The use of solitary confinement in RSDL as a method of torture

With the detention and placement into ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’ (RSDL) of foreign citizens by China in several high-profile cases, such as Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Yang Hengjun, it merits a closer look at the use of solitary confinement within China’s RSDL system, and if and if so why, it constitutes torture under international law, in particular the Convention Against Torture, one of the few key human rights treatises both signed and ratified by China.

Due to the detention of foreign citizens often, but not always, done either by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) (as in all three cases named above), or by Police at higher levels, and the fact that their detention can have an impact on China’s foreign affairs, their treatment, compared to those of Chinese nationals, tend – from data that is available – to be far better. It seems from the limited data available that otherwise common features of RSDL such as physical torture, is either not used or used on a much more limited scale. However, China and the RSDL system employs many methods that constitute torture under relevant international law, one of which is solitary confinement.


Download as PDFThe use of solitary confinement in RSDL as a method of torture


For more information on both physical and psychological methods of torture used, including in the RSDL system, please see Safeguard Defenders report Battered and Bruised: Why torture continues to stand at the heart of China’s judicial system.

For more information on torture inside China’s RSDL system, see Safeguard Defenders joint submission to the United Nations from May 16, 2018.


Solitary confinement and relation to torture

The use of solitary confinement (SC) in general may amount to either torture, maltreatment or neither of the two, as defined by the Convention Against Torture (CAT). To establish whether Solitary confinement amounts to Torture according to International law, one must first separate short vs long-term confinement, and if confinement is disciplinary or non-disciplinary. On top of that, the existence of intent is also key.


Article 1.1 of the Convention Against Torture; “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person”.


Disciplinary use is understood as being used to issue punishment against an individual for a wrongdoing, in which case the placement into SC is intentional as a form of punishment. Non-discriminatory use is normally for purpose of managing prison populations, and not carried out with the purpose of punishing the victim, and also include protective custody, pre-trial isolation, and administrative segregation.

Short-term SC is usually, including by the Special Rapporteur on Torture, considered to be 15 days or less, while anything beyond 15 days is classified as long-term[1], and it is after this period that harm that is caused by SC is considered to possibly becoming irreversible.

SC, in any form, have negative consequences on the victim, but the CAT does allow for certain exceptions; if the placement into SC is lawful, and when no injury is intentional, should such injury occur nonetheless, it is considered an exception and does not fall under the CAT.

In general, Solitary confinement is usually understood to isolate prisoners from contact with other prisoners, the outside world, and prison staff, in an attempt to control and manage them. Usually, one is kept in solitude for at least 22 hours per day, with limited or no access to outdoor exercise or sometimes even natural light. They often have limited or no personal privileges, such as access to mail, books, or television.

A key aspect to understanding whether placement into SC constitutes torture relies on intent. To meet the intent standard, the actor must simply intend to inflict suffering for a prohibited purpose. These purposes include obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, and discrimination.

Even though the CAT is not specific, the Special Rapporteur has stated that acts constituting torture include beating, suffocation, exposure to intense loud noises and bright lights, and “prolonged denial of rest, sleep, food, sufficient hygiene, or medical assistance, and prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation.” Furthermore, under article 1 of the Convention against Torture, the U.N. considers disciplinary solitary confinement to be torture. It does however not provide clear statements on use of non-disciplinary SC as torture, unless such have intent to punish[2]. Because solitary confinement’s harms––including severe negative effects on prisoners’ mental health––exist even when it is not used for punishment, non-disciplinary solitary confinement’s effects are largely indistinguishable from those of disciplinary solitary confinement. The difference in the end is one of whether intent to punish exist.

Additionally, the Special Rapporteur found in 2011 that, even if disciplinary solitary confinement is not torture (article 1), it still violates article 16, which addresses and condemns[3] harmful practices that fall short of its definition of torture (meaning it constitutes maltreatment, but not torture). This determination has been echoed in recent years by the U.N. General Assembly, which in 2015 adopted a revised version of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, a set of minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners also known as the “Mandela Rules.” The new Mandela Rules tightened the U.N.’s restrictions on solitary confinement and recommended that solitary confinement “be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible.”[4]

Solitary confinement causes negative effects, including hallucinations, panic attacks, paranoia, and uncontrollable intrusive violent thoughts, among prisoners who are placed into isolation.[5] Prisoners frequently suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following isolation due to the severe psychological harm it inflicts.[6] The then Special Rapporteur on Torture further stated in 2008 report to the General Assembly in that;


The weight of accumulated evidence to date points to the serious and adverse health effects of the use of solitary confinement: from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and mental illness. The key adverse factor of solitary confinement is that socially and psychologically meaningful contact is reduced to the absolute minimum, to a point that is insufficient for most detainees to remain mentally well functioning. Moreover, the effects of solitary confinement on pre-trial detainees may be worse than for other detainees in isolation, given the perceived uncertainty of the length of detention and the potential for its use to extract information or confessions. Pre-trial detainees in solitary confinement have an increased rate of suicide and self-mutilation within the first two weeks of solitary confinement.[7]


The serious possible harm done by prolonged solitary confinement has also led the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to recommend that a medical officer should visit the victim every day, to monitor their health.[8] The minimal stimulation experienced during solitary confinement can also lead to a decline in brain activity in individuals after seven days. One study found that “up to seven days, the [brain activity] decline is reversible, but if deprived over a long period this may not be the case”[9].


Solitary confinement in RSDL

The use of solitary confinement in RSDL is by design, and is not likely, but guaranteed. All those in RSDL must be kept in solitary confinement and are held incommunicado, and the facilities they are kept in must, according to law, be designed to prevent self-harm. By law, those in RSDL must be kept in suicide-proofed cells. RSDL facilities varies between two extremes; one consist of custom-built prisons, legally not allowed to be called as such, but having the appearance and function of one, and refurbished rooms inside military, police or party run guesthouses or training centers, unmarked but used as cells.

Following a submission by Safeguard Defenders, 10 different mandate holders of the Special Procedures of the OHCHR stated, in a letter to China on August 24, 2018, that “these conditions of detention are analogous to incommunicado and secret detention and tantamount to enforced disappearance; they expose those subjected to RSDL to the risk of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment and other human rights violations.”[10]

In RSDL, the confinement is different from how SC is thought of when issued as punishment for a prisoner, in that it is monitored in form. Specifically, within RSDL, the detainee is never physically left alone, whether sleeping, sitting in their cell, or using the toilet. However, the two guards that are present inside the cell 24/7, often working in teams, does not deny RSDL as a form of SC, because the victim is denied any meaningful interaction. The Mandela Rules[11], adopted in 2015, makes clear that it nonetheless qualifies as SC. In fact, victims have spoken of the presence of two guards, who are not allowed to communicate or interact with the detainee, and found it to exaggerate the suffering of isolation – as they are there to monitor the detainee’s every movement and sound, but without communicating with them. In effect, they stare at the victim from a close distance and take notes on every movement, sound or similar.

Placement into RSDL are long-term, lasting for up to six months. Based on data collected by Safeguard Defenders, a third of all known incidences of RSDL (discounting those currently ongoing) last for the full 180 days, while the average length is 128 days[12]. Placement into RSDL for 15 days or less is almost unheard of. As such, almost every single case of RSDL uses solitary confinement long-term, after which negative effects on health may be irreversible.

Likewise, the use of solitary confinement is on the extreme scale, and tend to be up to 24 hours per day (any time not spent in interrogation). From data from Safeguard Defenders, allowance to access outdoor enclosures, or for that matter access to any kind of exercise, even walking outside of the cell, is severely limited – in fact, almost unheard of. Unless the active part of the interrogation have ended, and the victim is kept in RSDL despite no investigative value (which is common), all forms of external stimuli is prohibited, such as books, access to television, communication of any form, etc. As the Special Rapporteur states in his 2011 report to the General Assembly, as part of solitary confinement there is often a “reduction in stimuli …not only quantitative but also qualitative”.[13]

The use of RSDL is for prolonged investigations, pre-trial, and taking place within a legal system that is almost entirely reliant on confessions. RSDL, and therefore the solitary confinement can only end once a detainee is either released or arrested, at which point they are moved to pre-trial detention. To meet the intent standard, the actor must simply intend to inflict suffering for a prohibited purpose. These purposes include obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, and discrimination. The intent behind the placement of the victim into solitary confinement is entirely to facilitate investigation, in reality, getting a confession, and the use of RSDL falls very squarely within the scope of SC used with intent. Placing the victim incommunicado and in solitary confinement is the very purpose of the RSDL system, and is what distinguishes the system from normal detention and investigation through the normal judicial process. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture explicitly found pre-trial solitary confinement to be torture under article 1 of the CAT when used to obtain information or a confession[14].

SC thus constitutes torture either if it is a disciplinary measure to punish, or if it is non-disciplinary but with clear intent. Regardless of definition of RSDL as disciplinary or not, the use of SC in it constitutes torture. Based on the legal code in China, RSDL is not a disciplinary system, but there to facilitate investigations. In reality however, the placement in RSDL is used indiscriminately as a form of punishment itself, which can be seen by how victims are continued to be kept in RSDL even after active investigations have ended despite that in those cases the person should be either arrested and moved to pre-trial detention, or set free.

Or, as written by Samuel Fuller in his book Torture as a Management Practice; to meet the CAT’s purpose standard [of torture], the act must be committed for one of the specific purposes listed in the treaty: “obtaining . . . information or a confession . . . or intimidating or coercing him [or her] or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”[15] In addition, in 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture explicitly found pre-trial solitary confinement to be torture under article 1 of the CAT when used to obtain information or a confession[16]. The Special Rapporteur has determined that pre-trial solitary confinement is used for its coercive power in order to pressure prisoners to confess or to make false statements to authorities.

China’s Prison law does allow for use of SC as a punishment on prisoners, but limits its use to 7 to 15 days, although it has been shown to be used for longer period if “the danger cannot be eliminated.” It also specifies that even a victim of SC must get an hour of outdoor time per day. The Management Regulations for Juvenile Reformatories (1999) furthermore specifies that for juvenile detainees SC may last 3 to 7 days, and must include two hours of outdoor time each day. This is also echoed in a white paper on criminal reform issued by the Chinese state as early as 1992, which states that “Prisoners in confinement are let out about an hour or so twice a day for fresh air”.

These regulations does not apply to RSDL, but shows that even in Chinese law elsewhere, the issue of SC is taken very seriously and comes with several limitations on how greatly it can be used. For RSDL victims, no such protections exist, and no rules stipulates any form of protection against the use of SC at all. The Provisions on People’s Procuratorates’ Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location, which came into effect 2016, stipulates that the Procuratorate (Prosecutor’s office) may (but is not required) visit those held in RSDL on a weekly basis, to provide oversight against torture and maltreatment, but in all the cases Safeguard Defenders have collected data on, not one single case having any such visits have ever been found. The same regulation also gives police the right to deny such visits if it may impede their investigation, should the procuratorate actually insist on making such visits.

To learn more about solitary confinement, please see The Sourcebook on solitary confinement, downloadable as a PDF[17].

For more information on treatment inside China’s RSDL system, see The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, available as paperback and kindle on Amazon worldwide, and available for free as ebook and pdf in Chinese. The book offers both an extensive analysis of Chinese domestic and International law on the issue of enforced/involuntary disappearances, and collects a number of short stories written by victims of China’s RSDL system themselves – showing how they ended up in RSDL, what they experiences inside, and how they got out.



[1] U.N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[2] U.N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[3] Article 16 differs from Article 1 because it includes harsh treatment inflicted without a specific purpose under its general intent requirement, as opposed to Article 1’s elevated intent standard. States have fewer enforcement obligations for Article 16 practices, and there is no mention of the prohibition of emergency or exceptional circumstances that exists for Article 1 practices.

[4] G.A. Res. 70/175, U.N. Doc. A/Res/70/175, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Dec. 17, 2015) [hereinafter the Mandela Rules].

[5] Stuart Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary confinement, 22 WASH. U. J. L. & POL’Y

[6] Bruce A. Arrigo & Jennifer Leslie Bullock, The Psychological Effects of Solitary confinement on Prisoners in Supermax Units, 20 INT’L J. OF OFFENDER THERAPY. COMP. CRIMINOLOGY 1, 10

[7] Interim report of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 62/148. “Annex : Istanbul Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement”, 28 July 2008, A/63/175

[8] .N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[9] [9] Stuart Grassian, Psychiatric Effects of Solitary confinement, 22 WASH. U. J. L. & POL’Y

[10] Communication to China, OL CHN 15/2018, 2018-08-24,

[11] G.A. Res. 70/175, U.N. Doc. A/Res/70/175, United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Dec. 17, 2015) [hereinafter the Mandela Rules].

[12] Safeguard Defenders, Submission to 31st Session of UPR, November 2018, third cycle, China, 28 March 2018

[13] U.N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[14] U.N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[15] Fuller, Samuel (2018) “Torture as a Management Practice: The Convention Against Torture and Non-Disciplinary Solitary confinement,” Chicago Journal of International Law: Vol. 19: No. 1, Article 4.

[16] U.N. Secretary-General, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment: Note by the Secretary General, U.N. Doc. A/66/268 (Aug. 5, 2011).

[17] Shalev, S. (2008) A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement. London: Mannheim Centre for Criminology, London School of Economics. Available online at:

Hidden in Detention

Hidden in Detention


How the CCP disappears its critics, even after arrest


This brief paper looks into how critics are effectively disappeared after arrest, while awaiting trial, by police’s use of false names for those placed into pre-trial detention, done by police sometimes with, sometimes without, the detention centers’ knowledge.

Download as pdf: Hidden in Detention – Vanishing Suspects


Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) disappeared not once, not twice, but three times. First, at the start of the 709 crackdown, on July 9, 2015, in which hundreds of human rights defenders around the country were detained, Wang Quanzhang went into hiding. Close to a month later, he was caught and placed into ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ (指定居所监视居住) (RSDL), his whereabouts unknown. But even after his RSDL ended six month later, after he was arrested and placed into pre-trial detention, he remained disappeared. For more than three years, while awaiting his trial and inevitable guilty verdict, which came abruptly in January 2019, there simply was no Wang Quanzhang in the records of the Chinese detention system. He had simply vanished, again.


Wang’s story is not unique. In China, countless human rights defenders have been subjected to the same fate of ongoing disappearance after detention or arrest. Until now, the systematic refusal to acknowledge the fate or whereabouts of the detained person, from the arbitrary denial of access to a lawyer to the outright use of false names to hide the record of detention, has largely gone unnoticed. Based on research into some 25 cases, including interviews with victims, this brief demonstrates the increasingly sophisticated and planned nature of secret detention in China.


Enforced disappearances have seemingly exploded under Xi Jinping, through codified (“legalized”) and wholly extrajudicial systems, such as in Xinjiang. The full scope of which is still unknown. In China’s codified systems for disappearing people, RSDL under the 2013 Criminal Procedure Law and ‘Liuzhi’ (留置) under the 2018 National Supervision Commission (国家监察委员会), no figures are published and data related to most cases is kept unreported in the Supreme Court’s database on legal proceedings in China.


Alongside these systems, a new form of disappearances has now been identified – suspects vanishing in detention centers after arrest.



Vanishing Suspects


In almost all known cases of using false names when victims are placed under arrest and taken to detention centers to await prosecution and trial, it follows earlier placement into RSDL. In most of those cases, the victim has spent six months incommunicado and in solitary confinement, and with the six months’ time-limit is up, the use of false names is primarily a system for denying them the rights that their arrest would otherwise afford them.


The use of false names in pre-trial detention is similar to forcing victims to fire their own lawyers – it’s a step taken to keep them incommunicado, and it’s coerced and not willfully agreed to, as all the victims spoken to have shown.


The reason given to the suspects themselves can vary wildly. When police told Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民) that he would from now on be called Zhai Tiancheng (翟天成) police said it was for his own good. For Tang Zhishun (唐志顺), who was named Tang Biao (唐彪), it was both for his own sake and for the good of the people he would be sharing a cell with. For Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) it was to prevent ‘risk’, which was never explained any further. For many people, no reason was given, and whether they had to be registered into their detention center with a false name or not up for debate, and many wouldn’t even argue, realizing the futility of it.


Even though some rights defenders, such as Ni Yulan (倪玉兰), and Su Changlan (苏昌兰), and Jia Lingmin (贾灵敏), to mention a few, were arrested right away, for most known victims, the placement into detention centers with false names came after time inside RSDL. A difference may be that the above people were considered local activists, being persecuted by local authorities. This is different from the many victims to follow, most of which were part of the 709 crackdown, coordinated out of Tianjin, targeting lawyers and legal activists specifically. For these victims, related to 709, arrest almost always followed long-term placement into RSDL.


For most of the victims in the table below, like with Wang Yu (王宇), who was named Wang Ning (王宁), the name was decided on by the head interrogator. For Dr Liu Sixin (刘四新), named Liu Shunli (刘顺利), his name was told to him during the night before he was taken to the detention center and placed under arrest. Wang Yu was told just as they placed her into the car to take her to her detention center, just like with Xing Qingxian (幸清贤).


Other details vary from case to case, but one thing is clear, all the victims are told that their real name must be kept secret, they are instructed not to divulge their real names to the inmates with whom they shared their cell. For many, this would mean living with the false name for at least six months, for some much longer than that. For Wang Quanzhang, who despite being sentenced in January 2018 but still kept incommunicado, he has likely lived with his name for almost three years at the time of writing.


Dr Liu Sixin writes in Trial By Media: China’s new show trials, and the global expansion of Chinese media:


…I was in the cell when the cell leader told someone to switch over to CCTV13 even though we were not allowed to watch the news. The guards outside were not paying much attention to us. The news reported that Zhai Yanmin had been given a three year suspended sentence. One of the other prisoners in my cell who had been transferred from the same detention center as Zhai said: “That’s Zhai Tiancheng!”


Zhai had been given the name Tiancheng when he was locked up, to conceal his real identity. I’d been given a fake name too – Liu Shunli. We were given false names so no one could find us. Technically, there was no one called Liu Sixin in my cell. I was not allowed to disclose my real name even to my cellmates.


Most victims, when analyzing how they were ‘checked-in’ into the detention centers, think that only the police in charge of their cases before arrest were aware, and that detention center staff were not informed or told that the name used was fake. They were all told to keep their real names from detention center staff. Almost everyone says they did at some point tell at least one other inmate their real name, but were cautious to discuss it if any detention center staff were nearby. When the guards found out that Su Erqi (苏二七) was actually Su Changlan, and that she had been placed into the Nanhai detention center in Foshan, Guangdong, under a false name, it became a joke for the guards, a way to ridicule Su.


The use of false names seems to be related to two issues, namely keeping the victims unable to be reached by his or her lawyer, and denying access or even knowledge of whereabouts to the victims’ family. As such, the underlying purpose is to keep the victim incommunicado. Considering that the incommunicado and disappearance aspect seems to be key to the CPP, as can be seen in RSDL, in Liuzhi, and in mass disappearances in Xinjiang, and that the normal criminal procedure does not afford them the right to do this after people’s arrest, it is likely this new method will appear more frequently in higher profile cases, especially when victims have first been placed into RSDL – as by using false names in detention center, police effectively get the same level of control of the victim that the RSDL system affords them.


With disappearance in detention centers, with the victims’ whereabouts unknown to family, friends or for that matter, anyone within the judicial system itself except the police officers in charge of the suspects’ investigation, China has now launched yet another attack on law, and found a new system for disappearing rather than detaining its critics.



Background: From RSDL to Liuzhu


Despite growing resistance to RSDL, in 2018 the promulgation of the National Supervision Law and National Supervision Commission led to the establishment of a new system for custody during such investigations – Liuzhi. Unlike RSDL, which is applied most frequently to lawyers, journalists, and other critics, the Liuzhi system is aimed at party members, state workers, and functionaries related to China’s vast state-controlled system of schools, hospitals, state-owned enterprises and research institutes. Like RSDL, Liuzhi can last for up to six months, but since Liuzhi is managed with no involvement by police nor prosecutor, those kept in Liuzhi are given even less protections than what’s afforded in RSDL. Like RSDL, it is a system for mass disappearances.


The NSC is an enforcement body independent of the police and prosecutor, supposedly to investigate economic crimes and corruption within party- and state organs or its functionaries. Only rarely does such investigations, and the incommunicado detentions that is part of it, lead to prosecution. For most, their investigation and custody inside Liuzhi is the punishment itself. Since the system directly follows and continues that of the party’s internal system, ever since the 1970s, it is easy to recognize that the true aim is political control and effective control over its vast bureaucracy, where corruption is but one possible crime.


Before its establishment, a similar system already existed for party members, but with the establishment of the NSC, the scope of its mandate, from 90 million party members, will increase somewhere between 200% and 500% based on pilot schemes run in select provinces the year before launching. In 2017 some near half a million ‘investigations’ were launched, a number likely to at least double to about 1 million, based on growth since 2013 and the set expansion in the scope of their mandate. No statistics on how many are placed into Liuzhi, or its predecessor system – Shuanggui (双规) – exist, but a noted Chinese academic earlier estimated that maybe 10-20% end up in custody[1]. If so, the system alone will likely be responsible for well over 100,000 disappearances annually.


While China has expanded its legislative powers to disappear its citizens, in Xinjiang the state has implemented a terrible campaign of mass disappearances on a scale perhaps unknown anywhere else in the world. Over a million, mainly Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims have, without any legal proceedings, been placed into a vast system of concentration camps. Many are taken from the streets or their homes and placed into these camps, without time limits, without acknowledgment or communication with their family, amounting to enforced disappearances.



For more information on Disappearances


The most authoritative resource on the use of RSDL, with exhaustive domestic and international law analysis, alongside victim testimonies, can be found in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from inside China’s system for enforced disappearances.


A Chinese language edition is available for free as pdf on, and likewise available as paperback on Amazon worldwide.


In addition, Trial By Media, a new book which focuses on the use of Forced TV Confessions and collaboration between CCTV and police in extracting and producing such, likewise includes information on disappearances.


A briefer report on the new National Supervision Commission and its Liuzhi system, From Central Control to National Supervision, has also been released. Submissions regarding RSDL for UN reviews, as well as other types of materials, is regularly posted on




CCTV complaint to OFCOM

Below is the official, redacted, version of the full complaint filed against CCTV for its operations in the United Kingdom, with the Office of Communications (Ofcom) on November 23, 2018.


Ofcom is tasked by law to regulate media broadcasters in the United Kingdom, and to implement the Broadcasting code. CCTV and CGTN both holds broadcast licenses in the UK. The broadcast of a forced TV confession by Iranian State TV broadcaster in the UK led to the TV broadcaster being investigated and found guilty, and subsequently, had their license to broadcast in the UK revoked.

Download complaint as PDF here: OfCom Fairness and Privacy Complaint 2018-11-23 Redacted


Office of Communications (Ofcom)


Fairness and Privacy complaint

Complaint against

China Central Television (CCTV) /

China Global Television Network (CGTN)




This complaint contains 8 chapters.



Complaint filed by the victim, UK citizen Peter Humphrey, with support from NGO Safeguard Defenders.


Filed at Ofcom office. Fairness and Privacy Complaints Content Standards, Licensing and Enforcement, Riverside House 2a, Southwark Bridge Road, London, SE1 9HA.





“They drugged me, locked me to a tiger chair, and placed me and the chair inside a small metal cage. China Central Television (CCTV) journalists then aimed their cameras at me and recorded me reading out the answers already prepared for me by the police. No questions were asked.”British citizen and former journalist Peter Humphrey on his forced TV confession in China.


On August 27, 2013, UK citizen, China resident, and former Reuters journalist Peter Humphrey was seen on China’s state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) “admitting” to crimes he and his wife had been charged with, but not convicted of. This “confession” on TV happened long before his actual trial. Peter Humphrey had refused to make such a confession, but was in return maltreated and even denied cancer care, making him fear for his life. CCTV journalists cooperated with police to extract, record, make post-production and then broadcast his confession. CCTV then released it worldwide through its international arm, China Global Television (CGTN), including on their English-language channel, also aired in the UK. Later on, a second confession was forced out of him. On both occasions, his American wife was similarly filmed, although only broadcast on the second instance.


A Canadian-Iranian journalist suffered the same fate a few years earlier in Iran, when Iran’s state media collaborated with police to record and then broadcast his “confession” on their Press TV in the United Kingdom. The victim, Maziar Bahari, filed a complaint to Ofcom, who in its investigation found Press TV responsible for committing gross violations of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, and subsequently revoked their license. In China, this use of forced TV confessions, always before trial, has become systematic since the reign of Xi Jinping began in late 2012; and torture, maltreatment and even forced drugging are common components in forcing victims to confess, as numerous testimonies from victims have shown.



Chapter 1 Background


I, Peter William Humphrey, a citizen of the United Kingdom, here submit a complaint to Ofcom and request Ofcom to restrict the operations of China Central Television (CCTV) and its international arm China Global Television (CGTN), on account of their multiple violations of the Broadcasting code, and having committed gross human rights violations, in broadcasting the forced TV confession of me in the United Kingdom. This matter is in the public interest, and, upon submission, this complaint will be released to the public and to relevant organisations.


CCTV/CGTN is the broadcast arm of the Chinese state and, specifically, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As such, CCTV/CGTN is not a broadcaster in the commonly held sense, but a television broadcast arm of the CCP’s propaganda department.


With this complaint I call on Ofcom to perform its duty to curb the activities of CCTV/CGTN in the United Kingdom, as it operates in violation of the Broadcasting code, and that it shall be denied the license to broadcast in the United Kingdom as a result of the multiple, severe, violations of the Ofcom rules, and that such denial shall be in place until it can be shown CCTV/CGTN can and will operate according to the established rules.


CCTV/CGTN has colluded with the Chinese police, known as the Public Security Bureau (PSB), which is controlled by the Chinese state and CCP, in forcing me and my wife Yingzeng Yu (Ying) to be paraded on CCTV and CGTN broadcasts as prisoners, and to make it appear, falsely, that we were making confessions to crimes we had not been convicted of. These were in reality forced and falsified “confessions” for the purpose of prejudicing public opinion and prejudicing trial proceedings before we had faced any indictment, prosecution or fair and open trial as required by both China’s law and constitution.


The crimes committed against me and my wife have also been committed in vast numbers of similar cases committed by the PSB and CCTV/CGTN, namely against hundreds of individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since the time of my own forced TV confession, and in some instances committed against individuals who have been kidnapped outside the PRC and brought into China and paraded on TV to make such forced and falsified televised confessions, similarly aired on CCTV. There have also been many non-Chinese victims of this practice, including other Europeans and Americans.


It has been widely reported that in December 2018 CCTV/CGTN will open a massive European base in the Chiswick district of London where it will conduct its broadcasting towards UK audiences as well as elsewhere in the English-speaking world and in Europe. This is the production center for its new European bureau, its largest ever foreign bureau, with plans to base more than 300 staff there.


The forced parading of me and my wife on CCTV/CGTN broadcasts has been widely publicised at the time by international media including mainstream UK media.


CCTV/CGTN reporters and camera crew twice assisted the Shanghai police in conducting these scripted and staged bogus confession “interviews”.


In the first instance (filmed on Monday August 26, 2013), CCTV was represented by one male cameraman and one female interviewer who withheld their names. In the first instance, I was drugged in my cell with a sedative half an hour beforehand, I was led out in handcuffs, and in an orange prison uniform, I was led into an interrogation cell, placed into a steel cage, and locked into an iron chair commonly referred to in China as a “tiger chair”, with a locking bar across my lap. I was surrounded by a dozen or so people wielding still- and TV cameras who pointed their lenses through the cage bars, and was filmed in this condition without my consent and against my will. I had only consented to meeting two or three print journalists, and had written a note to that effect, and had explicitly written “no cameras”. But I was a prisoner in a Chinese jail and was in no position to resist after two months in captivity in appalling conditions, poor health and immense duress tantamount to torture. The interviewer was not any of the journalists present but was instead the police’s Inspector Ding Zhidong, the very same officer of the police who had been one of two lead interrogators against me and my wife for the preceding months in captivity, with me still suffering immense duress.


In the second instance (filmed on Saturday July 12, 2014) I was not handcuffed or caged but was a captive, and was also forced to appear before journalists against my will by the police. In both instances, CCTV was present. In the second instance CCTV’s female interviewer led the questioning based on a police script in a very hostile manner.


Both fake interviews procured under conditions tantamount to torture were broadcast and rebroadcast, by both CCTV and its international arm CGTN, upon orders from the Chinese state and without my consent. Both interviews, heavily edited, cut and pasted, were unrecognisable to me when I was able to view them, only after my release one year later. In some versions of the broadcast my facial image was scrambled. In others it was not. Still photos from the filming session were also published in print and online media without my consent and fully showing my facial features alongside printed articles containing false information prepared by the police.


Neither of these instances qualify as journalism or true media activity. CCTV was working in active collusion with the police and the Chinese state.


Foreign Office records show that a senior UK consular officer met the head of the Shanghai police a few days after the first CCTV broadcast and told the Chinese side that if such an incident happened in the UK then the so-called case against me and my wife would have been thrown out for violating legal process.


CCTV/CGTN’s actions resulted in the false prejudicing of Chinese and world public opinion against me and my wife, the prejudicing of a sham trial against us held on August 8, 2014 at which we had no opportunity to orchestrate a proper defence, and caused lasting reputational damage and financial damage to the Humphrey family. The latter includes false and injurious records of the affair by due diligence databases that are used by all leading banks as an obligatory know-your-customer compliance check. These database companies have red-flagged the Humphreys alongside terrorists, money-launderers and traffickers as a result of CCTV/CGTN’s actions in collusion with the police.


In 2018, there has been a growing focus on these legal- and human rights violations after a human rights organization named Safeguard Defenders published a series of materials on the topic, first being the phenomenon of extrajudicial disappearance and detention in China, the second being the practice of forced, falsified televised confessions as represented in the book “Scripted and Staged”, to which I refer you.

Artist rendering of Peter Humphrey’s first recording

Chapter 2 On China Central Television in UK

Due to the many names and abbreviations, and many changes, a clarification is justified. China Central Television (CCTV) is the national TV broadcaster in China. Up until December 31, 2016, the English language CCTV channel for international broadcasts were first called CCTV-9, and later CCTV News. At this date, the English channel was renamed China Global Television Network (CGTN). CCTV/CTGN broadcasts in all six United Nations languages.


During the national congress in China in March 2018, it was announced that CCTV’s international channels, alongside China Radio International and China National Radio, will be merged, and will be called Voice of China. This change has not yet happened. It was also announced that control of the CGTN/Voice of China will be reorganised, and placed directly under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), rather than the State. The reorganisation is set forth in the Program for the Deepening Reform of Party and Government Organs (深化党和国家机构改革方案), which sets forth that it shall (article 36)  “guide public opinion as defined by the Chinese Communist Party”, and, (article 35) “strengthen the Party’s centralised and unified leadership of news and public opinion work, and strengthen the management of important propaganda positions”.


CGTN has since before established an Africa division, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and an Americas division, based in Washington DC, USA. The new London-based production center will have more staff than both these headquarters put together, and it is expected that the formation of a European division will come.


In the United Kingdom, CCTV/CGTN holds two licenses.

  • CCTV (DTAS100508BA/15)

  • CGTN (TLCS000575BA/2)


On September 18, 2018, it became known that the United States Department of Justice had ordered CGTN, and China’s state-controlled newswire service, Xinhua, to register under its Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), deeming them, much like RT (Russia Today) to be foreign agents operating in the United States, and  forcing their registration as such, which will require them to report on their activities, financing and relationship to their principal (the Chinese State/CCP) to the Department of Justice.


Both TV confessions were broadcast by CCTV, in China, and on CGTN, internationally.  In the UK CGTN can be watched through terrestrial broadcasts (Freeview Channel 226), Satellite broadcasts (Freesat Channel 211 and Sky Channel 509) and through streaming.

These broadcasts are then often picked up and rebroadcast by UK broadcasters.


Note: Some videos appears with the logo CNTV (China Network Television), which is an Internet TV broadcaster that compiles and offers news clips from various CCTV/CGTN channels.


Chapter 3 Justification for, and precedent of, exception to time-limit


In 2010 a complaint to Ofcom was made by Canadian citizen Maziar Bahari against the Iranian Broadcaster Press TV in the United Kingdom, for “for filming and airing an interview with him under duress”. Due to the seriousness of the complaint, the 20 day time limitation, in accordance with article 1.13 of the Procedures for the consideration and adjudication of Fairness and Privacy complaints, was waived under article 1.14.


In the end Press TV’s license was revoked, although the penalty was later changed to a fine of 100,000 Pounds. Ofcom stated that Press TV failed to get Maziar Bahari’s consent and this “contributed to the overall unfairness to Mr Bahari in the item broadcast“, and added that filming and broadcasting the interview without consent “while he was in a sensitive situation and vulnerable state was an unwarranted infringement of Mr Bahari’s privacy“. Ofcom’s decision was published on May 23, 2011[1].


The same exception, under article 1.14 is now being sought, as a UK citizen was forced into the very same situation, this time in China, and as has been shown by research, it is part of a common pattern of abuse that has also affected other EU citizens.


The two (separate) broadcasts were aired by CCTV, China Central Television, on 2013-08-27 and 2014-07-14. In the UK, CCTV broadcast under the name its international English language arm, now called CGTN – China Global Television Network. The second broadcast also included a similar involuntary filming session by CCTV and Chinese police of the UK victim’s wife (an American citizen).


Reason for delayed filing


When the broadcasts were made and aired, Peter Humphrey had no possibility to seek redress or to file any complaint, as he was held “virtually incommunicado” and “prevented from communication with the world outside my walls”. The victim could not make a complaint to Ofcom for the two years that he was kept in prison in China.


Additionally, due to long-term denial of medical care for cancer, upon Peter Humphrey’s release from prison and subsequent deportation in June 2015, he had to undergo long-term cancer investigation and treatment. Active treatment lasted until mid-2017, with continued investigation ongoing. Starting shortly before this date, Mr. Humphrey started treatment for severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which lasted for one additional year until mid-2018, with additional physical treatments for damaged joints and nerves still ongoing. The first two years of imprisonment, and the physical weakness from cancer treatment following that, and treatment against mental illness incurred as a direct result of both his detention, torture (under the definition of the Convention Against Torture) and him being forced into making these broadcasts, are the combined reasons why the filing of the complaint is carried out now, and not before.


Besides depriving Peter Humphrey of the right to a fair trial, and the police’s insistence on using a televised confession and denying him medical care for a potential life-threatening medical condition, the broadcasts themselves have had multiple, severe, negative consequences for Peter Humphrey. The re-broadcast and intense media focus by international media, in the UK and internationally, have severely damaged his reputation. It has also led to him being deprived of access to personal and business banking, and led to significant negative consequences related to his professional life, work and livelihood.


Chapter 4 The broadcasts


All five broadcasts mentioned below are attached as Appendixes V1-V5, on the USB that is provided alongside this complaint.


First “confession” video

First broadcast 07:38 (GMT+8), 2013-08-27, on CCTV 13 morning news show CCTV13 (朝闻天下 Zhao Wen Tian Xia)

Recording attached as appendix V1.


Recording attached as appendix V2.


Second “confession” video

First broadcast 07:39 (GMT+8), 2014-07-14, on CCTV 13 morning news show CCTV13 (朝闻天下 Zhao Wen Tian Xia)

Recording attached as appendix V3.


  •   The English language version of the second confession, aired by CCTV International (the name for the English channel before re-branding to CGTN), on the same date, is attached as appendix V4.



Chapter 5 Violations of the Broadcasting Code


Ofcom has a duty under section 319 of the Communications Act 2003 to set standards for the content of programmes in television and radio services. The standards objectives are set out in section 319(2) of the Act. They include that generally accepted standards are applied to the contents of television and radio services so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of offensive and harmful material (section 319(2)(f)). Ofcom’s regulatory work and the specifics of what to protect citizens against is outlined in the Broadcasting Code[2].


The two broadcasts breach numerous paragraphs of the Broadcasting code, under sections 3, 5, 7 and 8.


Section 3: Crime, disorder, hatred and abuse.


Article 3.3 Material which contains abusive or derogatory treatment of individuals, groups, religions or communities, must not be included in television and radio services.


The broadcasts contain material where the defendant has been forced, through withholding of medical treatment and forced drugging, to incriminate himself before his trial. His placement inside a small metal cage, partly visible in the broadcast, and his drugged appearance, should likewise be considered a violation of this article.


Section 5: Impartiality and accuracy. 


Article 5.1: That News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.


The victim had no chance to voice his own version of allegations against him, and was forced and coerced into incriminating himself. CCTV post-production includes various allegations against the victim stated as facts, despite no trial having taken place at the time of broadcast. Those “facts” were also not available for Mr. Humphrey to hear, see or refute, but added in post-production.


Article 5.2: Significant mistakes in news should normally be acknowledged and corrected on air quickly. Corrections should be appropriately scheduled.


Despite the victim having retracted his statements, and testified to the treatment forcing him to make such a recording against his will, CCTV has not issued any retraction, clarification or any other statement regarding its broadcast.


Article 5.8: Any personal interest of a reporter or presenter, which would call into question the due impartiality of the programme, must be made clear to the audience.


The journalists from CCTV did not ask the questions, despite it being presented on TV as an interaction between Peter Humphrey and media. Instead, police in the first instance asked the questions directly and forced the victim to read answers and statements prepared for him by the police, while media simply recorded it. In the second instance, a CCTV reporter asked questions based on a police script.  In both instances, CCTV actively collaborated with the police in extracting and producing and broadcasting the confession, the true nature of which was not presented to the viewer.


Section 7: Fairness


Article 7.1: Broadcasters must avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes.


The broadcast presented the confession as willing, and not coerced or otherwise forced. The broadcast presented the victim willingly incriminating himself. Treatment of victim by the participating media and its broadcast is both unjust and unfair.


Article 7.2: Broadcasters and programme makers should normally be fair in their dealings with potential contributors to programmes unless, exceptionally, it is justified to do otherwise.


The victim was under severe distress and duress, and had even been drugged. The victim, despite this said no, that he would not agree to any video recording with TV media, but was then forced to do so regardless and while on a drug. No consent was possible in the circumstance.


Article 7.3: Where a person is invited to make a contribution to a programme (except when the subject matter is trivial or their participation minor) they should normally, at an appropriate stage:

  • be told the nature and purpose of the programme, what the programme is about and be given a clear explanation of why they were asked to contribute and when (if known) and where it is likely to be first broadcast;
  • be told what kind of contribution they are expected to make, for example live, pre-recorded, interview, discussion, edited, unedited, etc.;
  • be informed about the areas of questioning and, wherever possible, the nature of other likely contributions;
  • be made aware of any significant changes to the programme as it develops which might reasonably affect their original consent to participate, and which might cause material unfairness;
  • be told the nature of their contractual rights and obligations and those of the programme maker and broadcaster in relation to their contribution; and
  • be given clear information, if offered an opportunity to preview the programme, about whether they will be able to effect any changes to it.


See answer to article 7.2, all of which applies.


Article 7.6: When a programme is edited, contributions should be represented fairly.


Editing of these CCTV broadcasts was deceptive to viewer. Allegations were presented as facts, and additional alleged facts were added in post-production. Also, see answers to articles 5.8 and 7.1


Article 7.6: When a programme is edited, contributions should be represented fairly.


CCTV has edited the broadcast heavily, and in a grossly unfair manner, and added accusations presented as facts in post-production.


Article 7.9: Before broadcasting a factual programme, including programmes examining past events, broadcasters should take reasonable care to satisfy themselves that:

  • material facts have not been presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that is unfair to an individual or organisation;


No such undertaking has been made by CCTV. Material presented is unfair, deceptive and does not allow victim to respond. The actual situation during which the “interview” was recorded should alert anyone, including any journalist, of the true situation in which it was recorded. (See attached artwork showing the scene of the recording.)


Article 7.11: If a programme alleges wrongdoing or incompetence or makes other significant allegations, those concerned should normally be given an appropriate and timely opportunity to respond.


No such opportunity has been provided, neither at the time of the recording of the broadcast, nor after its broadcast. Also see answer to article 7.9.


Section 8: privacy


Article 8.6: If the broadcast of a programme would infringe the privacy of a person or organisation, consent should be obtained before the relevant material is broadcast, unless the infringement of privacy is warranted.


No such consent could be given, due to the extreme duress. Victim was chained to a metal stool, inside a small cage, inside a detention cell, and was drugged prior to recording. Victim had also said no to making such a recording, and was on top of that being denied medical care for a potentially lethal illness. His wife was also detained, accused of the same crime.


Article 8.16: Broadcasters should not take or broadcast footage or audio of people caught up in emergencies, victims of accidents or those suffering a personal tragedy, even in a public place, where that results in an infringement of privacy, unless it is warranted or the people concerned have given consent.


See answer to article 8.6.


Article 8.17: People in a state of distress should not be put under pressure to take part in a programme or provide interviews, unless it is warranted.


See answer to article 8.6.


Chapter 6 Obligation of Ofcom under the Human Rights Act


Ofcom, as a public authority, is charged, under the Human Rights Act (1988) paragraph 6 (1) to act in a way compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (“It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.”) It is charged under the same paragraph, subsection 6 (b) to, within its mandate, take remedial action for what is under its purview.


CCTV is either directly responsible, or complicit in, several violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).


  • CCTV is directly responsible for depriving Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng of the right to a fair trial, a right guaranteed under paragraph 6.


  • CCTV is also directly responsible for violation of article 8, which in line with the Broadcasting code, provides protections against unlawful violations of privacy.


  • In addition, CCTV is complicit, but not directly responsible, for violation of paragraph 3, which protects against all forms of torture. CCTV has been complicit in the police’s torture of Peter Humphrey, in helping extract, record, provide post-production and broadcast of his “testimony”, despite knowing full well of his maltreatment (see artist rendering attached of Mr. Humphrey’s situation during the first recorded confession, leaving little doubt for any attendees as to the situation he was in when making the recording).


Chapter 7 CCTV and Forced TV Confessions


Safeguard Defenders, the human rights organization, has released the fullest, most exhaustive, report on the use of forced TV confessions in China, Scripted and Staged.


Hardcopy and digital copy of the report is provided along with this complaint.


The research conducted for that report, and the many victim testimonials secured, have shown a systematic nature in how CCTV is used to broadcast Forced TV Confessions before trial. A database has been published by the same organization on its use since Xi Jinping became leader of China 2012/2013, available on


CCTV plays two different roles. In one, more common for lower profile victims, CCTV is limited to providing post-production and broadcasting of TV recordings, produced by police. Most often victims have been kept incommunicado.


In another role, including the one in the case of Peter Humphrey, CCTV and its journalists also partake in the extracting of the confession, the recording of it, alongside post-production and broadcasting. In many instances the victims are kept in RSDL – residential surveillance at a designated location – where one is kept, for up to 6 months, without access to lawyer, held incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and where neither family nor public is told where the victim is. According to international law RSDL as described above constitutes an Enforced Disappearance. Of note is that in all known cases of RSDL police have also refused the prosecutor’s office to visit to check against torture and other maltreatment, claiming such visits could hinder the investigation. Yet, CCTV has been given access to assist with extraction and recording of such forced TV confessions.


In some testimonies, the journalists are also noted as actively planning and directing the extraction and recording together with the police (or in some cases, State Security).


Severe physical torture, psychological torture, and threats against, and attacks on, siblings, relatives and loved ones is common before the forced TV confession is “agreed” upon. Some people are drugged before the recording, by force or by trickery, including Peter Humphrey.


For details on how CCTV helps extract, record, edit and produce the forced TV confessions, and how it violates both Chinese law, UK law and International law, see the report Scripted and Staged.


The issue is further explored in the book Trial By Media, which is released at the same date as the filing of this complaint. In the book, Peter Humphrey’s full testimony is included, alongside numerous other victims, both Chinese and foreigners.


A hardcopy of the book is provided along with this complaint.


Chapter 8 Expert advice and testimony


For further information, below is a select list of renowned experts on Chinese law, International law, and CCTV and Chinese media, all of whom have agreed to provide expert testimony to Ofcom if requested.

Jerome Cohen, Professor, New York University School of Law, one of the world’s leading China law scholars

Perry Link, Professor, University of California, a leading China scholar

Eva Pils, Professor of Law, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London

Peter Dahlin, Chinese legal rights activist, Director of Safeguard Defenders, and likewise a victim of China’s use of Forced TV Confessions

Magnus Fiskesjö, Professor of Anthropology, University of Cornell, former Cultural Attaché at the Swedish Embassy, Beijing

Ira Belkin, Professor, Specialist in Criminal Justice in China, New York University School of Law

Owen Nee, US Attorney and China Law Specialist, Managing Partner at In Re Nee, LLC

Dinah Gardner, former journalist, Scholar of Forced TV Confessions

Michael Caster, legal rights activist, editor of “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared”, member of Safeguard Defenders

Nicolas Groffman, Lawyer, Partner, Head of International, China specialist, Harrison, Clark Rickerbys Ltd



Additional expert testimony and contacts can be provided upon request.





  • Ofcom form Of333 (Fairness and Privacy Complaint Form).


  • Hard copy of Scripted and Staged – Behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions.




  • Hard copy of Trial By media, the new book on CCTV and Forced TV Confessions, edited by Peter Dahlin.


  • Hard copy and digital copy of artist rendering of situation during Peter Humphrey’s first confession recording.


  • USB with TV broadcast collection, V1-V5, and copies of all other appendixes and filings.






Content: News

Type of Service: Editorial


Licensee: Arqiva Limited


Contact Details: Anirban Roy

8th Floor, The Met Building

22 Percy Street




Telephone: 0330 303 6816



License Number: DTAS100508BA/15





Type of Service: Editorial


Licensee: Star China Media Limited


Contact Details: Alice Tang

Unit A, 9th Floor,

MG Tower,

133 Hoi Bun Road,



Telephone: +852 3996 3702



License Number: TLCS000575BA/2



Peter Humphrey

Filed at Ofcom office on 2018-11-23


[1] Ofcom decision BSC 68(11)

[2] Ofcom broadcasting code (PDF):

Book release: Trial By Media

On November 23, 2018, Safeguard Defenders will release its next book, Trial By MediaChina’s new show trials, and the global expansion of Chinese media, edited by Peter Dahlin. The release of this book follows the release of an earlier book, the acclaimed The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, edited by Michael Caster, which exposed the realities behind China’s use of secret prisons through RSDL, and the organization’s groundbreaking research report, Scripted and Staged, into China’s use of forced televised confessions.


If Scripted and Staged provided a peek into the reality behind the use of forced TV confessions, Trial By Media goes further, and with brand new testimonies from victims, some speaking out at considerable risk, the active role of Chinese state media is exposed, and their extensive collaboration with police not merely in broadcasting, but in extracting, recording and producing these confessions. CCTV and other state media’s complicity in gross human rights violations – the denial of the right to a fair trial, is explored.


A press conference will be held in London on November 23, to reveal additional steps being taken against CCTV for its continued broadcasting internationally of “forced TV confessions”. Attendance is by invite and RSVP only. Want to know more? Email info -at- safeguarddefenders -dot- com


The book begins, and ends, by looking at the true nature of CCTV, and how it’s different from how we normally think of a state TV broadcaster. In these chapters, the book delves deep into the role that CCTV, and other state/party media, plays both in the use of forced TV confessions, but also as part of Xi Jinping’s “going out” policy.



The book looks at how China is working to expand its influencing operations internationally, and how the rapid expansion of state/party media, of which CCTV is the flagship, is but one of several trends working in tandem. State media’s expansion is put next to how independent Chinese language media, in countries from Australia to the United States and across Europe, is and has been silenced over the past five years, and how both these developments stand side-by-side under the guise of the United Front Work Department. These developments, alongside the 16+1 initiative in Central- and Eastern Europe, the Belt and Road Initiative, and investment into or purchasing of key media, especially in Africa, are all part of the same strategy, one that seeks to sow division in- and between western countries, and to overturn the current global institutional framework, and replace it with one developed and led by China.


Book released on Amazon worldwide November 23, with both paperback and Kindle editions available.


The emotional center of the book consists of eight testimonials – fully developed short stories -which centers on the use of forced TV confessions, but each which expands into and shows several new trends in China since the rise of Xi Jinping.



As many of the victims are either core targets of the 709 crackdown, or in other ways related to them, the testimonials also offer insight into the Chinese state’s thinking about the rights defense movement, an insight we can gain by reading about the back and forth exchanges between victims and their captors.


The testimony of Zhai Yanmin shows the troubled state of China’s criminal judicial process, where, after several forced TV confessions – the same process starts over, but this time, he is forced to sit down with judge, police, and prosecutor. Once there, together they practice his court appearance, his demeanor, everything – except this time, for his show trial, there could be no retakes.


The star in Professor Liu Sixin’s testimony, like in several others, is CCTV’s Dong Qian, shown to play a very active role in both his and others’ forced TV confessions. Lawyer Wang Yu, whose experience with RSDL has been told before in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, here reveals how her son was used as a pawn against her, how he was made to attack others, and the torture police used against him to make him cooperate, all of it with a clear purpose, forcing Wang Yu to cooperate and “confess” on TV.


Activist Liu Xing, like several others, remembers how he would be drugged, and how he spent a year after his systematic forced drugging to recover from it. Wen Qing, like Zhai, speaks on how his very identity came under attack because of the TV confessions, and the long road back. Peter Dahlin writes about experiencing going through a lie detector test, all the while his girlfriend was kept incommunicado, in solitary confinement, whilst State Security prodded him to record a “confession” video. With Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist, we learn how he, and his American wife Yu Yingzeng, ended up being paraded on TV as collateral damage into a major corruption scandal that had nothing to do with them, but an international pharmaceutical conglomerate.


The book also offers solutions for what regulatory bodies in target countries can do when it comes to CCTV’s existing or planned presence, and that their presence, and therefore their need to adapt to local rules, can be a silver lining, offering a chance to affect positive change in the behavior of Chinese media, and to their culpability in committing gross human rights violations.


Incommunicado detention must go, say UN experts

Background: On May 16, 2018, a joint submission was made by Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the Rights Practice, and Safeguard Defenders, to relevant Special Procedures of OHCHR concerning China’s use of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, especially the use of RSDL – ‘residential surveillance at a designated location‘.

On August 24, 2018, ten such Special Procedures, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, issued a joint letter to China challenging its use of RSDL, urging China to repeal the system, and noted that the use of RSDL many times meets the condition of Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.


China | Incommunicado detention must go, say UN experts

Geneva, 2018-10-24 — UN experts raise the alarm about the use of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, affirming the use of enforced disappearance to muzzle dissent and punish human rights defenders in China.

A mother does not know whether her son’s health is failing.

A lawyer does not know how to defend his client, or else is informed – by a third party – that she has been dismissed by the defendant.

A family loses their income, their home and even the ability to enroll their son in school.

All of the above are the human impacts of a legal form of detention in China known as ‘residential surveillance in a designated location,’ or RSDL, and all are violations of basic human rights. Eighteen UN experts agree, and in August sent a letter to the Chinese government making clear that, for these and many other reasons, the law is incompatible with international law and should be repealed immediately.

The common thread running through the July 2015 or ‘709 crackdown’ in China, and continuing through today, is the use of this nominally-legal measure to detain human rights defenders for up to six months, without access to family or lawyers.

Download the full Joint Submission 2018-05-16 (pdf)


‘Placement in RSDL is tantamount to an enforced disappearance,’ say the experts, in that it consists of placing individuals under incommunicado detention for investigation for prolonged periods without disclosing their whereabouts – in short, in secret detention.

Recommendations from the UN Committee against Torture calling for the repeal of RSDL, made during its 2015 review of China, ‘do not seem to have been taken into account,’ added the experts, who reiterated the fact that if detentions are to be justified, the detainees should be formally accounted for and held in formal places of detention.

‘RSDL is a deliberate measure to detain persons outside the somewhat better monitored and regulated detention centres. It undermines any other efforts by China to prevent the use of torture,’ said Nicola Macbean at The Rights Practice.

Says Sarah M Brooks, Asia advocate at ISHR: ‘Activists and victims have for years emphasized to UN mechanisms that RSDL, no matter the legal basis, is in violation of the Chinese Constitution and China’s international obligations.’

‘The UN has said, repeatedly and unequivocally, that they agree. Nonetheless, China continues to disappear those it deems dangerous – even if, like Gui Minhai, they are not even Chinese citizens.’

On arbitrary detention, the experts add that ‘the extensive powers attributed to the police with regard to RSDL cases pose serious concerns with regard to… the independence of the judiciary.’ This is exacerbated by a series of SPP rulings and revised regulations that limit the ability of lawyers to take on such cases without themselves risking retaliation by relevant authorities, such as the suspension or revocation of their license or even criminal indictment.

Download the Joint Letter by the Special Procedures 2018-08-24 (pdf)


The Measures for the Administration of Law Firms and Measures on the Administration of Lawyers’ Practice have further hampered lawyers’ freedom of assembly, speech and expression, says Albert Ho, the Chairperson of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Ho adds, ‘A total of 17 human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked or invalidated since 2017, with more than half of them involved in cases related to the 709 Crackdown.’

Risks of torture are almost inevitable in such incommunicado detention, a fact not exclusive to China. But the experts specify that many forms of acts which may amount to torture are not defined as such in Chinese law. This includes excessively long solitary confinement and interrogation, as well as threats against and harassment of family members.

Take the case of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang. Wang has been missing for over three years, says Michael Caster of Safeguard Defenders, including six months in RSDL, ‘apparently locked up because he dared to use Chinese law to defend the rights of persecuted minorities.’

‘Wang’s family has not only been refused any information about his location or condition, but has also been subject to relentless persecution by the state,’ says Caster.

Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, has been surveilled and detained due to her activism on his case, and their son was prevented from enrolling in kindergarten.

Additionally, forced medical treatment – along with the more traditional denial of adequate medical treatment – raised concerns as related to the protection and realization of the right to an adequate standard of health.

‘Denying detainees urgent medical treatment is a malicious form of torture and cruel punishment,’ said Renee Xia, international director of the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

‘The Chinese government should not enjoy impunity for the recent deaths in custody of Chinese human rights defenders like Liu Xiaobo, Cao Shunli, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche.’

Download Safeguard Defenders submission to the Universal Periodic Review of China (Coming: November 6) (pdf)


The experts conclude that ‘RSDL… is being used to muzzle the peaceful and legitimate rights to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly and association of individuals expressing dissenting or critical views… and extends the police and the public security organs’ discretionary powers to arbitrary arrest and unlawfully detain individuals and in conditions that may amount to secret detention and enforced disappearance.’

This letter to the government was sent at a time when the National People’s Congress was meant to be considering a series of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law. Such processes, while accommodating a box-checking exercise of soliciting public input, should reflect the UN experts’ concerns. The Chinese government has not yet responded to the letter. Human rights groups, however, hold out limited hope that the letter alone will result in changes in China’s law and practices.

‘A letter alone is of limited utility, especially in China. Defenders who might seek to use this to press for reforms would, in doing so, risk detention themselves,’ says Brooks.

‘However, we hope that governments around the world who support the work of human rights defenders and those who know firsthand the serious impacts of enforced disappearance will take this forward.’

Xia concurs: ‘UN human rights bodies, and governments at the Universal Periodic Review, must continue to raise this pattern of abuse at all times.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review of China, to be held on 6 November, is a chance for governments to press for the abolition of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ and all similar practices, and the release of and provision of remedy to victims of RSDL – brave defenders like Wang Quanzhang.

This statement has been endorsed by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, the International Service for Human Rights, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Safeguard Defenders, and The Rights Practice.

For more information, please contact: Sarah M. Brooks at s.brooks[at] or on Twitter @sarahmcneer.



Download Press Release 2018-10-24 (pdf)



Bảo vệ kỹ thuật số thực hành


Hướng dẫn bảo mật kỹ thuật số thực hành phiên bản tiếng Việt trên

Bảo vệ kỹ thuật số thực hành là một tài liệu hướng dẫn tự học về an ninh mạng cho những người hoạt động trong môi trường thù địch. Tài liệu này xác định các rủi ro và cá pháp dựa trên hành vi của người sử dụng. Giải pháp công nghệ chỉ là thứ cấp.c giải pháp, và không giống như các tài liệu khác, tập trung vào các biện

Tải xuống WIN10 / Android

Tải xuống OSX / iPhone

Phiên bản tiếng Anh có sẵn để tham khảo. Mỗi phiên bản địa phương hoá được dịch theo ngôn ngữ khác có thể thay đổi và khác với bản chính, tùy thuộc vào yêu cầu và mục tiêu ở những quốc gia cụ thể. Mỗi phiên bản bản địa hoá được phát triển cùng với nhiều luật sư, nhà báo, những người bảo vệ nhân quyền và nhân viên của tổ chức phi chính phủ tại các quốc gia có liên quan.

Lời giới thiệu: An ninh mạng dựa trên hành vi là một tài liệu tập ngắn trung vào việc cải thiện an ninh và an toàn kỹ thuật số dựa vào hành vi an toàn, bằng cách giúp bạn thay đổi thói quen sử dụng máy tính và điện thoại theo cách mà có thể tăng sự an toàn cho bạn, người cùng hoạt động và nguồn tin.

Tải xuống Lời giới thiệu


Cuốn cẩm nang hướng dẫn này được dịch từ phiên bản tiếng Anh (cũng có sẵn trên trang web) và phiên bản tiếng Trung đã được địa phương hoá. Phiên bản tiếng Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ sắp được ra mắt. Tài liệu này được dịch ra tiếng Việt vì bốn lý do sau:

  • Lý do thứ nhất: hầu hết tài liệu hướng dẫn về bảo mật kỹ thuật số không được địa phương hoá với tình hình thực tế ở Việt Nam.
  • Lýdo thứ hai: hầu hết các tài liệu tập trung vào các giải pháp kỹ thuật, mặc dù nhữnggiải pháp này quan trọng trong một số khía cạnh, việc quan trọng hơn là những thay đổi hành vi cơ bản trong cách người hoạt động sử dụng điện thoại và máy tính.
  • Lý do thứ ba: những giải pháp dựa trên hành vi này được phát triển không chỉ bởi những người thành thạo kỹ thuật mà từng có trải nghiệm bị cảnh sát thẩm vấn và máy tính và điện thoại của họ từng bị cảnh sát có nghiệp vụ giải phẫu để tìm tài liệu.
  • Lý do thứ tư: hầu hết các tài liệu được dựa trên đào tạo do giáo viên hướng dẫn, hạn chế khả năng truyền bá kiến ​​thức. Cẩm nang hướng dẫn này nhằm mục đích tự học, và được thiết kế với ý tưởng này, với những lời giải thích sâu rộng, những câu chuyện ngắn về cuộc sống thực như thế nào, và với các công cụ sư phạm để cho những người không có nhiều kỹ năng về công nghệ thông tin có thể dễ dàng áp dụng kiến thức.

Để biết thêm thông tin hoặc yêu cầu trợ giúp và đào tạo, liên hệ với Safeguard Defenders.


Practical Digital Protection

Note: The self-study manuals developed under the name Practical Digital Protection will be hosted on RSDLmonitor while undergoes major re-design.

Practical Digital Protection is a full, self-study styled, manual on increasing the security and protection for those at risk in hostile environments. The manual identifies risks and solutions, and unlike other materials, is focused on behavioral measures and issues. Technological solutions is at best secondary.

For Win10 and Android systems, download this.

For OSX and iPhone, download this.


The English language version has been made available as reference. It is entirely based on the Chinese language version for mainland China. Other localized version differs, and may differ wildly, depending on the identified needs of the target group in those countries. Each localized version is developed together with lawyers, journalists, rights defenders and NGO workers in the relevant countries.


The solutions herein have been tested in the field, by both the producers of this manual, as well as by numerous members of the feedback group of lawyers, journalists and NGO workers who helped create this manual. It has been tested by technical forensics work, both short-term and long-term interrogations, utilization of torture, and beyond. There are no guarantees, but in hostile environment, well thought out behavior will serve you better than most technical solutions on offer.


The Introduction: Behavior-based Cybersecurity is a briefer document outlining basic behavior-related issues and methods to increase security and safety, i.e., how changes in behavior in how you use your computer and phone can increase the safety of yourself, your partners and sources.

For the Introduction, download this.


For more information, inquiries, or requests for assistance or training, contact Safeguard Defenders.

Forced TV Confessions database

UPDATED: An updated version of the database on China’s use of Forced TV Confessions is now available. Easier, better looking and more informative, the spreadsheet database can be downloaded below. Bilingual (dual-tab) excel.

Following China’s continued use of Forced TV Confessions, most recently with journalist Chen Jieren and his brothers, and the increasingly political nature of those cases where these confessions are forced out of victims, and following Safeguard Defenders groundbreaking report on the reality behind these TV appearances, RSDLmonitor is now making available its full database on Forced TV Confessions, going back to 2013 – the year these TV appearances started becoming institutionalized as part of the government’s attack on lawyers, journalists, and rights defenders.


Download full database (excel file): Forced TV Confessions Database EN, CN 2018-11-15 RSDLmon


Any entry/case into this database marked with blue highlight indicates detailed information, either as a testimony or as part of extensive interview with the victim, can be found in ‘Scripted and Staged‘ or other material on RSDLmonitor website. This does not include many interviews done with people in this database conducted anonymously. Those marked in purple indicates detailed information or testimony exist, and is being prepared for release with Safeguard Defenders next book, set for release in October, on China’s use of Forced TV Confessions, the media’s role as collaborates in gross human rights violations, and the current and planned expansion of Chinese party-controlled media internationally. Check back with RSDLmonitor in September for more information on the upcoming book, our second book following ‘The People’s Republic of the Disappeared‘, the book that exposed the RSDL system and which received widespread acclaim.


Legend to reading the spreadsheet

Main confessor or target. In most cases, the name of the main confessor of any specific broadcast, sometimes more than one person. On a few occasions, the main target is ‘off-screen’, for example “709 lawyers”, Guo Wengui, or Taiwanese Telecom fraud case).

Supporting confessor. People used to attack the Main confessor or off-screen target.

Setting. Jailhouse or Neutral. The setting in which the victim is displayed. Use of neutral setting being more common for political cases, and also being a trend in that neutral setting has become more common over time.

Victim. HRD being ‘political cases’, Media for writers, journalists or bloggers, with ‘Other’ denoting those accused of regular crimes – drug use, bribery, murder, etc.

Legal status when FC. Where in judicial process the victim was in at time of broadcast. Most TV confessions take place when people are either in detention or in RSDL – before being arrest.

Sentence or Imprisonment. Whether the person was actually sentenced for the crime. In many cases, people are not. In some cases, people are sentenced for different crime than the one they admitted to during their Forced TV Confession.

Other categories are self-explanatory. Any empty field indicates the information is not available.





A new report – the most extensive information presented – on the new National Supervision Commission, the law it’s based on, and the custodial system for detention it establishes – Liuzhi – now out.


Founded in early 2018, the National Supervision Commission (NSC) and its corresponding detention system, Liuzhi, remains concerningly opaque. However, based on what is known about its predecessor, the Shuanggui system, and about Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), both of which Liuzhi is based on, some clarity on what to be expected with the implementation of the National Supervision Commission can be offered.

Download the report as pdf: from CENTRAL CONTROL to NATIONAL SUPERVISION


The target group of potential victims has been massively enlarged, well beyond the party member-only system under Shuanggui and the limited number of crimes permitting RSDL. The creation and implementation of such a system stands to change a fundamental aspect of governance in China. The fact that China is pioneering multiple custodial systems targeting increasingly broad demographics, in a manner that often amounts to enforced disappearances, arguably means that China will utilize enforced disappearance on a scale never before seen. Considering several countries are in the process of discussing extradition treaties with China, understanding the NSC becomes even more important.

The report draws on extensive research on RSDL previously carried out by Safeguard Defenders, and analysis of illustrative higher profile cases of Shuanggui to project what can likely be expected. This report, therefore, functions as a briefing paper on the new system.


RSDL round-up for June

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.”

June 4 Tiananmen anniversary

Political re-education in Xinjiang

Forced confessions: Vietnam and Gui Minhai

709 update: Wang Yu’s passport, lawyers’ licenses and new movie on 709 wives


June 4 Tiananmen anniversary

This month, June 4 marked 29 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Despite heavy rains, more than 100,000 people in Hong Kong remembered the massacre at the annual candlelight vigil. A growing localist sentiment meant that some student groups snubbed the memorial, arguing democracy on the mainland wasn’t their main concern. In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen used the anniversary to call on China to embrace democracy: “if China could face up to what had happened it could become the bedrock for China’s own democratic transformation,” she wrote. Beijing was having none of it and rather nastily responded: “Taiwan should stop harping on about the same old thing.”

Naturally, China itself did not acknowledge the event, but families of the victims, the Tiananmen Mothers, sent an open letter to Xi Jinping asking him for the Party to accept responsibility for what happened in 1989. They wrote: “Our Chinese Dream is that the June Fourth tragedy will receive a clear accounting, and that justice will be done.”

And over at Global Voices, an interesting article uses the anniversary to ask the question: Who are China’s political prisoners? Around 1,000 were behind bars in 2017; over the years about 2/3 have been men, and a staggering half have been Tibetans.


Political re-education in Xinjiang

While the mass disappearances of Uighurs in Xinjiang into re-education camps continues, Chinafile invited scholars to offer suggestions on how the world should deal with what is “arguably the most serious human rights violation in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.” The consensus was a tough response: vocal criticism, naming and shaming, and sanctions (including using the Magnitsky Act). “[Xinjiang Party Secretary] Chen Quanguo is a clear example of exactly whom the Magnitsky Act was designed to target: an individual who is leading the incarceration of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of citizens simply because of their religious beliefs.” Foreign companies that assist this human rights violation can also be targeted. Heinz, for example, that sources tomatoes from Xinjiang for its ketchup: “will have to determine how much their products contribute to the maintenance of the totalitarian police state in Xinjiang.”

While there is still no official recognition of the campaign, RFA continues to trace numbers of people disappeared, village by village. In Qaraqash county, a local official said almost half of the 1,700 households had been rounded up into camps – which amounted to almost all the adult men. The official said they were following a directive that targets Uighurs “born in the 1980s and 1990s as ‘members of an unreliable and untrustworthy generation’.”

The key western scholar working on the re-education policy, Adrian Zenz, took two interviews this month. He talked with us here and Deutsche Welle here.


Forced confessions: Vietnam airs TV confession, Swedish press call for Gui Minhai release

In a chilling reminder that the rights abuses of China are so easily spread to its authoritarian neighbours, Vietnam aired the apology and confession of a detained US citizen on television. Speaking in Vietnamese, William Nguyen, a second-generation Vietnamese American who had been arrested at anti-China protests a week before, said: “”I understand that my acts violated the law I regret that I caused trouble for people heading to the airport.” The video of the confession is around 0:15 in, here.

Efforts to release detained Swedish citizen, Gui Minhai (桂敏海), who was made to appear in three forced confessions in China, continue. In early June, dozens of Swedish newspapers called for his release in an article published in 37 major newspapers and signed by Swedish scholars, journalists, politicians and actors. You can read the article here (in Swedish). The Diplomat made the observation that this move by the Swedish press illustrates just how passive the Swedish government has been in pushing for Mr. Gui’s release.


709 update: Wang Yu denied passport, more lawyers lose licenses, and new movie on 709 wives

China has again refused to give Lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) a passport – it was confiscated when she was detained back in July 2015 and never returned to her. Her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军) said: “They said they couldn’t process her passport application for reasons of national security.” Travel bans are frequently used to control former political detainees. For Lawyer Wang it means she is unable to visit her teenage son who is studying in Australia.

China has now formally revoked the licenses of three 709 lawyers  (in Chinese): Wen Donghai (文东海), Li Heping (李和平) and Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) have now officially had their licences suspended. This ChinaChange article from May gives a run-down of 709 lawyers who are still being harassed by the authorities.

Two Hong Kong journalists have made a second film about the 709 Crackdown, released to mark the third anniversary of the event next month. The two-hour documentary, 709 The Other Shore, by Lo King-wah and Kong King-chu, focuses on 12 activists, lawyers and wives who fled into exile to escape harassment in China. Two of those who appear in the film are Jin Bianling (金變玲) , wife of rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) and Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳).