28 February 2012

Good News About Residential Surveillance?

A quick note to register my cautious optimism regarding this latest news on the ongoing revision of China's Criminal Procedure Law.

As I understand what Chen Guangzhong is saying, the exception clause in the provision governing family notification for "residential surveillance in a designated residence" has been struck--or at least amended--in the draft of the legislation set to be submitted to the National People's Congress next week. Depending on the wording, this will likely mean that police will be required to notify the family members of anyone subjected to residential surveillance of this type within 24 hours, regardless of the nature of the crime.

Though I don't have any way of confirming this independently, I consider Professor Chen to be a credible source. If he's right and this reflects the wording of the final draft for submission to the NPC, I would have to conclude that this issue has been relatively settled among the stakeholders at this late stage—publication of the draft is not the relevant indicator, in my opinion.

Making draft legislation public is a relatively new phenomenon in China, and it serves one main purpose: as grist for the mill of public consultation. They've already done that once, and I don't think they ever had any intention of getting additional public consultation on the CPL. On the contrary, they've not published the current draft precisely because the stakeholders have settled on a final draft. There may be a few cosmetic changes left to the NPC, but I basically think the legislative process is over.

The result of all this appears to leave a "disappearance" clause in the provision on criminal detention. Detaining someone for 37 days without notifying anyone is still quite problematic, but 37 days is considerably shorter than six months and at least detentions of this type will have to take place within the (relatively) predictable confines of a detention center. Also, depending on the final wording, it's very likely that, compared to current law, the revision will place substantial limits on the types of cases for which this kind of detention can be used.

As someone who for the past six months has rather single-mindedly focused on this issue as a potentially serious backwards step in China's human rights development, I am prepared to welcome these changes, if they turn out to be accurate, as a substantial improvement over the drafts that were put forward last year. If this indeed comes to pass, it would be a product of domestic and international pressure of both the public and private types.

Special credit for this small but significant victory would have to go to those members of the Chinese public who seized upon the opportunity they were given to make their voices heard about a fundamental piece of legislation and expressed loud opposition to attempts by law enforcement to expand their powers at the expense of due process and procedural fairness.

20 February 2012

What Happens During "Residential Surveillance"?

Last week, I listened to two Chinese men recount details of their experience under "residential surveillance" following last year's crackdown precipitated by the so-called "Jasmine protests." They were held by police in two different cities, each under the form of "residential surveillance" in which a designated location is chosen and each without providing any notification to family members. Each said that they repeatedly asked their captors to transfer them to a detention center, as they felt they would be treated much better there.

This kind of residential surveillance--thus far operating in the blank spaces of the law and the hidden spaces of internal police regulations--will become entrenched in law if, as expected, the current proposal to revise China's Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) is passed next month by the National People's Congress (NPC).

What does this kind of "non-residential residential surveillance" entail, exactly? Below are excerpts from a description by He Depu, a China Democracy Party activist from Beijing who was subjected to the measure in 2002 and subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison for "inciting subversion." His account was included as part of an open letter to the NPC criticizing the proposed revisions to the CPL.
On 4 November 2002, I was blindfolded by the Beijing Public Security Bureau’s Domestic Security Protection Unit (or guobao) and dragged into “residential surveillance in a designated abode.” The guobao stripped me of my clothes and kept me on a wooden bed (on which there was only a plastic sheet and a white cotton sheet), saying to me: “According to the relevant state regulations concerning residential surveillance, we can keep you lying on this bed for half a year and no one will know.”

The guobao entrusted me to the guard of their 27-person custodial unit, which worked in four-person teams taking shifts of two hours apiece. Four guards stood on either side of the wooden bed, each guarding my palms and the soles of my feet. The head of the guards told me that according to the relevant regulations for “residential surveillance in a designated abode,” the palms and soles of the person under residential surveillance must be kept in sight of the guards and the person under surveillance must remain lying on the bed and was not permitted to leave the bed.

It was winter then, and the guards gave me only a thin, quilt made of rayon for the bed. There was no heat in the room and no windows. Each day I was given only three slices of onion or five slices of radish and two small steamed buns. Each morning and afternoon I was given a small paper cup of water. While I was under “residential surveillance in a designated abode,” I was not permitted to shave, cut my hair, clip my nails, or shower.

Since I frequently violated the regulation about “the palms and soles of the person under residential surveillance must be kept in sight of the guards,” each day I faced verbal abuse and beatings from the guards. Each night, four guards would pull on my hands and feet, forcefully stretching my body a dozen times or so in the shape of the character 大.

Having spent a long time in a fixed position on the wooden-plank bed without being allowed to move, my shoulders, back, and hips were in contact with the plank for too long and the skin was all rubbed raw and the white sheet beneath me was covered in bloodstains. I requested to see a doctor and a change of sheets but was told to “shut up.”

Although the guobao did not place my arms or legs in shackles while I was under residential surveillance in my “designated abode,” the inhumane rules during residential surveillance were much more brutal than [that experienced] in prison, detention center, or the prison transfer station. These rules kept my hands and feet in fixed positions on the bed, my body spread-eagled, my hands unable to touch my own body and my feet unable to touch the ground.

Because being on the bed was living hell, it was naturally a “fortunate enjoyment” to be taken from bed to be taken for questioning by the guobao. Sitting in a stool in the interrogation room, I understood the meaning of the word “fortunate.”

11 February 2012

Wang Lijun, Episode One

I'm a fan of the political thriller genre. Not so long ago I was devouring episodes of Homeland as if my life depended on it. I recently read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and loved it.

So, it is perhaps natural that I should be so intrigued by the unfolding drama in Sichuan involving Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai (left) and his erstwhile right-hand man, Wang Lijun (right), who until recently served as Chongqing's top cop and deputy mayor.
For the past several days, the Internet has been pulsating with reports and speculation that Wang had gone to the US consulate in Chengdu to seek political asylum. It's been fascinating to watch this story unfold, especially to observe how details of a high-level political scandal that once would have remained practically unknown, save for some after-the-fact rumors published in the Hong Kong political press, has been exposed on the Chinese-language Internet, almost in real time.

I'm not going to go into all of the background of this story or analyze its importance (except to remind you of this earlier posting, which may now need to be revised). Xujun Eberlein has posted what I believe to be a very plausible (and concise) account of what appears to have happened and why.

Shortly thereafter, a series of posts appeared last night on the Twitter feed belonging to @lee91741 (who I don't know) that add (embellish?) details on the account as we know it. I've done a rough translation below. I don't vouch for the veracity of any of this, and in fact, there are some details of the story that don't make sense. Just think of this of the outline of a screenplay for the one-hour first episode of a television drama and enjoy it for what it's worth.

1. At 5pm on 6 February, Wang returned home to his residence. The men keeping him under surveillance reported: “All normal!” Then three of the six surveillance teams were dismissed, leaving three teams posted at the front and rear of the house, with one team on call. Each surveillance team consisted of three members. After spending half an hour observing the scene from his window, Wang decided that their guard had slackened. He then immediately made himself up as an old woman, started up a car that he had earlier fitted with normal license plates, and leisurely drove out [of the residence compound]. He then switched to license plates belonging to the Chongqing Public Security Bureau and sped off.

2. As he neared Chengdu, Wang used a disposable mobile phone to call the US consulate in Chengdu. “This is Chongqing Vice Mayor Wang Lijun. I would like to seek political asylum. I am about to enter the Chengdu city limits.” Thirty minutes later, at around 9pm on the 6th, Wang Lijun, the vice mayor of Chongqing Municipality, the People’s Republic of China, drove into the US consulate in Chengdu.

3. After having waited for several hours, US Consul General Peter Haymond* and several vice consuls met with Wang Lijun in a conference room. Wang immediately made a verbal request for political asylum. His proof of asylum: a photograph of one of Wang’s associates who had been secretly arrested and interrogated to death and a video of someone else describing Bo Xilai’s plan to have Wang Lijun murdered. These documents showed that the plot included suicide, a car accident, “disappearance,” and concoction of a trumped-up case in which Wang would be shot down while on the run.

(* The original text refers to him as "US Consul General Cao Cao." Cao Cao was a famous warlord of the immortalized in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. His zi ("style name") was Cao Mengde, using the same characters in Haymond's Chinese name, He Mengde. I don't know whether any other connection is implied.)

4. After Wang had shared the details with the Americans, the US side told him: “We accept your request for political asylum, but the final decision will require us to report to Ambassador Locke in Beijing. Please understand.” At 11pm, Beijing time, US Ambassador Gary Locke received a telephone report from the Chengdu consulate. Locke immediately reported the details to the White House. During this time, the Americans arranged for Wang Lijun to communicate with his family by code to tell them he was safe.

5. At 5am on the 7th, Beijing time, US Ambassador Locke formally notified the Chengdu consulate that the White House had refused Wang Lijun’s request for political asylum. But the US government gave Ambassador Locke full powers to give Wang Lijun all possible humanitarian assistance. At 6am on the 7th, US officials had breakfast with Wang and discussed how they could help him. Wang himself made a suggestion: “I’ll surrender to Party Central, not to Bo Xilai.”

6. Wang Lijun explained to the Americans: “I came to hide in the US consulate in order to evade political assassination by Bo Xilai.” After discussion, the Americans came to believe that this was the only reason that the Chinese side could accept. At 8am on the 7th, Beijing time, Ambassador Locke notified the Chinese government. The Chinese side immediately sent the State Security Bureau to fly to Chengdu. Their mission: safely retrieve Wang Lijun and, on account of Wang, thoroughly investigate Bo Xilai, [Chongqing Mayor] Huang Qifan, and their subordinates.

7. At 7am on the 7th, Beijing time, the surveillance team realized that Wang had disappeared. Bo Xilai immediately got in touch with his contacts in Beijing and learned that Wang Lijun had gone to the US consulate in Chengdu. He immediately directed Huang Qifan to take 70 police vehicles and set off with great despatch to Chengdu. Finding themselves surrounded by the Chongqing police, the Americans in Chengdu immediately contacted Ambassador Locke in Beijing, who notified his Chinese counterparts that Chongqing police were surrounding the US consulate in Chengdu.

8. Party Central was furious on hearing the news and immediately ordered the Sichuan party secretary to ensure the safety of Wang Lijun and US consular officials and to order Sichuan state security and police into action to drive away the Chongqing police and wait for officials from Party Central to arrive on the scene to handle the affair. At 12 noon, Beijing time, the Chongqing police force led by Huang Qifan was driven out of Chengdu. At 2pm, Guo Qiang and his crack team from the Chinese Ministry of State Security arrived in Chengdu and took over operational command.

9. At 3pm, Beijing time, Guo Qiang met with Bo Xilai and listened to Bo’s explanation. At 4pm, Beijing time, Guo Qiang spoke with Wang Lijun by telephone and relayed instructions from [Hu] Jintao: “Party Central will enforce the law impartially in handling your problem. A good person will not be wronged, but a bad person will definitely not go free.” Wang responded: “I accept investigation by Party Central. I don’t deny my crimes, but I won’t admit things I didn’t do. I accuse Bo and his family of corruption and abusing the law.”

10. Between 4:30 and 5:30pm, Wang Lijun met alone with the US consul general for an hour and gave the Americans some documents. Then at 6pm on the 7th, Beijing time, Wang Lijun walked out of the US Consulate General in Chengdu on his own. At 8am on the 8th, Beijing time, Wang Lijun was personally escorted to Beijing by a vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security.