Monday, November 19, 2012

Chinese State Security Arrests Stay High, Trials Soar

In 2011, the number of arrests and indictments for “endangering state security” (ESS) in China remained high, while ESS trial numbers broke new ground, according to China Law Yearbook. The official compendium states that 930 individuals were arrested and 974 were indicted on ESS charges (see Figure 1). Both figures remained well above pre-2008 averages despite double-digit declines. Arrests fell 11 percent year-on-year and indictments fell 20 percent—in lock step with Dui Hua estimates published in March. The subset of concluded first-instance trials that includes ESS leapt 96 percent to 1,314 trials, the highest volume since ESS entered China’s criminal code in 1998.

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database includes information on 25 people convicted on ESS charges in 2011. Many ESS trials are closed on the grounds that they involve state secrets and the publication of verdicts is strictly controlled, making it difficult to obtain information on individual cases. Crimes in the ESS category include “subversion,” “splittism,” and their incitement.

Figure 1. Arrests and Indictments for Endangering State Security in China, 1998-2011

Among those convicted were Memetjan Abduqadir and Tursunjan Ablimit, who in 2002 set up a foundation to serve Uyghur students in impoverished areas of Xinjiang; dissidents like Xue Mingkai (薛明凯)—who had been diagnosed with mental illness—Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), Chen Wei (陈伟), and Chen Xi (陈西), who were all jailed following online calls for Jasmine Revolution in China; Li Nanhang (李南航) and Sun Tianxi (孙天西), who were convicted in separate cases for allegedly organizing political parties, one of which only existed online; Falun Gong practitioners Wang Guangying (王光英) and Zhang Xiuling (張秀玲); Tibetan writer Tashi Rabten and Tibetan rights activist Kalsang Tsultrim—a number of other Tibetans were reported detained and convicted during the year but sentencing information is not available; and Lü Jiaping (吕嘉平)—the oldest person on the list, at age 71—and Jin Andi (金安迪), who published online articles critical of Communist Party elder Jiang Zemin.

Although there are only two names of Uyghurs convicted of ESS in 2011 in the database, this group is known to account for a high percentage of those convicted of ESS. According to official statistics, 414 ESS trials (including first-instance and appellate trials) were held in Xinjiang last year.

Figuring for Trials 

The reason for the disparate trends in the number of ESS trials versus arrests and indictments is unclear but is likely due to a combination of a decline in the number of defendants per trial and case backlogs.[*] Since 2007, the average number of individuals involved in each case involving arrest or indictment has declined markedly (see Figure 2). Backlogs, i.e., instances where an individual’s arrest or indictment does not occur in the same year his/her trial, are likely since the gears of Chinese criminal justice often turn slowly when processing ESS cases. This is because these cases are commonly classified as either “complex” or “sensitive” and sometimes require additional investigation to overcome issues of insufficient evidence. For example, Li Nanhang and Liu Xianbin were arrested in May and July of 2010, respectively, but were not convicted until March 2011.

Figure 2. Change in Number of Persons per Case, 1999-2011

On average, there were no more than 600 ESS arrests or indictments per year between 1998 and 2007. These figures more than doubled in 2008 due in large part to a crackdown on Tibetans and Uyghurs—often the targets of “splittism” charges—particularly after the uprising in Lhasa in March 2008, and more generalized efforts to ensure that dissenting voices did not tarnish the Beijing Olympics.

* Note: There is also a chance that there was an increase in the number of trials for dereliction of military duty, which Dui Hua believes China Law Yearbook lumps together with ESS crimes under the category “other,” but such an increase would be unlikely to have much impact on the whole. Although trial statistics are not disaggregated, indictment statistics have consistently indicated that dereliction of military duty accounts for less than 1 percent of indictments when placed in a separate category with only ESS. ^