30 October 2009

Uyghur Journalist Heyrat Niyaz Reportedly Detained on State Security Charges

Over the past week there have been an increasing number of reports that Uyghur journalist Heyrat Niyaz (海来特·尼亚孜 or 海莱提·尼亚孜) has been detained by Chinese police on state security charges. According to the most recent report I've seen:
Heyrat Niyaz, age 50, well-known Uyghur journalist and former senior reporter for the Xinjiang Economic News, was taken by police from his home in Urumchi on 1 October. One 4 October, his family received a detention notice specifying that the cause of his arrest was "endangering state security." Police also said that it was because Heyrat gave several interviews following the 5 July Urumchi incident. He is currently being held in Urumchi's Tianshan Detention Center.
Most notably, Heyrat Niyaz gave an interview to the Hong Kong-based news magazine Yazhou Zhoukan in July, which I previously translated here, in which he claimed to have warned local officials that trouble was brewing and that the riots appeared to have been a premeditated effort coordinated by Hizb-ut-Tahrir al Islami (Islamic Liberation Party).

"Endangering state security" is not a specific crime; under Chinese law, it refers to a group of specific crimes under Articles 102–113 of the criminal code. Police are supposed to indicate a specific crime when they issue a detention notice, but it's not unusual for them to be vague like this in state security cases.

Given the circumstances, it seems most likely that Heyrat Niyaz is being investigated on suspicion of "illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to overseas entities" (为境外非法提供国家秘密、情报罪) in violation of Article 111 of the criminal code. It's a crime that, under serious circumstances, carries the death penalty, but I wouldn't expect that to be under consideration in this case.

Article 111 has been frequently used in past years to punish individuals who provided foreign media or organizations with information about ethnic unrest. A few examples:
  • Rebiya Kadeer was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2000 for sending newspaper clippings to her husband, who was living in the United States.
  • In 2003, Abdulghani Memetimin was sentenced to nine years in prison for providing newspaper clippings and other information to an overseas Uyghur organization.
  • In 2008, Ekberjan Jamal was sentenced to 10 years for transmitting audio of a protest to friends overseas, who then gave it to Radio Free Asia.
  • Also last year, Tibetans Phuntsog Dorje, Sonam Drakpa, Sonam Tseten, Sonam Yarphel, Tsewang Dorje, and Yeshe Choedron were sentenced to 9–15 years in prison for providing information about the riots and protests in Lhasa and elsewhere that began in March 2008.
It thus appears that Heyrat Niyaz may be facing serious prison time for revealing details about the 5 July riots that weren't part of the official narrative of events. Given the attention that was given to the interview in question (I doubt anything I have ever done has been read by so many people), his fate deserves our continued attention.


14 October 2009

Some Notes on Mental Illness and Criminal Responsibility in China

In light of the case of Akmal Shaikh, a British national of Pakistani origin who has been sentenced to death in Urumchi on drug charges, I've been doing a bit of reading on the subject of China's laws regarding mitigation of criminal responsibility due to mental illness.

Article 18 of the Criminal Law is fairly straightforward:
If a mentally ill person causes harmful consequences at a time when he is unable to recognize or control his own conduct, following verification and confirmation through legal procedure, he shall not bear criminal responsibility, but his family members or guardian shall be ordered to keep him under strict watch and control and arrange for his medical treatment. When necessary, the government may compel him to receive medical treatment.

Any person whose mental illness is of an intermittent nature shall bear criminal responsibility if he commits a crime when he is in a normal mental state.

If a crime is committed by a mentally ill person who has not completely lost the ability to recognize or control his own conduct, he shall bear criminal responsibility; however, he may be given a lighter or mitigated punishment.

Any intoxicated person who commits a crime shall bear criminal responsibility.
So, depending on the nature of the mental illness, criminal responsibility can be either completely nullified or a lighter punishment may be imposed if it has been found to have impaired the ability to recognize or control one's actions. All of this is dependent on a psychiatric evaluation to be carried out by an appointed medical professional and introduced as evidence according to relevant legal procedure.

Such an evaluation was carried out for the trial of Deng Yujiao, and it was the certification of her psychiatric condition that was cited by the court in its decision to exempt her from punishment. Meanwhile, in Yang Jia's murder trial, a psychiatric evaluation was reportedly conducted despite Yang's insistence that he was not mentally ill. The evaluation was negative, and Yang was executed.

Yet in this case—a case in which defense counsel is reported to have raised the issue of mental illness and in which the Times reports the defendant was "apparently so delusional during an appeals hearing in May that the judges could not help but laugh out loud"—the court evidently saw no need to conduct a psychiatric evaluation. Discretion to order such examinations on incarcerated suspects clearly rests solely with criminal justice authorities, and apparently that discretion can be exercised quite arbitrarily in China.

Akmal Shaikh's actions may or may not have been a result of impairment due to mental illness, but shouldn't the ultimate determination be made on the basis of a proper medical evaluation, especially in a death penalty case where an allegation of mental illness has been made? I certainly hope that the judges conducting the final review of the death sentence in this case would recognize this glaring failure to safeguard Shaikh's human rights, vacate the verdict, and order a new trial.