Why do they add that extra layer of cruelty?

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 (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.”

 

But however terrible RSDL is, laments Zhao, the world is not paying attention so books like our The People’s Republic of the Disappeared (11 first person-accounts of RSDL), are crucial.

 

“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.”

 

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.