Foreigners, torture, and televised confessions: RSDLmonitor launches RSDL prisoner database

In the first ever database on the use of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), initial data shows that many victims were not from mainland China, were forced to appear in a televised confession and reported being subjected to torture.

These results come from RSDLmonitor’s long-term project to build up a detailed database on the use of RSDL. It will be used to explore how widely RSDL is being employed and what human rights violations – such as torture and lack of prosecutorial oversight – are being systematically abused. The database has 91 cases so far.

For more on how the database is being built and to contribute please click here.


Some initial results


  • About one third (or 29) of the 91 cases were handled in Beijing or Tianjin.
  • There were three grouped cases: Guangdong (a group of petitioners); Jiangsu (activists caught up during the 2016 G20 meeting); and Zhejiang (members of a house church).
  • So far, 20 confirmed cases were overseen by the Ministry of State Security (particularly those cases involving foreigners).



  • More than one third were investigated for Endangering State Security crimes; another 10 cases were connected to state or military secrets.
  • Another quarter were investigated for public order crimes. Although illegal under Chinese law, these RSDL cases had lawyer and family access and prosecutor oversight denied to the detainee.



  • Most victims of RSDL are men; just 15 women have been identified so far.
  • 10 of the 91 cases are not from mainland China (Sweden, UK, Canada, US, Taiwan and Hong Kong).



  • All except one of the 25 victims of RSDL that we have information on their treatment, were subjected to various degrees of mental or physical torture. Examples of tortures endured were: sleep deprivation, forced into stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and threats to loved ones. Less frequent but still common were: beatings, being shackled into painful positions, and threats to the victim, including death threats.
  • In 19 cases – that’s more than one in five, the victim was made to record a televised confession.
  • Another 26 victims reported that they were forced to fire their own choice of lawyer.
  • Of the 20 cases that provided information on prosecutor oversight, not a single one said they had received a visit.
  • Of the 50 cases that provided information on RSDL notification, 30 said their family had been given written notification – although often delayed – while another 11 said notification had only been verbal (in violation of the law). In another 10 cases, the family had not been notified at all.


The database

The database asks wide-ranging questions that cover basic data on the case (suspected crime, location, duration); treatment inside RSDL (forms of torture, lawyer and family access, forced confessions); the ministry responsible and outcomes; and post-RSDL (continued surveillance, physical and mental issues).  This is an ongoing project and will generate rich data on this grave human rights violation. For more details see below.

The database (which is not being made public because of security concerns for the participants) is compiled by soliciting victims or their families to complete a questionnaire and/or online research.

This research is important because neither the Chinese Supreme Court’s nor the Supreme Procurator’s official databases include more than the occasional entry for cases where RSDL has been employed. Furthermore, there is a tendency for human rights groups to only report on cases which involve human rights defenders. The state’s use of RSDL goes much wider than that.


Can you help?

Have you or someone you know been a victim of RSDL since it was legalized (1 January 2013)? If so, please contact RSDLmonitor at with any information, even if it’s just a name. All information will be kept strictly confidential. If it’s possible to fill in the questionnaire, you may download it here: (RSDL Questionnaire form (EN)).

The Chinese version of this questionnaire can be found on this page.

Details on the database

There are four data areas:

  • Dataset 1: Basic data on the victim: alleged crime, location of RSDL, date in, release date, duration and what form notification was given if any.
  • Dataset 2: Treatment inside RSDL: forms of maltreatment and torture, lawyer access, family notification of whereabouts, forced to relinquish rights to see own lawyer, and forced to record a TV confession.
  • Dataset 3: Data on law enforcement side: entry and exit points, ministry responsible (state security or domestic security), whether sent to trial, form of sentencing, form of release.
  • Dataset 4: Data on post-RSDL: house arrest, surveillance, and mental/physical consequences and treatment.

RSDL round-up for February

This is a monthly round-up of all news related to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) in China. It includes updates on victims, legal developments and commentary on China’s legalized practice of “Enforced Disappearances.”

Proposal to scrap presidential term limits

Lawyer Li Baiguang dies under mysterious circumstances

Two human rights reports out

Extra-legal detention camps in Xinjiang

Liuzhi – RSDL for officials

Gui Minhai makes third TV forced confession

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong suffers memory loss in jail


Proposal to scrap presidential term limits

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



Lawyer Li Baiguang dies under suspicious circumstances

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



Two human rights reports out

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



Extra-legal detention camps in Xinjiang

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




Liuzhi – RSDL for officials

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




Gui Minhai makes third forced TV confession

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




Lawyer Jiang Tianyong suffers memory loss in jail

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




RSDL round-up for January

This is a monthly round-up of all news related to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) in China. It includes updates on victims, legal developments and commentary on China’s legalized practice of “Enforced Disappearances.”


Yu Wensheng in RSDL

The second kidnapping of Gui Minhai

Wu Gan appeals sentence

In profile — Zhen Jianghua and Wang Quanzhang

Travel – Wang Yu’s son and Lee Ming-che’s wife

The National Supervision Commissions are coming

Lawyers lose licenses – Sui Muqing and Yu Wensheng


Yu Wensheng in RSDL

We start with one of the biggest RSDL stories in January, the detention and then subsequent disappearance of rights lawyer Yu Wensheng into RSDL. Following his detention on 19 January on charges of  disturbing public service when he was walking his son to  school in Beijing, Lawyer Yu was then placed into RSDL under the control of a PSB branch on the eastern coast of the country, Tongshan District in Jiangsu Province on the much more serious charges of inciting state subversion. Hours before his initial arrest, Yu had published online a call for constitutional reform. The transfer of his case to the other side of the country is a common tactic used by the authorities to limit the support a victim of RSDL can get from family and friends far away (in this case Yu’s support base is Beijing).


The second kidnapping of Gui Minhai

The other big story of the month was the second disappearance of Swedish publisher Gui Minhai on January 20 in front of two Swedish consular officials as they were travelling by train to Beijing. Gui was supposed to be seeing a doctor at the Swedish embassy after he had been diagnosed with signs of ALS (a debilitating neurological disease) but police boarded the train and took Gui away. No official news about this case has so far been released. Gui was originally kidnapped by Chinese security agents from his home in Thailand, kept in RSDL and other forms of detention until October 2017 when he was released under intense surveillance to an apartment in Ningbo. On his blog, Jerome Cohen, writes that this bizarre arrest may be a sign of a struggle between various power bases.


“What may have happened is that the local security police in Ningbo may have approved Gui’s trip to Beijing for medical reasons… but the central authorities… may have panicked at the possibility that Gui might seek embassy asylum… There may also have been, and still might be, a struggle between the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security concerning jurisdiction over Gui.”


Meanwhile, at the end of the month, Gui was awarded the IPA Prix Voltaire for his “bravery in continuing to publish despite the risks involved.”


Wu Gan appeals sentence

At the end of December last year, outspoken human rights activist, Wu Gan, was sentenced to eight years for subversion, the harshest sentence of all the victims of the 709 Crackdown that have so far been brought to trial. On 8 January, his lawyers submitted an appeal arguing for his release on the grounds that his speeches and writings fall “within his civil rights” and that thinking about subverting the state is not a crime. An English translation of that appeal was published by China Change. In an opinion piece in the Financial Times, Jamil Anderlini argued that in singling out Wu with this especially severe sentence, the Chinese Communist Party has “legitimised him and his work in a way nothing else could have.”


In profile — Zhen Jianghua and Wang Quanzhang

Two victims of RSDL were profiled on the China Change website this month. The first, Zhen Jianghua, was placed into RSDL last December; the only notification of this transfer was a phone call to his lawyer. This news wasn’t widely reported at the time. Zhen, who is in his early 30s, ran a human rights NGO in Guangdong Province. He had long expected to be detained and made preparations:


“For several years, he only wore black: two sets of black t-shirts, two pairs of black shoes. Every night before bed, he did 50 push-ups, 50 squats, and 50 chin-ups… He also signed multiple blank copies of Power of Attorney, and gave them to friends. His Google account was set to automatically purge everything if he didn’t log in for two days.”


As the days go by – well over 920 now – since lawyer Wang Quanzhang disappeared back in 2015, China Change published a profile of Wang, pointing out he is the last remaining lawyer from the 709 Crackdown. Family members, friends and lawyers were unable to meet with him or deposit money for Wang to buy food at the First Detention Centre in Tianjin, where he is officially being detained.



“That Wang Quanzhang must have suffered the worst for refusing to yield is the consensus shared by the human rights community. Some fear that he may have been so physically debilitated that the authorities are now hiding him. Some worry that he’s already dead.”



Travel – Wang Yu’s son and Lee Ming-che’s wife

Some good news, Bao Zhuoxuan, the son of human rights lawyer Wang Yu, has finally been allowed to go to Australia for study almost three years after his first attempt. Bao first tried to go to Australia for school in July 2015, when his parents were both caught up in the 709 Crackdown. However, the wife of Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-che serving a five-year sentence for subversion was stopped from boarding her flight to China to see him on the grounds she did not have valid travel documents. China cancelled her permit last year.


The National Supervision Commissions are coming

There has been a flurry of commentary about China’s proposed National Supervision Commissions (NSC) – an all-powerful anti-corruption system that is likely to broaden and further systematize RSDL for corruption suspects. On ChinaFile, Stanley Lubman writes if the law is passed to establish the NSCs, which could be as early as this March, it would give “the Party new powers to punish Chinese citizens outside the formal legal system.” The Commissions would not even have to abide by the Criminal Procedure Law.  On February 1, The Diplomat suggests the NSCs are a done deal, since provincial level directors have already been appointed.


“According to the draft law, the NSC will be placed above the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Not even the State Council will be able to supervise the NSC.”


Lawyers lose licenses – Sui Muqing and Yu Wensheng

Three rights lawyers lost their licenses this month. First, Yu Wensheng –before his detention (see above) — received a letter on 15 January saying his license had been revoked because he had not been employed by a legal firm for six months (he had been denied permission to set up his own legal firm earlier). Ten days later, Sui Muqing, who is the author of one of the first-person accounts of RSDL in our book The People’s Republic of the Disappeared also said he had been notified that his license had been revoked. Sui said he is clearly being punished for taking human rights interest cases. Revoking licenses has long been a tactic of the Party to neutralize human rights lawyers. Also in January, China Change provided a wrap-up of more than half a dozen rights lawyers who have been targeted in this way in the past few months.

Submission to UN group on Enforced Disappearances on Yu Wensheng

On 1 February 2018, RSDLMonitor submitted a communication to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on Chinese lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生). An edited version of this communication can be found below.


On Yu Wensheng: Yu (male) was born in Beijing, China. He passed the bar exam in 1999, and has been practicing law in Beijing since 2002. Yu rose to prominence within the rights defense community for representing politically sensitive cases, assisting other persecuted lawyers, and for his high-profile advocacy for political reform.

On his disappearance: Yu was detained by Beijing police on 19 January 2018. By 24 January, Beijing police claimed his case had been transferred to another branch, but refused to say which. On 27 January, his wife was shown a document stating that Yu had been placed under ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’ under Tongshan PSB, Xuzhou City, Jiangsu Province.

On current situation: Yu stands accused of ‘inciting subversion of state power’, a crime under the category of ‘endangering state security’. This means the police have the right to conceal his whereabouts, deny access to family and legal counsel, and to keep him  incommunicado. He can legally be kept in RSDL for six months, and will likely be held in solitary confinement. No court approval is needed for RSDL.

Of concern. Based on information from prior victims of RSDL, especially within the rights defense community, and those accused of ‘endangering state security’, it is very likely that Yu will be kept in prolonged solitary confinement, be kept incommunicado, be denied oversight and supervision by the prosecutors office, and that he will face physical and mental torture.


Edited for brevity and clarity for general readership





(a) * Family name(s): Yu (余)

(b) Given names(s): Wensheng (文生)

(d) Sex: male

(e) Occupation/profession: Lawyer

ID information removed.

(g) Date of birth: 1967-11-11

(h) Place and country of birth: Beijing, China

(k) Nationality or nationalities: Chinese



(a) * Date of arrest, abduction or disappearance 

  •  Detention January 19 (2018), 06.30am.
  • Disappearance Jan 24-28 (2018), exact date, time unknown.


(b) * Place of arrest, abduction or where the disappearance occurred


Detention. Yu was detained by Beijing City, Shijingshan District, Public Security Bureau, i.e., Police (PSB) along with a SWAT team on the parking lot next to Gusheng Road, Shijingshan District, Beijing at roughly 06.30am, January 19 (2018). At the time, he was walking his 13-year-old son to school. Yu was taken to Shijingshan District Police Station and charged with “disrupting public service”.


Disappearance. Police at Shijingshan District Detention Center (石景山区看守所) holding Yu told lawyers on January 24, and again on January 25 and 26, that his case had been transferred to another organ, and thus Yu was no longer under their control. They refused to provide any other information.


On the evening of January 27, Beijing PSB accompanied by the Tongshan District PSB, Xuzhou City in Jiangsu Province, searched Yu’s home between 9pm and 1am the next morning. Xu Yan (许艳), Yu’s wife, was present. During the search on the house, Tongshan District PSB gave Xu a document stating Yu had been placed under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) under their authority, and his charge had been changed to “inciting subversion of state power” (Article 105 of China’s Criminal Code), which is categorized as a crime of endangering national security. This document did not indicate where Yu was being held and neither was Xu told, then or since.


— Note on RSDL

‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’ is a compulsory measure police can take against a suspect that does not require court approval (Article 72 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law or CPL) and takes place outside of a detention center or case-handling area. The suspect can be kept under RSDL for up to six months.


The police may refuse the person access to legal counsel (Article 37, Paragraph 3 of the CPL) and they may also refuse to notify the family of the whereabouts of the person (Article 83 of the CPL) if the charges against them fall under the category of endangering national security.


The legal requirement on RSDL oversight stipulated in the Provisions on People’s Procuratorates’ Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location, only states (Article 17) that the procuratorate may conduct visits to supervise the use of RSDL on the suspect and speak with the suspect and that such supervision should not impede the investigation (Article 19). Police have the authority to determine whether such supervision would impede the investigation.


If these exceptions of endangering national security are invoked, the family of someone being held under RSDL will not be notified of their location nor will the suspect have access to a lawyer for the entire duration of RSDL. Furthermore, there will be no oversight from the procuratorate. Based on the prior use of RSDL, this means the detainee will be held in solitary confinement and may also be subjected to physical and mental torture during this period.

Further actions relevant to the case.


The same day as Yu’s detention (January 19), Shijingshan District PSB searched both Yu’s home and his office where they confiscated computers, documents, and cell phones.


On January 27, police again raided Yu’s family home. At around 9pm that day, the electricity to the house was cut. When Xu Yan (Yu’s wife) and their son went outside to check, the police (officers from both Shijingshan and Tongshan Districts PSBs) stormed the apartment. They confiscated their mobile phones and spent the next four hours searching the house and confiscating other materials until 1am the next morning (January 28). In violation of Article 138 of the CPL, they did not ask Xu to sign a record of the search. Furthermore, they did not provide Xu with a list of all materials confiscated for inspection and signature, nor give her a copy of such a list, in violation of Article 140 of the CPL.


During the search, Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) officers gave Xu a notice stating that Yu had been placed under RSDL. The notice also said his charge had been changed to “inciting subversion of state power” and that he was now under the jurisdiction of Tongshan District PSB.


At the end of the search, Shijingshan District PSB also summoned Xu related to charges of “inciting subversion of state power”.  She was taken to Guang Ning Police Station, Shijingshan District, Beijing, where she was interrogated overnight and again in the morning the next day.


Around 2pm that day, January 28, police took Xu home and again searched the house. This time they collected a number of Yu’s files related to religious cases as well official United Nations materials. At that point, Xu was released, but in violation of Article 84 of the CPL, Xu was neither shown nor given a release notice.


Note: Although the document stating that Yu had been placed under RSDL was dated January 27, 2018, police at the Shijingshan District Detention Center (石景山区看守所) said on January 24, 2018 that Yu’s case had been transferred to another organ, and thus Yu was no longer under their control.


(c) * Date  when  the  person  was  last  seen


Around 0630am, January 19, 2018 (his 13-year-old son, witnessed his father being detained by police on Gusheng Road, Shijingshan District, Beijing City).


Yu’s last known whereabouts, according to the detention warrant, was Shijingshan District Detention Center (石景山区看守所).


(d) * Place where the person was last seen


Same as answer to 2(c) above.


(e) Please, provide a full description of how the disappearance took place 


Around 20 police officers from Beijing Shijingshan District PSB, and members of a SWAT team, surprised and surrounded Yu and his son, at around 0630am on January 19, 2018 as he was walking his son to school.


A physical encounter between Yu and the police officers then ensued. Yu was placed into a vehicle and driven off. The son rushed home to their apartment to tell his mother what had happened.


(f) * State or State-supported forces believed to be responsible for the disappearance.


Official documents state that Yu Wensheng’s initial detention was carried out by the Beijing City, Shijingshan District PSB. His subsequent transfer to RSDL was under the authority of Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) in Jiangsu Province. This was likely only possible with approval and coordination by a higher-level police authority. Yu’s case has no direct connection with Xuzhou, and the reason for this transfer is also likely because the police want his case to be handled far from Beijing, where Yu was born and has been living and working, and thus has a support network. 

The disappearance of Yu Wensheng stands in violation of numerous counts of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance


By refusing to acknowledge the whereabouts of Yu after placement in RSDL, Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) stands in violation of Article 2. By refusing to state to which organ Yu has been transferred to Beijing Shijingshan PSB also stand in violation of the same Article.


The denial of his whereabouts per definition makes his detention secret, in direct violation of Article 17, Paragraph 1.


Lawyers and his family have been denied the right to communicate with Yu in any form, in violation of Article 17, Paragraph 2, Subsections D, E and F.


By concealing Yu’s current whereabouts, Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) are in violation of Article 17, Paragraph 3, Subsection E, while Beijing Shijingshan PSB is in violation of Subsection H. Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) is also in violation of Article 18, Paragraph 1, Subsection B, while Beijing Shijingshan PSB is in violation of Subsection D.


(g) If identification as State agents is not possible, please indicate why you believe that Government authorities, or persons linked to them, may be responsible for the incident.


Official documents and his son’s testimony are evidence that Yu Wensheng is under the custody of Chinese police.

  • Beijing Shijingshan PSB was the authority for Yu’s initial detention.
  • Beijing Shijingshan PSB and Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City) raided Yu’s home and office.
  • The notice on Yu’s RSDL placement is from Tongshan District PSB (Xuzhou City).


(h) If there are witnesses to the incident, please provide their names and relation to the victim. If they wish to remain anonymous, indicate if they are relatives, by-standers, or others. If there is evidence, please specify.


Yu’s son, witnessed the initial detention on January 19, 2018. Police showed his wife, Xu Yan, her husband’s detention warrant on January 20 and later the document stating he had been transferred into RSDL on January 27.


 (i) Additional Information on the case. Please indicate any other relevant information that could be useful to find the person.


About Yu Wensheng: Yu is one of China’s most well-known lawyers. He passed the bar exam in 1999 and has been working as a lawyer since 2002. Yu was detained twice before, in 2014 and 2015. He attempted to file a lawsuit against Beijing PSB for the torture he endured during his 99-day detention in 2014.


In mid-2017, Yu’s application to renew his lawyer license was rejected after he tried to represent fellow lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who disappeared in July 2015. On January 12, 2018, his application to set up a new law firm was rejected, because he had publicly expressed opposition to leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.


On January 15, 2018, his lawyer license was revoked, on the grounds that he had not been employed by a law firm for six months (note: in China, you cannot be employed as a lawyer by a law firm without a valid lawyer license).


On January 18, 2018, the day before his detention, he posted an open letter online calling for political reform.




* Indicate any action taken taken by the relatives or others to locate the person. You are required to state the following: when, by whom, and before which organ the actions were taken.


(a) Complaints

Between January 19 and January 26, seven (7) different lawyers, several of whom have written powers of attorney to represent Yu, visited the Shijingshan District Detention Center (石景山区看守所) for a total of nine (9) times. All were denied access to Yu either because the detention center was closed or that the visit had not been given prior approval. On January 24 (and again on January 25 and January 26) the center said his case had been transferred to another organ.


(b) Other steps taken

Xu Yan, Yu Wensheng’s wife, visited Shijingshan District Detention Center several times, requesting permission to see her husband and to deposit funds for his use inside the detention center. Both requests were denied.

RSDL round-up for December

This is a monthly round-up of all news related to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) in China. It includes updates on victims, legal developments and commentary on China’s legalized practice of “Enforced Disappearances.”


Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers

Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years

Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers

Hong Kong victims of RSDL

Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state


Verdicts for two more 709 lawyers


On 26 December, the trials of lawyer Xie Yang and human rights activist Wu Gan, two of the more prominent victims of RSDL and the 709 crackdown (a politically-motivated purge of human rights lawyers that began in summer 2015), were finally held, 2.5 years after they had first been disappeared. While Wu was handed a harsh sentence of eight years for subversion, widely thought to be punishment for ridiculing officials and his strident refusal to confess, Xie Yang, accused of the lesser crime of incitement to subversion, was released without punishment because he had earlier confessed. Wu Gan’s eight-year sentence is the harshest handed down so far to the victims of the 709 crackdown; according to an eyewitness he mocked the court after the verdict.


I am “grateful to the Party for granting me this lofty honor… I will remain true to our original aspiration, roll up my sleeves and make an extra effort,” Wu reportedly said, a sarcastic reference to Xi’s frequent overtures to Party members.


While Xie’s sentencing was broadcast on the court’s Weibo (watch it here), Wu’s was a closed trial and no live video was released. Chinachange noted that a short clip released later of Wu’s trial had been doctored with footage from a hearing recorded in the summer, testament to their inability to control the outspoken activist.


Wang Quanzhang, the last lawyer left

For China Law & Policy, Elizabeth Lynch points out after Xie and Wu there is still one more lawyer unaccounted for, Wang Quanzhang.


Neither his wife, family, nor the lawyers hired by his family have been able to meet with him and no trial has been set for Wang… While Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s fates will be known tomorrow, it is the unknown of what is happening to Wang Quanzhang – and why – that is most alarming. Denied access to lawyers, unable to meet with family, no speedy trial, how is this a country with a rule of law?


Radio Free Asia reported on 6 December that two lawyers appointed by his family were not allowed to visit him at his Tianjin detention centre. As Wang languishes in detention, he was one of three finalists for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip Award for individuals or organizations that use innovative ways to promote human rights. He has also been nominated for the Frontline Defenders 2018 Human Rights Award.


Meanwhile, Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Citizen Award on 9 December for continuing to campaign for her husband inside China. Our book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, is dedicated to Lawyer Wang.



Taiwan NGO worker Lee gets five years


At the end of November, a Chinese court sentenced Taiwanese NGO worker, Lee Ming-che, to five years for “subverting state power.” Lee was kidnapped by Chinese security back in March as he crossed from Macau into the mainland, but he was not formally charged until May and had no access to his family members until his trial in September. It was the first time that a Taiwanese national was prosecuted on this charge in China and was widely interpreted as a threat both to Taiwan and overseas NGO workers in the country.


Xi proposes new anti-corruption super agency with RSDL powers


Also at the end of November, the New York Times reported that Chinese president Xi Jinping was proposing to set up “a new anticorruption agency with sweeping powers to sidestep the courts and lock up anyone on the government payroll for months without access to a lawyer ” – a kind of special RSDL for officials. The move looks odd when just a month ago, Xi had pledged to scrap a similar secretive security system, called shuanggui ­ which oversees Party members. Xi’s new anti-corruption agency would have jurisdiction over the whole public sector, the newspaper added, of up to 62 million people, many of whom are not Party members.


Hong Kong victims of RSDL


Returning to the theme of non-mainland victims of RSDL, in One Country, Two Prison Systems, Hong Kong Free Press focused on Hong Kongers caught up in China’s murky legal system. Two RSDL victims, bookseller Lam Wing-kee and journalist Ching Cheong told the website about their horrific experiences of RSDL. Lam said the constant interrogations and berating made him “contemplate suicide,” while Ching was kept in “solitary confinement, in a room sealed with black curtains for 100 days.”



Concerns for Liu Xia’s mental state


There have been mounting concerns over the health of Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Prize wining dissident Liu Xiaobo. On 17 December, The Guardian reports that she sent a letter in the form of a poem to writer Herta Mueller in which she says she is “going mad.” Liu Xiaobo himself was a victim of an earlier form of RSDL, while for years Liu Xia was kept a virtual prisoner even though she was never charged with a crime and since her husband’s death this summer, she has effectively been disappeared by the Chinese state.


“I have not the right to speech

To speak loudly

I live like a plant

I lie like a corpse.” Liu Xia.

RSDL Resources

residential surveillance at a designated location

Legal name: Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (or Place); RSDL; and in Chinese, 指定居所监视居住

Well-known victims: Ai Weiwei, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, Wang Yu, the Hong Kong booksellers, Peter Dahlin, Lee Ming-che

Related human rights issues: Torture, threats to family, denial of access to  lawyer,  forced medication, sleep and food deprivation, delayed sentencing, forced confessions pre-trial and at trial, secret trial, delayed trial, and non-release release



  • RSDL in Chinese law (articles 72 to 77 are relevant): ChinaLawTranslate,: Criminal Procedure Law (2012), 8 April 2013
  • Oversight of RSDL in Chinese law: ChinaLawTranslate: Provisions on People’s Procuratorates’ Oversight of Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location,  14 July 2016
  • Enforced disappearances in international law: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner:International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances
  • Elizabeth M Lynch: China Law & PolicyCodifying Illegality? The Case of Jiang Tianyong, 20 January 2017
  • Jerome Cohen: Jerry’s Blog:Disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer: what it means to be placed under “residential surveillance” in China, 26 December 2016
  • Margaret K. Lewis: China Law and Policy:Who Will Be Watched: Margaret K. Lewis on China’s New CPL & Residential Surveillance , 25 September 2015


  •  Does China’s New Detention Law Matter, China Digital Times, 13 March 2013
  • What You Need to Know About China’s ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place’, Yaqiu Wang, Chinachange, 2 August 2015
  • New Type of Detention Marks China’s Intensifying Crackdown on Civil Society, Jojje Olsson, Taiwan Sentinel, 15 May 2017
  • Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place, Wikipedia
  • Arrested, Detained: A Guide to Navigating China’s Police Powers, Stanley Lubman, Wall Street Journal, 12 August 2014


Human rights reviews & reports

  • Congressional-Executive Commission on China annual reports, 2016 and 2017 include dedicated sections on RSDL under Criminal Justice chapter
  • Prevention of Torture: concerns with the use of ‘residential confinement in a designated residence’, report by the Rights Practice in relation to the fifth periodic report from China, submitted to the Committee Against Torture, 56 Session, Sep- Dec 2015


Victim stories

  • CHRD update on arbitrary detention and torture of Chinese lawyer Xie Yang, China Human Rights Defenders, 20 February 2017
  • China lawyer recounts torture under Xi’s ‘war on law’, John Sudworth, BBC, 26 October 2017
  • The disappeared: Accounts from inside China’s secret prisons, Chieu Luu and Matt Rivers, CNN, 27 November 2017



  • Legalizing the Tools of Repression, Nicholas Bequelin, The New York Times, 29 February 2012
  • China’s secret detention of lawyers threatens the rule of law, William Nee, Hong Kong Free Press, 29 September 2015
  • The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, Michael Caster, The Diplomat, 6 December 2015




United Nations Treaties and Bodies 

A number of UN treaties and their associated bodies (with which complaints can be filed) cover the human rights violations associated with RSDL. They are:

China status: not a signatory

China status: signed, but not ratified

China status: ratified.




Chinese edition of the book now out, what the media have been saying

Updated 2 January 2018. Two weeks after its launch in English, the Chinese language edition of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared was published for the first time today. The Chinese edition is available from this website in PDF and MOBI versions, for free, and also as paperback for U.S, U.K., Europe and more at Amazon.


The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, with a foreword by Dr. Teng Biao, provides a comprehensive and chilling portrait of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) through the first-person accounts of 11 of its victims.


The English language edition is aimed at a global readership and focused on raising attention about this grave and little understood human rights violation. The target audience of this new Chinese edition is Chinese citizens – human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, bloggers, and, most crucially, their families – to help them better understand and prepare for the possibility of themselves becoming victims.


In the two weeks since its English-language release, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared has garnered some impressive reviews and coverage. Here is a sample:

  • The New York Times called the stories in the book “rare in detail,” describing RSDL as “a widespread practice of whisking people into secret detention — ‘disappearing’ them into a labyrinth where China’s stunted legal protections can do little to prevent abuse.”
  • South China Morning Post reviews the book, saying “At just over 200 pages, the book can almost be finished in one sitting, but it would make for a very heavy session.”
  • Radio France International’s Spotlight ran an extensive interview with the book’s editor Michael Caster, who spoke about how the legalization of RSDL demonstrates China’s “chilling reliance on enforced disappearances.”
  • ABC radio interviewed The People’s Republic of the Disappeared editor, Michael Caster. He talked about the key victims of RSDL – front-line rights defenders in China, how they help others to defend their rights, and why they are so feared by the state.
  • Kong Tsung-gan‘s annual “Best human rights books of the year” for 2017 listed The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: “Reading this is like taking a direct glimpse at the cruelty and brutality that are the heart of Communist Party rule.”
  • Veteran scholar of Chinese law, Jerome A. Cohen, featured The People’s Republic of the Disappeared on his blog  calling it a “noteworthy” and “deserving” book.
  • Hong Kong Free Press ran both an opinion piece on Wang Quanzhang by Peter Dahlin, the author of one of the first-person accounts in The People’s Republic of the Disappeared and ran an extract from Wang Yu’s chapter in that book.
  • QUARTZ  focused on our chapter written by Wang Yu, covering the abuses she suffered under RSDL such as being forced to strip and taunting her about her son’s safety, and why she finally agreed to write about her terrible ordeal.
  • CNN ran a longer piece titled The Disappeared both on TV and in webprint, after a year’s work interviewing several of the people whose full accounts appear in the book.






book cover

14 November 2017 – Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) is China’s attempt to mask its systematic use of enforced disappearances of human rights defenders behind the veneer of the rule of law. Under RSDL, the state can take anyone, deny them access to a lawyer, and refuse the outside world any information about their fate or whereabouts for up to six months. The state Prosecutor is even denied the right to visit the victim or provide oversight against maltreatment. Torture is common. There is no legal review or appeal. Once inside RSDL, you simply disappear.

“You are now under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location.
Your only right is to obey.”
from Chapter 7, Xie Yang

The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, with a foreword by Dr. Teng Biao, provides a comprehensive and chilling portrait of RSDL through the first-person accounts of 11 of its victims. Wang Yu, the renowned rights defense lawyer, kidnapped in the middle of the night, speaks for the first time about her six month’s of disappearance. Tang Zhishun, taken in Myanmar and illegally brought back to China, laughs at the absurdity of being charged with subversion. One author recounts being forced to sing the national anthem naked in his cell, while another tells how the police threatened him with permanent disappearance.

Through these 11 stories, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared charts the common experiences of abuse inside RSDL, from prolonged solitary confinement, extended sleep and food deprivation, and beatings, to the use of threats against loved ones. It portrays a system designed with one intention: to break you. The book concludes with a comprehensive analysis of relevant domestic Chinese and international law.

China’s normalization of enforced disappearances is a direct challenge to the international human rights system. The world’s media have so far effectively ignored RSDL, and in China itself even many rights defenders remain uncertain about what it really is. This book will change that.


A “noteworthy” and “deserving” book.

Jerome A. Cohen, Professor at New York University (School of Law)


…the most comprehensive collective portrait to date, Disappeared compiles powerful first-person accounts.

Terence Halliday, Co-Director of Center on Law and Globalization, American Bar Foundation


…eye-opening and courageous. …help you better understand the Middle Kingdom.

June Cheng, WORLD magazine


…a very heavy [reading] session.

Kate Whitehead, South China Morning Post


The narrators tell of physical and psychological abuse, beatings and sleep deprivation, humiliations, isolation… rare in their detail.

Steven Lee Meyer, the New York Times


“Direct and compelling, these first-person accounts give us a sense of the terrors…”
Eva Pils, King’s College London


…this book is a necessary eye opener. …will add depth and clarity.

Yaxue Cao, Director of


…a profoundly important book. If you want to understand China beneath the dollar signs and infrastructure projects, read this book.

Benedict Rogers, Deputy Chair of [UK] Conservative Party Human Rights Committee, founder of Hong Kong Watch


…essential reading for academics and journalists, governments and nonprofit workers. …worthwhile reading for anyone studying authoritarian regimes and the struggle for human rights.

Magnus Fiskesjö, Professor at Cornell University


…reading this is like taking a direct glimpse at the cruelty and brutality that are the heart of Communist Party rule.

Kong Tsung-gan, Medium, The Best Human Rights Books of 2017

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