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.”
Before we start this month’s round-up, a quick recap of what RSDLMonitor has been doing: On 10 April we released our in-depth report, Scripted and Staged: behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions which attracted intense media interest, and has sparked a discussion on how journalists should ethically report this human rights abuse here (CDT) and in this piece by Swedish scholar Magnus Fiskesjö here (Made in China). Alarmingly, less than two weeks after the release of our report, Chinese state TV broadcast yet another confession, this time of two Chinese brothers, thought to both have Canadian citizenship, linked to the case of Chinese tycoon Guo Wengui.
On 19 April, exactly three months after being scooped off the street by a police SWAT team, Lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was formally charged with inciting subversion of state power and obstructing public service. His formal arrest is an indication his period of RSDL was over, finally allowing him access to legal counsel. When the two lawyers appointed by his family were apparently dismissed by Lawyer Yu, his wife then released videos (and below) of her husband indicating that he was likely tortured or threatened to force him to fire his lawyers, or that Lawyer Yu’s signature was forged. The videos, recorded last year, show Lawyer Yu saying that the only reason he would accept government-appointed lawyers would be if he was tortured.
As Lawyer Yu faces a possible 10 years in jail, ABC’s Bill Birtles remembers how Yu Wensheng was one of the only lawyers brave enough to speak out back in 2016. When he asked Lawyer Yu if it was dangerous for him to do so, Mr. Birtles remembers him saying: “It doesn’t matter.” He was “jovial, very forthright and extremely passionate about advocating for a rule of law,” he said.
After disappeared human rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang (余文生) passed the 1,000 day mark in incommunicado detention, his wife Li Wenzu (李文足) and supporters began a protest march from Beijing where she lives to the No.2 Detention Centre in Tianjin, where Lawyer Wang is supposed to be held to demand information about his condition. Less than a week into the march, police forced everyone to return to Beijing and for a day or so Ms. Li was kept under house arrest. According to a ChinaChange translation of her second day she wrote: “The plainclothes police at the door told us that if we go out the door, they will kill us.” Ms. Li remains defiant telling RFA that : “I definitely won’t stop speaking out … for as long as Wang Quanzhang doesn’t come home and the authorities fail to deal with his case according to law.” Curiously, at the end of April, Tianjin police travelled across the country to Kunming to question Lawyer Lin Qinlei (蔺其磊) about an old court case connected with Lawyer Wang.
Finally signs the US may take action against grave human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang region. In mid-April, a top US official said they were considering using the Magnitsky Act to sanction Chinese officials for a brutal crackdown on local Muslims, including the detention of at least tens of thousands of people into political re-education camps where they can be held indefinitely completely outside the judicial process. “The U.S. was particularly concerned about the detained family members of six journalists — four U.S. citizens and two U.S. permanent residents who have reported on Xinjiang” for RFA.
This month the list of named people sent to these camps continues to lengthen, including a government official for expressing sympathy for prisoners and professor and poet Abdulqadir Jalaleddin from Urumqi.
A detailed report from AFP at the end of April exposed how one work team (usually made up of officials or university staff) that was tasked to investigate suspect villagers would interrogate families as well as spread propaganda and do some poverty alleviation work. “The work team is resolute,” one university team wrote on social media. “We can completely take the lid off Akeqie Kanle [a village in Xinjiang], look behind the curtain, and eradicate its tumours.” In just a few months, 100 adults in that village (1/5 of its population) were bundled off to the camps. “The detentions have become so widespread that schools offer support programmes for children with missing parents, and work teams help those left behind with heavy farm chores.” Even so, the report adds, local officials are worried about rising resentment for the unceasing political persecution.
As expected, rights activist Wu Gan (吴淦) who was dealt the harshest sentence of all those swept up in the 709 Crackdown, failed in his attempt to overturn his verdict – eight years for incitement to subvert state power. The Tianjin Higher People’s upheld the original verdict on April 17. His lawyers had argued that Mr. Wu had only thought about subverting the state, and thoughts were not a crime.
In a case very similar to Lawyer Yu Wensheng’s above, online activist Zhen Jianghua’s (甄江华) lawyers were also dismissed in mid-April. In Mr. Zhen’s case, he had given written testimony before his detention that he would never voluntarily dismiss his choice of legal counsel or accept government-apoointed lawyers. Frontline Defenders reports that Mr. Zhen has been in incommunicado detention (including RSDL) since 2 September 2017.