisoners rise

Finally signs the US may take  action against grave human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang region. In mid-April, a top US official said they were considering using the Magnitsky Act to sanction Chinese officials for a brutal crackdown on local Muslims, including the detention of at least tens of thousands of people into political re-education camps where they can be held indefinitely completely outside the judicial process. “The U.S. was particularly concerned about the detained family members of six journalists — four U.S. citizens and two U.S. permanent residents who have reported on Xinjiang” for RFA.

This month the list of named people sent to these camps continues to lengthen, including a government official for expressing sympathy for prisoners and professor and poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin from Urumqi.

A detailed report from AFP at the end of April exposed how one work team (usually made up of officials or university staff) that was tasked to investigate suspect villagers would interrogate families as well as spread propaganda and do some poverty alleviation work.  “The work team is resolute,” one university team wrote on social media. “We can completely take the lid off Akeqie Kanle [a village in Xinjiang], look behind the curtain, and eradicate its tumours.” In just a few months, 100 adults in that village (1/5 of its population) were bundled off to the camps. “The detentions have become so widespread that schools offer support programmes for children with missing parents, and work teams help those left behind with heavy farm chores.” Even so, the report adds, local officials are worried about rising resentment for the unceasing political persecution.

 

Court rejects Wu Gan’s appeal

As expected, rights activist Wu Gan (吴淦) who was dealt the harshest sentence of all those swept up in the 709 Crackdown, failed in his attempt to overturn his verdict – eight years for incitement to subvert state power. The Tianjin Higher People’s upheld the original verdict on April 17. His lawyers had argued that Mr. Wu had only thought about subverting the state, and thoughts were not a crime.

 

Zhen Jianghua denied lawyer access

In a case very similar to Lawyer Yu Wensheng’s above, online activist Zhen Jianghua’s (甄江华) lawyers were also dismissed in mid-April. In Mr. Zhen’s case, he had given written testimony before his detention that he would never voluntarily dismiss his choice of legal counsel or accept government-apoointed lawyers. Frontline Defenders reports that Mr. Zhen has been in incommunicado detention (including RSDL) since 2 September 2017.

 

 

What’s happened since Scripted and Staged, our report on China’s TV confessions came out?

Before covering the huge press response to our new report, Scripted and Staged: behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions, a quick update on some follow up actions Safeguard Defenders have taken.

 

A letter to the Swedish Foreign Ministry

On 16 April, six days after the release of the report, we asked the Swedish Foreign Ministry for a response since two of the victims – Gui Minhai and Peter Dahlin – are Swedish citizens. Mr. Gui, who has given three confessions, is still disappeared in China.

To this request we added a question:

“CGTN, which operates in the EU, broadcast many of these TV confessions. Will Sweden reassess whether CGTN, part of China’s state-owned, Chinese Communist Party-run, media be allowed to operate in Sweden without further scrutiny?”

In their reply, which came after about a week, they said they were not planning to take any action, either an investigation into or sanctions against, Chinese state media in Sweden or EU-wide, for the forced TV confessions but added:

It is unacceptable to force persons deprived of their liberty to be paraded on TV. This has been conveyed to our Chinese counterparts by both Sweden and the EU.

SCMP ignore report

Scripted and Staged was covered by major media around the world from The New York Times in the US, The Guardian in the UK, Le Monde in France to the Asahi Shimbun in Japan. In Hong Kong it was covered by at least four Chinese language-media including Apple Daily and Mingpao and the English-language Hong Kong Free Press.  The story is clearly in the public interest globally, but nowhere more so, arguably, than Hong Kong with four victims and three media collaborators from the city. But the leading English-language daily, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) chose to ignore the report.

Yes, our report named and shamed the SCMP for making Mr. Gui’s third confession in February 2018, but it is essential for media – if they are to do their job with integrity and serve the public – to report on all stories even those where they are criticized. There are 45 confessions in this report.

As part of making this report, Safeguard Defenders reached out to Phila Sui, the reporter who covered Mr. Gui’s confession, in March for an interview. He did not respond.  Leaving us to conclude that an invitation from Ningpo police to take part in a gross violation of human rights was more appealing than an email exchange with a human rights NGO.

 

What the press said

Dozens of media covered our report from big names (The New York Times) to the less well known, (Hong Kong Economic Journal), broadsheets (Wall Street Journal) to the tabloids (the UK’s The Sun), by news agencies (Taiwan’s CNA) across the globe from Japan to Iceland, in more than a dozen languages from Italian to Czech, and Portuguese to Cantonese. We were mentioned in blogs and news lists including a thorough overview at China Digital Times. We were also featured in many radio reports (Australia’s ABC ) and had extensive TV coverage (France2).

Here’s a snapshot of some of the media that wrote about Scripted and Staged (more coverage is on the way).

The New York Times (US)

In the unpolished video that appeared on state television one October morning in 2015, Wang Yu, one of China’s most prominent lawyers, denounces her own son.

The Guardian (UK)

China must stop airing forced confessions from human rights activists, a campaign group has said in a report that details how detainees are coerced into delivering scripted remarks.

ABC – The World Today (Australia)

A new report by a human rights group warns Australia should be wary of collaborating with Chinese media, because of its involvement in forced confessions.

Le Monde (France)

Depuis son arrivée au pouvoir en 2012, le numéro un chinois, Xi Jinping, a remis au goût du jour les autocritiques en vigueur à l’époque maoïste. Seule différence : ces « confessions forcées » de Chinois, mais aussi d’étrangers, sont diffusées aux heures de grande écoute par la télévision publique CCTV.

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Dozens of times over the past five years, high-profile detainees in China have memorized scripts admitting guilt and denouncing “anti-China forces.”

 

 

Enforced disappearances and torture: our submission on RSDL to the UN

China has said it will take action to stop enforced disappearances and torture yet both are still endemic largely because of the 2013 introduction of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) – a custodial system that lends itself to both rights violations.

At the end of last month, Safeguard Defenders made a submission on RSDL to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process on China saying that the state has not only failed to take legislative action to stop enforced disappearances, but that the legalisation of RSDL has enabled its expanded used and that of torture.  What is the UPR?

 

Download the full Safeguard Defenders NGO stakeholders report

 

The evidence carefully presented in this report is drawn from our ongoing and long-term project to build up a detailed database on the use of RSDL.

Some of the key evidence we provided was:

  • Use of torture is prevalent inside RSDL.
  • China has not yet made torture itself a punishable offence.
  • RSDL’s legal framework allows the state to deny knowledge of a suspect’s whereabouts, to conceal the judicial process from public view, deny the detainee access to legal representation, to keep them in solitary confinement, and without mandatory supervision by the prosecutor.
  • Between the previous cycle’s review of China (October 2014), up until this submission (March 2018), 87 cases of the use of RSDL were recorded.
  • The maximum time limit for placement in RSDL is 6 months. Data on 92 cases of known RSDL victims since 2013 shows the average time to be 128 days, and more than one-third is placed in RSDL the full 180 days/6 months.
  • Examples of torture in RSDL include: prolonged solitary confinement (2 weeks to 6 months), forced medication, stress positions, the painful ‘dangling chair’, prolonged sleep and/or food deprivation, beatings, and threats to the physical wellbeing of the victim, threats to family members, relatives and loved ones.

Our submission, in the jargon called an NGO stakeholder report, is in direct response to a number of UN reports and recommendations on China and the country’s own legal commitments. The most important in the context of this submission is China’s own report presented for the UPR review cycle in October 2013 (previous cycle) when it said that it would work to improve and perfect laws to prevent using torture to extract confessions or self-incrimination.

However, since then, the use of torture in China remains prevalent, and  measures to protect against the use of torture are regularly ignored. Another report by Safeguard Defenders, on the lack of protections against torture, will be released soon.

Since that UPR 2013 review, the legal framework concerning enforced disappearances has been significantly weakened, and the state’s use of mechanisms that qualify as leading to enforced disappearances has expanded significantly.

Our list of recommendations includes urging China to abolish RSDL in all its forms, to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and revise the language in domestic law to explicitly make torture illegal.

 

What is the UPR?

The UPR, the Universal Periodic Review, is a UN mechanism for reviewing a country’s full commitments under the United Nations and International Law. Every country is reviewed every four years. The country in question submits its own report on how it views its progress, the UN compiles its own report from various UN organs, and civil society can submit their reports, often on a specific subject. These stand as the basis for a full review of that country, and all other UN member states can ask questions and make recommendations for how that country needs to improve any aspect of their commitment under international obligations. China was last reviewed in 2013, and will be reviewed again this year.

 

New report offers backstage pass to China’s forced TV confessions

In this ground-breaking report released today, 10 April 2018, Safeguard Defenders exposes the lies and the abuse behind China’s illegal practice of coercing detainees to  confess on television and calls on governments to take steps to pressure China to abandon this practice, and put into place safeguards so that detainees are protected against such abuse in the future.

Read press release (PDF) here.

Scripted and Staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions uses moving first-person testimonies and in-depth interviews to reveal how confessions are forced and extracted through threats, torture, and fear; how police dictate and direct confessions; and how they are often used as tools of propaganda for both domestic audiences and as part of China’s foreign policy.

 

Download PDF copy of report here: SCRIPTED AND STAGED – Behind the scenes of China’s forced televised confessions

Support our work  – buy ‘Scripted and Staged’ as a full-colour book on Amazon worldwide, complete with extraordinary artwork.

 

The interviewees in this report describe how the police took charge of the confession from dressing them in  “costume”; writing the confession “script” and forcing the detainee to memorise it; giving directions on how to “deliver” their lines—including in one case, being told to weep; to ordering retake after retake when not satisfied with the result. One interviewee said he spent seven hours recording for what amounted to just a few minutes of broadcast,  another was locked in a cage while camera lenses poked through the metal bars, after first being drugged.

One victim was told to weep while he delivered his lines, another was locked in a cage while camera lenses poked through the bars.

The main vehicle for these confessions — China’s state broadcaster CCTV — is not just a channel for their transmission but is an active collaborator in making them. One interviewee described how a CCTV journalist read from a list of questions given to her by the police.

China’s use of forced televised confessions warrants urgent global attention. The practice constitutes a human rights violation not confined to China’s borders: foreign nationals count among the victims – just two month’s ago Chinese police paraded Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai in front of pro-Beijing press.

Police took charge of the confession from dressing the detainee in  ‘costume’, writing the confession “script’ and forcing them to memorise it; to giving directions on how to “deliver’ their lines.

Media organizations that film, collaborate with police in the staged and scripted process, and broadcast these confessions, whether they be Chinese state media or private outfits, are as culpable as the CCP in committing this deceptive, illegal and human rights violating practice. To date these media are China’s state-party broadcaster CCTV, and Hong Kong-based media: Phoenix TV, Oriental Daily and South China Morning Post.

As China’s steps up its expansion of its CCP-controlled media overseas, it is now even more urgent to take action so that this human rights abuse and party propaganda can no longer be dressed as “news” and broadcast into homes around the world.