Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Earthquake Victim Sentenced to Prison for Desecrating Flag


The devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal on April 25, 2015 also brought casualties and widespread damage to southwestern Tibet. Across the region there were 25 deaths, four missing, hundreds of injuries, and more than 47,500 people were displaced. Tingri, 150 miles southwest of Shigatse, was one of the hardest hit counties, where nearly 80 percent of housing was leveled by the quake.

Disaster relief efforts often produce tensions between government officials and those whose lives have been most affected. This appears to have been the case for Tingri county resident Garab, whose home was destroyed in the quake and whose apparent frustration with inaction by local officials led to a symbolic act of protest that put him in prison for two and half years.

According to the court verdict (translated below), Garab reportedly found an old PRC flag in the ruins of his former home weeks after the April quake. Prosecutors alleged that he burned holes in the flag and then used a marker to write “Free Tibet” on it. After allegedly hiding the flag under his mattress for several days, he discarded it along a path where some village children found it. Members of a work group stationed in the village noticed the children playing with the flag and reported the incident to local authorities. Garab was later taken into custody and charged with flag desecration under China’s Criminal Law.

Garab’s November 2015 trial appears to have been only the third criminal trial filed at the court that year, making it a rather rare event for the judges of the Tingri County People’s Court. Similar acts of protest elsewhere in China have resulted in lighter sentences. But, instead of ascribing Garab’s act of protest to high emotions in the wake of tremendous personal loss, the court showed little leniency—shaving only six-months off the maximum three-year prison sentence though Garab had confessed, expressed remorse, and had no prior police record.

The trial itself appeared perfunctory. While the verdict refers vaguely to forensic testimony, Garab’s confession seems to have been the prime piece of evidence linking him to the flag desecration. However, because his act of protest happened in an ethnic border region during a time of heightened tensions, local authorities’ need to preserve stability took priority.






Wednesday, April 27, 2016

China’s Average “Death Row” Prisoner Waits 2 Months for Execution


A court official reads a decision confirming sentence to a death row inmate.

In the United States, men and women sentenced to death typically await execution in “death row” sections of state and federal prisons. Due to complex and time-consuming appeals procedures, that wait can be quite long, averaging roughly 15 years, according to government statistics. This has led to arguments that the “death row phenomenon”—execution after extended delay under the harsh regime applied to condemned prisoners—constitutes cruel and inhumane punishment outlawed under international law.

Though China continues to make liberal use of the death penalty—executing more people than the rest of the world combined—the Chinese public is less aware of “death row.” In part, this is because individuals are not transferred to prisons but remain in detention centers during the period between sentencing and execution. There, they are often housed alongside other detainees rather than being segregated into special units. People sentenced to death often stand out, however, because of the shackles on their hands and feet.

Another reason why China is not typically thought to have a “death row” is because people spend relatively less time awaiting execution. Though there can be lengthy delays while cases bounce back and forth between intermediate courts of first instance and provincial courts of appeal, the wait becomes much shorter once the death sentence is sent to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) for review and approval.

Just how long or short this wait is remains shrouded in the cloak of secrecy that surrounds many other aspects of the death penalty in China. More detail has become available since the SPC started routinely publishing review decisions on its website in July 2013. The court still has quite a way to go in terms of disclosing information about capital punishment, but even the rather limited information it publishes provides some insight into opaque territory.

As a demonstration, Dui Hua recently reviewed roughly 500 SPC review decisions in an attempt to answer a surprisingly complicated question: How long do Chinese “death row” prisoners wait between the time their sentences are approved by the SPC and execution?

In all, these decisions concerned 525 individuals and were handed down between April 2011 and November 2015. Most of the decisions were from 2013–2015, with 2014 accounting for more than half of the total (see table below). The SPC rejected the death sentences given to only 11 individuals, leaving 514 facing execution.


Supreme People’s Court Death Penalty Review Decisions, Apr 2011- Nov 2015
Outcome
Year issued No. of individuals w/ sentences reviewed Death penalty rejected Execution publicly reported
2015 115 3 22
2014 283 4 41
2013 121 4 37
2012 4 0 1
2011 2 0 1
TOTAL 525 11 102

It can be assumed that all of these individuals have been or will be executed, but in order to confirm exact dates, Dui Hua drew upon public execution reports. Doing so, Dui Hua was able to confirm the executions of 102 of the 514 individuals whose death sentences were approved by the SPC. In other words, no public record of any execution could be found for 80 percent of those whose sentences received final approval. An even smaller fraction of those whose executions were logged by Dui Hua have had their court decisions made public on the SPC website.

Based on Dui Hua analysis of the SPC decisions, China’s average “death row” prisoner can expect to wait roughly two months from the time the court approves their death sentence to the time of execution. But this period can vary considerably, with a small handful of people waiting more than 200 days and others waiting less than a week. Based on our sample, the median length of time on “death row” was 50 days.

This suggests that there is often a gap between the time that the SPC finishes its review and the time that highest court’s president signs a warrant of execution. This is clear because, under the Criminal Procedure Law, courts are required to carry out the death penalty within seven days of receiving such a warrant. The only statutory grounds for altering this strict timeline are when: 1) there is evidence of a possible error in the original judgment; 2) the person sentenced to death provides evidence of other crimes or performs other acts of major meritorious service that could result in leniency; or 3) the person sentenced to death is discovered to be pregnant.

The speed with which execution is carried out may be associated with certain individuals or crimes. For example, all 16 Uyghurs in the sample had their executions for terrorist activity carried out between five and nine days after the SPC approved their sentences. This means that warrants for execution had to have been issued more or less simultaneously with the court’s decision to approve capital punishment. The wait was also very brief for Xu Maiyong (eight days) and Liu Han (13 days). Xu was the former vice-mayor of Hangzhou who was executed for corruption in 2011. Liu was a politically connected business figure executed in 2015 for allegedly leading an organized crime syndicate in Sichuan.

In fact, the timing of executions may be tied to the social and political value of their publicity. Most of the Uyghurs were executed after region-wide mass rallies were covered widely in the national press in 2014 in an apparent attempt to show government resolve to combat violent terrorism. The April 2014 execution of Wang Yunsheng, only five days after SPC approval of his death sentence for murdering a doctor, appears to have been timed to coincide with the release of a judicial opinion on stricter punishment for crimes against medical practitioners.

Timeliness can also mean longer periods in custody. People who commit drug offenses sometimes wait for weeks or even months after their sentences have been approved, apparently in order for their execution to herald the “International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking” commemorated on June 26.

These cases are relatively easy to single out precisely because reporting on the death penalty in China is very selective and incomplete. Most cases receive no publicity at all, while others are used to send messages to the public. By virtue of being reported in some way, the executions reviewed here are more likely to have been carried out according to a schedule not simply determined by the judicial process. Were China to report information about death penalty cases more routinely, it would be possible to test the results of this dataset and learn more about the final days on China’s “death row.”


Monday, November 30, 2015

Ethnic Nationalism Along the China-Burma Border



A map indicating the location of the Wa population within China's Yunnan province, which borders Burma.

Ethnic Nationalism Along the China-Burma Border

China watchers are well aware of ethnic unrest involving Tibetans and Uyghurs, but little is known about independence movements and cultural rights activism among other ethnic minorities. Dui Hua research has explored the suppression of Christianity among China’s ethnic Koreans. Now, based on public security records obtained by Dui Hua (PDF 1.2MB), we expand our understanding of this topic to include the Wa and Lahu.

The Wa and Lahu primarily inhabit mountain villages along the border between China's Yunnan Province and Burma. Today there are an estimated 1.2 million Wa people worldwide, with 800,000 in Burma and 400,000 in China, and 800,000 Lahu, of whom more than half reside in China.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, authorities in Yunnan's Simao Prefecture (or present day Pu'er City) targeted the Wa and Lahu people in efforts to suppress nationalistic sentiments. Official sources trace ethnic nationalism among these groups to Zhadie (扎谍), a Wa man born in a contested territory between China and Burma in 1924. Records describe him as an overseas separatist instructed by the United States and Kuomintang to carry out counterrevolutionary activities on the mainland. (Some Kuomintang forces refused to retreat to Taiwan and instead withdrew to Burma after the Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China in 1949.)

Calling himself “old Buddha,” Zhadie saw increasing support among Burmese Wa and Lahu after the end of World War II. In 1950, he began sending his followers to Pu’er and Lincang, Yunnan, to spread the idea of establishing a Wa-Lahu nation.

Zhadie argued that Wa-Lahu independence was necessary to free the two ethnic groups from Han Chinese oppression. According to government records, one of his slogans was: “Han Chinese repress Wa. Exterminate the Han.” Early on, Zhadie likened himself to the Mao Zedong of the Wa and Lahu people. In the 1980s, he compared himself to the Dalai Lama, as the spiritual leader of Wa and Lahu in China and Burma.

The number of Zhadie's supporters is unknown. Spotty government records state that as many as 3,500 people from more than 30 Wa villages gathered in Yunnan in March 1959 to perform folk dances led by Zhadie's followers and to listen to their nationalist speeches. The government responded by saying that the villagers had been “deceived” and by reinforcing patriotic education in the area.

Between 1950 and 1961, government sources document 48 instances of infiltration associated with Zhadie. Eleven were small-scale armed rebellions or disturbances that were swiftly suppressed by the much larger joint forces of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and public security. The largest of these armed activities took place in June 1951. During the incident two to three hundred of Zhadie's rebels besieged the Wendong District government and kidnapped communist cadres with the support of Kuomintang forces.

Burma agreed to let the PLA fight Kuomintang forces on Burmese soil in 1961, putting Zhadie’s mainland activities on hold for approximately two decades. Zhadie’s influence diminished without the military backing of the Kuomintang, but it had a resurgence during the reform and opening in 1978.

From the mid-1980s to 1998, Simao police arrested 66 people in 20 incidents of subversion and sabotage linked to Zhadie. During the period, he made plans for a Wa-Lahu nation more concrete, stating that it would be established in the year 2000 and that he would serve as president. In March 1990, nearly 200 villagers joined his core supporters in celebrating the establishment of the “Zhadie District government” in Yunnan’s Ximeng County. Between 1991 and 1993, his supporters went to 121 Wa and Lahu villages to hand out photos of Zhadie and seals and flags of the new "regime."

It was not until the mid-1990s that China addressed the problems through diplomacy. In the spring of 1996, Chinese officials traveled to Burma's Mongmao County to meet with Zhadie, then age 72, and announce that he and his adherents had violated Chinese law. China threatened to impose sanctions on Burma and to close the border for religious worship during Chinese New Year. In response, the local Burmese government began imposing restrictions on Zhadie in 1998, greatly diminishing his influence in China.

Nonetheless, nearly ten years later, on December 27, 2006, The People's Daily named Zhadie as an overseas separatist force in Yunnan that was funded by western countries and supported by the US government and religious organizations.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Xinjiang’s State Security Prisoners: Failing to Reform (Part 2 of 2)

Twelve men accused of ESS are publicly sentenced in Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, September 18, 2008. Photo credit: iyaxin.com

In 2008 the Xinjiang Rule of Law Leading Small Group published a policy document examining a number of challenges faced by prison authorities in managing the region’s endangering state security (ESS) prisoners. The first two sections of the document, which discuss the situation facing Xinjiang prison work and the psychological profiles of ESS prisoners, are translated here. What follows is a translation of the last two sections of the document. These sections describe attitudes towards reform among ESS prisoners and methods for prisons to improve their reform work. The document emphasizes the “clear hostility” of ESS prisoners, noting that it is “extremely common” for them to resist reform.

The document observes that by concentrating ESS offenders, prisons become fertile grounds for reactionary groups to recruit members and may ultimately become targets for attack. The language used in this paper conveys the sense that prison authorities are engaged in battle with enemy forces on China’s frontier and that, in the interest of “stability above all else,” military-level investments in personnel, equipment, and facilities are necessary.

Prisons are instructed to “strategically despise all enemies but tactically take [them] seriously” and to “divide and demoralize.” In some cases, the document specifically calls for solitary confinement, fixed sleeping positions, and prohibitions on sitting.

Among the groups identified in the document as a proponent of the “three forces” of ethnic separatism, Islamic extremism, and terrorism is the East Turkestan Islamic Party (ETIP). Chinese officials have ascribed a number of bombings and hijackings to the group, which was labeled a terrorist organization by the US government in 2002. As recently as May 2015, Mettursun Eziz was sentenced to four years’ in prison for circulating religious materials produced by ETIP.




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Xinjiang’s State Security Prisoners: Failing to Reform (Part 1 of 2)

Twelve men accused of ESS are publicly sentenced in Yili (Ili) Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, September 18, 2008. Photo credit: iyaxin.com

In 2008 the Xinjiang Rule of Law Leading Small Group published a policy document examining a number of challenges faced by prison authorities in managing the region’s prisoners serving sentences for endangering state security (ESS). The first two sections of the document are translated below. They discuss the climate surrounding Xinjiang prison work and the psychological profiles of ESS prisoners. The last two sections of the document, focusing on how to better reform ESS prisoners, will be translated in an upcoming post.

The document focuses on external factors, like increasing US attention to the “Xinjiang question” and the “three forces” of ethnic separatism, Islamic extremism, and terrorism. Also mentioned are internal factors, such as an insufficient number of prison police, a shortage of funds, and outdated facilities.

Over the years, Dui Hua has drawn on evidence from a variety of open-source documents to conclude that Xinjiang accounts for a considerable proportion of the nation’s ESS arrests, indictments, and trials. In 2008, Xinjiang accounted for more than 75 percent of ESS arrests and 82 percent of ESS indictments nationwide. In the first 11 months of that year, Xinjiang’s procuratorate reported that 1,295 individuals were arrested and 1,154 were indicted for ESS crimes in the region. Between 2008 and 2010, Xinjiang, which accounts for less than two percent of China’s population, accounted for 50 percent of the nation’s first-instance ESS trials. In 2013 and 2014, Xinjiang conducted about 300 ESS trials of first instance each year.

The large number of ESS cases in Xinjiang is connected to the region’s complex history; diverse population; and geo-strategic importance, bordering Russia and Central Asia on China’s northwest. The emergence of independent Central Asian states after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the spread of Islamic ideologies have heightened Chinese authorities’ concerns about stability in the region. Authorities in Xinjiang see themselves as engaging in an ongoing battle against the “three forces.” In their view, what hangs in the balance is the stability of Xinjiang and the allegiance of the region’s 10 million Uyghurs—an ethnically Turkic, culturally distinct, and predominantly Muslim people who have been the main inhabitants of the region for more than 1,000 years.

The document describes the “American Factor” as a “constant threat” to Xinjiang’s social and political stability. It mentions US support for nonviolent resistance movements, or color revolutions, in Central Asia and notes that religious extremism has flourished in countries where color revolutions occurred. US interest in human rights in Xinjiang, particularly its criticism of controversial ESS cases like that of Ilham Tohti, remains a point of contention in US-China relations. China continues to see such attention as interference in its domestic affairs, and accuses the United States of a “double standard” in combatting terrorism for its penchant to draw attention to Chinese policies that marginalize and criminalize Uyghur culture in its response to ethnic clashes in Xinjiang.

Tensions between Han Chinese and Uyghurs flare up periodically as protest. Some of the protests turn violent, as in the deadly riots that erupted in Ürümqi in July 2009. In recent years official media have reported an increasing number of violent incidents in the region. Xinjiang police counted over 190 “terrorist” attacks in 2012. Authorities have also implicated Uyghurs in incidents outside the remote western region, including Beijing’s Tiananmen car crash in October 2013 and knife attacks at Kunming and Guangzhou train stations in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Law enforcement has responded by tightening controls on religious and cultural activities and cracking down on “infiltration” by trans-national radical groups.

One of the radical groups named in the paper is Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation. Many countries have banned the group. Chinese government records show that a substantial proportion of ESS cases are attributed to Hizb ut-Tahrir. For example, in 2010, police in Kashgar identified 522 people for their involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir, compared with just 47 people involved with the East Turkestan Islamic Party. That said, independent media reports documenting Hizb ut-Tahrir activity in Xinjiang are scarce.

Moving to psychological profiles, the document distinguishes different segments of Xinjiang’s ESS prisoner population by factors such as age, level of education, and exposure to religious ideas. The profiles suggest the need for differentiated strategies of “education and reform.” Prison authorities put considerable emphasis on the need to “convert” ESS offenders and replace their “bigoted” and “reactionary” ideas about ethnicity, religion, and history with proper Marxist understandings that reduce antagonism towards the party-state.