China’s forced TV confessions report now out in Chinese

We are pleased to announce that the only in-depth study of China’s illegal TV confessions, Scripted and Staged, is now available in Chinese, allowing readers for the first time access to the testimony of Chinese victims in their original language.

This ground-breaking report, 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.

Download new Chinese version of Scripted and Staged here

Download original English version of Scripted and Staged 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 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.

Little more than a week after the publication of the English version of the report, which was covered by media across the globe from Iceland to Japan, and by The New York Times to Singapore’s The Strait’s Times, China broadcast yet another forced confession via its state media channel, CCTV. Two Chinese-Canadian twins, Chen Zhiyu and Chen Zhiheng, were shown “confessing” to forging documents for exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui.

We are using the report to campaign for sanctions or restrictions on Chinese state media that broadcast these illegal and rights abusing confessions. This is an urgent issue right now as China aggressively expands its media overseas – the latest reports suggest CGTN (CCTV’s global arm) is planning to hire 350 new journalists for a massive new media centre in London.

 

RSDL round-up for May

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.”

 

New RSDL cases

CCP goes after lawyers’ licenses

First death in Liuzhi is reported

New evidence on Xinjiang’s political education camps

Pressure mounts for Liu Xia’s release as she says she wants to die

Two trials — Tashi Wangchuk and Qin Yongmin

 

New RSDL cases

At the end of last month, it was confirmed that well-known Hunanese rights activist Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志), who had disappeared at the end of April,  has been placed under RSDL at an unknown location. His daughter, who received his RSDL notice, said she believes he is being kept somewhere in Suzhou but has not been informed of his whereabouts. Suzhou police rejected Zhu’s lawyer’s request to visit his client. This is the second time that Zhu has been held under RSDL; his first spell was in January 2013, and his is thought to have been the first ever RSDL case after the custodial practice was legalized on 1 January 2013.

There are also reports that at the end of April, Nanjing-born human rights defender Wang Jian (王健) was moved into RSDL at an unknown location.  Police had detained him on 18 April on suspicion of “disorderly behaviour.”

 

CCP goes after lawyers’ licenses

Following the 709 Crackdown of 2015 against human rights lawyers – mass arrests, many disappeared into RSDL, with some ending in lengthy prison sentences — the CCP now appears to be trying to neutralize the remaining lawyers en masse by preventing them from working through the revoking of their licenses or blocking them from getting work at a law firm.  Lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) faces imminent revocation of his license, while this month Lawyer Wen Donghai (文东海), Xie’s own lawyer and Lawyer Li Heping (李和平) were notified that their licenses were being revoked.

 

In mid-May the Beijing Lawyers’ Association’s held a hearing on Lawyer Xie’s alleged violations during a case earlier this year for a Falun Gong client. In Beijing that day both Lawyer Xie and a Hong Kong journalist were roughed up and detained briefly outside by security. An account of that day, written by Lawyer Xie was posted on China Change.

 

First death in Liuzhi is reported

The first death under liuzhi (留置), a new custodial system in China over Communist Party members and government workers that is completely outside judicial control was reported on 8 May by Caixin. Chen Yong (陈勇), a former driver for the Jianyang district government in Fujian province died during an interrogation. His sister said they had identified the body but were shocked to see that his face was disfigured. Mr. Chen’s case highlights the fact that you do not currently have to be a CCP member or government worker to be detained under liuzhi – Chen left his job in 2016. No lawyer access is allowed under the system.

 

New evidence on Xinjiang’s political education camps

There has been a flurry of scholarly and journalistic efforts to provide more evidence of, and information on, the mass incarceration of Muslims (mainly Uighur) in political re-education camps in the Xinjiang region. The AP ran an interview with a former Kazakh inmate at one of these camps in which “hour upon hour, day upon day, … [detainees]… had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party.”

The interview with Omir Bekali can be viewed below:

 

 

Scholar Adrian Zenz released his (pre-peer reviewed) paper which offers some of the most comprehensive evidence for the extent of these camps to date. With official silence on the very existence of these camps, Dr. Zenz uses government procurement and construction bids, budget reports and recruitment notices to give a fuller picture of what’s going on. He identified 73 separate bids for re-education facilities and estimates that anything between several hundred thousand and one million people have been disappeared into these camps.

Law student Shawn Zhang on Medium shares his research putting together satellite imagery to identify locations and the scale of these secretive camps. A summary of his results is given in this news report by the Jordanian newssite Al Bawaba. In a powerful opinion piece for the New York Times, Rian Thum writes: “The camps are also tools of punishment, and of course, a threat. Few detainees are formally charged, much less sentenced. Some are told how long a term they will serve; others are simply held indefinitely. This uncertainty — the arbitrary logic of detention — instills fear in the entire population.”

 

Pressure mounts for Liu Xia’s release as she says she wants to die

There have been growing calls for the release of Liu Xia (刘霞), the wife of deceased Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has been under house arrest and effectively disappeared since her husband’s funeral last summer – although she has never been charged with a crime. In one phone call to a dissident friend living in exile in Germany at the beginning of the month, Ms. Liu, audibly weeping, said she would rather die than continue living under these conditions. “If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live,” she said.

A few weeks later, a joint campaign between Amnesty International and PEN in which international poets and writers quoted from Ms. Liu’s own writings, was launched to draw global attention to her case, urging for her release and arguing her continued incarceration was making her lose her mind. Meanwhile EU diplomats have been barred from seeing her and Germany says she is welcome any time.

The joint campaign:

 

 

Two trials – Tashi Wangchuk and Qin Yongmin

Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk, who campaigned for schools to teach in the Tibetan language was handed a five-year sentence for separatism in a court in Qinghai province. Chillingly, the New York Times video Tashi made to explain his campaign was used as evidence at the trial that he had “deliberately incited separatism by trying to discredit the government’s international image and treatment of ethnic minorities.” Tashi made it clear in that interview he was not seeking independence for Tibet, just a school where his niece could learn in her mother tongue.

Meanwhile, activist Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) fainted during his closed-door trial on 11 May. Mr. Qin was forcibly disappeared back in January 2015. Despite his ill health, Mr. Qin’s trial on subversion charges went ahead and his lawyers, who were afraid he may have died in the courtroom, were subsequently denied access to their client after the two-day trial.

Battered and Bruised: a new report on torture in China

In the spring of 2017, a number of lawyers got together in China to investigate how they could better represent clients who had been tortured. They wanted to explore how they could give them real help. Out of this came a practical manual – sponsored by our parent NGO Safeguard Defenders — on feasible actions lawyers in China could take that would have a real impact and counter the rampant use of torture in the country.

 

The lawyers had the freedom to explore this subject in any way they wanted. Their mission was to draw up a manual based entirely on their findings.

 

That Chinese-language manual is now being distributed quietly inside China. The fact that this manual cannot be published in the public domain is testament to the dire state of the rule of law in China.

 

The English-language report found that torture is still endemic and officers practice it with near impunity because of China’s failure to make proper legal reforms (legal reforms they are required to make after they ratified the UN’s Convention Against Torture). The legal definition is still too narrow and only actions undertaken by security officers collecting evidence or extracting confessions can be deemed torture.

 

The issue is compounded by the recent introduction of two new custodial systems, which themselves herald the likely expansion of the practice. Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and Liuzhi are two similar extrajudicial custodial systems that effectively shield officers from any oversight and put detainees in solitary confinement with no access to legal counsel or family contact for months on end.

 

The report also includes testimony from victims of torture to illustrate the different forms employed in China’s detention centres and prisons and under RSDL.

 

Battered and Bruised: why torture remains at the heart of China’s judicial system 

(right click title to download)

 

Research undertaken by Safeguard Defenders on human rights defender victims of RSDL, which was legalized in 2013, and is being exploited to harass lawyers and activists, reveal widespread and often shocking stories of torture and maltreatment. Liuzhi, a custodial system that replaces (and expands on) the old shuanggui system, was officially launched this March, and is used to extract confessions from Party members and government workers involved in corruption cases.

 

Why is torture so widespread in China?

It’s been 30 years since China ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), yet its laws on torture are still not in compliance. In addition, there are other problems with the legal framework. The key issues are:

  • The definition of torture is too narrow – for it to be considered torture it must have a direct physical consequence (torturers often conceal this, for example inflicting beatings on the torso or beating so that the body does not bruise).
  • It does not include psychological torture
  • It does not include torture by anyone except investigating officers
  • It does not include torture inflicted in any other circumstances other than collecting evidence or a confession.
  • It is extremely difficult for lawyers to collect evidence, police routinely block access to clients and if the client is under an extra-judicial custodial system, such as RSDL or liuzhi than there can be no access at all

The lawyers in our study group concluded that the only way to practically help clients who are victims of torture is to use evidence of that to discard any evidence or confessions extracted through torture at trial.

 

Types of torture

Torture in China has been well documented by first-hand victim accounts, including most famously by lawyer Gao Zhisheng, but also in our book on RSDL, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, as well as in research conducted by other human rights organizations.

This short report lists some of the most common forms: stress positions – such as being hung up by the wrists, strapped into a Tiger Bench, handcuffed and shackled until limbs swell painfully, electric shocks and asphyxiation. Mental torture (which is largely not criminalized in Chinese law) include sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation, prolonged interrogations and forced medication. Sexual torture, including assault, rape and humiliation, have also been documented.

Our RSDL database, which we first announced here, forms one part of the report’s evidence. Every respondent has so far described being tortured in RSDL, with sizeable numbers also describing how their family were threatened, how they were forcibly medicated, shackled, and beaten. The dangling chair — a tall stack of stools on which victims are told to sit for hours on end with their feet unable to touch the floor, and which causes excruciating pain in the legs and spine — was the most commonly reported torture. None of them had lawyer access in RSDL.

 

 

First death reported in new Liuzhi system

Screenshot from aboluowang.com.

The first death under liuzhi (留置), a new custodial system in China over Communist Party members and government workers that is completely outside judicial control was reported on 8 May by Caixin. [The story has since been removed]. A cached version can be read here.

  RSDLmonitor press release on first death in Liuzhi

 

The brief article described how Chen Yong (陈勇), 45, from Nanping city in Fujian province had been detained for 26 days under liuzhi on a bribery case when the family received notification that he was dead. They said his torso was covered in bruises. They have requested an investigation into the death. Liuzhi was legalized along with the new National Supervision Commission (NSC) this March.

Caixin reported that Mr. Chen was formerly a driver to a local leader. The family told the news site that Mr. Chen was taken from his home on 9 April by officers from the Jianyang district’s Supervision Commission (the local branch of the NSC). That evening the family received an official notice from the Supervision Commission that he had been taken into liuzhi.

A US-based Chinese language website – aboluowang – reported that he died on the 5 April and that the story had been widely reported on Chinese media but later scrubbed. The website also says his wife had requested recordings of the interrogations but was refused. Mr. Chen was said to be in good health and ex-military. Until 2016, he was the driver for Lin Qiang (林强), the deputy district chief of Jianyang, who is also being investigated by the Supervision Commission.

Liuzhi replaces the much feared and extremely secretive shuanggui system for CCP party members, but has expanded its reach to include all party and government workers. Theoretically, even teachers, nurses and doctors could be detained under Liuzhi. The legal framework for the system is very similar to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), a system for secret, prolonged, incommunicado detention that has so far mostly been used on lawyers, journalists and rights defenders.

The news of this first death under liuzhi is extremely concerning. Like RSDL, the new liuzhi system will likely significantly expand cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and maltreatment.

Data on use of RSDL, shuanggui and the new Liuzhi system is most often kept secret, and reporting on victims of the system has been very limited. The book The People’s Republic of the Disappeared contains extensive first person reporting on RSDL experiences.

 

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.

 

RSDL round-up for March

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.”

 

Appeals for 2 prisoners – Jiang Tianyong & Zhen Jianghua

Visiting rights – Yu Wensheng denied & Lee Ming-che granted

Activist Xu Qin detained under RSDL

Feared police chief made minister of justice

National Supervision Commission signed into law

Under 40s targeted for RSDL-style camps in Xinjiang

Remembering Lawyer Li Baiguang – a spark of fire in our journey through the night

 

Appeals for 2 prisoners — Jiang Tianyong & Zhen Jianghua

Following news in February that imprisoned human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) was suffering from memory loss and raising fears the authorities might be forcibly medicating him, six United Nations human rights experts on March 23 issued a joint appeal calling on China to give him proper medical care, in what Reuters calls a “rare joint statement.” Lawyer Jiang is serving a two-year sentence for inciting state subversion.

Online activist Zhen Jianghua’s (甄江华) six-month RSDL detention came to an end on March 30, when authorities formally charged him with inciting state subversion. His lawyer said he has not been given access to him based on a national security clause.  The six-month deadline for RSDL prompted two press freedom NGO’s  the International Federation of Journalists  and Reporters Without Borders to call for his release.

 

Visiting rights — Yu Wensheng denied & Lee Ming-che granted

Chinese authorities are continuing to deny the lawyers and family of human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) access to see him or even to know where he is being held. Since Lawyer Yu was transferred into RSDL on January 27 by Xuzhou security, the other side of the country to Beijing where he lives, no news of his whereabouts or condition have been released.  In mid-March his wife, Xu Yan, his lawyer and some friends travelled to Tongshan District police in Xuzhou to request access, but were turned away.

After being barred in January from visiting her husband, Taiwanese democracy activist Lee Ming-che (李明哲),  Lee Ching-yu, was allowed to visit him in Hunan at the end of March. She told reporters that Lee, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for state subversion looks physically well but is forced to work in a hat factory every day from 7am to 5pm. Ms. Lee plans to apply to see him again next month.

 

Activist Xu Qin detained under RSDL

Charges against human rights activist Xu Qin (徐秦) have been changed to inciting subversion of state power. RFA reported that her lawyer Peng Jian was denied access to his client on the grounds that the charges were now more serious. A week earlier, Frontline Defenders reported that she was being held under RSDL.  Xu worked with the China Human Rights Observer group, founded by detained veteran dissident Qin Yongmin, and had recently spoken out in support of Yu Wensheng.

 

Feared police chief made minister of justice

Human rights groups greeted with dismay the news that former Beijing police chief and deputy minister of public security, Fu Zhenghua (傅政华), has been elected as Minister of Justice. “Fu Zhenghua has presided over a number of serious human rights violations throughout his career,” Chinese Human Rights Defenders Frances Eve’s told Reuters. “Fu’s appointment is a sign that the Xi Jinping regime is not going to back down on its suppression of human rights.” Human rights lawyer Cao Shunli died in police custody under Fu’s watch. Others argue that China’s new Supervision Commission means that the Fu’s new position is essentially powerless. “[Justice minister Fu Zhenghua] has no real power any more,” democracy activist Xiang Lin told RFA.”All the justice ministry does now is administer lawyers and the court system. He’s nowhere near as powerful as the public security minister.”

 

National Supervision Commission signed into law

As expected, China’s NPC passed the National Supervision Commission (NSC) into law in March. This controversial all-powerful agency will have the power to investigate, detain and punish any Party members and civil servants (including the staff of hospitals and schools) on charges linked with corruption. “The agency ranks higher than the supreme court and will be in charge of supervision, investigation and also punishment,” wrote the BBC. It will essentially provide for an RSDL system – called liuzhi. Amnesty International condemned the move, saying, “It places tens of millions of people at the mercy of a secretive and virtually unaccountable system that is above the law. It by-passes judicial institutions by establishing a parallel system solely run by the Chinese Communist Party with no outside checks and balances.”

Asia Times profiled the new head of the NSC, Yang Xiaodu, a hardliner who has warned “that failure to root out corruption could result in a ‘change of color for the red country.’” But with no oversight, there are fears that the NSC could simply be used to snuff out any critics of Party Secretary Xi Jinping.

 

Under 40s targeted for RSDL-style camps in Xinjiang

The latest from Xinjiang on the mass internment of Uighurs into political re-education camps is that the authorities in some parts of the region are reportedly targeting anyone under 40 years old, reports RFA. “Those born after 1980 are considered ‘violent’ and ‘untrustworthy,’” it quoted anonymous officials as saying. Previously people were being round up and sent to these camps on suspicions of being connected with radicalism – now it appears, just being under 40 years old is grounds enough. Scholar Jerome Cohen wrote on his blog that: “This is a horrendous situation that makes a mockery of the Party’s claim that it is pursuing the ‘rule of law.’ It invites comparisons with the early years of Hitler’s attack on the Jews.”

 

Remembering Lawyer Li Baiguang – a spark of fire in our journey through the night

It was with great sadness that we reported the untimely death of renowned human rights lawyer Li Baiguang (李柏光) in February. Yaxue Cao wrote a detailed two-part obituary to Lawyer Li for the China Change website, in which his life’s dedication to human rights is documented. “All I want to do now is actually see implemented the laws that they themselves wrote, and win for victims the rights and freedoms that they should enjoy,” Lawyer Li said back in 2010. He would also give legal trainings to barefoot lawyers and others – the last one in Henan this January where he taught his students lying down because he had injured his leg. This long tribute ends with: “The night is long; the worst is yet to come. Li Baiguang has died, like Liu Xiaobo, like Yang Tianshui, like Cao Shunli and all those who have fallen in the dark, but they live on; they are sparks of fire in the journey through the night.”

Read part one here, and part two here.

Foreigners, torture, and televised confessions: RSDLmonitor launches RSDL prisoner database

In the first ever database on the use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), initial data shows that many victims were not from mainland China, were forced to appear in a televised confession and reported being subjected to torture.

These results come from RSDLmonitor’s long-term project to build up a detailed database on the use of RSDL. It will be used to explore how widely RSDL is being employed and what human rights violations – such as torture and lack of prosecutorial oversight – are being systematically abused. The database has 91 cases so far.

For more on how the database is being built and to contribute please click here.

 

Some initial results

Where?

  • About one third (or 29) of the 91 cases were handled in Beijing or Tianjin.
  • There were three grouped cases: Guangdong (a group of petitioners); Jiangsu (activists caught up during the 2016 G20 meeting); and Zhejiang (members of a house church).
  • So far, 20 confirmed cases were overseen by the Ministry of State Security (particularly those cases involving foreigners).

 

Why?

  • More than one third were investigated for Endangering State Security crimes; another 10 cases were connected to state or military secrets.
  • Another quarter were investigated for public order crimes. Although illegal under Chinese law, these RSDL cases had lawyer and family access and prosecutor oversight denied to the detainee.

 

Who?

  • Most victims of RSDL are men; just 15 women have been identified so far.
  • 10 of the 91 cases are not from mainland China (Sweden, UK, Canada, US, Taiwan and Hong Kong).

 

What?

  • All except one of the 25 victims of RSDL that we have information on their treatment, were subjected to various degrees of mental or physical torture. Examples of tortures endured were: sleep deprivation, forced into stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and threats to loved ones. Less frequent but still common were: beatings, being shackled into painful positions, and threats to the victim, including death threats.
  • In 19 cases – that’s more than one in five, the victim was made to record a televised confession.
  • Another 26 victims reported that they were forced to fire their own choice of lawyer.
  • Of the 20 cases that provided information on prosecutor oversight, not a single one said they had received a visit.
  • Of the 50 cases that provided information on RSDL notification, 30 said their family had been given written notification – although often delayed – while another 11 said notification had only been verbal (in violation of the law). In another 10 cases, the family had not been notified at all.

 

The database

The database asks wide-ranging questions that cover basic data on the case (suspected crime, location, duration); treatment inside RSDL (forms of torture, lawyer and family access, forced confessions); the ministry responsible and outcomes; and post-RSDL (continued surveillance, physical and mental issues).  This is an ongoing project and will generate rich data on this grave human rights violation. For more details see below.

The database (which is not being made public because of security concerns for the participants) is compiled by soliciting victims or their families to complete a questionnaire and/or online research.

This research is important because neither the Chinese Supreme Court’s nor the Supreme Procurator’s official databases include more than the occasional entry for cases where RSDL has been employed. Furthermore, there is a tendency for human rights groups to only report on cases which involve human rights defenders. The state’s use of RSDL goes much wider than that.

 

Can you help?

Have you or someone you know been a victim of RSDL since it was legalized (1 January 2013)? If so, please contact RSDLmonitor at contact@RSDLmonitor.com with any information, even if it’s just a name. All information will be kept strictly confidential. If it’s possible to fill in the questionnaire, you may download it here: (RSDL Questionnaire form (EN)).

The Chinese version of this questionnaire can be found on this page.


Details on the database

There are four data areas:

  • Dataset 1: Basic data on the victim: alleged crime, location of RSDL, date in, release date, duration and what form notification was given if any.
  • Dataset 2: Treatment inside RSDL: forms of maltreatment and torture, lawyer access, family notification of whereabouts, forced to relinquish rights to see own lawyer, and forced to record a TV confession.
  • Dataset 3: Data on law enforcement side: entry and exit points, ministry responsible (state security or domestic security), whether sent to trial, form of sentencing, form of release.
  • Dataset 4: Data on post-RSDL: house arrest, surveillance, and mental/physical consequences and treatment.