RSDL round-up for January

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.”

 

Yu Wensheng in RSDL

The second kidnapping of Gui Minhai

Wu Gan appeals sentence

In profile — Zhen Jianghua and Wang Quanzhang

Travel – Wang Yu’s son and Lee Ming-che’s wife

The National Supervision Commissions are coming

Lawyers lose licenses – Sui Muqing and Yu Wensheng

 

Yu Wensheng in RSDL

We start with one of the biggest RSDL stories in January, the detention and then subsequent disappearance of rights lawyer Yu Wensheng into RSDL. Following his detention on 19 January on charges of  disturbing public service when he was walking his son to  school in Beijing, Lawyer Yu was then placed into RSDL under the control of a PSB branch on the eastern coast of the country, Tongshan District in Jiangsu Province on the much more serious charges of inciting state subversion. Hours before his initial arrest, Yu had published online a call for constitutional reform. The transfer of his case to the other side of the country is a common tactic used by the authorities to limit the support a victim of RSDL can get from family and friends far away (in this case Yu’s support base is Beijing).

 

The second kidnapping of Gui Minhai

The other big story of the month was the second disappearance of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai on January 20 in front of two Swedish consular officials as they were travelling by train to Beijing. Gui was supposed to be seeing a doctor at the Swedish embassy after he had been diagnosed with signs of ALS (a debilitating neurological disease) but police boarded the train and took Gui away. No official news about this case has so far been released. Gui was originally kidnapped by Chinese security agents from his home in Thailand, kept in RSDL and other forms of detention until October 2017 when he was released under intense surveillance to an apartment in Ningbo. On his blog, Jerome Cohen, writes that this bizarre arrest may be a sign of a struggle between various power bases.

 

“What may have happened is that the local security police in Ningbo may have approved Gui’s trip to Beijing for medical reasons… but the central authorities… may have panicked at the possibility that Gui might seek embassy asylum… There may also have been, and still might be, a struggle between the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security concerning jurisdiction over Gui.”

 

Meanwhile, at the end of the month, Gui was awarded the IPA Prix Voltaire for his “bravery in continuing to publish despite the risks involved.”

 

Wu Gan appeals sentence

At the end of December last year, outspoken human rights activist, Wu Gan, was sentenced to eight years for subversion, the harshest sentence of all the victims of the 709 Crackdown that have so far been brought to trial. On 8 January, his lawyers submitted an appeal arguing for his release on the grounds that his speeches and writings fall “within his civil rights” and that thinking about subverting the state is not a crime. An English translation of that appeal was published by China Change. In an opinion piece in the Financial Times, Jamil Anderlini argued that in singling out Wu with this especially severe sentence, the Chinese Communist Party has “legitimised him and his work in a way nothing else could have.”

 

In profile — Zhen Jianghua and Wang Quanzhang

Two victims of RSDL were profiled on the China Change website this month. The first, Zhen Jianghua, was placed into RSDL last December; the only notification of this transfer was a phone call to his lawyer. This news wasn’t widely reported at the time. Zhen, who is in his early 30s, ran a human rights NGO in Guangdong Province. He had long expected to be detained and made preparations:

 

“For several years, he only wore black: two sets of black t-shirts, two pairs of black shoes. Every night before bed, he did 50 push-ups, 50 squats, and 50 chin-ups… He also signed multiple blank copies of Power of Attorney, and gave them to friends. His Google account was set to automatically purge everything if he didn’t log in for two days.”

 

As the days go by – well over 920 now – since lawyer Wang Quanzhang disappeared back in 2015, China Change published a profile of Wang, pointing out he is the last remaining lawyer from the 709 Crackdown. Family members, friends and lawyers were unable to meet with him or deposit money for Wang to buy food at the First Detention Centre in Tianjin, where he is officially being detained.

 

 

“That Wang Quanzhang must have suffered the worst for refusing to yield is the consensus shared by the human rights community. Some fear that he may have been so physically debilitated that the authorities are now hiding him. Some worry that he’s already dead.”

 

 

Travel – Wang Yu’s son and Lee Ming-che’s wife

Some good news, Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of human rights lawyer Wang Yu, has finally been allowed to go to Australia for study almost three years after his first attempt. Bao first tried to go to Australia for school in July 2015, when his parents were both caught up in the 709 Crackdown. However, the wife of Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-che serving a five-year sentence for subversion was stopped from boarding her flight to China to see him on the grounds she did not have valid travel documents. China cancelled her permit last year.

 

The National Supervision Commissions are coming

There has been a flurry of commentary about China’s proposed National Supervision Commissions (NSC) – an all-powerful anti-corruption system that is likely to broaden and further systematize RSDL for corruption suspects. On ChinaFile, Stanley Lubman writes if the law is passed to establish the NSCs, which could be as early as this March, it would give “the Party new powers to punish Chinese citizens outside the formal legal system.” The Commissions would not even have to abide by the Criminal Procedure Law.  On February 1, The Diplomat suggests the NSCs are a done deal, since provincial level directors have already been appointed.

 

“According to the draft law, the NSC will be placed above the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Not even the State Council will be able to supervise the NSC.”

 

Lawyers lose licenses – Sui Muqing and Yu Wensheng

Three rights lawyers lost their licenses this month. First, Yu Wensheng –before his detention (see above) — received a letter on 15 January saying his license had been revoked because he had not been employed by a legal firm for six months (he had been denied permission to set up his own legal firm earlier). Ten days later, Sui Muqing, who is the author of one of the first-person accounts of RSDL in our book The People’s Republic of the Disappeared also said he had been notified that his license had been revoked. Sui said he is clearly being punished for taking human rights interest cases. Revoking licenses has long been a tactic of the Party to neutralize human rights lawyers. Also in January, China Change provided a wrap-up of more than half a dozen rights lawyers who have been targeted in this way in the past few months.

The second disappearance of Gui Minhai

Book about Gui Minhai's kidnapping and RSDLSwedish publisher Gui Minhai has disappeared for the second time in China. On 20 January Gui was travelling by train to Beijing in the company of two Swedish consular staff to seek treatment for a serious medical condition when Chinese police snatched him. Since then China has said nothing. Gui was first kidnapped by Chinese agents in Thailand in October 2015,  held under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and in detention for the next two years. Since October 2017, he has been living under strict police surveillance, but officially “free” in Ningbo in eastern China.

This week a new book about Gui, and another Swede who was disappeared in 2016, Peter Dahlin, is being published by Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson. For the book, called De kidnappade Kinasvenskarna (in English, The Swedes who were kidnapped in China), Olsson interviewed Gui Minhai’s daughter Angela Gui, Bei Ling, an old friend of Gui’s from his China days, and the Swedish foreign ministry.

Olsson talked with RSDLMonitor about his thoughts on Sweden’s handling of Gui’s case and also what he has learned about Gui’s situation from writing this book.

 

What to you has been the most shocking aspect of Gui’s case?

Jojje Olsson: The most shocking thing was that he hasn’t had any access to medical care since he developed this ALS [Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] illness in prison. It’s a very serious illness, from the onset of ALS you [will likely] only live an average of between two and four years… There are so many examples of Chinese activists and dissidents who didn’t get proper treatment or medical care when they were detained in RSDL…  It was only when he was released in October 2017 that he visited a doctor and got a diagnosis. It points to the fact that he didn’t even get regular health check ups during the two years when he was detained, and during the first six months when he was in RSDL.

 

When interviewing Angela and Bei Ling, what did you understand was the worst aspect of RSDL for family and friends?

Insecurity. A majority of the families of those people in RSDL don’t know any details behind the detention. When Gui Minhai disappeared into RSDL, Angela didn’t know that according to Chinese law they could hold her father for six months in a place without any contact with the rest of the world. The worst thing, I think, is the insecurity, that you don’t have any news about what is happening – [you don’t know] why were they disappeared, and you don’t have any type of contact with them.

 

There are so many examples of Chinese activists and dissidents who didn’t get proper treatment or medical care when they were detained in RSDL.

 

Also, when it comes to Angela’s case, one of the most emotional things for her is it also destroys families. Like Gui Minhai’s wife in Germany, she doesn’t really dare to have any contact with Angela because [of Angela’s public efforts to get her father released]. And also her family in China. Angela [said] she doesn’t really dare to contact her cousin because she knows they could get into trouble because of her activism.

 

Do you have any information on the conditions Gui was held under in RSDL?

As I understand it when he was released in October, he was taken to Ningbo which is his hometown in eastern China where he could meet his family. He also could use some kinds of communications like Skype and his email. But every communication that he had and every movement that he made was being monitored by the Chinese authorities. And he also had to report to the police at regular intervals. And he was living in a house that was managed by the police, so it was a type of house arrest basically.

In an interview Angela gave [last week] she said that she got the impression that he didn’t want to talk about the details of what happened to him… She got the impression that he was tortured when he was detained because he was missing a tooth and had lost a lot of weight.  And he didn’t talk in detail about that and that’s because he was still in the hands of Chinese security. It’s still very likely that he will be put under another trial for the [publishing of illegal books]… He doesn’t dare to speak out to his friends and family about what happened because it will decrease his chances to be released and or get a shorter sentence. The Chinese authorities are afraid that Gui Minhai will do the same thing as Lam Wing-kee [he exposed the kidnappings and torture at a press conference in Hong Kong in 2016] that he will also talk in detail about what happened to him.

 

The second kidnapping of Gui took place in front of two consular staff. What does that say about China today?

It shows that China is ready to go further and further to silence dissidents and silence criticism not only from Chinese citizens but also from foreigners. It would be a new level of submission if it’s not condemned. It also shows that you are never safe, you will never know what the Chinese government can do to silence its critics. Even if you’re a foreign citizen in the company of foreign diplomats you are not safe… That’s a big change.

 

Why did you decide to write this book?

Because I can see that in China since Xi Jinping became President and one or two years into his presidency…  the situation has become more and more repressive, and in Sweden people are very unaware of this. In Swedish media there’s not a lot that is written about China…I use the examples of Peter Dahlin and Gui Minhai to tell the wider story of increased repression and not only in China but also how it is trying to export its repression abroad. This is really important given China’s spoken ambitions to increase its political influence abroad and also its [overseas] investments.

 

[Gui’s second kidnapping] shows that China is ready to go further and further to silence dissidents and silence criticism not only from Chinese citizens but also from foreigners. It would be a new level of submission if it’s not condemned.

Do you think the Swedish government treated the cases of Peter Dahlin and Gui Minhai differently?

From the point of view of the Chinese authorities, Gui is Chinese, and Peter is Swedish and because the Chinese authorities treated them differently, then the Swedish authorities had to treat them differently.

The Swedish authorities have been clear from the beginning that they view Gui as a Swedish citizen – the foreign minister has said on a couple of occasions when she was asked outright – when the Chinese side said that Gui is first and foremost a Chinese citizen, she would reply [when she was asked by reporters] no, he is Swedish. They have been quite clear on that point. That’s a good thing.

The Chinese authorities have been more persistent with detaining and holding Gui than they were with Peter and that meant the Swedish authorities gave up in one sense. They didn’t really pressure too hard. I remember one thing that Peter said to me: he said: ‘It seems that the Swedish authorities from the very beginning decided that the Gui Minhai issue should not have a big effect on the general relationship between Sweden and China.’

 

As a Swedish citizen yourself, what is your opinion about Sweden’s response to the two kidnappings of Gui Minhai?

I think the response should have been more open criticism from the beginning. You can see [last week] when the foreign minster made a statement; that was the first time that she openly called for his release for the 830 days that he has been disappeared. What happened immediately after that was that the European Union ambassador to China also echoed the demands of the Swedish foreign minister. This is something very important because when the Swedish government chooses to be silent, when it chooses to engage in quiet diplomacy, it also means that other countries and other organizations don’t say anything either. Because why would they go ahead of Sweden?

When two Swedish journalists were released in Ethiopia in 2012, the Swedish ambassador to Addis Ababa said a decisive factor behind their release was the support and the pressure that came from the US and from the UK and the EU. I think that the fact that the Swedish side has chosen to be silent and not openly criticized China also [has meant that] other countries and organizations have been quiet so there has been no international pressure for Gui. The important thing is to rally other countries and organizations to make joint statements.

 

 

Why is RSDL the most feared type of detention in China?

Editor of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, Michael Caster, explains the true horror behind China’s Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) to The Diplomat.

 

 

The Diplomat: The People’s Republic of the Disappeared documents the experiences of Chinese activists (and one Swede) placed into “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). Several of those who wrote about their experiences for the book say their time in RSDL was worse than any previous treatment they had experienced, whether in legal detention centers or illegal “black jails.” What about RSDL makes it the most feared type of detention in China?

 

Michael Caster: Under Xi Jinping, China’s assault on the human rights community has escalated to extremes not seen since the 1989 Pro-Democracy crackdown, while technological advancements, not to mention certain complicit foreign companies, have allowed for unprecedented increases in police capacity and state control. Add to that an effort by the Party to weaponize the law through legislation whose only purpose is to mask its authoritarian objectives behind false talk of rule of law. The revised Criminal Procedure Law, in which RSDL is codified in Article 73, is case in point, as it grants agents of the state effectively unfettered power, often in violation of fundamental international law, to act in the preservation of national security, which is synonymous with the preservation of Party supremacy.

 

RSDL is so feared, arguably, because it is so quintessentially totalitarian, right down to the ubiquity of black hoods and midnight raids, evoking scenes from V for Vendetta. Little is known, but that is slowly changing, about what it means to disappear in China. Even a few years after it came into effect, in 2016 many people were still misled by the euphemistic title, the residential in RSDL. Torture is common. RSDL is a tool of repression, designed to terrorize and demonstrate power. It is so feared because it was designed to be feared.

 


This extract was published with the kind permission of The Diplomat. Read the interview in full here.  A Chinese translation is available here.

Wang Quanzhang: The last missing lawyer

Chinese lawyer missing for two years Wang quan zhang

As we enter 2018, Peter Dahlin, the Swedish rights activist, who was himself a victim of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location in Beijing in early 2016, writes about his friend and rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang. More than two and a half years after he was first kidnapped by the Chinese state, Wang still languishes in secret detention. This extract is re-posted here with the kind permission of Hong Kong Free Press, where it was first published. (Image credit: Hong Kong Free Press.)

 

Chinese lawyer missing for two years Wang quan zhang

 

Some five years ago my friend Wang Quanzhang – China’s last missing lawyer – came over to my Beijing apartment for a Swedish-style Christmas.

 

By this time he had learned to tolerate, if not appreciate, the meatballs, as it was his second Christmas at my house. Since then, I’ve been deported from China and banned for ten years under the Espionage Act.

 

I am unlikely to spend any more Christmases in China. Wang might never be allowed to spend any Christmas anywhere, outside of prison.

 

Wang disappeared on 5 August 2015. For two and a half years his family, wife Li Wenzu and their young son, and the lawyers Wang had chosen for himself should he ever be detained, have not seen nor heard from him. There’s no trial in sight.

 

It may strike anyone reading this that his case is simply another victim’s story. Frankly, there are so many that it’s hard to keep track or become engaged.

 

However, his case represents something far worse, and is a window into the new China envisioned by Xi Jinping and the CCP.


To continue reading the full version, please click here; the full Chinese version can be read here.

RSDL round-up for December

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.”

 

Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers

Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years

Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers

Hong Kong victims of RSDL

Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state

 

Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers

 

On 26 December, the trials of lawyer Xie Yang and human rights activist Wu Gan, two of the more prominent victims of RSDL and the 709 crackdown (a politically-motivated purge of human rights lawyers that began in summer 2015), were finally held, 2.5 years after they had first been disappeared. While Wu was handed a harsh sentence of eight years for subversion, widely thought to be punishment for ridiculing officials and his strident refusal to confess, Xie Yang, accused of the lesser crime of incitement to subversion, was released without punishment because he had earlier confessed. Wu Gan’s eight-year sentence is the harshest handed down so far to the victims of the 709 crackdown; according to an eyewitness he mocked the court after the verdict.

 

I am “grateful to the Party for granting me this lofty honor… I will remain true to our original aspiration, roll up my sleeves and make an extra effort,” Wu reportedly said, a sarcastic reference to Xi’s frequent overtures to Party members.

 

While Xie’s sentencing was broadcast on the court’s Weibo (watch it here), Wu’s was a closed trial and no live video was released. Chinachange noted that a short clip released later of Wu’s trial had been doctored with footage from a hearing recorded in the summer, testament to their inability to control the outspoken activist.

 

Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

For China Law & Policy, Elizabeth Lynch points out after Xie and Wu there is still one more lawyer unaccounted for, Wang Quanzhang.

 

Neither his wife, family, nor the lawyers hired by his family have been able to meet with him and no trial has been set for Wang… While Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s fates will be known tomorrow, it is the unknown of what is happening to Wang Quanzhang – and why – that is most alarming. Denied access to lawyers, unable to meet with family, no speedy trial, how is this a country with a rule of law?

 

Radio Free Asia reported on 6 December that two lawyers appointed by his family were not allowed to visit him at his Tianjin detention centre. As Wang languishes in detention, he was one of three finalists for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip Award for individuals or organizations that use innovative ways to promote human rights. He has also been nominated for the Frontline Defenders 2018 Human Rights Award.

 

Meanwhile, Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Citizen Award on 9 December for continuing to campaign for her husband inside China. Our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, is dedicated to Lawyer Wang.

 

 

Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years

 

At the end of November, a Chinese court sentenced Taiwanese NGO worker, Lee Ming-che, to five years for “subverting state power.” Lee was kidnapped by Chinese security back in March as he crossed from Macau into the mainland, but he was not formally charged until May and had no access to his family members until his trial in September. It was the first time that a Taiwanese national was prosecuted on this charge in China and was widely interpreted as a threat both to Taiwan and overseas NGO workers in the country.

 

Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers

 

Also at the end of November, the New York Times reported that Chinese president Xi Jinping was proposing to set up “a new anticorruption agency with sweeping powers to sidestep the courts and lock up anyone on the government payroll for months without access to a lawyer ” – a kind of special RSDL for officials. The move looks odd when just a month ago, Xi had pledged to scrap a similar secretive security system, called shuanggui ­ which oversees Party members. Xi’s new anti-corruption agency would have jurisdiction over the whole public sector, the newspaper added, of up to 62 million people, many of whom are not Party members.

 

Hong Kong victims of RSDL

 

Returning to the theme of non-mainland victims of RSDL, in One Country, Two Prison Systems, Hong Kong Free Press focused on Hong Kongers caught up in China’s murky legal system. Two RSDL victims, bookseller Lam Wing-kee and journalist Ching Cheong told the website about their horrific experiences of RSDL. Lam said the constant interrogations and berating made him “contemplate suicide,” while Ching was kept in “solitary confinement, in a room sealed with black curtains for 100 days.”

 

 

Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state

 

There have been mounting concerns over the health of Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Prize wining dissident Liu Xiaobo. On 17 December, The Guardian reports that she sent a letter in the form of a poem to writer Herta Mueller in which she says she is “going mad.” Liu Xiaobo himself was a victim of an earlier form of RSDL, while for years Liu Xia was kept a virtual prisoner even though she was never charged with a crime and since her husband’s death this summer, she has effectively been disappeared by the Chinese state.

 

“I have not the right to speech

To speak loudly

I live like a plant

I lie like a corpse.” Liu Xia.

The disappeared: Accounts from inside China’s secret prisons

One lawyer, one scholar and one Swedish human rights advocate share the same fate: they were all kidnapped and disappeared by the Chinese state. Locked for weeks and months in secret jails, completely cut off from the world and forced to confess on camera for crimes they did not commit.

 

Credit: CNN. Sui Muqing (far left), Peter Dahlin, and Chen Taihe.

 

Earlier this month, CNN reported their stories in the context of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ramped up crackdown on human rights. This is the story of China’s “legalized” Black Jails.

 

Watch the video here.

 

Two of these men, Sui Muqing and Peter Dahlin wrote first-person accounts of their ordeals in our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.

 

 

RSDL Resources

residential surveillance at a designated location

Legal name: Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (or Place); RSDL; and in Chinese, 指定居所监视居住

Well-known victims: Ai Weiwei, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, Wang Yu, the Hong Kong booksellers, Peter Dahlin, Lee Ming-che

Related human rights issues: Torture, threats to family, denial of access to  lawyer,  forced medication, sleep and food deprivation, delayed sentencing, forced confessions pre-trial and at trial, secret trial, delayed trial, and non-release release

 

Legal

  • RSDL in Chinese law (articles 72 to 77 are relevant): ChinaLawTranslate,: Criminal Procedure Law (2012), 8 April 2013
  • Oversight of RSDL in Chinese law: ChinaLawTranslate: Provisions on People’s Procuratorates’ Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location,  14 July 2016
  • Enforced disappearances in international law: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner:International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances
  • Elizabeth M Lynch: China Law & PolicyCodifying Illegality? The Case of Jiang Tianyong, 20 January 2017
  • Jerome Cohen: Jerry’s Blog:Disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer: what it means to be placed under “residential surveillance” in China, 26 December 2016
  • Margaret K. Lewis: China Law and Policy:Who Will Be Watched: Margaret K. Lewis on China’s New CPL & Residential Surveillance , 25 September 2015

General

  •  Does China’s New Detention Law Matter, China Digital Times, 13 March 2013
  • What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’, Yaqiu Wang, Chinachange, 2 August 2015
  • New Type of Detention Marks China’s Intensifying Crackdown on Civil Society, Jojje Olsson, Taiwan Sentinel, 15 May 2017
  • Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place, Wikipedia
  • Arrested, Detained: A Guide to Navigating China’s Police Powers, Stanley Lubman, Wall Street Journal, 12 August 2014

 

Human rights reviews & reports

  • Congressional-Executive Commission on China annual reports, 2016 and 2017 include dedicated sections on RSDL under Criminal Justice chapter
  • Prevention of Torture: concerns with the use of ‘residential confinement in a designated residence’, report by the Rights Practice in relation to the fifth periodic report from China, submitted to the Committee Against Torture, 56 Session, Sep- Dec 2015

 

Victim stories

  • CHRD update on arbitrary detention and torture of Chinese lawyer Xie Yang, China Human Rights Defenders, 20 February 2017
  • China lawyer recounts torture under Xi’s ‘war on law’, John Sudworth, BBC, 26 October 2017
  • The disappeared: Accounts from inside China’s secret prisons, Chieu Luu and Matt Rivers, CNN, 27 November 2017

 

Commentary

  • Legalizing the Tools of Repression, Nicholas Bequelin, The New York Times, 29 February 2012
  • China’s secret detention of lawyers threatens the rule of law, William Nee, Hong Kong Free Press, 29 September 2015
  • The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, Michael Caster, The Diplomat, 6 December 2015

 

Books 

 

United Nations Treaties and Bodies 

A number of UN treaties and their associated bodies (with which complaints can be filed) cover the human rights violations associated with RSDL. They are:

China status: not a signatory

China status: signed, but not ratified

China status: ratified.

 

 

 

Shining a light onto the abuses of the Chinese state

6 December 2017 – The main driving force behind this new book of first-person stories of China’s state-sanctioned kidnappings is Michael Caster, a US human rights advocate and researcher. While Michael himself was never detained, he used to work with Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin, whose own story of abuse under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) is detailed in Chapter 5 in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared. The two men ran a legal aid NGO called China Action from Beijing, which helped provide funding and logistical support for barefoot lawyers.

 

Here Michael explains why he thinks it is so important for this book to be made now and why we should all start caring about this new chilling tool of abuse.

 

Q: You were the main driving force behind this book. Can you explain why The People’s Republic of the Disappeared was written and published now?

 

The driving force was to help the world see that RSDL is far from a softer form of detention but another piece in China’s totalitarian apparatus of terror and control.

 

Q: The people who volunteered their stories for The People’s Republic of the Disappeared did so at considerable risk to themselves. Can you tell us why you think they agreed in the end?

 

At the end of her chapter, (human rights lawyer) Wang Yu writes:

 

I have often wanted to write about my experiences. But so often, after picking up my pen, I found myself just putting it down again. I always felt that they were memories hard to look back upon, but that if I didn’t record them in time, eventually they would fade away. So I forced myself to write this time.

 

These stories are about memorialization, about providing testimony against the abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government against its own people. And they are about healing.

 

Those who agreed to share their stories are people who have already made great sacrifices as rights defenders, and in agreeing to share their stories they have continued to make sacrifices for others. These stories provide great context for international condemnation and advocacy, in that by showing the systematic nature of abuses they fuel international pressure for China to abolish RSDL. But, they also provide some guidance, some insight for those rights defenders who still might find themselves picked up and disappeared into the RSDL system. And in that sense they offer some degree of protection.

 

Q: The people in this book are human rights defenders – lawyers, activists and so on. What kinds of things do they do that make the authorities put them into RSDL?

 

In an authoritarian system, the law exists, where it exists at all, to protect and further the interests of the Party. What these rights defenders have done to end up inside RSDL is merely to have attempted to work within the confines of the law to protect the rights of Chinese citizens.

 

“Under international law there are no circumstances that permit for enforced disappearances, and yet that is exactly what China has done with RSDL.” [Michael Caster].

 

Q: Who is RSDL targeted at? And roughly since 2013 how many people have been subjected to this chilling practice?

 

In principle, RSDL is reserved for crimes related to endangering national security, involving terrorist activities, or those involving significant bribes. The stories of RSDL in this book show that it is clearly being used to target the human rights community. It is a calculated tool of repression.

 

I think what is more important to emphasize than the total number of people to have passed through RSDL is the systematic nature of RSDL. Especially in these stories, we see a certain predictability of suffering, in both means and consequences. It is not as much a matter of how many people have been subjected to this chilling practice, but the cold, calculated, planning behind its legislation and implementation.

 

Q: China legalized RSDL in 2013. Can you briefly explain why you think it did this?

 

For more than a decade, China has been experimenting with administrative, criminal, and extrajudicial procedures to remove, silence, detain, imprison, and disappear regime opponents, from the Custody and Repatriation system of the early 2000s or the use of Black Jails that followed. Effectively RSDL represents China’s effort to mask enforced disappearances behind the veneer of the rule of law.

 

 

Q: Before it was legalized, China’s enforced disappearances still took place in Black Jails and other locations. Why is RSDL worse than this situation?

 

Black Jails were an extrajudicial system for detaining and disappearing regime opponents. They existed purely in the shadows. But RSDL is worse in that it represents the efforts of the state to legalize the impermissible. Under international law there are no circumstances that permit for enforced disappearances, and yet that is exactly what China has done with RSDL.

 

English and Chinese versions of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.

 

Q: At the 19th Party Congress in late 2017, president Xi Jinping said he would scrap the secret internal disciplinary system of shuanggui – a kind of RSDL for Party members. Does that give you any hope that RSDL will be abandoned?

 

No. As we have seen many times before, when one system of abuse is abandoned another simply comes in its place. Even if Shuanggui is scrapped, something else will rise in its place. And as for RSDL, the vocabulary in the National Human Rights Action Plan (2016-2020), and the noted expansion of facilities dedicated to RSDL, indicate there is little intention to slow the use of RSDL in Xi Jinping’s second term.

 

Q: Some people may argue while enforced disappearances appears repugnant to many outside China, it is a legal custodial system under Chinese law and there is not a lot we can do about it. On what legal basis can other countries and international bodies urge Beijing to change?

 

Slavery was legal in the United States long after it had been criminalized by much of the rest of the world. Apartheid was legal in South Africa and yet the world galvanized in opposition to its repulsiveness. Slavery, torture, enforced disappearances, these are considered so vile that they are an insult to humanity at large. There is a universal obligation to speak out against them, and in some circumstances a universal obligation to intervene. This is all the more pressing in cases where torture has taken place, and torture is certainly systematic within RSDL.

 

Q: What do you hope that this book will achieve?

 

I hope this book will shine a light onto the abuses of the Chinese state, and encourage more people around the world to demand action from their leaders in holding the Chinese state accountable to its flagrant violations of human rights law and cruelty toward its people. The point of this book was to provide a thorough picture of what it means to disappear in China because frankly too many people were still unaware or indifferent to what RSDL actually represented.

Chinese edition of the book now out, what the media have been saying

Updated 2 January 2018. Two weeks after its launch in English, the Chinese language edition of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared was published for the first time today. The Chinese edition is available from this website in PDF and MOBI versions, for free, and also as paperback for U.S, U.K., Europe and more at Amazon.

 

The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, with a foreword by Dr. Teng Biao, provides a comprehensive and chilling portrait of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) through the first-person accounts of 11 of its victims.

 

The English language edition is aimed at a global readership and focused on raising attention about this grave and little understood human rights violation. The target audience of this new Chinese edition is Chinese citizens – human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, bloggers, and, most crucially, their families – to help them better understand and prepare for the possibility of themselves becoming victims.

 

In the two weeks since its English-language release, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared has garnered some impressive reviews and coverage. Here is a sample:

  • The New York Times called the stories in the book “rare in detail,” describing RSDL as “a widespread practice of whisking people into secret detention — ‘disappearing’ them into a labyrinth where China’s stunted legal protections can do little to prevent abuse.”
  • South China Morning Post reviews the book, saying “At just over 200 pages, the book can almost be finished in one sitting, but it would make for a very heavy session.”
  • Radio France International’s Spotlight ran an extensive interview with the book’s editor Michael Caster, who spoke about how the legalization of RSDL demonstrates China’s “chilling reliance on enforced disappearances.”
  • ABC radio interviewed The People’s Republic of the Disappeared editor, Michael Caster. He talked about the key victims of RSDL – front-line rights defenders in China, how they help others to defend their rights, and why they are so feared by the state.
  • Kong Tsung-gan‘s annual “Best human rights books of the year” for 2017 listed The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: “Reading this is like taking a direct glimpse at the cruelty and brutality that are the heart of Communist Party rule.”
  • Veteran scholar of Chinese law, Jerome A. Cohen, featured The People’s Republic of the Disappeared on his blog  calling it a “noteworthy” and “deserving” book.
  • Hong Kong Free Press ran both an opinion piece on Wang Quanzhang by Peter Dahlin, the author of one of the first-person accounts in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and ran an extract from Wang Yu’s chapter in that book.
  • QUARTZ  focused on our chapter written by Wang Yu, covering the abuses she suffered under RSDL such as being forced to strip and taunting her about her son’s safety, and why she finally agreed to write about her terrible ordeal.
  • CNN ran a longer piece titled The Disappeared both on TV and in webprint, after a year’s work interviewing several of the people whose full accounts appear in the book.

 

 

 

 

Meet the people in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared

The 11 people who have shared their stories in this book have done so at considerable risk to themselves, many others have faced reprisals from the Chinese state for speaking out in the past. It has also been painful for them to relive the horrors of their experience. They have made this sacrifice because there is a real need to expose the grave human rights violation of China’s “legalized” system of enforced disappearances, or Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location. And also to empower the inevitable future victims.

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These people are mothers and fathers, lawyers and activists, boyfriends and girlfriends. Real people with real lives who were taken by the Chinese state for their conviction in human rights.

The lawyer who campaigned against hated re-education camps

Tang Jitian

Tang Jitian

Tang Jitian (唐吉田) is one of China’s most well-known rights defense lawyers. He has taken on many politically sensitive cases including representing rights defenders and Falun Gong practitioners. He also campaigned to end the hated Re-education Through Labor system. In 2010, the government revoked Tang’s lawyer’s license, a common way to attack rights lawyers, but he continues to fight for human rights in China.


The wife, the husband, and the man who tried to save their son

Wang Yu

Wang Yu

Wang Yu (王宇) is one of China’s most respected human rights lawyers. Her most high-profile cases include defending Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 as punishment for encouraging ethnic unity. Wang’s courageous rights defense work has won her several international human rights awards and nominations.

Bao Longjun
Bao Longjun

Bao Longjun (包龙军) is a long-time legal rights activist; he worked for the Feng Rui Law firm in Beijing with his wife, the rights lawyer Wang Yu (see above). Bao was seized at Beijing airport with his teenage son before they could board a plane to Australia, where his son was planning to attend school in the summer of 2015. That same night, security agents raided his Beijing home and abducted his wife.

Tang Zhishun
Tang Zhishun

Tang Zhishun (唐志顺) was inspired to get involved in civil rights activism after facing (and stopping) the illegal demolition of his own home. Since them, Tang has helped other victims of forced evictions on how to better protect their rights. Police seized Tang and barefoot lawyer Xing Qingxian in Myanmar as they were helping Bao Zhuoxuan, the teenaged son of detained rights lawyer Wang Yu and Bao Longjun leave the country.


The lawyer who lost his wife to the police

Liu Shihui

Liu Shihui

Liu Shuhui (刘士辉) is a lawyer and long-time human rights defender. The authorities have barred him from renewing his lawyer’s license since 2010 because of his rights defense work. In 2011, Liu was placed under Residential Surveillance amid calls for a “Jasmine Revolution” in China, when they deported his Vietnam-born wife. He was also disappeared during the 2015 “709 Crackdown.”


The lawyer who defends rights defenders

Chen Zhixiu

Chen Zhixiu

Chen Zhixiu (not his real name) (陈志修) is a human rights lawyer who has represented some of China’s most marginalized citizens. Along with investigating human rights violations and acting as legal counsel for rights defenders at risk, he has also researched and taught others in more effective ways to use the law in China.


The Swedish rights activist and his girlfriend

Peter Dahlin

Peter Dahlin

Peter Dahlin is a Swedish human rights activist and co-founder of China Action, an NGO that provided legal and financial assistance to rights defenders at risk. Security agents detained Dahlin in early January 2016 and placed him under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location in a secret custom-built facility in the outskirts of Beijing. After being made to appear in a nationally-televised forced confession, Dahlin was deported and banned from re-entering China.

Pan Jinling
Pan Jinling

Pan Jinling’s (潘锦玲) only connection with human rights works was her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter Dahlin. Even so, security agents abducted her at night from her home and placed her under Residential Surveillance, where she was interrogated and held in solitary confinement for 23 days until the authorities deported her boyfriend.


The lawyer who was tortured until he thought he would die in detention

Xie Yang

Xie Yang

Xie Yang (谢阳) is a prominent rights defense lawyer; he has represented members of the civil rights group New Citizens’ Movement as well as persecuted Christians and victims of illegal land grabs. In 2015, the authorities targeted Xie in the “709 Crackdown” against lawyers and activists. Stories of Xie’s horrific torture while under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location hit global headlines in 2016.


The petitioner who helps others seek justice

Jiang Xiaoyu

Jiang Xiaoyu

Jiang Xiaoyu (not his real name) (江孝宇) got involved with rights work in the early 2000s when he himself was a petitioner. Because he could speak fluent English, he started helping Chinese human rights defenders communicate with foreign journalists and diplomats. Security agents seized Jiang in 2016 and starved and beat him for a weekend in an underground prison in the outskirts of Beijing.


The human rights lawyer who won’t give up

Sui Muqing

Sui Muqing

Lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) is well known for his work defending other rights activists, including fellow human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong. The authorities have subjected Sui to repeated attacks, including fines and beatings, because of his work on politically sensitive cases. He was also swept up in the “709 Crackdown” in the summer of 2015 and placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location. Even after he was released in 2016, unlike some other other victims of RSDL, Sui has continued taking on human rights cases.