Posts Tagged ‘prison conditions’

Today Ilham Tohti completes his fourth year in Chinese detention

January 15, 2018

Rightly Front Line Defenders reminds us that today, 15 January 2018, Ilham Tohti completed his fourth year in Chinese detention. The human rights defender, economics professor and advocate for the rights of China’s Uyghur minority was arrested following a raid on his home on 15 January 2014. In the course of his incarceration, Ilham Tohti has been subjected to recurring violations of international human rights standards with regard to detention conditions such as limitations of family visits, intercepted communication, solitary confinement, deprivation of food and intimidation. Ilham Tohti’s family and colleagues have also been subjected to judicial harassment. 

Ilham Tohti <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/fr/profile/ilham-tohti>  formerly lectured as a professor at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing. He has researched, taught, and written numerous articles on topics related to human rights violations in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Province, the homeland of China’s sharply repressed Uyghur minority. In 2006, the human rights defender founded Uyghur Online, a Chinese-language website for the dissemination of  Uyghur-centric news. Across these platforms, Ilham Tohti regularly criticised the exclusion of China’s Uyghur population from Chinese development, and encouraged greater awareness of Uyghur status and treatment in Chinese society. For these actions, Ilham Tohti was declared a “separatist” by the Chinese state and ultimately given a life sentence in prison.

Following his arrest on 15 January 2014, Ilham Tohti was tried at the Urumqi City Intermediate People’s Court on 23 September 2014. He was found guilty of “separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. Seven of the human rights defender’s students were arrested in the same year, and his niece was arrested in early 2016 for possessing photos of and articles written by the defender on her phone. On 10 October 2016, Ilham Tohti was granted the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. {see earlier posts on Ilham https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ilham-tohti/]

More on “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) in China

January 10, 2018

The People’s Republic of the Disappeared documents the experiences of Chinese activists (and one Swede) placed into “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). Several of those who wrote about their experiences for the book say their time in RSDL was worse than any previous treatment they had experienced, whether in legal detention centers or illegal “black jails.” What about RSDL makes it the most feared type of detention in China?

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.Under Xi Jinping, China’s assault on the human rights community has escalated to extremes not seen since the 1989 Pro-Democracy crackdown, while technological advancements, not to mention certain complicit foreign companies, have allowed for unprecedented increases in police capacity and state control. Add to that an effort by the Party to weaponize the law through legislation whose only purpose is to mask its authoritarian objectives behind false talk of rule of law. The revised Criminal Procedure Law, in which RSDL is codified in Article 73, is case in point, as it grants agents of the state effectively unfettered power, often in violation of fundamental international law, to act in the preservation of national security, which is synonymous with the preservation of Party supremacy.

RSDL is so feared, arguably, because it is so quintessentially totalitarian, right down to the ubiquity of black hoods and midnight raids, evoking scenes from V for Vendetta. Little is known, but that is slowly changing, about what it means to disappear in China. Even a few years after it came into effect, in 2016 many people were still misled by the euphemistic title, the residential in RSDL. Torture is common. RSDL is a tool of repression, designed to terrorize and demonstrate power. It is so feared because it was designed to be feared.

One thing that can be done to address this fear is just to spread knowledge about RSDL. Indeed, many frontline human rights defenders have spoken about the protective quality of reading or hearing stories about others’ experiences in detention, such as the pamphlet a Guide to Drinking Tea by Wu Gan, who was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for his rights defense, or Hua Ze’s book In the Shadow of the Rising Dragon, which was a big inspiration for The People’s Republic of the Disappeared. Indeed, one of the goals of this book was to provide some protection for at risk human rights defenders, to mitigate their fears with the stories of others so they would at least be a little better prepared for what to expect.

Is the use of RSDL, as compared to other forms of detention (legal and not), reserved for a particular type of person? Those who contributed their stories for the book are lawyers and rights defenders; who else might find themselves “disappeared” into RSDL in China?

According to Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law, residential surveillance may be enforced at a designated location — in other words in secret and outside the protection of the law — in cases involving endangering national security, terrorism, or serious bribery, and when enforcement in the individual’s actual residence may “impede the investigation.” Of course, the police are also able to deny access to the state prosecutor if it “impedes the investigation” so this notion rings hollow. Based on this, we see at least three vaguely defined categories of people who may find themselves disappeared into RSDL. The connotations of these categories generally refer to human rights defenders who are common targets of RSDL, ethnic minorities and predominantly Uyghurs for whom another system for disappearances is widespread, and elites or political opponents, for whom yet another system for enforced disappearances, shuang gui, exists. If you look closely, China maintains several distinct systems for disappearance, each one generally targeting one demographic or another.

Why do you think the Chinese government made the effort to legally define RSDL, granting it a legitimate status, only to disregard any and all legal safeguards while actually holding detainees? 

China cares about image. The Party wouldn’t harass and detain its critics if it didn’t care. It recognizes the international community places importance on the rule of law, at least rhetorically; indeed there are plenty of other offenders. But China, and as we are seeing with more countries in the region, has perfected the weaponization of the law. Legislation is passed to fit a particular template for good governance and the rule of law, trials are convened, and judgments are passed, “in the spirit of the law” or “based on relevant domestic regulations” or within its “judicial sovereignty.” Absurdly politicized, and yet successful. Some recent examples of China’s success with this strategy are Apple cravenly withdrawing VPN access for Chinese iTunes Store users and Springer Nature agreeing to censor political journals, both out of supposed deference to domestic regulations. Passing legislation such as the Criminal Procedure Law and additional regulations on RSDL, for example, allows the government to hide its normalization of enforced disappearances, and other serious rights violations including torture, behind the veneer of the rule of law.

But China fails. Firstly, international law is clear that enforced disappearances are a grave human rights violation and crime, without any exception or circumstance, including state of war or emergency or national security. This is customary international law, binding upon all countries regardless of treaty ratification. Secondly, China’s rhetoric of the rule of law falls apart against international standards that the law be accessible, predictable, equitable, and accountable. None of these features are effectively present, especially with RSDL. China may try to convince the world that it is a country based on the rule of law but this is actually the rule by law, or legalist authoritarianism.

Obviously numbers are impossible to come by, thanks to the secretive nature of the practice. But do you have an estimate for the number of people held in RSDL, or the number of “disappeared” overall in China?

As I point out in the chapter on RSDL and international law, because enforced disappearances are so heinous they may rise to the level of a crime against humanity if, put simply, they are part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, and in the last chapter I go into more detail about what this means.

I would like to add that while the book focuses mainly on human rights defenders, by far the largest demographic of disappeared in China are Uyghurs, who starting after the 2009 Urumqi riots and accelerating under Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo since 2016 have disappeared in waves, with many never heard from again. Like RSDL, the state has many euphemisms for its systems to disappear Uyghurs, the most widespread being “political education.”

In terms of the book, human rights defenders are a major targeted demographic for disappearances under RSDL. By most estimates the number of victims of RSDL range from the hundreds to the thousands. These are those who are placed under RSDL for a few days to those who are kept for the full six months, to those who are subjected to even lengthier and wholly illegal disappearances following RSDL such as with lawyer Wang Quanzhang. An old friend, the book is in fact dedicated to Wang Quanzhang, who remains missing now after nearly two and a half years.

When conceiving the numbers of victims, we should bear in mind that international law also recognizes the family members of the disappeared as victims of enforced disappearance, and as such Li Wenzu, Wang’s wife, and the many other spouses, parents, and children of the disappeared must also be counted among the victims of disappearance in China.

Part of the reason why it is so difficult to know the precise numbers of disappeared under RSDL or other mechanisms for disappearance in China is that they are by definition secretive. Furthermore, the same condition that calls RSDL into existence, a claim of national security, allows for the refusal to acknowledge details. For example, while the Supreme People’s Court maintains a database on all cases and includes cases that involve RSDL, many known cases are left out of the database due to national security exceptions on listing case information. Confronting this lack of quantifiable information is precisely why it is so important to engage in monitoring and analyzing China’s use of enforced disappearances, such as the undertaking of the recently launched RSDLmonitor.

At the same time, while it is important to develop a fuller picture of how widespread disappearances are under RSDL, arguably what matters more is how systematic the state has been in its legislation and implementation of disappearances. There is already enough evidence to see that RSDL is systematized and organized enforced disappearances as a Party policy.

The narratives in the book paint the picture of human rights defenders under siege — many of the chapters describe actively preparing to be taken away by the state, after having watched friends and allies suffer the same fate. Over a year after the “709 crackdown,” what is the state of the Chinese activist community? To phrase the question another way, has the authorities’ brutal suppression campaign worked?

The Chinese rights defenders who I have been honored to meet or work in support of are the most resilient and courageous group imaginable. Here is a community struggling for the rights and interests of their fellow citizens, intimidated, brutalized, disappeared, imprisoned by their government and yet they continue. Wang Quanzhang, the last remaining disappeared human rights lawyer of the 709 Crackdown, is case in point. His bravery is an inspiration. For all his attempts to terrorize, Xi Jinping cannot sap the human rights community of its vitality. This campaign, despite its severity and sophistication, like its predecessors, will just lead to new voices, new leaders, new tactics, and new pillars of support. As long as the Chinese Communist Party tramples on the rights of its citizens, there will be a human rights community, and that is because, if I may quote Foucault, “Where there is power, there is resistance.”

How can the international community effectively respond to Chinese human rights violations like RSDL and the torture of detainees?

As I write in the conclusion, it is not easy to confront China, which wields what scholars describe as sharp power and economic statecraft to intimidate and influence, while at the same time either manipulating international law and organizations to its own design, such as with Interpol, or hollowing them of their legitimacy, such as with China’s seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. But, just as the global race to the bottom for trade and production that rushed to exploit China’s low-paid labor surplus decades ago contributed to its economic transformation, giving rise to its present day economic statecraft used to influence the global order, so too has the international community’s acquiescence to China’s rhetoric of rule of law and judicial sovereignty allowed its war on human rights to continue without consequence. Enough is enough.

The international community needs to stop pretending it is held hostage by China as an excuse for its inaction. One good example is the recent decision by the United States to sanction former Beijing police chief Gao Yan, who through command responsibility was culpable for the death in custody of human rights defender Cao Shunli in 2014. We need more strategic, targeted, follow through.

https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/michael-caster-on-chinas-forced-disappearances/

Human Rights Coalition sues prison officials in US for censoring human rights advocacy

January 26, 2014

Robert Saleem Holbrook, web

The Human Rights Coalition (HRC), prisoner Robert Saleem Holbrook (pictured above) and College of Charleston Professor Kristi Brian brought a lawsuit on 8 January against employees of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) in the USA for confiscation of mail sent to Holbrook, a co-founder of HRC. “It is long overdue that prison officials are held to account for their attempts to silence those who speak out against this abusive system. The rights, health and lives of our loved ones are at stake.” HRC-Philadelphia activist Patricia Vickers stated. This lawsuit challenges the ability of PA DOC officials to target political dissent and human rights defenders with censorship. Read the rest of this entry »

Group of human rights defenders requests IACHR for thematic hearing on California prison situation

August 25, 2013

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2013 by OAS, web

(Commissioners of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Photo: OAS)

By letter of 23 August 2013, addressed to Dr. Emilio Álvarez Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a group of human rights NGOs [National Religious Campaign Against Torture, California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, California Prison Focus, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Disability Rights Legal Center, Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, American Friends Service Committee (Western Region), ACLU National Prison Project, Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes, Fair Chance Project, Center for Constitutional Rights, Justice Now, National Lawyers Guild, San Diego Committee for Prisoners Rights, The Real Cost of Prisons Project and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law] requested a thematic hearing with a focus on people incarcerated in California prisons. Read the rest of this entry »