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.”
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 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.