Incommunicado detention must go, say UN experts

Background: On May 16, 2018, a joint submission was made by Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Rights Practice, and Safeguard Defenders, to relevant Special Procedures of OHCHR concerning China’s use of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, especially the use of RSDL – ‘residential surveillance at a designated location‘.

On August 24, 2018, ten such Special Procedures, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, issued a joint letter to China challenging its use of RSDL, urging China to repeal the system, and noted that the use of RSDL many times meets the condition of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.


China | Incommunicado detention must go, say UN experts

Geneva, 2018-10-24 — UN experts raise the alarm about the use of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, affirming the use of enforced disappearance to muzzle dissent and punish human rights defenders in China.

A mother does not know whether her son’s health is failing.

A lawyer does not know how to defend his client, or else is informed – by a third party – that she has been dismissed by the defendant.

A family loses their income, their home and even the ability to enroll their son in school.

All of the above are the human impacts of a legal form of detention in China known as ‘residential surveillance in a designated location,’ or RSDL, and all are violations of basic human rights. Eighteen UN experts agree, and in August sent a letter to the Chinese government making clear that, for these and many other reasons, the law is incompatible with international law and should be repealed immediately.

The common thread running through the July 2015 or ‘709 crackdown’ in China, and continuing through today, is the use of this nominally-legal measure to detain human rights defenders for up to six months, without access to family or lawyers.

Download the full Joint Submission 2018-05-16 (pdf)


‘Placement in RSDL is tantamount to an enforced disappearance,’ say the experts, in that it consists of placing individuals under incommunicado detention for investigation for prolonged periods without disclosing their whereabouts – in short, in secret detention.

Recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture calling for the repeal of RSDL, made during its 2015 review of China, ‘do not seem to have been taken into account,’ added the experts, who reiterated the fact that if detentions are to be justified, the detainees should be formally accounted for and held in formal places of detention.

‘RSDL is a deliberate measure to detain persons outside the somewhat better monitored and regulated detention centres. It undermines any other efforts by China to prevent the use of torture,’ said Nicola Macbean at The Rights Practice.

Says Sarah M Brooks, Asia advocate at ISHR: ‘Activists and victims have for years emphasized to UN mechanisms that RSDL, no matter the legal basis, is in violation of the Chinese Constitution and China’s international obligations.’

‘The UN has said, repeatedly and unequivocally, that they agree. Nonetheless, China continues to disappear those it deems dangerous – even if, like Gui Minhai, they are not even Chinese citizens.’

On arbitrary detention, the experts add that ‘the extensive powers attributed to the police with regard to RSDL cases pose serious concerns with regard to… the independence of the judiciary.’ This is exacerbated by a series of SPP rulings and revised regulations that limit the ability of lawyers to take on such cases without themselves risking retaliation by relevant authorities, such as the suspension or revocation of their license or even criminal indictment.

Download the Joint Letter by the Special Procedures 2018-08-24 (pdf)


The Measures for the Administration of Law Firms and Measures on the Administration of Lawyers’ Practice have further hampered lawyers’ freedom of assembly, speech and expression, says Albert Ho, the Chairperson of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Ho adds, ‘A total of 17 human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked or invalidated since 2017, with more than half of them involved in cases related to the 709 Crackdown.’

Risks of torture are almost inevitable in such incommunicado detention, a fact not exclusive to China. But the experts specify that many forms of acts which may amount to torture are not defined as such in Chinese law. This includes excessively long solitary confinement and interrogation, as well as threats against and harassment of family members.

Take the case of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang. Wang has been missing for over three years, says Michael Caster of Safeguard Defenders, including six months in RSDL, ‘apparently locked up because he dared to use Chinese law to defend the rights of persecuted minorities.’

‘Wang’s family has not only been refused any information about his location or condition, but has also been subject to relentless persecution by the state,’ says Caster.

Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, has been surveilled and detained due to her activism on his case, and their son was prevented from enrolling in kindergarten.

Additionally, forced medical treatment – along with the more traditional denial of adequate medical treatment – raised concerns as related to the protection and realization of the right to an adequate standard of health.

‘Denying detainees urgent medical treatment is a malicious form of torture and cruel punishment,’ said Renee Xia, international director of the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

‘The Chinese government should not enjoy impunity for the recent deaths in custody of Chinese human rights defenders like Liu Xiaobo, Cao Shunli, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.’

Download Safeguard Defenders submission to the Universal Periodic Review of China (Coming: November 6) (pdf)


The experts conclude that ‘RSDL… is being used to muzzle the peaceful and legitimate rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and association of individuals expressing dissenting or critical views… and extends the police and the public security organs’ discretionary powers to arbitrary arrest and unlawfully detain individuals and in conditions that may amount to secret detention and enforced disappearance.’

This letter to the government was sent at a time when the National People’s Congress was meant to be considering a series of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law. Such processes, while accommodating a box-checking exercise of soliciting public input, should reflect the UN experts’ concerns. The Chinese government has not yet responded to the letter. Human rights groups, however, hold out limited hope that the letter alone will result in changes in China’s law and practices.

‘A letter alone is of limited utility, especially in China. Defenders who might seek to use this to press for reforms would, in doing so, risk detention themselves,’ says Brooks.

‘However, we hope that governments around the world who support the work of human rights defenders and those who know firsthand the serious impacts of enforced disappearance will take this forward.’

Xia concurs: ‘UN human rights bodies, and governments at the Universal Periodic Review, must continue to raise this pattern of abuse at all times.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review of China, to be held on 6 November, is a chance for governments to press for the abolition of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ and all similar practices, and the release of and provision of remedy to victims of RSDL – brave defenders like Wang Quanzhang.

This statement has been endorsed by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, the International Service for Human Rights, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Safeguard Defenders, and The Rights Practice.

For more information, please contact: Sarah M. Brooks at s.brooks[at] or on Twitter @sarahmcneer.



Download Press Release 2018-10-24 (pdf)



Bảo vệ kỹ thuật số thực hành


Hướng dẫn bảo mật kỹ thuật số thực hành phiên bản tiếng Việt trên

Bảo vệ kỹ thuật số thực hành là một tài liệu hướng dẫn tự học về an ninh mạng cho những người hoạt động trong môi trường thù địch. Tài liệu này xác định các rủi ro và cá pháp dựa trên hành vi của người sử dụng. Giải pháp công nghệ chỉ là thứ cấp.c giải pháp, và không giống như các tài liệu khác, tập trung vào các biện

Tải xuống WIN10 / Android

Tải xuống OSX / iPhone

Phiên bản tiếng Anh có sẵn để tham khảo. Mỗi phiên bản địa phương hoá được dịch theo ngôn ngữ khác có thể thay đổi và khác với bản chính, tùy thuộc vào yêu cầu và mục tiêu ở những quốc gia cụ thể. Mỗi phiên bản bản địa hoá được phát triển cùng với nhiều luật sư, nhà báo, những người bảo vệ nhân quyền và nhân viên của tổ chức phi chính phủ tại các quốc gia có liên quan.

Lời giới thiệu: An ninh mạng dựa trên hành vi là một tài liệu tập ngắn trung vào việc cải thiện an ninh và an toàn kỹ thuật số dựa vào hành vi an toàn, bằng cách giúp bạn thay đổi thói quen sử dụng máy tính và điện thoại theo cách mà có thể tăng sự an toàn cho bạn, người cùng hoạt động và nguồn tin.

Tải xuống Lời giới thiệu


Cuốn cẩm nang hướng dẫn này được dịch từ phiên bản tiếng Anh (cũng có sẵn trên trang web) và phiên bản tiếng Trung đã được địa phương hoá. Phiên bản tiếng Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ sắp được ra mắt. Tài liệu này được dịch ra tiếng Việt vì bốn lý do sau:

  • Lý do thứ nhất: hầu hết tài liệu hướng dẫn về bảo mật kỹ thuật số không được địa phương hoá với tình hình thực tế ở Việt Nam.
  • Lýdo thứ hai: hầu hết các tài liệu tập trung vào các giải pháp kỹ thuật, mặc dù nhữnggiải pháp này quan trọng trong một số khía cạnh, việc quan trọng hơn là những thay đổi hành vi cơ bản trong cách người hoạt động sử dụng điện thoại và máy tính.
  • Lý do thứ ba: những giải pháp dựa trên hành vi này được phát triển không chỉ bởi những người thành thạo kỹ thuật mà từng có trải nghiệm bị cảnh sát thẩm vấn và máy tính và điện thoại của họ từng bị cảnh sát có nghiệp vụ giải phẫu để tìm tài liệu.
  • Lý do thứ tư: hầu hết các tài liệu được dựa trên đào tạo do giáo viên hướng dẫn, hạn chế khả năng truyền bá kiến ​​thức. Cẩm nang hướng dẫn này nhằm mục đích tự học, và được thiết kế với ý tưởng này, với những lời giải thích sâu rộng, những câu chuyện ngắn về cuộc sống thực như thế nào, và với các công cụ sư phạm để cho những người không có nhiều kỹ năng về công nghệ thông tin có thể dễ dàng áp dụng kiến thức.

Để biết thêm thông tin hoặc yêu cầu trợ giúp và đào tạo, liên hệ với Safeguard Defenders.


Practical Digital Protection

Note: The self-study manuals developed under the name Practical Digital Protection will be hosted on RSDLmonitor while undergoes major re-design.

Practical Digital Protection is a full, self-study styled, manual on increasing the security and protection for those at risk in hostile environments. The manual identifies risks and solutions, and unlike other materials, is focused on behavioral measures and issues. Technological solutions is at best secondary.

For Win10 and Android systems, download this.

For OSX and iPhone, download this.


The English language version has been made available as reference. It is entirely based on the Chinese language version for mainland China. Other localized version differs, and may differ wildly, depending on the identified needs of the target group in those countries. Each localized version is developed together with lawyers, journalists, rights defenders and NGO workers in the relevant countries.


The solutions herein have been tested in the field, by both the producers of this manual, as well as by numerous members of the feedback group of lawyers, journalists and NGO workers who helped create this manual. It has been tested by technical forensics work, both short-term and long-term interrogations, utilization of torture, and beyond. There are no guarantees, but in hostile environment, well thought out behavior will serve you better than most technical solutions on offer.


The Introduction: Behavior-based Cybersecurity is a briefer document outlining basic behavior-related issues and methods to increase security and safety, i.e., how changes in behavior in how you use your computer and phone can increase the safety of yourself, your partners and sources.

For the Introduction, download this.


For more information, inquiries, or requests for assistance or training, contact Safeguard Defenders.

Early use of Forced TV Confessions against the New Citizens Movement

Through Safeguard Defenders (RSDLmonitor’s parent organization) release of Scripted and Staged (EN and CN versions here), on China’s use of Forced TV Confessions as a tool to undermine the right to a fair trial, and through the continued publication of more material on these televised confessions by RSDLmonitor, the collaboration of Chinese state-media with police has become clear. The release of a small database (CN edition here) on these Forced TV Confessions have further amplified the systematic nature of how state-media is used to broadcast, and often extract and produce, such televised confessions.


However, tentative research indicates that the use of broadcasting these forced confessions is far more rampant on local levels, through the use of regional or provincial TV stations. Because of this, RSDLmonitor is now releasing the testimony of one of the first victims of a Forced TV Confession on a provincial TV station since the rise of Xi Jinping and his policy of stronger CCP-control and use of media– that of Li Gang, a member of the New Citizens’ Movement.


Li Gang

Li Gang was one of several people detained in mid-2013, at the height of the New Citizens’ Movement (NCM), spearheaded by Xu Zhiyong. Li, like many other adherents of this movement was not a long-time activist or human rights defender, but, in his own words, ‘living a normal life’. Li is a university graduate, and was working in a big company in Beijing, living with his wife and son. He learned about the New Citizens’ Movement and the ideas behind it from reading about it online, and started becoming involved in the year prior to his detention and arrest. Li’s involvement meant sharing information online, organizing and participating in small dinner gatherings, making badges and posters, and taking to the streets to call for disclosure of assets for government officials.


When Li was detained on July 12, 2013, he could not have known that he was to become a propaganda pawn against the movement.


The text below is based on Li’s own writing, complemented with a Q&A session, translated into English and edited for readability.



Interrogations at Beijing Third Detention Center

I was detained in my house [in suburban Beijing] just before midnight, by more than a dozen police officers. It was July 12, 2013. After detaining me they took me to Beijing Third Detention Center. I knew later that Li Huanjun and Song Ze [two other NCM activists] had also been taken, I think from their homes but I’m not sure. [They, along with Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, and many others, had been detained starting in late spring that year as part of an expanding attack against the movement].


They started trying to convince me to confess almost right away. First they wanted me to confess, to write a letter repenting. I refused since I had not broken any law, I was not a criminal. This, trying to make me confess and, soon after, to record a TV confession, would go on for months. With me, as it seems to have been with others, their main threat, the main way convince me, was to threaten my family. If I don’t go on TV, my son will suffer and be restricted in his education they would tell me. If I don’t [record a confession], they will give me the harshest penalty [length of imprisonment], and my son would be in middle school before I ever got out. Then they convinced my family to write me letters telling me to confess and make the TV recording. I received two or three such letters while in detention, handed to me by my interrogator during our interrogation sessions.


I could meet with my lawyers. I had two. One was forced to quit, and the other was busy, so in the end, during the six months, I think I meet them three or four times in total. In the meantime, police was working on getting me to confess.


There seems to have been mostly thieves in my cell, and most of Beijing Third Detention Center. The cell was small, some 3×7 meters, but 2×7 of that was taken up by the beds, was just a narrow path for any movement or activity. They had an activity space of course, but could only visit a few times a week. Daily life, when not including interrogations, was merely eating, sleeping, sitting. In the evenings we could watch two hours of CCTV newscast and BTV (Beijing TV).


Unbeknownst to Li, Xu Zhiyong himself had been taken and placed into the same detention facility, just four days after Li himself. Years later, and after several years of imprisonment, Xu would write:


“The cell in Beijing’s No. 3 Detention Center was already prepared. It was specially set up the day before. There were twelve people in the cell; except for me, everyone else were theft suspects. The vast majority of the more than 400 people detained in the No. 3 Detention Center were there for allegedly stealing mobile phones on public buses.” Unlike with Li however, no one was allowed to call Xu by his name. He was given the codename 706 instead.



About five month in I was ready to give up, they started to convince me I needed to make the confession video. At this point I think I had been interrogated about 50 times. The interrogations took place in another room inside the same detention center. Always two interrogators present. The main interrogator, from Haidian district in Beijing, was Zhu Zhengbin (朱征斌), the other guy was Wang Jun (王君). It seems Wang was a special case officer, involved not only in my case but in the cases of all the others that had been detained related to the New Citizens’ Movement.


Some of those times interrogations would last eight to nine hours, sitting handcuffed to an iron chair [tiger chair]. Everything would start with me writing a letter confessing, repenting. No recording could be done until the letter was ok. Based on our interrogations, they would tell me to write a draft, after which they would check it, point out what was missing, and ask me to change and make another draft. Over and over. What I wrote had to follow what they wanted, completely.


Not surprisingly, they would ask me about my connection with Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, two people seen as leaders of the movement. They wanted to use me to attack Xu, in video or in trial. Neither Xu nor Ding ever confessed, they never made a video. They are stronger than me, more insistent. Many times they would ask about the smallest things, or even about philosophy, or how I understood “Free, Righteous, Loving”, a slogan used in the movement.


When I talked with my other cell mates, they didn’t think it be worth going to prison for a long time just to not make a confession on video. “We stole phones, we did what we did for money, but you, what did you do this for?” They thought nothing should be more important than getting out. They might also have had some selfish reasons for saying it of course, like letting me pass along messages to their families when I was released, but I could feel their support. I couldn’t talk with my family, and it seemed no one was paying attention to me. It felt hopeless. After five month or so, I decided to do it. I said Yes.


Recording a confession

The recording was made in the interrogation room inside the facility. The interrogators were there, but also a journalist. He [the journalist] looked nervous. He was from Beijing TV (BTV). In the end, he didn’t ask any questions, that was all done by the police. They journalist must have known he was doing something dirty, something that wasn’t right. Most of the time was just me reading from the confession letter I had memorized.


Even though the video I appeared in is 10 minutes long or so, recording it all took three recordings over two days. In the first session, police would record with a smaller camera. They then showed the journalist, who would give feedback. The police would talk with the journalist about if it “would work”. I didn’t understand it then, but seeing the editing they did afterwards, I now realize they meant, can we use this recording to edit as we want. The journalist told the police how he could make the video in such a way to make it easy to edit afterwards. After this, the journalist would set up and use the proper BTV camera to record it.


Before each recording session, the interrogator would restate the same point, that I needed to do this, say this, achieve this.


During this time, without Li being aware, police had been working to get Li’s main target, Xu Zhiyong, to make such a recorded confession as well. Xu later wrote:


“[They] urged me to “admit my mistakes.” The meaning was very clear: if I surrendered, I could go home, but if I didn’t capitulate, I’d be facing 10 years or more, and there would be more than one criminal charge. Think about your family… How did they want me to acknowledge them? It must be done in front of the media. A TV confession.”


Xu refused and went to prison instead.




Seeing your own confession on TV

One of my reasons with making the confession recording was that it would require them to let me speak about the New Citizens’ Movement, and maybe even use video from one of the rallies. After seeing the video I realized they edited away any direct mention of the movement, anything related to officials disclosing their assets, etc. In some case, when I said “not good”, they would even edit out the “not”, changing the meaning to the exact opposite! They would edit anything to their wish, and of course, would edit to make it look like I placed all responsibility on Xu as the organizer, even when I didn’t.


The video is not even available on BTV anymore, but you can find it online. Watching closely, it’s not very coherent. They edited it so much, and went to such length to hide the meaning behind what we were doing, what our banners called for, what the New Citizens’ Movement was about, that in the end, it didn’t make for a coherent video.


The months before agreeing to do it, I felt a very intense struggle, an ideological struggle almost. In the end, I did the video, based on my situation inside detention and the pressure on my family. I wasn’t as strong as some others, like Xu. I thought I would lose face making the video, but I also thought I could show what we were all about, what the New Citizens’ Movement was about, by making the confession. After seeing how they edited it all, I realized I was very wrong.


Most of my friends seems to understand the confession, why I made it, especially those others taken and detained in relation to my case. In the human rights community people talk [gossip about those who detained or who appears in TV confessions], but I think those not willing to confess tend to be those that get a lot of attention and support. Not people like me. I wasn’t a leader. I couldn’t get support from the human rights lawyer community, or that kind of attention.


The confession on TV did of course have some effect on me, but I was not a professional activist or a famous human rights defender. I only ever attended these events and types of gatherings because I wasn’t very happy with the government. I was, and is, just a normal citizen. I guess in the end they wanted someone like me to go on TV to tell the ‘regular audience’ about the danger of trying to protest, and to also threaten the human rights community about what could happen if you challenged the government.


Seeing other confessions, and how people react to them, I can see many people don’t understand. Like the confession of Gao Yu [famous journalist]. I admired her for a long time, but the police charged her with leaking state security, and mobilized people against her because of that. That kind of charge is very effective to smear someone. Or like Wang Yu. They showed a video of her quarrelling with a judge, but never showed anything else, easily giving people a wrong impression. I think these videos do work, for now, but in the end, with more and more time, and more and more confessions, people will start to see through these confessions.