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.”

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