Important prisoners, like Gao Zhisheng, are required to be imprisoned far from home. Xinjiang Shaya Prison. Photo credit: rfa.org
In February 1995, John Kamm, an independent human rights activist and now executive director of The Dui Hua Foundation, met with representatives of the State Council Information Office and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in Beijing. Agreement was reached that the MOJ would provide information on prisoners in response to 100 requests Kamm would make that year.
Two months later, in April 1995, the ministry’s Prison Administration Bureau released a “Notice on Establishing a Reporting System for Important Prisoners.” The notice was to “strengthen supervision over important prisoners . . . and coordinate with the international struggle over human rights.” It spelled out eight categories of important prisoners—chiefly people serving sentences for political crimes—and laid out what information should be reported in the registration and management of such prisoners. Among other things, the notice requires prison authorities to report to prison administration bureaus (PAB): “the circumstances of important prisoners whose sentences have been extended or reduced, who have been released on probation or medical parole, or who have been released upon completion of their sentences.”
The information necessary to register important prisoners is largely the same information that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides in responses to requests for information from foreign countries engaging with it in bilateral human rights dialogues. It is likely that the information in the registration form provides the basis for these responses.
Although the MOJ has not released a comprehensive revision of the 1995 notice, central and provincial PABs have modified and expanded it. Thus, Shanghai’s Prisoner Visitation Management Rules (2010) require, in Article 7, approval from the municipal PAB’s prison political management office for an important prisoner to receive more than one family visit a month; Jiangsu Prisons Detailed Implementation Rules on Work Procedures for Applying for Sentence Reduction and Parole (2011) require, in Article 18, that sentence reduction and parole for important prisoners must be approved by the provincial PAB before being sent to a court; and Detailed Rules for Law Enforcement Evaluation of Weihai [Shandong] Prison Police (2006) spell out, in Article 5.3, demerits for prison police who fail to report sentence reductions or paroles for important prisoners to the provincial PAB’s prison political management office.
Perhaps the most detailed update of the 1995 notice is to be found in Jianyu Gongzuo Shiwu, published by China Legal Publishing House in 2011. A section of the book (translated below) lists 10 new classes of important prisoners—Falun Gong and “cult” practitioners top the list—and provides directions for how important prisoners are to be managed. Isolation appears to be key: important prisoners are not to be incarcerated in the same place as their household registration (hukou) or residence, accomplices of important prisoners are generally not to be incarcerated in the same prison as the important prisoner, and visitors of important prisoners other than family members must be approved by the PAB’s public security office. Regulations for the treatment of important prisoners may explain why Gao Zhisheng is incarcerated in Shaya Prison—500 miles from Urumqi, the place of his hukou. Another example of an important prisoner incarcerated far from his hukou is Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu is serving his sentence in Jinzhou Prison, a day's travel by train from Dalian, his hukou.
The most significant modification to the 1995 notice is the requirement that, after being reviewed by the warden’s office, sentence reductions and paroles for important prisoners must be reported to the PAB’s penalty execution office and reviewed and consented to by the PAB’s sentence reduction, parole, and medical parole approval committee before their submission to a court for final approval. This rule effectively adds two layers to the approval process for sentence reduction and parole for important prisoners, and helps explain why, in recent years, relatively few sentence reductions and paroles of prisoners serving sentences for endangering state security have taken place.
Although the Jianyu Gongzuo Shiwu mentions only two extra layers of approval, there is probably at least one more for especially sensitive cases. In a video interview given by Chen Guangcheng in January 2010, the blind activist recounts how the prison where he was incarcerated applied to the provincial PAB to grant him a six-month sentence reduction after he had earned enough points for an 18-month reduction. Rather than acting on the application, the bureau sent it to the Ministry of Justice in Beijing, but no action was taken and Chen served out his entire term before being released into a home teeming with police.
Important Prisoners: click to expand
Important prisoners refer to prisoners who committed duty-related crimes, head criminals and ringleaders of organized crime syndicates, key prisoners with a certain degree of influence in the local district, and other important prisoners.
I. Criteria for routing out important prisoners. In addition to important prisoners as defined by the Ministry of Justice Prison Administration Bureau Notice on Establishing a Reporting System for Important Prisoners ( MOJ PAB Doc. No. 60), the following prisoners shall be incorporated into the management of important prisoners:
- "Falun Gong" and other cult prisoners;
- Prisoners from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan who are sentenced for endangering state security crimes;
- Head criminals and ringleaders of organized crime syndicates;
- Prisoners whose cases of duty-related crimes such as graft, bribery, or malfeasance involve very large sums of money or have relatively significant influence within the entire city/municipality;
- Prisoners whose cases have been reported in provincial- or municipal-level newspapers and magazines, on television, or in other media and have very significant influence domestically, internationally, and within society;
- Prisoners whose crimes are vile in their nature or circumstances, lead to serious consequences, or are followed closely by local people or the investigation and handling of whose cases are led directly by the Politico-legal Affairs Committee of the Municipal Party Committee;
- Prisoners who were working in economics, finance, or other industries prior to their arrest and had relatively significant influence in their field or who seriously harm economic or financial security or disrupt the order of the market economy;
- Head criminals and ringleaders who participate in or create incidents of mass social conflict;
- Prisoners whose cases involve victims, relevant interested persons, or others who are dissatisfied with the court decision and frequently petition or report to [the authorities];
- Others who need to be classified as important prisoners.
II. Determination of important criminal [status]. Determination of important criminal [status] is made by [prison administration bureau (PAB)] public security office review of [cases] prisons report to it ([upon their] internal detection) or by notification from the PAB public security office. Determination work is performed by the [PAB] public security office in conjunction with its prison political management office and penalty execution office. Prisons shall fill out the “Important Prisoners Registration Form” and submit it to the [PAB] public security office within one month of taking important prisoners into custody.
(II) Management of Important Prisoners
- Important prisoners who have their sentences extended, have their sentences reduced, are paroled, are released on medical parole, are released after serving out their sentences, or encounter major situations must be reported as they occur. Inquiries made by the [PAB] business department regarding the situation of important prisoners must be handled quickly and reported accurately.
- Important prisoners shall not be incarcerated in prisons that are in the same locality as their place of household registration, residence, or crime. Important prisoners who are accomplices to the same crime shall generally be incarcerated in different prisons. Where accomplices are numerous to the extent that they are incarcerated in the same prison, they shall be incarcerated in different prison blocks.
- Visits between important prisoners and people other than their relatives or guardians must be approved by the PAB public security office. Head criminals and ringleaders of organized crime syndicates and prisoners from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan sentenced for endangering state security crimes are generally not allowed to be visited by people other than their relatives or guardians.
- Sentence reductions and paroles of important prisoners must be reviewed at a meeting of the warden’s office; reported to the PAB penalty execution office; and reviewed and consented to by the PAB sentence reduction, parole, and medical parole approval committee before their submission to a court for deliberation.
王志亮 [Wang Zhiliang], 监狱工作实务 [Jianyu Gongzuo Shiwu] (北京 [Beijing]: 中国法制出版社 [China Legal Publishing House], 2011), 140‒142
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1. 重要罪犯的排摸条件。除司法部监狱管理局《关于建立重要罪犯报告制度的通知)([1995J 司狱字第60 号文)规定的重要罪犯外，以下罪犯纳入重要罪犯管理。
2. 重要罪犯的确定。重要罪犯由监狱上报经局公安处(狱内侦查)审核确定或由局公安处通知确定。确定工作由局公安处会同狱政管理处、刑罚执行处进行。监狱应在收押重要罪犯后1 个月内填报《重要罪犯登记表)，报局公安处。