BBC Journalists Union Condemns China’s Broadcaster CCTV and Supports Ofcom Complaint on Forced Confessions
BBC World News AGM: Chapel Meeting – Friday 21st December 2018 1.30pm, Richard Dimbleby Room, B1 NBH
Referral of China Central Television to OFCOM
BBC World News NUJ Chapel notes that China Central Television (CCTV) is opening its largest media hub outside China in Chiswick, employing over 300 staff. According to Reporters Without Borders, China’s state and privately-owned media are under the Communist Party’s close control, while foreign reporters are encountering more and more obstacles. More than 50 journalists and bloggers are currently detained.
This NUJ Chapel condemns moves to deepen control by the Chinese Communist Party of news and information and the online surveillance of its citizens. We also condemn how forced televised confessions, filmed and broadcast by CCTV, are now commonplace in China.
This Chapel therefore supports the complaint filed by victim and former Reuters journalist Peter Humphrey with OFCOM against CCTV for operating in violation of the regulator’s broadcasting code and for complicity in committing gross human rights violations. This Chapel states that broadcasters cannot be accomplices to torture.
Proposed: David Campanale
Seconded: Jatinder Dillon
21 December 2018 – The human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders has learned today that BBC television journalists have moved a resolution condemning China’s state broadcaster CCTV over its airing of forced confessions from China in the UK and supporting the recent complaint to Ofcom of victim Peter Humphrey against Chinese TV’s involvement in this human rights abuse.
Mr. Humphrey, a former Reuters correspondent for almost 20 years and then due diligence consultant for 15 years in China, submitted a detailed complaint to Ofcom on 23 November calling for curbs on CCTV’s UK broadcast rights due to CCTV’s role in extracting and broadcasting forced and falsified “confessions” from him and his wife twice (in 2013 and 2014) while they were held under duress in a Shanghai jail on false charges of illegally acquiring private information.
Ofcom is the UK broadcasting regulator which enforces UK broadcasting laws. Mr. Humphrey’s complaint has pinpointed 15 violations of this law by CCTV in its broadcasting of his forced “confession”, centering around CCTV’s violation of the law’s privacy and fairness provisions and the standards of content. Ofcom has yet to reach a decision on Mr. Humphrey’s complaint.
Mr. Humphrey, a British citizen, and his American wife Yingzeng Yu, were incarcerated in Shanghai from July 2013 to June 2015, and Mr. Humphrey was denied medical treatment in captivity, causing cancer.
Safeguard Defenders welcomes the principled decision taken by BBC journalists trade union, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), convened on Friday. This resolution upholds professional ethics and journalistic values against the encroachment of abusive media practices employed by CCTV, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party.
“We call upon all journalists in the UK to act in concert with this move by the NUJ group at the BBC”, Safeguard defenders director Peter Dahlin said.
“I am very grateful for this thoughtful action from the BBC NUJ members and for their devotion to ethical journalism and the law,” Peter Humphrey said. No genuine professional journalist anywhere should accept CCTV’s behaviour.”
Friday’s resolution (above) was adopted by the television arm of the NUJ in BBC Global News.
China: Immediately and Unconditionally Release Huang Qi & Ensure Access to Prompt Medical Care for all Detained Human Rights Defenders
A group of 14 NGO’s call for Huang Qi’s release and access to medical care.
2018-11-05 — Chinese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release citizen journalist and human rights activist Huang Qi, a group of 14 NGOs said on November 5, 2018.
Huang Qi (黄琦), the founder and director of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, is not receiving adequate medical care in detention and his health has seriously deteriorated, according to his lawyer who visited him on October 23. Huang’s condition is so serious that there is an immediate threat to his life.
The Chinese government must immediately and unconditionally release Huang, who has been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, and end its policy of denying prompt medical treatment to prisoners of conscience, which is a form of torture. Several human rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities have died in detention in recent years due to a lack of prompt medical treatment, including Liu Xiaobo, Cao Shunli, Yang Tongyan, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, intensifying fears that Huang Qi might suffer the same fate without urgent intervention.
Huang suffers from a chronic kidney disease which requires daily medication, hydrocephalus (accumulation of fluid in the brain), heart disease and other illnesses. Huang told his lawyer during the October meeting that Sichuan authorities had purposely understated the dire state of his health and had tried to cover up his actual condition. In particular, Huang’s blood pressure was actually much higher than previously revealed, with a reading done on October 18 and 19 in the detention facility measuring 221/147 mm Hg, a reading so high that it qualifies as a “hypertensive crisis” (a normal reading should be no higher than 140/90 mm Hg). Huang has also reported to his lawyers different forms of torture and other ill-treatment to which he has been subjected to in the past two years, including extended interrogations, prolonged periods of being forced to stand, and beatings.
Authorities have repeatedly rejected applications for release on medical bail despite Huang’s heath condition continuing to deteriorate. He faces charges of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities” and “leaking state secrets” due to his work with 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, which documents and publishes reports on enforced disappearances, trafficking, human rights violations and complaints against government officials. Huang faces the possibility of life imprisonment. His 85-year-old mother has been campaigning for his release, fearing he may die in prison. Last month two of his associates received suspended prison sentences and were released, but authorities have continued to hold Huang. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion in April 2018 that declared Huang’s detention arbitrary, but the Chinese government continues to ignore the Working Group’s recommendation that Huang be released and compensated.
Lawyers representing Huang Qi have also faced retaliation. One of his lawyers, Sui Muqing, was disbarred in February 2018 for defending human rights defenders, such as Huang. Huang’s current lawyer, Liu Zhengqing, received a notice in October that he is under investigation for giving Huang cigarettes during a meeting in July. Liu faces suspension of his law license or a large fine.
Tomorrow, during China’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review, UN Member States should raise the continued pervasive use of torture and other ill-treatment in China, including tactics like denying medical care for human rights defenders, and make clear calls on the Chinese government to end such practices.
Mianyang City police in Sichuan Province initially detained Huang Qi on November 28, 2016 and arrested him the following month on charges of “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities.” A trial scheduled for June 20, 2018 was suspended without any official reason provided. In October 2018 police added an additional charge of “leaking state secrets.” He is currently being held at Mianyang City Detention Center.
Huang Qi established China’s first-known human rights monitoring website in 1998, disseminating reports about Chinese individuals who had been trafficked and disappeared. Huang has served two prison sentences, totalling eight years, in reprisal for his human rights work, and was often tortured and otherwise to ill-treated. Born in 1963, Huang Qi graduated from Sichuan University and was formerly a businessman. His work in citizen journalism has received international awards, including two from Reporters Without Borders, which awarded 64 Tianwang the Press Freedom Prize in 2016, and honored Huang in 2004 with the Cyber-Freedom Prize.
In recent months news that China is rounding up Muslims (mostly Uighurs) en masse in its northwestern Xinjiang region to political re-education camps has shocked many, although the story is still massively under-reported. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been disappeared in a campaign with absolutely no due process. Victims can be held indefinitely. No one is safe. Even Uighur celebrities – a footballer and a pop singer – have been snatched.
Dr. Adrian Zenz is one of several scholars hunting down information on this secretive practice. He uses local government documents – construction bids, job listings, and other official postings – to piece together what is going on. Recently he talked with RSDLmonitor about what he has found out so far.
I don’t think there’s been any information on that. Which, of course, does not indicate an absence, just at least I have not heard about it.
Q: What is the legal status of the re-education camps in Xinjiang?
I’m not entirely sure. There is, of course, this ordinance [by the Xinjiang government, that came into force in April 2017]. This ordinance mandates the use of the “de-extremification (去极端化) measures” including re-education (教育转化). The document specifically mentions these but does not go into any detail. This is probably the most direct document of a legal nature that would speak into that. I would add that there is an existing system of re-education that was established, for example, to treat Falun Gong practitioners, and there is the existing coerced detoxification system for drug addicts. [Both have been around for several decades].
From what we can see in Xinjiang, re-education is taking a whole new number of shapes and forms. To an extent, it’s tucked onto existing facilities and systems but it’s also had outcroppings of its own nature. By extension, the de-extremification measures which have been mandated, I am sure, give legal leeway for political re-education. A lot of this can be interpreted broadly – the Chinese don’t necessarily stipulate all the details, and they do this on purpose, because if there are broad statements, it gives the authorities a lot of leeway.
There’s also the anti-terrorism law. Article 38 [of that] comes closest to a legal provision for extrajudicial re-education in Xinjiang. It stops short of mentioning that this may take place under internment-like conditions and for longer times, therefore pertaining more to pre-2017 style re-education.
The authorities, if they wanted, could probably try and construe some kind of legal umbrella [for the camps]. But I don’t think they feel the need.
Q: RSDL facilities are run by the police. Who runs Xinjiang’s re-education camps?
It is typically under the police or PSB ( 公安局) or the legal system, the justice bureau (司法局) also run some of the facilities — they are indicated as the host agency in a number of bids. And I believe that’s also consistent with how the former re-education through labour (劳教) was run. I think it’s been inherited from that.
Q: Who has oversight over how these places are run?
Good question. I’m not sure how much I’ve looked into this question. Of course, some of this is attached to the prison system. One document [in Chinese] from the Urumqi Party School, gives some context in how the centres are located.
I think there’s probably not a consistent body of oversight precisely because some of these things take different contexts. Some are extensions of criminal detention centres or police training centres and of course the detention system is under the oversight of the legal system. In some cases there have been reports where these detention centres themselves function in a re-education like setting, while they are waiting for their case to be decided. It’s a very messy situation.
Q: Are inmates to these centres dressed in prison clothing/have their heads shaved?
The official documentation that I’ve analysed does not discuss this, but in the recent AP piece by Gerry Shih, it does speak about wearing different colours.
The police then sent Bekali to a 10 by 10m(32- by 32-foot) cell in the prison with 17 others, their feet chained to the posts of two large beds. Some wore dark blue uniforms, while others wore orange for political crimes. Bekali was given orange. [AP]
And that’s almost the first time I’ve read about this. I think for this kind of information we have to rely on eye witness accounts. However, I would caution that this is very likely to be highly inconsistent. As I have said before, re-education takes places in different facilities in different contexts: it’s a huge system, it’s grown very rapidly. But the one thing I can say is that, for example, in the construction contracts, the tenders, the governing authorities are almost always the PSB or the justice bureau.
Q: Do we have any access to the teaching materials that are used in these camps?
No. I have not seen any document that shows the actual content – only reports – as cited in my report – that talk about the curriculum but not showing the actual curriculum.
Q: Do we find any evidence that these camps are also located outside Xinjiang, say for example in Tibet or other Muslim areas such as Ningxia?
Not specifically in this context. Like in Tibetan areas, typically, from anecdotal evidence that I’ve heard in the past some 10 years ago – so this is not current information – it basically occurs in the regular prison and detention centres. I don’t think you have a re-education network in Tibetan areas.
What you do have of course are [maybe] the existing Laojiao (劳动教育) facilities which were often converted into detoxification centres after the system was abolished in 2013 (this happened in Beijing). You don’t really know what is going on.
Q: How is the re-education system changing in Xinjiang?
In Xinjiang the system is so different because it’s not really being targeted any more. It used to target so-called extremists, but now the system is trying to round up entire percentages of the population, and that’s the reason why they’re having to use all kinds of facilities, and build new ones, convert existing ones, and it’s also the reason why there’s no consistent practice, because they themselves are being overwhelmed.
Q: What do they look like inside? Are there any religious facilities?
You can be sure that there are no facilities for praying. If they are praying, they will be punished. There are most certainly no rooms for prayer. If you look at the table of 73 bids that I have in my report — that’s about what I would be able to tell you – we see a lot of facilities for long-term stay, we see dormitories, we see dining halls, we see sanitary facilities – toilets bathrooms — we see teaching buildings, we see police rooms, guard rooms, or separate stations. Some are larger compounds that have different things, some have fire stations, one had a hospital and supermarket, although that might be an exception, we don’t know. Some have detention and re-education centres in the same compound, it might be for different purposes, there’s a great deal of variation but there’s usually a sleeping facility, eating facility and teaching facility.
Q: What do people who are allowed to leave do?
I’ve seen reports of some people who returned to their original place and said nothing, absolutely nothing about what happened. There’s this one media report that I cite in my report that talks about some of them being assigned to vegetable planting, and then others were given money to buy vegetables from them to help them have a livelihood. For some they are just training to take people away from the countryside – farmers, or people who do seasonal work – they try to get them out of that and into wage labour work – jobs in factories. That’s a big program that’s being run.
The state basically sees southern Xinjiang as a big problem area and a concentration of difficult-to-control populations. They want people in regular wage jobs and also in different places in Xinjiang where they are under much more control and in very non-religious settings. They want people to secularize and to modernize.
Q: Can this really win the hearts and minds of the people in Xinjiang?
I would say firstly that this type of re-education is a classic ingredient of Communism. Communism is all about ideological change and especially away from religion — which is thought to be opium for the masses. It’s a classic and has basically been used by all Communist regimes. It’s a belief that you can change a person and liberate them… I think the particular combination of communism and Chinese culture is particularly potent in thinking that this can actually be done and that there’s determination. Yes, there’ll be some cost on the way but in the end, I think they generally believe this will work.
Q: Do you think it will work?
[laughs!] Well, define work!
I think a side effect of this is that a good number of Uighurs will become very cautious about anything religious; they will become extremely intimidated about what they will do. They will try to stay out of trouble and on the surface it may seem to “work”. But the long-term cost is quite evident, I think, some people for sure will be turned towards extremism – who would otherwise have not become extremist – the long-term cost I am very sure is that it will make things much worse than if it had never been done.
Q: How about Hui ethnic group? (the other main Muslim group)
There’s very little information about the Hui in Xinjiang. For example, in public recruitment notices, the Hui are often very similarly treated to the Han – traditionally, they’re considered a non-problem. The Hui do publicly practice their religion, and any practice of Islam in Xinjiang is a problem, so in that way they may be caught up more in it than in the past. There’s very little detail on that.
We don’t have [any information if Hui are being held] but we can suspect that anyone who practices their religion quite actively, goes to a mosque, owns a Koran will be caught up. These regulations of course apply in general. So even though there might have been more leeway with the Hui in the past from everything that I have seen, I have my feelings that this leeway has shrunk considerably.
Q: When will this end?
If you look at the construction bids, there definitely was a peak in construction and these facilities are now being used. There is some extension also some vocational training – like a continuum of re-education, so some expansion is still happening, though not as rapid as last year. So currently, there’s no end in sight.
But a lot of these people are not being released. I know several people who have been taken … some over a year. It’s very inconsistent and there’s no telling when people will be released or when the campaign will be over. I think they are taking a long-term perspective on this, they are looking for a real definitive solution to this Uighur question, they want to settle it once and for all. That’s what it seems to me. And if it takes 3-5 years, that’s nothing for them.
Last month, lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) and activist Zhen Jianghua (甄江华) , both essentially in incommunicado detention, reportedly “sacked” their legal counsel. These are lawyers they pre-appointed in case they were detained, or trusted family members had hired. Sound suspicious? It’s well known that police will coerce detainees, especially human rights defenders who know how the law works, to revoke their right to a lawyer of their own choice.
We know that police threatened them or faked their signatures because before they were detained both prepared statements to say they would never willingly give up their own lawyers: Lawyer Yu on video and activist Zhen on paper.
Their actions are part of a growing trend in China for human rights defenders to make preemptive videos or statements to explain that once in detention their actions are not freely chosen. Once detained you cannot speak out.
It seems timely then, to republish an article one of our co-founders, Michael Caster, wrote last year, on this practice. (It is republished here with the kind permission of Hong Kong Free Press).
On 3 May (2017), police in Yunnan abducted human rights lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚). He was forced to drive with security over 3,000 kilometres back to Beijing. He remained in their custody for over 80 hours, coincidentally missing the trial of his client, Xie Yang (谢阳) , whose torture he had exposed in January.
At his trial, Xie “admitted” to having been brainwashed by foreign agents, and on Hunan state TV he repeated that he had sensationalised cases and denied that he had been tortured. Xie had anticipated his forced confession.
Xie, detained in July 2015, wrote in a January 2017 affidavit, “If, one day in the future, I do confess – whether in writing or on camera or on tape – that will not be the true expression of my own mind. It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail…” Soon after his trial, Xie was released on bail, but he is not free.
It seems police abducted Chen Jiangang to ensure his silence during Xie’s trial, but as soon as he was taken, reasonable fears circulated that he would be “disappeared”. Like Xie Yang, Chen’s understanding of the cruelty of China’s police state bred prescience. Three months earlier he had recorded a video statement to be released if he lost freedom. It was published on the China Change website soon after he was taken.
A sombre five minutes, Chen states that he has committed no crimes and won’t accuse others. Any spoken, written, or video confession will only have been made under duress, threat, or torture. If, in the future, he ends up on television accusing others or revealing names, he asks for forgiveness. Emotionally, he ends with, “If I am seized, dear kids, your father loves you. If I lose my freedom, release this video.”
While such prerecorded statements are becoming more common for human rights defenders in China, still more should learn from those like Chen Jiangang that protecting their clients or themselves also involves controlling narratives. Such statements are an important innovation in protection tactics in response to China’s increasing fetish for disappearances and forced confessions.
China is a fan of forced confessions
Forced confessions violate Chinese law and international norms. For those awaiting trial, broadcasting forced confessions violates their right to a fair trial. Many forced confessions come following hundreds of days in pretrial detention, which itself should be the exception, never the rule, and only for the shortest time necessary. The risk of torture is already high in a criminal justice system reliant on confessions, while the pursuit of forced confessions drastically increases the risk. Victims of enforced disappearance and secret detention are especially vulnerable to torture.
Emblematic is the case of my friend and former colleague lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), whose exact fate and whereabouts have not been verified since police abducted him in August 2015. In January 2017, it was revealed that he has been tortured. Likely, Wang’s ongoing abuse is largely due to his refusal to perform a forced confession.
Part of the “709 Crackdown,” several prominent human rights lawyers have been forced to deliver televised confessions, from Wang Yu (王宇) to Zhang Kai ( 张凯), who later disappeared a second time after he publicly recanted his initial forced confession. A couple months earlier, in June 2016, Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing Kee (林榮基) also revealed that he and his colleagues at Mighty Current publishing had been forced into confessing, including Gui Minhai (桂民海) who remains incommunicado.
In his televised “confession,” Gui, a Swedish citizen, asked not to receive diplomatic assistance and renounced his Swedish citizenship. This has been rightly dismissed as arising from coercion but what if Gui, like Chen Jiangang, had left a video preemptively dismissing such absurdity? For many who disappear into China’s Orwellian darkness, and reemerge to “confess,” their last credible speech act may be what they leave with others, which in turn may offer some protection.
Scholars have identified the dramatisation of glaring state contradictions as creating opportunity for resistance. In practical terms, if preventive protection measures against certain forms of repression are increasingly adopted, the authorities are more likely to abandon them, ultimately protecting human rights defenders from being subjected to them in the first place.
Preventive protection and forced confessions
Video is powerful and rights defenders at risk of disappearance or forced confession should record their statements rather than just writing them down.
Before recording, it is important to conduct a thorough threat assessment, which should be detailed and constantly reviewed and updated.
Once taken, it is often too late to ask that person what assistance they want. Even if allowed to meet a lawyer, pressure often limits what one is able to say. This is why recording in advance is so important. The message depends on the individual. Gui Minhai could have expressed that he had already given up Chinese citizenship and would never renounce Swedish citizenship. For others it could be stating that they would never accept a state appointed lawyer. Some might want to issue a statement about family members, that except if subjected to threat or torture they would never deny access to the family bank account, a measure the state has used to target family members’ economic livelihood.
It is also important that the video preempts likely accusations, such as noting that under no circumstances but duress or torture would one admit to being a criminal, or denounce colleagues. One might state they have never colluded with foreign forces to cause trouble, that they believe in human rights and the rule of law, respect their work, and would never denounce their efforts to strengthen the rule of law in China, except if under threat to do so.
Human rights defenders should make sure they have a safe contact responsible for sharing the video if anything happens. Sorting out power of attorney issues before detention is vital, even if the state is likely to refuse a meeting with lawyers on other grounds. The person responsible for releasing the video, family members, and lawyers should all be in contact and aware of the video statement.
It is a travesty of the rule of law that anyone would need to think of preemptively recording their own defence against baseless charges and forced confessions but if more human rights defenders did so then potentially the power of this repressive measure will ultimately be lost through the unmasking of contradictions.
The most chilling aspect of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) is the fact that it’s allowed under the law, according to Chinese independent journalist and writer Zhao Sile (赵思乐) . “This thing is legal. It’s in the Chinese law; it’s too frightening.”
How can you protest something, she asks, when the procedure is legal? “The government can simply answer any criticism with – ‘It’s according to our law.’”
State-sanctioned enforced disappearances are not new in China, but since 2013, the police have the right to disappear someone, hold them in solitary confinement, and deny them access to family and lawyers for up to six months.
“RSDL is more frightening than being in jail. You can’t talk with anyone in RSDL. You’re in a place where people don’t know where you are.”
Zhao is talking from Taipei where she recently published a new book about women activists, social movements and political repression in China called 她们的征途 (Her Battles in English).
Once someone has disappeared into RSDL they’re lost, and they may be lost forever, she says. “The most terrifying part is [the family] doesn’t know where they are – they can’t send a lawyer to check on them to see if they’ve been tortured.. I think what makes people afraid the most is the not knowing.”
They maintain the secrecy, she says, as a cloak to buy time. “If they don’t inform the family, they can keep them for longer.” But this lack of information is unbearably cruel on loved ones.
“RSDL is more frightening than being in jail. You can’t talk with anyone in RSDL. You’re in a place where people don’t know where you are.”
“Why do they add that extra layer of cruelty by keeping the family in the dark?” she asks.
She points to the largely unreported case of Zhao Suli (赵素利), the wife of dissident Qin Yongming, who disappeared without a trace more than three years ago. “No one talks about this case – her children can’t find her – she just disappeared…We’re afraid some accident happened to her. Maybe she just died under RSDL. The police are allowed not to tell families where they are being held so you can just disappear people this way.
“They don’t know where to look for her…”
Since this interview Zhao Suli has resurfaced – she was allowed a brief visit with her family in early February but is still not free – she is now being held at her own home, according to this report by Radio Free Asia.
Zhao Sile has spent many months interviewing the wives of the 709 lawyers, many of whom were victims of RSDL, and for Her Battles she also talked with NGO worker Kou Yanding (寇延丁) who spent 128 days in RSDL (for an extract from Kou Yanding’s own book about her ordeal please see Kou Yanding: You must get our approval for everything). Kou, she said, was still so distressed from her RSDL experience that she found it difficult to talk about it at length, even though several years had passed.
Several of Zhao’s friends have also been disappeared, she says sadly, so she has first hand experience of this fear.
“One of my friends is now in RSDL. I’m really concerned about him; his name is Zhen Jianghua (甄江华).”
Zhen, an online human rights campaigner, was detained on 1 September last year, and is now being held under RSDL on suspicion of inciting state subversion. The latest news in Zhen’s case came in early February, when his lawyer said his application to see Zhen had been denied.
Zhao describes how activists, like Zhen before he was detained, have been trying toughen themselves up so they can cope better with the torturous experience of RSDL.
“Some young people I know, they’re shutting themselves in some little room, without windows, and they don’t communicate with anyone else for days and keep the light on 24-7 to train themselves for RSDL. They told me that after two or three days they feel like they’re going crazy. It’s hard to imagine how someone can survive these kinds of conditions for six months. It’s terrible. You can hardly imagine how anyone can endure it… Those who’ve been through RSDL and didn’t give up are supermen – like [now jailed activist] Wu Gan (吴淦) and [missing rights lawyer] Wang Quanzhang (王全璋).”
“Some young people I know, they’re shutting themselves in some little room, without windows, and they don’t communicate with anyone else for days and keep the light on 24-7 to train themselves for RSDL.”
“I think it’s a very important work and it’s also a work that is an avant-guard work. It’s refusing to look away from the dark side of China’s human rights crisis when the world is looking away.”
The fact that the world is not paying attention is “terrifying,” she says.
“[German leader] Angela Merkel is now looking away but many people thought she was one of the few leaders that would not look away, that she would care about human rights. And Norway – they didn’t say anything about [Chinese dissident] Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) even when he was dying in prison.
“What I see is the whole world is looking away, so this book which is trying to uncover the darkest issues in China’s human rights situation is doing respectable and significant work.”
Swedish 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.
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 TheDiplomat.
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.
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.)
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.