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.


PRESS RELEASE

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]ishr.ch or on Twitter @sarahmcneer.

 

— END OF PRESS RELEASE —

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 RSDLmonitor.com


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 practicaldigitalprotection.com 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.

 

 

 

New Report: from CENTRAL CONTROL to NATIONAL SUPERVISION

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).

 

The evolving nature of China’s public confessions

While attention for the past few years has been focused on the shocking footage of pre-trial detainees being forced to confess on China’s state broadcaster CCTV, including that of many foreigners, China has been opening up new forms of forced public confessions. This can only be interpreted as an attempt to normalize and popularize the forced public confession in China despite it being reminiscent of the excesses of the Mao era and a stark move away from any pretense at a rule of law.

 

Confessions are being disseminated across a number of platforms from court Weibo accounts to TV entertainment programs. The most typical confessions reported on have been the Forced TV Confessions before trial (and often before formal arrest). Our report Scripted and Staged: behind the scenes of China’s forced confessions provides by far the most comprehensive information on this phenomenon (we just released a full Chinese translation of that report here.)

 

Confessions are king in China

Confessions have a long history dating back to the imperial age, even more so, so they lie at the core of control in Communist China both for furthering the political grip and in ideological reform. A discussion on this can be read here and here.

 

One thing of note is that the re-emergence of public confessions — especially in their new form of televised and online dissemination — has coincided with the rise of Xi Jinping. In tandem, the legal system has also undergone an overhaul to massively legalise what would formerly have been extra-legal detentions. The two new systems are  RSDL and liuzhi. Many of those who were forced to give TV confessions were held in RSDL. These confessions are suspended in an area midway between the legal and the propaganda systems.

Emerging forms of public confession:

Courtroom confessions

Corrupt officials (TV miniseries)

Televised interviews

Social media

Manipulated video

 

Courtroom confessions

China’s first televised courtroom confession was the trial of the Gang of Four in 1980 in which Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing (江青), did the opposite of a confession – she accused the court of putting Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution on trial, hurled abuse at the court, called Chinese leaders fascists and revisionists and dared them to chop off her head.

 

 

Such theatrics are rare these days, instead televised portions of courtroom procedures are typically used to showcase the repentance and confession of the defendant. These are often initially broadcast (edited clips) on the court’s Weibo, or the court’s webpage and excerpts may be later aired on state TV.

 

Some of the more notable ones in recent years have been:

 

Their “confessions” are worded in a remarkably similar fashion to those of the pre-trial detainee confessions. For example, Mr. Lee expressed remorse, thanked his prosecutors, and said he has seen the error of his ways. Because Mr. Lee is Taiwanese there was an extra element to this confession, a “message” to Taiwan from the CCP, an expression of support for cross-strait reunification from Mr. Lee’s lips. A sentiment that Mr. Lee, a pro-democracy activist, is highly unlikely to have made without being coerced.

 

The short clip of the trial of another victim of the 709 Crackdown, activist Wu Gan (吴淦), illustrates what the CCP has to resort to do when its prisoners resist.  Mr. Wu (who like Mr. Zhou was given a closed-door trial) refused to confess, and even according to his lawyer gave sarcastic thanks to the court for his sentencing. In the short clip that was released, we don’t see Mr. Wu speak, he just stands there, while the judges make their statements.

 

The televising of courtroom proceedings has a legal foundation, and appears to have really started in earnest around 2013 (although live broadcasts began back in 1998) and at about the same time as the pre-trial TV confession launched onto the scene and Xi Jinping became secretary general of the CCP. According to the People’s Courtroom Rules (Amendment 2015):

In any of the following situations, for trial activities that are conducted openly in accordance with law, the people’s courts may use television, the internet or other public media to broadcast or record images, audio or videos. (1) a high degree of public concern; (2) a larger social influence; (3) the value for legal publicity and education is quite strong. (Translation: China Law Translate).

Some trials are uploaded to a centralized website tingshen.court.gov.cn, which is surprisingly user friendly for a Chinese official website. It features a map of China, where the provinces/regions/municipalities are clickable to home in on the courthouse of one’s choice. The islands in the South China Sea and Taiwan are in there for good measure, but (as yet) not clickable.

While the number of broadcast trials may sound huge, 45,000 in 2013, that’s only a tiny fraction of the millions of cases heard throughout the year.

Corrupt officials

At about the same time as the pre-trial TV confessions were in full swing, CCTV began airing the confessions of CCP officials who were serving their sentences or had been charged with crimes of corruption. In October 2016, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDIC) partnered with CCTV to make Always on the Road (永遠在路上), an eight-part TV series. The black-and-white slick broadcast gives officials screen-time to repent and many broke down in tears. The series was also uploaded to the CDIC website.

While Always on the Road is flashier with post-production effects and music, there are parallels with the televised confessions studied in Scripted and Staged – they both feature the confessor being escorted by the police, signing a confession, and expressions of repentance. Their confessions focus on introspective self-criticisms, statements of regret and apologies to the CCP.

At the end of the miniseries, the People’s Daily published a poll asking people whose confession was the best?

 

Televised interviews

One of the key purposes of the televised confessions of detainees was to use their “confession” to denounce others. Even when the individual is free, they can be pressured with threats of being detained again or their family being harmed, to appear on television and denounce others.

For example in August 2016, rights lawyer Zhang Kai (张凯) said he was forced to appear on Phoenix TV to voice support for the trials of key 709 Crackdown lawyers — Zhou Shifeng (周世), Hu Shigen (胡石根) and Zhai Yanmin (翟岩). Later, Zhang used his Weibo account to say: “My elderly parents were living in fear and worry during the six months of detention in which I was held in darkness. [I was] powerless to resist the pressure imposed by a strong regime.”

One of the Hong Kong booksellers, Lee Bo (李波), also appeared on Phoenix TV after he had been released from detention in China to say that he had not been abducted by Chinese agents from Hong Kong and that he was considering giving up his British passport in an interview that many consider forced and untrue.

 

 

 

Social media

Weibo and WeChat, China’s two biggest social media platforms, have also emerged as popular platforms for confessions. While not, potentially, having the same audience numbers as TV, they remain an increasingly used channel that shares similarities with the confession broadcasts.

One of the biggest “confession” stories this year was in April  when Zhang Yiming (张一鸣), the founder and CEO of the Toutiao news app that fell foul of the authorities for allowing off-colour jokes on its platform, posted an “apology” on WeChat that shares language strikingly similar to the confessions.

In the same month, after the police had arrested several members of the National Tourism Chat (全国旅游群) WeChat group that raised money for political prisoners and their families, one of the founders, Dai Xiangnan (戴湘南), and also one of those who had been arrested, sent a “confession” message to the group. He said he was guilty of engaging in illegal fundraising activities, inciting others in the group to donate money and sign petitions, and disturbing social order. In the ensuing days, three more members also made similar confession statements to the group. At least three of those sent messages while in custody.

In a move which illustrates how “normal” public confessions have become in China – with no question as to their legal or ethical status, a pilot scheme in Dazhou, a city in Sichuan province, allows pedestrians, cyclists and scooter drivers who commit minor offences off  if they post a confession to their social media and it gets at least 20 likes.

 

Manipulated video

A new phenomenon in recent years is the CCP’s use of manipulated video to counter accusations against it. These are often circulated “unofficially”, uploaded anonymously or leaked to media. These heavily edited clips often include undated, unclear, and ambiguous footage. They also clearly violate the privacy rights of the people being filmed.

The most famous of these, are the repugnant series of videos which were released while China’s most famous dissident Liu Xiaobo was dying of liver cancer in prison. The first (which can be seen here) shows Mr. Liu in prison and in hospital, in an apparent effort to “prove” that he was being well treated. Shortly afterwards another upsetting video (which can be seen here) was aired showing the visit of two foreign doctors to Mr. Liu’s bedside. Germany later expressed their anger at the video’s release saying : “These recordings were made against the expressed wishes of the German side, which were communicated in writing prior to the visit.” Mr. Liu’s hurried funeral and burial at sea were also filmed and released.

Two more recent examples are a video of police detaining rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生)  as he took his son to school in January 2018. It was aired on The Paper (which also broadcast right lawyer Wang Yu’s (王宇) August 2016 forced confession). The time stamps are not smooth showing it has been heavily edited and likely as a means to delete footage showing police aggression towards Lawyer Yu.

In May, Beijing police released another heavily edited video to dispute accusations that a Hong Kong reporter had been roughed up by security agents as he attempted to cover rights lawyer Xie Yanyi’s (谢燕) hearing at a lawyer’s federation. In this case there was footage from bystanders and the TV station itself which showed the journalist being grabbed and pushed to the floor by five men – a remarkably different picture to the official clip.

 

China’s forced TV confessions report now out in Chinese

We are pleased to announce that the only in-depth study of China’s illegal TV confessions, Scripted and Staged, is now available in Chinese, allowing readers for the first time access to the testimony of Chinese victims in their original language.

This ground-breaking report, exposes the lies and the abuse behind China’s illegal practice of coercing detainees to confess on television and calls on governments to take steps to pressure China to abandon this practice, and put into place safeguards so that detainees are protected against such abuse in the future.

Download new Chinese version of Scripted and Staged here

Download original English version of Scripted and Staged here

 

Scripted and Staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions uses moving first-person testimonies and in-depth interviews to reveal:

  • how confessions are extracted through threats, torture, and fear;
  • how police dictate and direct confessions;
  • and, how they are often used as tools of propaganda for both domestic audiences and as part of China’s foreign policy.

Little more than a week after the publication of the English version of the report, which was covered by media across the globe from Iceland to Japan, and by The New York Times to Singapore’s The Strait’s Times, China broadcast yet another forced confession via its state media channel, CCTV. Two Chinese-Canadian twins, Chen Zhiyu and Chen Zhiheng, were shown “confessing” to forging documents for exiled Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui.

We are using the report to campaign for sanctions or restrictions on Chinese state media that broadcast these illegal and rights abusing confessions. This is an urgent issue right now as China aggressively expands its media overseas – the latest reports suggest CGTN (CCTV’s global arm) is planning to hire 350 new journalists for a massive new media centre in London.

 

RSDL round-up for May

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.”

 

New RSDL cases

CCP goes after lawyers’ licenses

First death in Liuzhi is reported

New evidence on Xinjiang’s political education camps

Pressure mounts for Liu Xia’s release as she says she wants to die

Two trials — Tashi Wangchuk and Qin Yongmin

 

New RSDL cases

At the end of last month, it was confirmed that well-known Hunanese rights activist Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志), who had disappeared at the end of April,  has been placed under RSDL at an unknown location. His daughter, who received his RSDL notice, said she believes he is being kept somewhere in Suzhou but has not been informed of his whereabouts. Suzhou police rejected Zhu’s lawyer’s request to visit his client. This is the second time that Zhu has been held under RSDL; his first spell was in January 2013, and his is thought to have been the first ever RSDL case after the custodial practice was legalized on 1 January 2013.

There are also reports that at the end of April, Nanjing-born human rights defender Wang Jian (王健) was moved into RSDL at an unknown location.  Police had detained him on 18 April on suspicion of “disorderly behaviour.”

 

CCP goes after lawyers’ licenses

Following the 709 Crackdown of 2015 against human rights lawyers – mass arrests, many disappeared into RSDL, with some ending in lengthy prison sentences — the CCP now appears to be trying to neutralize the remaining lawyers en masse by preventing them from working through the revoking of their licenses or blocking them from getting work at a law firm.  Lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) faces imminent revocation of his license, while this month Lawyer Wen Donghai (文东海), Xie’s own lawyer and Lawyer Li Heping (李和平) were notified that their licenses were being revoked.

 

In mid-May the Beijing Lawyers’ Association’s held a hearing on Lawyer Xie’s alleged violations during a case earlier this year for a Falun Gong client. In Beijing that day both Lawyer Xie and a Hong Kong journalist were roughed up and detained briefly outside by security. An account of that day, written by Lawyer Xie was posted on China Change.

 

First death in Liuzhi is reported

The first death under liuzhi (留置), a new custodial system in China over Communist Party members and government workers that is completely outside judicial control was reported on 8 May by Caixin. Chen Yong (陈勇), a former driver for the Jianyang district government in Fujian province died during an interrogation. His sister said they had identified the body but were shocked to see that his face was disfigured. Mr. Chen’s case highlights the fact that you do not currently have to be a CCP member or government worker to be detained under liuzhi – Chen left his job in 2016. No lawyer access is allowed under the system.

 

New evidence on Xinjiang’s political education camps

There has been a flurry of scholarly and journalistic efforts to provide more evidence of, and information on, the mass incarceration of Muslims (mainly Uighur) in political re-education camps in the Xinjiang region. The AP ran an interview with a former Kazakh inmate at one of these camps in which “hour upon hour, day upon day, … [detainees]… had to disavow their Islamic beliefs, criticize themselves and their loved ones and give thanks to the ruling Communist Party.”

The interview with Omir Bekali can be viewed below:

 

 

Scholar Adrian Zenz released his (pre-peer reviewed) paper which offers some of the most comprehensive evidence for the extent of these camps to date. With official silence on the very existence of these camps, Dr. Zenz uses government procurement and construction bids, budget reports and recruitment notices to give a fuller picture of what’s going on. He identified 73 separate bids for re-education facilities and estimates that anything between several hundred thousand and one million people have been disappeared into these camps.

Law student Shawn Zhang on Medium shares his research putting together satellite imagery to identify locations and the scale of these secretive camps. A summary of his results is given in this news report by the Jordanian newssite Al Bawaba. In a powerful opinion piece for the New York Times, Rian Thum writes: “The camps are also tools of punishment, and of course, a threat. Few detainees are formally charged, much less sentenced. Some are told how long a term they will serve; others are simply held indefinitely. This uncertainty — the arbitrary logic of detention — instills fear in the entire population.”

 

Pressure mounts for Liu Xia’s release as she says she wants to die

There have been growing calls for the release of Liu Xia (刘霞), the wife of deceased Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who has been under house arrest and effectively disappeared since her husband’s funeral last summer – although she has never been charged with a crime. In one phone call to a dissident friend living in exile in Germany at the beginning of the month, Ms. Liu, audibly weeping, said she would rather die than continue living under these conditions. “If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live,” she said.

A few weeks later, a joint campaign between Amnesty International and PEN in which international poets and writers quoted from Ms. Liu’s own writings, was launched to draw global attention to her case, urging for her release and arguing her continued incarceration was making her lose her mind. Meanwhile EU diplomats have been barred from seeing her and Germany says she is welcome any time.

The joint campaign:

 

 

Two trials – Tashi Wangchuk and Qin Yongmin

Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk, who campaigned for schools to teach in the Tibetan language was handed a five-year sentence for separatism in a court in Qinghai province. Chillingly, the New York Times video Tashi made to explain his campaign was used as evidence at the trial that he had “deliberately incited separatism by trying to discredit the government’s international image and treatment of ethnic minorities.” Tashi made it clear in that interview he was not seeking independence for Tibet, just a school where his niece could learn in her mother tongue.

Meanwhile, activist Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) fainted during his closed-door trial on 11 May. Mr. Qin was forcibly disappeared back in January 2015. Despite his ill health, Mr. Qin’s trial on subversion charges went ahead and his lawyers, who were afraid he may have died in the courtroom, were subsequently denied access to their client after the two-day trial.