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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”