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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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:
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.