|John Kamm with Ministry of Justice and prison administration bureau officials at Dongguan Prison, November 11, 2002.|
In recent years, visits to Chinese prisons made by representatives of foreign governments and non-governmental organizations have been reduced to a trickle. This is due in part to the reduction of Sino-Western bilateral rights dialogues and the elimination of visits to custodial centers that these dialogues once fostered. Consular visits to individual prisoners aside, the International Center for Prison Studies visited prisons in Anhui and Hubei in March 2009; Dui Hua visited the Beijing Juvenile Detention Center in May 2010; and an international humanitarian organization visited two Chongqing prisons in the spring of 2011. No United Nations officials have been allowed into Chinese prisons since Manfred Nowak, the special rapporteur on torture, returned from a visit in late 2005 to condemn its palpable “climate of fear.”
Though dwindling, visits by foreigners to Chinese prisons play an important role in ensuring the humane treatment of prisoners. In a recent interview with Hong Kong’s Open Magazine, Xu Zerong discussed how he ended up serving 11 years in prison and how overseas intervention improved his life in custody.
In November 2002, Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Dongguan Prison in Guangdong Province. A few months later, Xu was transferred there to serve his sentence for “trafficking in state secrets.” The following is an excerpt from the Open Magazine interview detailing prison conditions and the impact of international concern on the treatment Xu received.
Writing Got Him Through the Prison Years
August 6, 2011
Writing Got Him Through the Prison Years
August 6, 2011
Open Magazine: How was [Dongguan Prison] compared to Huadu [National Security Detention Center]*?
徐澤榮：好多了，在花都關在只有一兩個人的牢房中，現在一間牢房有十至十二人，有人說話。東莞監獄是廣東的模範監獄，管理比較文明。這也有美國人的功 勞。中美對話基金會的康原（John Kamm），於一九九九年十一月來參觀過，由司法部外事處的人陪同，監獄小報有報導。有了美國人的關注，監獄環境得到改善，犯人都是受益者。
Xu Zerong: Much better. At Huadu I was held in a cell with just one or two people. [At Dongguan] each cell had 10 to 12 people, so there were people to talk to. Dongguan Prison is a model prison in Guangdong Province. Management is relatively civilized. This is also to the Americans’ credit. The Dui Hua Foundation’s John Kamm visited [Dongguan Prison] in November 1999 [sic] along with officials from the Ministry of Justice foreign affairs bureau; this was reported in the prison newspaper. With American attention, prison conditions improved, and all prisoners benefited.
OM: Kamm remained very concerned about your case.
徐澤榮：是的，這年十一月我從東莞監獄調到環境更好的廣州西村監獄，我認為是康原幫的忙。廣州西川與東莞這兩個監獄都被評為廣東部級文明監獄，由於西村 是廣東勞改局直接領導，生活上對犯人更要文明一些，加班也沒有東莞厲害。在東莞由於勞動時間長，沒有時間寫東西，我要半夜起來寫。西村監獄十五個監區，一 個關香港人，一個關澳門台灣人，還有一個關外國人，但沒有西方人。我是關在大陸人的監區內。牢房中都有衛生間。一個緬甸人說感覺很好，好像是住賓館。○五 年二月還把我與老弱犯人關在一起，免於勞動，使我有時間寫東西，都是康原與當局交涉的結果。他還給我寄了五本書，是關於美國外交和國際關係這類，還收到他 一封短信。
XZR: Yes. In November of that year I was transferred from Dongguan Prison to Guangzhou Xicun Prison, which had even better conditions. I believe this was [due to] his help. Both the Guangzhou Xichuan [sic] and Dongguan prisons are considered Guangdong’s most civilized prisons. Because Guangdong’s prison administration bureau directly supervises Xicun [Prison], prisoners’ living conditions were even more civilized [there], and [mandatory] overtime labor was not as severe as in Dongguan. Because work hours were long in Dongguan, there was no time to write—I had to wake up in the middle of the night to write.
Xicun Prison has 15 cell blocks, one for Hong Kong people, one for Macanese and Taiwanese people, and one for foreigners, but there weren’t any Westerners. I was detained in the cell block for mainland Chinese. There were bathrooms in the cells. One Burmese said it felt nice, like staying in a guesthouse. In February 2005 I was even put together with weak and elderly** prisoners and waived from doing labor, giving me time to write. All of this was the result of Kamm’s negotiations with the authorities. He even sent me five books about things like US diplomacy and international relations. I also received a short letter from him.
OM: When you were in prison, were you aware of the support you had overseas?
徐澤榮：我聽律師講到海外有人聲援我，聯署簽名。也有後來入獄的犯人說在香港電視上看過報導。我最為驚訝的是在廣州監獄收到美國硅谷寄給我的一張卡，有 八個人簽名，其中一位叫周鋒鎖，我覺得名字很熟悉，我查官方出的六四書《新中國大波瀾》，發現他是北京天安門學生領袖，心裡很震動。還收到國際筆會從美國 寄來的四封聖誕卡，也感到意外。你們獨立中文筆會頒獎給我，姪女也告訴我了 ，還把獎盃的照片交給了監獄方面。這些對我都是很大的鼓勵，知道在這個世界上有很多人不認為我是犯罪的。我真的是很感謝大家。
XZR: [My] lawyer told me that there were people overseas who were supporting me and signing a petition [on my behalf], and prisoners incarcerated afterward said they saw reports [on my case] on Hong Kong TV. The most surprising thing for me was when I was in Guangzhou Prison and received a card from Silicon Valley signed by eight people including someone named Zhou Fengsuo. The name sounded familiar so I looked in an official book on the June 4th incident, New China Review, and discovered that he was a student leader at Beijing’s Tiananmen. I was extremely moved.
I also received four Christmas cards sent from the United States by International PEN, which were unexpected. When your Independent Chinese PEN Center gave me an award, my niece told me and even gave the prison a photo of the trophy. All of this was of great encouragement to me, knowing that there are many people in this world who don’t think that I committed a crime. I am really very grateful to everyone.
*In the interview, Xu says Huadu National Security Detention Center was established in 1995 to house special operatives, political prisoners, and Guangzhou municipal officials ranking at or above deputy level. He said conditions at Huadu are better than at other detention centers, noting en suite air conditioners and televisions and good food.
**Prisoners age 55 and older are classified as elderly.