U.S. should impose Magnitsky Act sanctions against China’s human rights violators

Jerome A. Cohen

Amnesty has just issued a plea for urgent action on behalf of what remains of lawyer Jiang Tianyong. Amnesty’s announcement seems understated despite the large cap title. Jiang is exposed to more than the “imminent risk of torture and other ill-treatments”. He has in actuality long been suffering from such abuse that is designed to break him as a person, to destroy him both mentally and physically. And, as we know from many cases including those of Gao Zhisheng and Wang Quanzhangthis calculated campaign to end China’s human rights lawyering seems to be gradually thinning the ranks of human rights lawyers. The many, sometimes bizarre, procedural violations in Jiang’s case are a reminder of the realities of Chinese justice when it comes to those who challenge the regime. His captors should be investigated on charges of what may well amount to “attempted murder”.

I know Jiang but have never cooperated with Wang Quanzhang, whose case appears to be even more outrageous. After three years of absolute silence about Wang’s fate the Party has reportedly decided to finally bring him to “trial” in the near future but his mental and physical condition are both in doubt, and he has not been allowed to retain his own lawyer but must accept a government-selected one.

Despite Chinese Government maneuvers to gain control over the international human rights institutions and the current relative indifference of the U.S. Government to human rights issues, greater efforts must be made to try to stop the PRC campaign against human rights lawyers. One important, if largely symbolic, response would be for the U.S. to impose Magnitsky Act sanctions against those Chinese officials who are directly responsible for executing this notorious campaign, starting at the top of the Communist Party.

Chinese police's recent re-detention of Swedish Citizen Gui Minhai: What’s the story?

By Jerome A. Cohen

Gui Minhai. Photo: Hong Kong Free Press, screenshot/CCTV.

The recent Chinese police re-detention of Mr. GUI Minhai, a Swedish citizen, when he was on the train with Swedish diplomats escorting him to Beijing, deserves more public attention than it has received. China’s action must be questioned and protested by the international community, as argued by last week’s Washington Post editorial, China’s violation of rights grows ever more brazen.   

The People’s Republic of China leaves itself open to condemnation by failing to give a public explanation of its dramatic and unusual deprivation of Gui’s freedom. This is probably because there has been some disagreement or lack of coordination in the PRC government’s control of Gui. What may have happened is that the local security police in Ningbo may have approved Gui’s trip to Beijing for medical reasons, as apparently it had approved his Shanghai trips to the Swedish Consulate there. But the central authorities, when they learned of the plan, may have panicked at the possibility that Gui might seek embassy asylum, as the blind barefoot lawyer CHEN Guangcheng did in 2012, and decided to detain Gui again to prevent that possibility. 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.

I suspect we will soon see the following explanation from the PRC: Gui was living in Ningbo under “qubao houshen” (取保候审), a Chinese type of bail requiring the “released” suspect to remain in the city where he has been released and requiring him to obtain special permission for any outside trips. Although Gui has apparently completed his sentence for his earlier traffic offense, his bail must relate to the unfinished current charges for which he apparently has not yet been tried.

It is possible, of course, that the Swedish Embassy may have decided to follow the U.S. example in the Chen case and make positive efforts to spirit Gui to the embassy’s custody, but, given the Swedish Government’s quiet, conventional efforts to aid Gui to date, and to aid Peter Dahlin after his detention, that seems unlikely.

Yet, given the escort of two Swedish diplomats accorded Gui, one has to give Sweden credit at least for seeking to assure Gui better medical treatment in Beijing and for anticipating possible obstruction.

Reportedly the PRC and Sweden have differed on the degree of consular access to be permitted to Gui at various times, and these issues probably have a history going back to the original detention of Gui in Thailand, which was a brazen kidnapping. It should be noted that Sweden and China apparently do not have a bilateral consular agreement, which is odd, but both adhere to the multilateral Vienna Convention on consular relations.

These incidents involve so many as yet unanswered questions. The PRC should not remain silent even if its agencies have not yet coordinated. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as so often in these cases, was publicly embarrassed when its spokesperson implicitly admitted that it really did not know what was going on.

Certainly, the Swedish Government should reveal the full story behind its frustrations in this case and in others involving China, and Swedish public opinion should demand that the Government tell the truth now. 

National supervision commission and China’s silenced legal elites

By Jerome A. Cohen

The second plenum of China’s 19th Party Congress was concluded last week. It paved the way for amending the Constitution to establish a National Supervision Commission. But this proposed “reform” has encountered fierce misgivings, especially among three expert groups: members of the Procuracy, i.e., the national and local prosecutors; influential scholarly specialists in constitutional law and criminal justice; and human rights and criminal defense lawyers.

The anticipated Constitutional and legislative changes represent a huge setback for almost four decades of official, scholarly and professional efforts to establish a rule of law that will protect the rights of individuals in their dealings with the government and the Communist Party. The Procuracy has major institutional reasons for opposing the new situation, since many of its personnel will be reassigned to investigative work in the supervisory commissions that will in effect be largely lawless in terms of meaningful procedural protections for suspects. Moreover, the powers of those prosecutors who remain in the Procuracy will certainly be limited in their handling of cases sent to them by the supervisory commissions. Also, procurators, scholars and lawyers are plainly opposed to the changes for many other good reasons including the length of incommunicado detentions possible without any other check or restraint, the absence of access to counsel, the very broad scope of the conduct that can be punished, even going beyond the criminal law’s prohibitions to include alleged violations of Party discipline and public morality, and the very large numbers of people—far beyond only Party members—who will be subject to repression and fear.

These changes will create a nightmarish scenario that will counteract many of the genuine reforms to the criminal justice system that are being developed and currently discussed. Yet, after a courageous academic protest meeting drew harsh official reaction, no one has dared to speak out in a public way despite great hostility to the changes continuing to be expressed on a confidential basis.

Xi Jinping regards formal authorization of these changes, which have already taken place in practice in many places, as positive because it will give an official fig-leaf to a terrifying investigatory/punishment process that until recently has been largely practiced by the Party against Party members and that has been widely condemned as lawless by many critics at home and abroad. But this new attempt at official veneer is plainly not authentically legal, even in terms of the government’s existing legal system. The anticipated constitutional amendments cannot remedy the situation and will make major alterations in the governmental system that the People’s Republic imported from the former Soviet Union..

What is at stake here is the legitimacy of the country’s legal system in the eyes of the educated, articulate but currently silenced, influential elites. Political leaders, bureaucrats, business figures and their employees, prosecutors, judges, legislators, professors and especially lawyers have good reason to fear that they may be the next victims of a plainly arbitrary system. This is the Inquisition with Chinese characteristics!

(In)justice with Chinese characteristics: the twinned stories of two human rights activists, Wu Gan and Xie Yang

By Jerome A. Cohen

 Wu Gan; source:  China Change .

Wu Gan; source: China Change.

 Xie Yang; source:  Changsha Intermediate Court .

Xie Yang; source: Changsha Intermediate Court.

The two Christmas cases of Wu Gan and Xie Yang—victims of China’s 709 Crackdown on human rights activists and lawyers in 2015—demonstrate the continuing importance and benefits of pleading guilty. “Leniency for those who confess, Severity for those who resist.” (坦白从宽,抗拒从严) has been the fundamental maxim of criminal justice in the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) erected into high public principle what has long quietly been the practice of many legal systems. The insistence on confession characterized Chinese justice centuries before the rise of the CCP and for many reasons.

Confession admits the correctness of the government’s charge and helps to relieve those who administer the system of doubts or feelings of guilt they might harbor. Confession reinforces prevailing ideology. It also avoids the embarrassment and risks to administrators that appeals can cause and the delay and administrative costs involved. In China refusal to confess and insistence on appeal are seen to constitute an attack on the prosecution and the government. Confession encourages others to follow suit, and it is viewed as the first step toward the reform of the accused.

Yet how persuasive can any of these factors be when torture is so often the stimulus for confession and everyone knows this? Moreover, at least in non-political cases, the CCP is increasingly concerned about the frequency of wrongful convictions caused by coerced confessions.

The Christmas timing of the two cases is worth noting. There is no doubt the PRC government wants to be thought well of abroad as well as at home, which is why it spends so much on a worldwide system of propaganda and seeks to control the UN and other organizations regarding the PRC’s suppression of human rights. Of course, it prefers not to reveal many abominable acts, which is often possible because of its domination of the media and even social media.

The timing of its repressive human rights acts depends on many factors. Certainly, when it’s possible to manipulate the timing of acts of repression that are likely to be condemned by the world, the PRC is eager to do so in order to reduce publicity and minimize harm to its quest for soft power. The dates of trial hearings and sentencings are one example among many others.

The twinned stories of Wu Gan and Xie Yang may be destined to continue and provide more grist for the mills of those who study the PRC’s expansive and imaginative detention policies. It will be important to see, of course, how long Wu Gan can remain alive and resistant in captivity. It will also be important to see to what extent Xie Yang, having reversed his previous stand under torture, “confessed” on demand and thereby won exemption from further formal imprisonment, will be allowed to resume his former human rights advocacy or, like most of his comrades, remain in what I call “non-release ‘release’”.

The misleading term “house arrest” no longer does justice to the varieties of informal, unauthorized, suffocating restrictions on their freedom that most “released” human rights advocates are suffering. Indeed, many human rights activists suffer such restrictions even before they are formally detained! The PRC has blurred the line between “detention” and “freedom”, giving new meaning to these words.

Orwell has arrived: China’s surveillance of social media

China’s cyber monitoring leaves little room for free expression even among small groups.

Eva Dou of the Wall Street Journal has a great report on “Jailed for a Text: China’s Censors Are Spying on Mobile Chat Groups.” It is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for the insights it gives into contemporary China and its legal system. It illustrates the currently enhanced degree of repression and the impact it has on ordinary citizens. Orwell has arrived. The increasingly smooth integration of China’s cyber monitoring systems, its various police organizations, its “Justice” Ministry, its prosecutors and its judges – no small feat – now leaves little room for free expression even among small groups.

Of course, as Mr. Chen, the protagonist in Eva Dou’s story, discovered, one is really tempting punishment by joking on WeChat about one of the most powerful officials in China, Mr. Meng Jianzhu, who had served as chief of the Ministry of Public Security before becoming czar of the Party’s all-powerful Political-Legal Commission that controls and coordinates all the institutions that comprise the legal system.

This story has so many implications. It shows how many intelligent, ambitious Chinese who have improved their lives under the Communist system have gradually awakened to its methods and costs and come to question and even modestly challenge it. The story also illustrates the fate that many challengers, and the lawyers who are asked to help them, quickly suffer.

Large numbers of Chinese like Mr. Wang are nagged by a sense of injustice that is universal, no matter what Xi Jinping preaches, and become petitioners who find no relief in the system. Many lawyers who have never thought of themselves as human rights advocates nevertheless become drawn into situations that make them feel compelled to vindicate the lawyer’s obligations and then are disbarred and often arbitrarily detained, criminally punished and then eternally harassed after serving their formal jail terms.

Even Mo Shaoping, a lawyer brave enough to have signed Charter 2008, whose prominence as China’s most famous human rights lawyer has allowed him more continuing scope for courageous defense than many other colleagues, has now lost his WeChat account. This is a warning shot across the bow from the Party, which has long restricted his professional activities without risking the domestic and foreign condemnation that his detention would incur.

Of course, if the draft law to formally establish the National Supervisory Commission is enacted next March, it will be even easier for the Party to detain rights activists, including lawyers, without having to violate the country’s laws that are now so blatantly ignored or distorted.

A noteworthy new book: “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared”

The New York Times Sunday Review has an important article--In China, the Brutality of ‘House Arrest’--by Steven Lee Myers featuring excerpts from three of the twelve essays in the new book “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared” organized and edited by Michael Caster. They all are about personal experiences in the torture chamber parading under the bland title “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place” (see below for an explanation of the RSDP in relation to the world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei’s 2011 detention*).

Ex-law professor/lawyer Teng Biao, himself one of the victims of these official kidnappings, contributed the Foreword to the book. One of the most chilling of many quotable statements comes from human rights activist Tang Zhishun:

“At times the guards warned me that my wife and child, despite being in the United States, were not as safe as I might think they were. Chinese agents could still kill them. They said the same thing about my mother.”

I used to regard such often irresistible warnings as mere interrogators’ threats, but no longer, and they are reminiscent of the words and deeds of the KMT as recently as the late 1970s!

I hope this NYT Review, even though buried in the Sunday paper on Thanksgiving weekend, will enhance interest in a deserving book that is likely to be ignored by the media without this kind of help. 

* Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place (RSDP) and Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, who suffered RSDP in the spring of 2011 before it was even formally authorized for people who maintain residence in the jurisdiction, has done a lot through imaginative art and theater to publicize RSDP’s true nature. The publicity efforts of some of us about his case and the massive foreign petition from the foreign art community that the publicity inspired provided some of the pressure (there was also domestic pressure) that caused Party legislators to deal with RSDP in the 2012 new criminal procedure code.

Since Ai was supposedly investigated and detained for alleged tax violations, he could not be legally detained via RSDP on similar charges even today since that charge does not fall within the three circumstances ( i.e., cases involving national security, terrorism or serious bribery) that have authorized RSDP since the 2012 new criminal procedure code (Art. 73) was enacted. Of course, all the police need for “justification” is a suspicion that his conduct might be against “national security”, a suspicion the reasonableness of which cannot be effectively challenged in the PRC today.

Wu Gan’s “Trial”—Yet Another Sad Example of China’s Political “Justice”

Wu Gan has been for many years one of the leading and most-admired human rights activists in China. After criminal detention for over two years he will finally be brought to “trial” August 14 in a secret proceeding.

Wu Gan’s pre-trial statement is surely one of the most moving and accurate descriptions I have read of the Chinese government’s manipulation of its legal system to stamp out freedoms of expression. This account of his personal experience encapsulates virtually all the abuses that the Xi Jinping regime has been committing against human rights activists and their courageous lawyers. It is tragic testimony to the pathetic attempts of the Communist Party to drape its oppression in the mantle of “law”. To me the saddest aspects are its reminder of the forced collaboration of China’s judges with its police, prosecutors and Party legal officials in suppressing the constitutionally-prescribed rights and freedoms of the Chinese people.

Wu Gan’s statement ranks with those of China’s greatest martyrs to the cause of democracy, human rights and a genuine rule of law, including the late Liu Xiaobo. It will inspire those few activists inside and outside the country who still dare resist the current onslaught. Unfortunately, because of the regime’s monopolization of the media, its message will not be seen by most Chinese. Nor is it likely to be noticed by much of an outside world distracted by too many crises closer to home.

 Wu Gan's pre-trial statement in Chinese, source:  China Change .

Wu Gan's pre-trial statement in Chinese, source: China Change.

Hong Kong Government Seeks Harsher Sentence for Democracy Activists

 Left to right: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, outside Eastern Court in August 2016. Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

Left to right: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, outside Eastern Court in August 2016. Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

The Hong Kong Government is pressing the judiciary for much harsher sentences for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow. Immediate imprisonment and 5-year disqualification from office are likely.

The court case against these leading activists has just taken a turn that surprised the accused. The Hong Kong Department of Justice, dissatisfied with the original court sentence to “community service”, appealed for a much harsher, immediate prison sentence. Defendants may now get sentenced to between two and six months by the appellate tribunal. The length of the sentence is crucial not only because of the duration of the physical and mental punishment inflicted but also because a sentence of three or more months will disqualify the convicted from standing for office for the next five years! Hong Kong’s judges are coming under increasing political pressure. The outcome in this appeal will tell us more about their response.

Beijing is going all out to destroy the democracy movement and the Hong Kong courts are increasingly under pressure. Those who haven’t seen the Netflix video “Joshua: Teenager versus Superpower” may want to do so before the outcome, which is imminent. In October Joshua may be marking his 21st birthday in prison!

China’s state compensation for illegal detention

 Photo: 中國維權律師關注組  China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group

Photo: 中國維權律師關注組 China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group

Last week we had news that the courageous lawyer Jiang Tianyong has been formally “arrested” after being held incommunicado since last November. It is sadly ironic that, on the same day, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuracy announced a new standard for compensating citizens who have been illegally deprived of their personal freedom (see HRIC Daily Brief here). At 258.89 RMB (USD38) per day my friend Jiang may someday receive more compensation than he earned as a great human rights lawyer!

The Courageous Spouses of Human Rights Lawyers and Activists

Prominent rights lawyer Li Heping, who has been held in detention since the “709 crackdown” in July 2015, received a sentence of three years in prison but with a four-year suspended sentence, and deprivation of his political rights for four years, for subverting state power in a secret trial followed by a public sentencing on April 28.

Video statement by Wang Qiaoling and Li Wenzu, April 28, 2017

Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, and Li Wenzu, the wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang, issued a powerful and revealing video in response (watch here; see here for the translation by China Change). Both women have been outspoken throughout their husbands’ detention.

Beijing is facing a new phenomenon – the effective outrage of the brilliant and courageous wives of tortured human rights lawyers. One can only admire the bold stand of these long-suffering women.

Moreover, their statement of today lays bare a relatively unknown punishment for “released” activists and their families – “house arrest” for the entire family but not in their house but in that of the police. And without even the formal fig-leaf of the Criminal Procedure Law’s “residential surveillance”, which the police have been using more and more to lock up human rights lawyers in incommunicado detention for initial periods of six months.

Perhaps the righteous collective opposition of these and other spouses of detained human rights lawyers and activists has inspired the continuing public protests in Taiwan by the able wife of Lee Ming-che against her activist Taiwan husband’s detention on the Mainland since he was “disappeared” on March 19. This has given Beijing another well-deserved headache, one that is having a big negative impact on cross-strait relations.

What journalists can do in the case of Lee Ming-che

Here is an article that Yu-Jie Chen and I wrote on China’s secret detention since March 19 of Taiwan rights and democracy advocate Mr. Lee Ming-che. We argue that China’s handling of the case violates Mr. Lee’s human rights and a cross-strait agreement Beijing and Taipei signed in 2009. This incident has dealt a serious blow to the reliability and legitimacy of cross-strait institutions, which is not in Beijing’s interest.

 (Voice of America—Wikimedia Commons)

(Voice of America—Wikimedia Commons)

Where is Lee? Journalists, especially Taiwanese journalists, should keep asking questions about his fate, including in the press conferences of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the Foreign Ministry. In particular, we still don’t know whether he is detained under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定監視居住) or normal criminal detention (刑事拘留) (although as we pointed out in the article, the charge of “endangering national security” suggests that Chinese police may have invoked the former procedure).

If it’s criminal detention, the police can hold the suspect as long as 30 days, by which time they have to ask the approval of the procuratorate to formally arrest (逮捕) the suspect in order to keep him in custody. The prosecutors have up to 7 days to make their decision. The 37-day mark for Lee’s detention is April 25 (counting from March 19). If there is any formal arrest in Lee’s case, it should be made by April 25. At that point journalists should ask whether a formal arrest has been approved. If it has, where is Lee being held? Why? Can he see a lawyer? Will Taiwan officials have access to him?

If there is no formal arrest, Chinese spokesmen should be asked whether Lee is under “residential surveillance,” according to which the suspect can be held for up to six months in an undisclosed place (i.e., without the protections of a formal detention center) and has no access to the outside. Torture is commonplace in such circumstances.

Disappearance of Chinese human rights lawyer: what it means to be placed under “residential surveillance” in China

It’s been reported that (ex) human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who disappeared on November 21, has been placed under “residential surveillance” (RS) by Chinese police. This sad experience shows how the new provision in the 2012 Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) – Article 73 – regarding RS has been abused by the police and the Party.

 Lawyer Jiang Tianyong

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong

My hope, rather vain in the current political climate, is that Jiang’s case will ventilate the problem of “residential surveillance” so thoroughly that it will create pressure for reform, as did Ai Weiwei’s case in 2011. At that time, if the government’s target maintained a residence in the jurisdiction of the police, the police were forbidden by Ministry of Public Security (MPS) rules to detain him in any residence but his own, i.e., to restrict him to genuine house arrest. What the police often did, however, as in Ai’s case, was to detain suspects they deemed undesirable in places designated by the police that were neither suspects’ homes nor regular police detention houses that, whatever their failings, were at least regulated by normal criminal procedures and protections. This was a plain violation of MPS regulations if the suspect maintained a local residence.

As a result of the Ai case and others that resulted in protests, when the CPL was revised in 2012 a specific provision was inserted into the new code authorizing RS “at a designated location”, i.e., in police custody, even in cases where the suspect maintained a local residence, but limiting this new authorization to three circumstances, i.e., cases involving national security, terrorism or serious bribery. As is so often the case, the relevant legislative language is vague, especially the provision that permits police to impose this six-months incommunicado sanction whenever they decide that the suspect may have committed a crime related to “national security”, an exercise of discretion that, unlike their desire to formally “arrest” someone, which must be approved by the procuracy within a 37-day period, the PRC system does not permit any other agency to review. Thus, as in Jiang’s case, all they need to do to inflict RS is assert a suspicion that the case might involve some aspect of national security.

Without even meeting any standard such as “probable cause” to believe the crime was committed by the suspect, the police detained Jiang ostensibly because he might have “incited subversion of State power”. This gives the police six months, without interference from any lawyer, family, friends or media, to subject the suspect to a whole range of pressures and punishments including torture in a highly coercive, sealed-off environment.

At the end of that very long period the police decide, based on the suspect’s degree of “cooperation” as well as other factors, whether the evidence elicited via their techniques warrants criminal prosecution in accordance with prescribed procedures leading to “arrest”, indictment, trial, conviction and sentencing. The final formal charge may indeed claim a violation of “national security” such as “subversion of State power” or merely “incitement” to such subversion. But the charge may turn out to be for a lighter offense the long incommunicado investigation of which would not have been authorized by the RS legislation.

So was the 2012 revision a reform? On the one hand, it prohibits police from giving RS in a “designated location” to a local person suspected of tax irregularities, for example, as Ai Weiwei supposedly was. On the other, it now for the first time authorizes incommunicado RS for local people any time the police choose to investigate conduct they wish to claim might constitute a type of “national security” violation (or a serious bribery or terrorism-related case). The result is that police, and the Party, now enjoy virtually unlimited freedom to arbitrarily detain and punish for six months anyone they think may be a dissident. This needs to be kept in mind when considering the progress made by the formal abolition of the police administrative punishment of “reeducation through labor”.

It should also be pointed out that Party members, who are subject to the feared Party “discipline inspection” procedures of “shuanggui”, which can extend incommunicado detention for longer periods than RS, are not immune from RS either, although it would take unpermitted empirical research to determine how often this type of RS is used against them.

Death sentence, sense of injustice and public opinion in China

 Jia Jinglong

Jia Jinglong

The sense of injustice is spreading in China, and it is always fueled by cases that ordinary Chinese can grasp that violate their basic, widely-shared principles of fairness and humanity. This case blatantly demonstrates the inequality of the system. Another poor villager executed while well-connected murderers are often spared. Killing an official, however cruel or arbitrary his misconduct may have been, usually results in harsher punishment than killing a farmer. But much more is involved in Jia’s case. Housing demolition and its association with corruption and failure to observe prescribed acquisition procedures have sparked huge resentment and popular reactions, of course.

Moreover, there is often a denial of due process – fair criminal procedure – in this instance reportedly by not allowing competent counsel to take part in the defense in a timely manner and by denying defense counsel adequate time to prepare the defense.

In this case another aspect that should have been considered by the courts was the defendant’s mental state. Here, as in some earlier well-known cases, the accused had obviously been brooding for a long time about the unfairness of being deprived of his home without adequate compensation and, consequently, losing his anticipated marriage. Had this aspect been investigated by the court and psychiatric experts, as Chinese law makes possible, it might well have resulted in a diminished sentence. But Chinese courts are reluctant to inquire into the defendant’s mental condition if the victim was an important local official or a police officer..

There is also the broader question of the courts and public opinion. There have been many examples of bloodthirsty public opinion causing lenient courts to reverse their verdicts and there have been many cases of sympathetic public opinion successfully pressing courts to reduce harsh sentences. Sometimes the Party mobilizes the media in a preferred direction or at least allows a mass sentiment to develop. Chinese judges have sometimes discussed with foreign specialists the sentencing dilemmas confronting them and asked for advice and information about how other countries, including the U.S., deal with the problem.

This case may also add to the pressure in China for finding some effective way to allow ordinary people to have a say in the administration of justice. This problem has been important throughout East Asia - in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, each of which has resorted to different solutions. In China’s Henan Province, the High Court at one point claimed it was introducing an American-style jury system, but that, of course, turned out to be misleading. China’s “people’s assessors” system, imported from the USSR in the ‘50s, has long been recognized as an insignificant and inadequate way to allow laymen to sit and vote with professional judges.

Finally, as the Jia case illustrates, public speech in China is, once again, being increasingly suppressed. Will people soon be afraid of even expressing themselves in private conversations, as during the Cultural Revolution?

More on rights lawyer Wang Yu’s “confession and release” and China’s revival of “brainwashing” practice

There is no doubt whatever that Wang Yu will not be free to resume her practice of human rights law or her previous professional or even personal friendships. Her hope must be to obtain her husband’s release from jail, to be able to see her son and to procure for him the right to study abroad, as was originally planned. The elements of the deal struck will gradually emerge.

To say that her statement was “probably” the product of coercion is silly since she has been held in an immensely coercive environment for over a year. These “confessions” are reminiscent of the “brainwashing” era of the 1950s for which the new China became infamous. Brainwashing was based on long-run confinement in a coercive environment combined with heavy doses of thought reform and the realization that release depended on adopting, at least temporarily, the “new truth”.

The regime obviously altered Wang Yu’s restrictions (it did not “let her go”) because of the enormous international pressures brought to bear. The American Bar Association’s annual meeting at which the award is to be granted is about to be held. Her alleged repudiation of the award, which was a brilliant decision by the ABA to recover its loss of prestige from earlier inadequate criticism of the PRC, is the PRC’s attempt to discourage all foreign legal organizations from further attacks on the PRC’s human rights violations.

Of course, some lawyers and their legal assistants have been released during the past year while other lawyers are still detained and awaiting criminal conviction and prison punishment as well as the loss of their right to practice law, unless they too succumb to the brainwashing and other coercion to which they are being subjected. Even legal assistants such as Zhao Wei have not been spared the “confession and release” farce.

Non-release “release” of human rights activists and their confessions

 Photo: Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Photo: Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu has been “released” on bail, as reported in today’s Wall Street Journal. Wang Yu was seen in a video making a confession. “I also wrote inappropriate things online and accepted interviews with foreign media. For this, I feel ashamed and express remorse,” She said. As to the inaugural American Bar Association (ABA) International Human Rights Award given to her, she was quoted as saying she did not “acknowledge, recognize or accept” the award.

It’s obviously too soon to analyze with confidence but it sounds like another of the curious deals that are being struck between PRC oppressors and courageous but hapless human rights victims, deals involving the welfare of spouses, children, parents, lovers etc as well as the target whose captivity and torture are at stake.

This is all so sad, not only for the oppressed, broken victims but also for China and its standing in the world. These pathetic, ludicrous “confessions” and charges are obviously designed for a Chinese audience, but tens of millions of Chinese are not foolish enough to believe these farces.

Yet the damage to China that these torture-inspired fairy tales inflict abroad is incalculable. Does the Chinese leadership not see this? Xi Jinping is holding himself and the country up to increasing worldwide ridicule. This is the Chinese Communist Party’s distinctive contribution to the playbook of international Communist abuse of the legal system and promises to rank in notoriety with Stalin’s infamous purge trials, although so far no Chinese victims have been formally executed!

I’d like to think that if the ABA, in its new vision, could honor every detained human rights lawyer in China, it could guarantee them some minimal concession from their oppressors, but we know that international prizes can only be helpful in a few cases and certainly cannot free even Nobel Prize winners!

I don’t know what this foretells re the ABA’s work in China. Certainly it adds fuel to the fire of the continuing debate over what the appropriate ABA response to the vicious repression of human rights lawyers should be. If this case results in the termination of the ABA’s praiseworthy activities in China, it would be another classic instance of what Beijing propagandists like to call “dropping a rock on your own foot”.

China’s Disregard for the International Rule of Law

Here’s William Nee’s first-rate essay on the insights into criminal “justice” in China offered by the Booksellers’ case.

 Photo Credit: Flags of member nations flying at United Nations Headquarters ,   United Nations Photo , Flickr

Photo Credit: Flags of member nations flying at United Nations HeadquartersUnited Nations Photo, Flickr

I would only add: The Chinese Government can too often hide its disregard for international human rights standards as well as its own national laws. Yet we must continue to expose such violations as much as possible. For example, as John Kamm points out, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has once again condemned PRC criminal procedure abuses, on this occasion for the first time involving an American citizen.

This Tuesday’s decision by the UN arbitration tribunal in the Philippine maritime dispute with China will highlight another area in which the PRC has shown its contempt for the international rule of law. Unfortunately, in its defense, all too often the PRC is able to cite previous United States violations.

China’s miraculous recent efforts to reform people into “socialist new men”!

 Photo: Voice of America, January 2016

Photo: Voice of America, January 2016

Lee Bo, one of the Hong Kong Publishing Five whose disappearances last year have been widely reported, now says he will never publish banned books again.

Let’s try to look at the possible bright side to the PRC’s recent successful attempts to insult our intelligence and challenge our credulity. One of the more idealistic aspects of the Bolshevik Revolution was the honest aspiration of Lenin’s first Minister of Justice to create a new, truly revolutionary system of punishment that would transform criminals into “new socialist men”. Chairman Mao’s first decade in national power prominently featured a similar goal, one that gradually, almost imperceptibly, yielded to the reality that it is easier for governments to kill people than transform them.

But is it now possible that Xi Jinping has outdone his much-admired Helmsman by miraculously transforming, in jig time, the Hong Kong Publishing Five and other alleged offenders who have recently confessed their sins in public, even without being prosecuted, not to mention convicted? By the time we mark the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution next year, will there be further evidence that it has belatedly achieved one of its most ambitious goals?  

Lawyer-client meeting in “national security” cases in China

My colleague Yu-Jie Chen has just sent around her comments below on the police’s written decision to reject the lawyer-client meeting (“不准予会见犯罪嫌疑人决定书”) in recent cases related to the oppression of lawyers and other human rights advocates since July 9 last year (“709”). With her permission, I’m pasting her comment below, followed by my response.


“This kind of decision to reject the lawyer’s request to meet with the criminal suspect seems to have been standardized into a form and used in several cases of the 709 activists and lawyers, including lawyer Wang Yu (here), Li Heping’s 24-year-old assistant Zhao Wei (here), law scholar Liu Sishin (here), and activist Wu Gan (the latest 不准予会见 decision in his case was issued on Feb. 6). All these decisions have been issued by Tianjin City public security authorities (including its Hexi branch), which has been in charge of the 709 crackdown as far as I know. In addition, the case of lawyer Zhang Kai, who has been detained in Wenzhou, also saw such a document issued by the Wenzhou police (here). I’m sure there are many others that I haven’t seen.

The basis invoked by the police is Article 37 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Law, which, in cases involving crimes endangering State security, terrorist activities or significant amount of bribes, asks defense lawyers to obtain the approval of investigating agencies before meeting with their clients.

However, we should note that in the September 2015 regulation issued by the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Justice to protect lawyer’s rights to practice (“关于依法保障律师执业权利的规定”), the police are required to provide reasons (说明理由) in rejecting the lawyer-client meeting. I don’t think simply producing a form as a formality meets this standard. But in reality, I wonder if there is any remedy for such a violation.” 

  Written notice rejecting the request of ZHAO Wei's defense lawyer to meet with Zhao

Written notice rejecting the request of ZHAO Wei's defense lawyer to meet with Zhao


   Written notice in WANG Yu's case

 Written notice in WANG Yu's case

The use of such a form reveals the cavalier manner in which the police violate their nation’s Criminal Procedure Law by arbitrarily denying the right to counsel in their attack on rights lawyers and other human rights advocates whom they have detained. Indeed, the police are doing exactly what Article 9 of the major September 2015 Five-Institution Regulation interpreting the 2012 Criminal Procedure Law explicitly forbids. They are failing to give lawyers requesting a meeting with their detained clients the reasons for rejecting the meeting.

They simply fill in the bare details identifying the case on a printed police form that claims the requested meeting would interfere with their “national security” investigation OR reveal state secrets, without giving any facts or justification of such alternative claims. This flies in the face of Article 9’s stern admonition that investigating agencies may not interpret “as they wish” the “national security” and other exceptional provisions authorizing them to deny counsel their right to meet detained clients in certain circumstances. This admonition, based on decades of experience demonstrating how in practice the police always turn narrow legislative exceptions into broad arbitrary rules, is specifically designed to prevent the police from arbitrarily restricting the right of lawyers to meet their detained clients.

According to the law, lawyers should be able to vindicate their rights by seeking administrative review of the police refusal at the next higher police level and by asking the local procuracy to investigate the arbitrary police refusal. Such efforts are apparently being made but no one is holding his breath in the expectation that this will bring relief. For example, over 15 years later I am still waiting for the office of the Supreme People’s Procuracy in Beijing to send me its promised report reviewing the lawless detention of a Sino-American joint venture’s Chinese CFO by the city of Jining in Shandong Province.

In most cases, initially and repeatedly, police denial of lawyer access to detained clients seems to be orally communicated. Issuance of a written form seems to be done belatedly and reluctantly as part of a customary effort to block or at least delay any review of the decision.

The Hexi District Sub-Bureau of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau seems to have attracted a very large number of detention cases related to the 709 crackdown. I note that the September 18, 2015 Decision denying her lawyer’s access to young Ms. ZHAO Wei is numbered 1,082 for the year!!! That does not mean that the huge number of such cases that preceded it last year were all 709 cases but it seems likely that many of them were such supposed “national security” cases. And we do not yet know how many more such cases occurred last year after September 18. Moreover, there may be some double counting since defense counsel sometimes try a second time later in their client’s detention. The Five-Institution Regulation authorizes the meeting of lawyer with client in alleged “national security” cases once the meeting will no longer prove an obstacle to investigation or the risk of revealing state secrets is gone.