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


  • 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).



  • 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.



  • 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).



  • 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.

RSDL round-up for February

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.”

Proposal to scrap presidential term limits

Lawyer Li Baiguang dies under mysterious circumstances

Two human rights reports out

Extra-legal detention camps in Xinjiang

Liuzhi – RSDL for officials

Gui Minhai makes third TV forced confession

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong suffers memory loss in jail


Proposal to scrap presidential term limits

Of course the biggest news out of China last month was the proposal to scrap term limits for the president (currently there are norms that only allow two five-year terms), potentially meaning tenure for life for Xi Jinping. This is disappointing news for those who uphold human rights as it likely means more of the same or more of even worse abuses, including a widening of the systematization and legalization of RSDL-type detention. The Internet is awash with commentary on this long-expected but nonetheless consequential development. Here are just two: on his blog, Jerome Cohen writes that it heralds the “return of one-man dictatorship,” and “signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression;” while for Evan Osnas, writing in The New Yorker, “The decision marks the clearest expression of Xi’s core beliefs—his impatience with affectations of liberalism, his belief in the Communist Party’s moral superiority, and his unromantic conception of politics as a contest between force and the forced.”



Lawyer Li Baiguang dies under suspicious circumstances

Respected and award-winning human rights lawyer Li Baiguang sadly died on 26 February at a military hospital in Nanjing. His death was sudden, happening just a few hours after he had been admitted complaining of stomach pains. Lawyer Li was just 49 years old. His friends and supporters said they suspect foul play, pointing to the fact that he was beaten in custody last year,. Some reports have Lawyer Li suffering from late-stage liver cancer – the same disease that imprisoned dissident Li Xiaobo died of in prison last year.



Two human rights reports out

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) published their annual report, Repression and Resilience: Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2017) at the end of February. The report noted that evidence from victims confirms RSDL is being used as a “cover for torture and other forms of mistreatment;” that 17 lawyers and activists have been held since the 709 Crackdown in 2015 under RSDL; and it also gave a list of 12 activists who had protested outside a courthouse in Suzhou who were held in RSDL between November 2016 and March 2017. Download a copy of the report here. Amnesty International also published its annual report in February, noting that RSDL was “used to curb the activities of human rights defenders, including lawyers, activists and religious practitioners.”



Extra-legal detention camps in Xinjiang

While the number of people being held under China’s RSDL is not known – the numbers of Uighurs reported to be kept in extra-legal detention in the western region of Xinjiang are staggering. In January, reports from Xinjiang were all about the rise of a surveillance state, this month the focus has been on the hundreds of thousands of Uighurs (estimates of up to 800,000 have been reported) caught up in China’s “war on terror” and sent to vast re-education camps where they are held indefinitely without charge. Writing in Foreign Policy one writer described how a classmate – Iman, a Uighur student studying in the US – went home to Xinjiang to see his mother and was detained at one of these camps for several weeks possibly because he was studying overseas. When the police placed handcuffs on Iman, he asked if they were necessary. “‘Don’t ask questions,’ one officer demanded. ‘We are being lenient — you are supposed to be shackled, too.’” A report by Human Rights Watch details how who gets sent to these camps is based on predictive policing techniques and big data using a system called Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) or 一体化联合作战平台 in Chinese. The report said IJOP uses several sources of data including CCTV cameras, security checkpoints, an individual’s own files and information collected by local “research” groups who ask questions about religious behaviour. The system is up and running in Kashgar already, the resport said.




Liuzhi – RSDL for officials

As well as scrapping presidential term limits, the National People’s Congress meeting in March, is expected to approve the formation of the National Supervision Commission which would formalize an RSDL-like detention procedure – operating outside of the Criminal Procedure Law, called liuzhi, 留置 in Chinese, for all government employees if suspected of corruption or other wrong-doing. The head of Beijing’s Supervision Commission defended the move with the rather dubious argument: “Major crimes related to official duties are not the same as normal crimes and the investigations cannot be done in the same way.” China Law professor Stanley Lubman told The Diplomat that the system reflects: the Party’s “deep commitment to control over Chinese society.”




Gui Minhai makes third forced TV confession

Just weeks after the Swedish bookseller was taken for the second time by the Chinese state,  prompting an international outcry – including a stern statement from Sweden itself – Gui Minhai appeared in his third forced confession, this time in front of a crowd of pliant media including the increasingly pro-Beijing South China Morning Post. Flanked by security officers, Gui accused Sweden of using him in the jarring video, which is widely accepted to have been staged and coerced. Peter Dahlin, himself a former victim of China’s televised forced confessions, urges media to behave more responsibly when reporting obviously forced confessions. In an op-ed for Hong Kong Free Press he writes: “Was Gui Minhai’s latest, his third, scripted by the Chinese police? Was he told what to say? Was he forced to do so with threats to himself or loved ones? Yes. End of discussion. His words hold no value whatsoever, except perhaps the final part, where he offers his love to his daughter and family.”




Lawyer Jiang Tianyong suffers memory loss in jail

Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who is serving two years for incitement to subvert state power is suffering from memory loss, according to his wife after a family visit to his detention centre, reported Radio Free Asia (RFA). His family suspect that Jiang, who is also a victim of RSDL, is being force fed medication which could impair memory function. There have been several reports of human rights lawyers being forcibly medicated, including Li Heping and Xie Yanyi. Lawyer Xie told RFA that the police “may be even more unscrupulous when it comes to Jiang Tianyong.”




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.