Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Consensus Building on RTL Reform, Cases Highlight Abuse

Tang Hui was sentenced to 18 months of RTL for accusing police of misconduct following her daughter’s kidnapping and rape. Source: Sanxiang Metropolis Daily
The plight of 39-year-old mother Tang Hui recently catapulted the controversial system of reeducation through labor (RTL) back into Chinese headlines. Tang was sentenced to 18 months of RTL—a system that enables police to punitively detain individuals without trial for periods that generally range from one to three years—in August after she accused police of misconduct while handling of the case of her fifth-grade daughter. The 11-year-old had been kidnapped, repeatedly raped, and sold into prostitution, circumstances that rallied public support for Tang’s successful appeal of the RTL decision. Not long after her vindication, a group of Chinese lawyers circulated an open letter to the Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice calling for reforms to the system.

This was not the first call for reform. The fiercest critics advocate abolition of RTL, calling it unconstitutional, a violation of the Legislation Law, and incompatible with China’s expressed goal to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998. Since 2003, lawmakers have twice placed a new Law on Education and Correction for Illegal Acts (违法行为教育矫治法) on the legislative agenda, but each time police opposition has prevented it from going much farther.

There are, however, signs of new momentum, including the recent announcement of a pilot project in four Chinese cities that promises to reduce the scale of RTL and introduce more reasonable procedural guarantees. Overall, consensus appears to be forming around the idea that the RTL system cannot continue in its present form and some changes will have to be made.

As the future of RTL approaches this turning point, an account from Caijing magazine (translated below) offers an inside look at the experiences of several men who were detained in Chongqing’s Fuling RTL and Drug Treatment Center for online expression. In the battle to preserve social stability, the reform of RTL might take a favored weapon out of the hands of Chinese police but, by reducing the degree of arbitrariness and abuse of citizen’s rights implicit in the system, it might also make stability more possible.


RTL, Twice
Xu Kai
Caijing, August 26, 2012

Gong Hanzhou, sentenced twice to RTL, and his RTL “classmates” show how local government abuses RTL as a tool of maintaining stability

On March 29, 2012, 32-year-old Gong Hanzhou received some good news while in the RTL facility. But “after a moment of elation, I grew angry enough to curse someone,” because this was followed immediately by some bad news.

The good news was he had won his second lawsuit. In his appeal against the Chongqing RTL Committee, the Chongqing Municipality High People’s Court had upheld the Chongqing No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court’s earlier decision to annul the RTL decision against him on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient and the facts were not clear.

The bad news was he received a second RTL decision from the Chongqing RTL Committee, sending him to RTL a second time based on the same facts, albeit for 18 months instead of the original two years. Counting from the date of his criminal detention on January 4, 2011, he still had more than three months to go before he would be released from the RTL facility.

Two weeks earlier, someone from Chongqing’s Qianjiang District Public Security Bureau came to talk to him and to deliver to him a RTL hearing notice in the name of the Chongqing RTL Committee, saying that he would be sent to RTL for 15 months. As far as public security was concerned, even though the first RTL decision had been annulled by the court, it could rely on the second decision without mishandling the case.

So that he could leave earlier, around March 16, 2012, Gong Hanzhou came to a written agreement with the public security authority: he would not stir up public opinion or seek state compensation. “It was only after I received the decision notice that I realized that three months had been added to the 15 months we had discussed earlier!” [Gong said.] But it was no use: he had to spend three more months in the Fuling RTL and Drug Treatment Center.


Gong Hanzhou had once worked four years in the Qianjiang Vehicle Administration Office, and before his troubles began he had been working in a computer sales center. His RTL started with the online reposting of a photo of a naked man.

On the night of December 28, 2010, Qianjiang resident Ni Zhenhua and his girlfriend got into an argument with a street vendor after they had been drinking. Ni Zhenhua overturned the vendor’s table and smacked his refrigerator. A Qianjiang district traffic police officer responded to the call and took Ni Zhenhua to the traffic police podium at the Qianjiang District Stadium, handcuffing him to a nearby railing. In resisting his restraints, Ni Zhenhua struggled so much that he came out of his clothes.

This scene was spotted by a passerby named Chen Wei, who in turn related it to a local man named Liu Yong whom he met for dinner. Three hours later, Liu Yong passed the scene and discovered that Ni Zhenhua was still handcuffed in the same spot, so he went back to his friend’s house to grab a camera to take a photo of Ni Zhenhua. As he was leaving, Liu left his phone number with Ni Zhenhua’s girlfriend, saying: “Give me a call if you want the photo.”

One afternoon three days later, Liu Yong posted an item entitled “Qianjiang District Stadium Traffic Police Podium—Traffic Police Abuse a Drunken Man” to his Qzone [a social networking platform], attaching eight photographs. The post read: “On December 28 at 9:48 p.m., a drunken man was taken back to the Qianjiang District Stadium traffic police podium, where he was first beaten by several traffic police (see photo), then stripped of all his clothing (see photo), and handcuffed, naked, to a small iron post nearby for nearly four hours (see photo). This is a clear humiliation of his personhood!! I hope the relevant authorities will take notice! Please repost!” Then, Liu Yong sent the post URL to several QQ [on online chat tool] groups.

On January 1, 2011, Liu Yong’s brother-in-law Gong Hanzhou reposted the item to his own Qzone [page] and sent the new web address to many other friends on QQ, generating a great deal of attention and reposting.

Two days later, having heard that the police were investigating the aforementioned posts, Gong Hanzhou told Liu Yong that he was willing to share responsibility: “We’ll take the blame together.” He and Liu Yong went to the public security bureau, saying that the photographs, the text, and the posting were done by them together.

The next day, the Qianjiang District Public Security Bureau filed a case for investigation against Gong Hanzhou on suspicion of creating a serious disturbance and placed him under criminal detention. On the 7th, the bureau told Gong that his detention would be extended to February 3, 2011. On January 11th, the Chongqing RTL Committee issued RTL decision number 164, finding that Gong Hanzhou and Liu Yong “retaliated against the public security authority by using the Internet to disseminate the photos they had taken and fabricate a story to attack a functional department of the government, thereby deceiving members of the public who did not know the facts and creating an extremely bad impact on society.”

At the same time that Gong Hanzhou was being sent to RTL, the drunk and disorderly Ni Zhenhua was also sent to RTL for 18 months and Liu Yong was sent to RTL for two years. Because of the Ni Zhenhua photo incident, Qianjiang District Public Security Bureau Chief Song Zhijun and Traffic Patrol Unit head Liu Yonghua were removed from duty and transferred out of the public security system; the political commissar of the Traffic Patrol Unit was given an internal party warning; and the officer involved, Li Yongjiu, was placed under public order detention for seven days and transferred out of the police force.


The Fuling RTL and Drug Treatment Center where Gong Hanzhou was sent is managed by the Chongqing Justice Bureau. There are two main buildings at the RTL center. One is a dormitory, with each floor housing 84 individuals; two floors making up a squadron and four floors making up a brigade. The other building is a workshop—a very long factory building.

At the beginning, Gong Hanzhou and Liu Yong underwent training with the 4th Brigade, consisting of marching and lining up in formation. This was supposed to last for 40 days, but they did it for more than three months.

Since Gong Hanzhou was considered to have been a victim of injustice, his days inside were relatively easy. He didn’t work in the workshop and didn’t spend even a single day there. Instead, he helped cadres in the dormitory to organize the files on people sent to RTL. He also didn’t need to study. “I had the privilege of not having to study because I was working for the cadres,” he said.

RTL is a form of compulsory education, and people sent to RTL address each other as “classmates.” Because he was helping the guards to organize documents, Gong Hanzhou made a tally and found that the majority of his “classmates” were there for theft or fighting: half for theft, 30 percent for fighting, and the rest for things like petitioning and having one’s home demolished. He learned that one “classmate,” because of his previous record of being sent to RTL and placed under public order detention, had been sent for one year of RTL after stealing a packet of instant noodles. Also, because the facility served both as an RTL facility and as a drug treatment center, there were many people there in drug rehabilitation.

Other than his brother-in-law Liu Yong, he encountered other “classmates” who were there for online expression. One of them was thorny Fang Hong. Fang Hong, known online as “Bamboo-Shoot Fang,” had lampooned Chongqing’s then-senior leader on his Tencent microblog, for which he was sent to one year of RTL for spreading rumors.

In the RTL facility, Gong Hanzhou also came to know a university student known as Ren Jianyu the “Village Official,” who had been sent to two years of RTL for harmful speech after posting a large number of microblog posts on his Tencent microblog and Qzone. Earlier in July 2009, after graduating from the Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences, Ren Jianyu had been selected by Chongqing Municipality to serve as a university student “village official” in Yushan Town, Pengshui County. His performance was very good during this time, and at the end of his term, in August 2011, he was hired as a civil servant by Pengshui County. But during the “public notice period” after his hiring, he was sent for RTL by the Chongqing RTL Committee.


The main components of the RTL system are labor and education. But the great majority of those sent to RTL slack off during their labor. When Gong Hanzhou’s “classmate” Fang Hong didn’t want to work, there wasn’t much the RTL facility could do about it.

Fang Hong, age 45, is a resident of Fuling District, Chongqing, and an internally retired employee of the Fuling District Forestry Bureau. His brigade produced Christmas lights for a Shenzhen lighting company, with 27 people assigned to a team. Each day, each person was responsible for soldering 6,500 lights, and points would be deducted if they did not meet their target. Fang Hong said only two or three of the 27 were able to meet the target, and the rest were all docked points. The regulations say that for each 10 points docked, RTL will be extended by one day.

Fang Hong told the RTL guards that he didn’t care about an extension and that they were welcome to dock his points. But in the end his RTL was not extended. “The RTL guards were relatively lenient,” he said.

Liu Yong also produced lights for three months, and before that he spent seven or eight months making packaging for drinking straws and paper-based packaging for a pharmaceutical company.

These companies that cooperate with the RTL facility would send representatives to be stationed there and take responsibility for quality control. “Before, when things were better, the center could earn tens of thousands of yuan each day,” said Fang Hong. “But now I think they’re lucky if they don’t lose money, the losses are so great. Each person only gets paid a stipend of eight yuan each month, whether or not they do a good job.”

According to regulations, RTL facilities should pay wages to people in RTL. Fang Hong, Gong Hanzhou, and Liu Yong only received the eight-yuan monthly stipend. Cash cannot be used to make purchases in the RTL facility, instead a stored-value card is used, to which a maximum of 500 yuan may be added each month. The RTL facility provides meals, alternating daily between meat and eggs. Payment is necessary for extra portions.

Here, relatives can visit once every two weeks, and one phone call is allowed every two weeks.

So-called “reeducation” is the compulsory study that people sent to RTL are required to do. According to Liu Yong and others, there are two main parts to the education. One is political study, where they talk about revolutionary heroes like Pan Dongzi [a character in a 1974 film depicting the life of a 10-year-old boy determined to join the Red Army], Liu Hulan [a young woman who carried out secret operations on behalf of the Communist Party during the Civil War], and Qiu Shaoyun [a soldier with the Chinese Volunteer Army during the Korean War who is considered a martyr for deciding to remain hidden during an attack rather than betray the location of his fellow soldiers]. The second is legal education, including the constitution and criminal law. The classes are taught by instructors who are hired by the RTL facility according to police hiring quotas.

Time spent in the classroom is minimal compared to that spent laboring. Fang Hong only went to one class, Gong Hanzhou never went to class, and in more than a year Liu Yong only went to class three times.

Besides the instructors, there are also RTL police who are primarily there to maintain order in the dormitory and the workshop.

Fang Hong discovered that the police in the RTL facility also feel as if there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system, making it difficult to manage. What’s more, they get paid less than other police and there are no opportunities for promotion, so there’s a lot of grumbling.

Maintaining Stability

Gong Hanzhou’s ability to win two lawsuits was due in no small part to the help of police at the RTL facility.

“From top to bottom, these cadres all knew about the injustice that had been done to me,” [said Gong.] After he went in, cadres and police officers actively helped him to file suit with the Chongqing No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court. When the second RTL decision was handed down, they said: “We’ve never seen this kind of second RTL before.”

In order to deal with his case, the number of telephone calls Gong Hanzhou made each month far exceeded the limit, and cadres and police officers helped him to the best of their ability.

With the help of his father, in November 2011 Gong filed suit against the Chongqing RTL Committee, requesting that the RTL decision against him be annulled. The defendant in this administrative lawsuit was the Chongqing RTL Committee, but the actual respondents were the heads of the Legal Affairs Unit and the Letters and Visits Section of the Qianjiang District Public Security Bureau. After the Chongqing No. 3 Intermediate People’s Court, which is located in Fuling, accepted the case, it issued a ruling in favor of Gong Hanzhou. When the other side appealed, the Chongqing Municipality High People’s Court upheld the lower court’s ruling.

But the arbitrary nature of the RTL system revealed itself: Gong Hanzhou was sent to RTL a second time, being released only on June 25 of this year (after reductions).

After his release, Gong Hanzhou sought out a lawyer and made plans to file suit challenging the legality of the second RTL decision. Earlier, after his own release from RTL, Fang Hong had, with the help of a lawyer, filed a successful administrative lawsuit against the Chongqing RTL facility.

Afterwards, Chongqing police sought out Gong Hanzhou, saying: “We’ll fix our own mistakes; there’s no need to get other people involved.” The police promised to annul the second RTL decision and provide compensation in accordance with the State Compensation Law. Gong Hanzhou demanded that his “brother-in-law Liu Yong be released,” and on August 9, with four and a half months left to serve, Liu Yong was allowed to serve his RTL outside the facility. The decision stated: In light of the real difficulties faced by Liu Yong’s family, he is hereby immediately released to serve outside the facility.

On August 19, after [online] calls made by lawyers and other legal professionals on microblogs, Ren Jianyu called his father and girlfriend from the detention center, saying: the police had come to discuss his terms for release.