Monday, August 19, 2013

Government Notice Fuels Crackdown on Assembly as Subversion

Xu Zhiyong (top) & Guo Feixiong are among the recent arrested for "disrupting social order".
Photo credit: VOAChinese.com

Over the past several months, Chinese authorities have been cracking down on peaceful assembly and association. As of August 14, more than 50 individuals had been detained, arrested, or disappeared. Among the most prominent are Xu Zhiyong, chief proponent of the “New Citizens’ Movement” and co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative—a legal aid and rights-protection organization shuttered under government pressure in 2009—and veteran rights activist Guo Feixiong. Both were detained on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”; Xu on July 16 and Guo on August 8. Many of those detained were active in calling on Chinese government leaders to disclose their assets and make good on promises to combat official corruption.

An internal notice issued by China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate in June may be one impetus for this crackdown. The notice called on prosecutors (who also investigate corruption and approve arrests in criminal cases) to support the ongoing propaganda effort to “build a peaceful China” by paying special attention to certain types of criminal cases seen as particularly disruptive to political stability and social order. One thing this notice calls for is resoluteness in combatting criminal activity such as “illegal assembly and gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” where there is a “goal of subverting state power.” It is likely no coincidence, then, that the charges of illegal assembly and gathering a crowd to disrupt social order have been widely used against those detained in this latest crackdown.

In the August 11 edition of Caijing magazine, constitutional law professor Zhang Qianfan published an essay expressing serious reservations about this notice and the latest campaign against assembly and association. In this essay (translated below), he argues that peaceful assembly should be seen as a form of speech and subject to the protections of China’s Constitution. Protecting citizens from punishment for peaceful assembly or legitimate criticism and exposure of government wrongdoing should be, he argues, a key component in pursuing the goal of social stability and security. Though he does not mention the recent detentions specifically, his linkage between clear channels for free public expression and the effectiveness of China’s fight against corruption makes it clear that he is not simply speaking in abstractions.

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How to Build a Peaceful China

Zhang Qianfan
Caijing, August 11, 2013

On June 20, 2013, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued a “Notice on Making Full Use of the Procuratorial Functions to Thoroughly Promote the Building of a Peaceful China” (hereafter the “Notice”). On the one hand, the Notice calls for severity in combatting especially major and serious criminal cases involving safety and accidents, such as those involving threats to food or pharmaceutical safety, public health, environmental pollution, damage to natural resources or fires, mining disasters, or serious traffic accidents. On the other hand, the Notice calls for severity in accordance with the law in combatting crimes that endanger state security, earnest support for political security, and resoluteness in combatting criminal activity such as illegal assembly and gathering a crowd to disrupt social order or a public place with the goal of subverting state power.

The criminal activities in the first provision produce social harm and are related to public safety, so the procuratorates truly need to exercise their powers to approve arrest and prosecute in order to effectively combat them. As for the latter provision, activities that damage state security such as espionage, inciting defection, and disclosure of legitimately and lawfully classified state secrets truly need to be combatted in accordance with the law. But in order to be compatible with the constitutional goals of ruling the nation in accordance with the law and protection of human rights, there is a need for strict interpretation of broad concepts such as “subversion of state power,” “illegal assembly,” and “disturbing social order”; otherwise, if handled inappropriately, it will not only potentially infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights but may also run contrary to the idea of building a peaceful China.

Part Two, Chapter One of the Criminal Law provides for “Crimes of Endangering State Security,” among which Article 105 punishes the acts of “organizing, plotting or carrying out” or “using rumor, slander or other means to incite the subversion of state power or overthrow of the socialist system.”

According to the definition in Article 4 of the State Security Law, “endangering state security” is an offense based on actions. For example, in “plotting to subvert the government, split the nation, or overthrow the socialist system,” the words “subvert,” “split,” and “overthrow” are all action verbs. In other words, only actual illegal activity such as plotting an armed rebellion, engaging in espionage activity, or disclosing state secrets can possibly constitute actions that endanger state security. Of course, Article 105 of the Criminal Law broadens the crime to speech such as rumor or slander that “incites subversion of state power,” but this broadening must be treated with caution.

In order to charge a particular mode of speech as constituting “inciting subversion of state power,” one must prove that the speech intended to subvert state power and also that it really had the potential to cause subversion of state power. This is because the object of Article 105 is not to restrict speech; rather, it is to prevent the act of subversion. If inciting speech is actually able to cause subversion, it ought to be forbidden in accordance with the law. But unlimited expansion makes it easy to exaggerate and prosecute and repress legitimate criticism of the government as criminal speech “inciting subversion of state power,” thereby trampling on citizens’ right to free speech and right to criticize and make recommendations as granted by Articles 35 and 41, respectively, of the Constitution.

The reason why the Constitution protects citizens’ freedom of speech and especially provides citizens with the “right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary,” the “right to make to relevant state organs complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary,” and [states] “no one may suppress [such complaints, charges, and exposures] or retaliate [against the citizens making them]” is because freedom of speech is critical to maintaining the security and stability of the entire society.”

It’s worth emphasizing that the “ordinary mechanism” for maintaining state security and social stability is not the frequent use of the Criminal Law to punish those citizens who dare to speak out; rather, it is actually in the protection of citizens’ freedom of speech. This point is especially important to a great nation. The main source of a variety of sources of instability in Chinese society at present is the uncontrolled abuse of state power. Up to this point, China’s main mechanism for checking official corruption is top-down organizational control. However, China is so large and has so many localities and complex administrative hierarchy that it is difficult for the central government to keep an eye on all the provincial and ministerial-level officials, difficult for provincial government to keep an eye on officials in each of its cities, counties, townships, and towns, and so on. Since top-down organizational oversight is of limited effectiveness and bottom-up democratic oversight is, for many reasons, unable to play a full role, corruption and abuse of power have become rampant.

But with the rise of the Internet in recent years, the citizen voices have played an increasingly big role in oversight over the government, and much corrupt behavior has been exposed through channels like the Internet, providing an opening for the top-down legal- and disciplinary oversight.

But without strict definition of the scope of the crime of “endangering state security,” the social consequences of inappropriate use of those laws may run counter to the intent of protecting state security. For example, if charges are cooked up to punish speech, then the channels for citizen expression and oversight by society will be blocked, corrupt officials will run wild until seething popular resentment shakes the central government, causing irreparable damage to society, more acute social unrest, and accumulated dangers.

By the same logic, there should also be strict interpretation of the “Crimes of Disturbing Public Order” set out in Part Two, Chapter Six, Section One of the Criminal Law. Among these, Article 290 establishes the “crime of gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” So-called “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” means acts “to such a serious extent that work in general, production, business operation, teaching, or scientific research are unable to go on and heavy losses are caused.” From this, it is clear that if one only gathers a crowd but the extent is not serious and it does not lead to work, production, business operation, or teaching being “unable to go on” or “cause heavy losses,” then it is insufficient to constitute “disturbing social order” and the Criminal Law should not be applied as one pleases. If citizens gather together merely to articulate a particular demand and do not attack government offices, obstruct traffic, or negatively affect other people’s work or daily life in any other way, then they should be allowed to speak their minds.

Related to this, Article 291 [sic, should be 296] of the Criminal Law provides for the “crime of illegal assembly,” to be used “where social order is seriously disrupted because an assembly, procession, or demonstration is held with no application made in accordance with the law or regulations, where no permission was granted for the application, or where it is held not in accordance with the time for start and stop, venue, and routes permitted by the competent authorities and the order of dismission is disobeyed.” On this point, “serious disruption of social order” should follow the understanding of “disrupting social order” given in the provision discussed above; namely, its key constitutive criteria should include “work in general, production, business operation, teaching, or scientific research are unable to go on and heavy losses are caused.” If it is merely an assembly without a permit but this does not cause any heavy losses, it cannot constitute “serious disruption of social order” and the crime of “illegal assembly” will also be untenable.

It is especially necessary to point out that citizen assemblies are one form of expression protected under Article 35 of the current Constitution and do not fall under the scope of actions that the law may ordinarily restrict or punish; therefore, use of the Criminal Law to punish assembly ought to be done with the utmost caution. Under general circumstances, peaceful assembly is one manner of rational expression of citizen’s demands, especially small-scale assembly that cannot lead to any serious consequences on society. Therefore, these cannot constitute the key criterion of the crimes of “illegal assembly” or “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”—serious disruption of public order—and even less can they be considered acts of endangering state security such as “inciting subversion of state power.”

At present, there is a common misperception that assembly is an “action” and thus substantially distinguishable from ordinary speech. [In this view,] once citizens assemble, it constitutes an “action” and the relevant authorities can use the Criminal Law to suppress it severely. This understanding does not comport with the provisions of Article 35 of the Constitution: “Citizens have the freedom of speech, publication, assembly, association, procession, and demonstration.” Clearly, assembly, procession, and demonstration are listed alongside speech and publication, making them all “speech” or “expression” in the broader sense and enjoying the Constitution’s protection for freedom of speech in this broad sense. Of course, if during an assembly there are violent incidents like riots, arson, or attacks, this clearly enters the realm of action and the state has both the power and the obligation to prohibit these actions. But peaceful assembly is clearly speech, so even if the legal process is flawed the Criminal Law cannot be used to punish it.

Article [296] of the Criminal Law requires assemblies to apply for permission in accordance with law and regulation and treats assembly without requesting or receiving permission to be “illegal assembly.” Applying for permission is indeed a statutory condition for lawful assembly, and just about all countries with rule of law make similar requirements.

But it needs to be pointed out that the goal of this requirement is to ensure that citizen assembly is carried out peacefully and in an orderly manner so that it does not have a negative impact on others’ work, transportation, or rest, and is not a disguised way to deprive [citizens] of their freedom of assembly. Those who give permission may not refuse their approval because they do not agree with the views that those assembled want to express or out of some inexplicable fear of citizens gathering; otherwise, this is an abuse of the permit authority. This is why in countries with rule of law applications for permission to assemble are a formality, with those giving approval simply conducting a procedural review of the time, location, and manner of the assembly and not a substantive review of the content of the assembly. Any assembly without violent tendency will be approved, making assembly a common way in which citizens peacefully express their demands and gather popular support. One could even say that the more orderly a society, the more common citizen assembly is.

It cannot be denied that the reason why the citizen “strolls” and other activities taking place in many parts of China today are treated as “illegal assembly” is to a great extent because local authorities view ordinary assembly as a plague and very rarely approve requests by citizens to assemble. They routinely refuse to approve assemblies on the grounds that they will “seriously disrupt social order,” without ever giving any specific explanation or reasoning—often without even any written decision. Even though under the provisions of the Law on Assembly, Procession, and Demonstration, failure to respond by the statutory deadline can be seen as approval, once citizens take to the streets, police are mobilized to counter the “illegal assembly.” Not only does this not serve to maintain true public order, it even artificially intensifies social contradictions.

Clearly, Article [296] of the Criminal Law cannot be based simply on whether an assembly is “illegal” but must consider whether an assembly constitutes a “serious disruption to social order” and especially needs to review whether the relevant authorities exercised their power to approve the assembly in accordance with the law.

In sum, enforcing the Criminal Law certainly is the mandate of the public security and procuratorial authorities, but this important mandate must be exercised appropriately. First, we must establish a professional habit of respect for the Constitution, because only the freedom of speech provided by Article 35 of the Constitution can serve as the main path toward true social peace.

The Notice requires investigation and punishment in accordance with the law of the corruption behind especially major and serious criminal cases involving safety and accidents and the serious investigation of crimes of office such as corruption, bribery, and malfeasance. This is commendable, but the experience of past years has taught us that corruption and malfeasance cannot be fully investigated only by the procuratorate’s efforts. Especially in a broader context in which independent procuratorial authority does not enjoy full protection, exposure of the corruption and other crimes of many officials has relied on public whistleblowers. If the public’s channels of expression are blocked or the Criminal Law is used to punish the public-spirited, conscientious, and courageous expression of responsible citizens, then the only result will be a chilling effect on the people of noble character in this realm, people of base character will increasingly have nothing to fear, and it will be difficult to realize “peaceful China.”

The author is a professor of constitutional law at Peking University.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Petitioning Abuse Survivor Wins Forced Commitment Suit


Confident and relaxed, Wu Chunxia leaves Henan Province High People’s Court. Photo credit: Han Junjie, China Youth Daily

Some observers have compared Wu Chunxia’s use of the judicial process to clear her name to the efforts of petitioning mother Tang Hui, whose challenge to reeducation through labor (RTL) helped galvanize support for RTL reform. Intercepted in Beijing, kidnapped from a Henan courtroom, detained, sentenced to RTL, and forcefully institutionalized, Wu has successfully fought back with a series of lawsuits through which she has already received more than 145,000 yuan (nearly $24,000) in compensation and civil damages. Her story is told in an investigative report (translated below) by China Youth Daily.

A survivor of domestic abuse, Wu was detained by police after seeking the assistance of provincial and central officials in a custody dispute with her ex-husband—a matter complicated by the man’s cozy relations with local police. Perhaps responding to urgent instructions to control sources of instability surrounding the Beijing Olympics, local authorities arranged to have Wu sent for psychiatric treatment just weeks before the games opened in August 2008.

Under the direction of local police, Wu was held without visitors in a psychiatric hospital for 132 days of treatment for “paranoid psychosis.” The primary symptoms of her condition, for which no evaluation was ever carried out, were “running around and making allegations for three years.” After she left the hospital, the formerly healthy Wu was 20kg heavier and suffered from high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Many of the human rights abuses reported in contemporary China share a common theme: the lengths to which local authorities are willing to go in order to control people they identify as threats to stability. Many of those who have been targeted are petitioners, often women, seeking redress for what they believe to be unjust administrative or judicial decisions. Having already won a string of lawsuits, Wu is currently awaiting the verdict in a suit against the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau for its role in her forced institutionalization.

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A Life Changed by Petitioning

Han Junjie and Zhang Yufu
China Youth Daily, July 19, 2013

Just as she had done in the past, at 5 p.m. on July 18, Wu Chunxia placed layer upon layer of her litigation documents in a plastic bag and carried them out of the main entrance of the Henan Province High People’s Court. This time, however, she was much more confident about her suit.

Wu Chunxia lives in the Gaozhuang neighborhood of the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office, Chuanhui District, Zhoukou, Henan Province. In 2004, she petitioned about “family and village affairs” and became a “stability-preservation target” in her locality. One after another, she was detained and sent to reeducation through labor (RTL). Then as the RTL began, she was sent for 132 days of “treatment” in a psychiatric hospital.

Since 2009, Wu Chunxia has continuously petitioned the courts, and her previous detention and RTL decisions were ultimately annulled. In June 2012, Wu Chunxia won a civil lawsuit and received a total of 145,336.70 yuan in compensation from the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital and the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office of Chuanhui District, Zhoukou. Afterwards, Wu Chunxia continued her administrative lawsuits by taking the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau to court. On May 6, 2013, the Zhoukou intermediate court confirmed in a trial of first instance that the Sha’nan Branch of the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau acted unlawfully in sending Wu Chunxia to a psychiatric hospital.

After the verdict was handed down, the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau did not accept it and decided to appeal. On the afternoon of July 18, the Henan high court held a trial hearing but did not announce a decision.

“Even though it’s been a very difficult road to clear my name, I remain steadfast in my belief that all attempts at sophistry will be powerless in the face of the facts,” said Wu Chunxia.

What sort of misfortune did Wu Chunxia, once an ordinary rural village woman, encounter so that she ended up being detained, sent to RTL, and “forcefully institutionalized in the name of mental illness ”? After being discharged from the psychiatric hospital, how did she pursue the difficult path to protect her rights? During this process, what twists and turns did she encounter along the way?

Domestic Violence and Petitioning Lead to Calamity

In 1998, Wu Chunxia’s older sister underwent an operation for acute appendicitis, and the 24-year-old Wu went to help her sister look after her cake shop. Wu Chunxia couldn’t make cakes, so she borrowed several books from a classmate and sat in the shop reading.

One day, a young man selling cement next door to the cake shop came in to borrow some water to wash his hands. He asked Wu Chunxia: “What are you reading?”

This is how the two got to know each other.

The young man selling cement was named Li Zhenhong (pseudonym) and was born in the same year as Wu Chunxia. In April 1999, the two got married and one year later they had a son.

After they married, Wu Chunxia went to the city to deliver purified water. Her husband stopped selling cement and also went to the city to work as a security guard. Since theirs was a marriage entered into freely without being arranged by others, up until the time that their son turned three the family enjoyed a pretty good life.

In 2003, the family’s happiness came to an end when Li Zhenhong went off the rails. One day that year, Wu Chunxia returned home from delivering water and, following an argument, was beaten by Li Zhenhong.

Afterwards, Li went from beating Wu Chunxia to smashing things, seizing the child, and kicking Wu out of the house. In front of a government official, Li Zhenhong even went so far as to say: “If she enters the house, I’ll beat her.”

It was only when her husband took her to court to sue for divorce that she learned that he was having an affair. A mediation attempt by the township women’s federation failed, so Wu Chunxia had no choice but to go into hiding. Wu then complained to the village committee all the way up to the provincial women’s federation, all to no avail.

Wu Chunxia decided to go to Beijing to seek assistance from the All-China Women’s Federation. That was the first time she went to Beijing to petition. She didn’t know anyone there and didn’t know how to get around. She stayed near the long-distance bus station at Yongdingmen.

Hearing that she had gone to Beijing, the Shucai Township Police Station of the Sha’nan Branch of the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau sent personnel to Beijing to intercept her. When Wu Chunxia discovered her interceptors outside the gate of the State Office of Letters and Visits, she quickly ducked into a taxi.

As soon as she got in the taxi, a police officer flashed his badge, stopped the cab, and dragged her out of the vehicle. Later, Wu was kept inside a guesthouse near Beijing’s Taoranting Overpass. The officer who flagged down the taxi was named Zhang Xiaodong, then a police instructor at the Shucai Township Police Station. He was close to the family of Wu Chunxia’s husband and Wu knew him well.

Several days later, with the help of a long-time petitioner, Wu Chunxia found an opportunity to escape from the guesthouse. But she never imagined the consequences this petitioning episode would bring her.

On July 16, 2008, Wu Chunxia and her husband were in court on account of their divorce. This day was the beginning of her nightmare: “I’ll never forget that day, even after I’m dead.” It was that day that she was taken directly from the courtroom and dropped into an even more dark and gloomy life.

The day before Wu Chunxia was taken away from the courtroom, on the morning of July 15, 2008, Chuanhui District, Zhoukou, held a “Work Meeting on the Standardization of Petitioning Procedures and Combatting Illegal Petitioning Activity in Accordance with the Law” attended by officials from the four major political institutions and persons in charge of the neighborhood committees and subdistrict offices. According to reports from that time, “the goal of the meeting was to help all work units in the district clearly understand the current situation regarding petitioning.” An official from the politico-legal committee of the Chuanhui District Party Committee read aloud an Opinion on Standardizing Petitioning Procedures and Combatting Illegal Petitioning Activity in Accordance with the Law.

This day also continues to haunt Cai Yuzhong, a judge at the Shabei Court of the Chuanhui District [People’s] Court in Zhoukou.

Cai Yuzhong says that at the time Wu Chunxia was in a dispute with Li Zhenhong over custody of their son. The doors to the courtroom burst open and several men rushed in, the one in charge asked, “Who’s Wu Chunxia?” Wu Chunxia answered and she was bundled out of the courtroom.

“I’ve never seen anyone dare to kidnap someone from a courtroom. Such lawlessness!” said Cai Yuzhong. He noted down the vehicle license plate number and quickly dialed 110 to report the incident to police. Very soon after, a deputy director from the Sha’nan Branch of the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau telephoned to tell Cai Yuzhong that it was the police who had taken Wu Chunxia away. This filled Cai with disbelief and anger.

Before she realized what was going on, Wu Chunxia had already been taken to the Shucai Township Police Station. This was a familiar place to Wu Chunxia, a place where she could find her “old acquaintance”—the police station police instructor, Zhang Xiaodong.

Wu Chunxia previously told a reporter that back in the spring of 2007, when she was suing her husband for abuse, that Zhang Xiaodong’s uncle, Zhang Hengbin, was suspected of giving false testimony in court. When Wu Chunxia confronted him about it, he beat her.

But this time, she actually didn’t see Zhang Xiaodong. The person who interrogated her was Sergeant Zhai Wucheng. Up until the time Wu affixed her thumbprint to the interrogation transcript, [Zhang] never appeared. But afterwards, Zhang Xiaodong’s name was written on the interrogation transcript.

Wu Chunxia clearly remembers that Zhai Wucheng was speaking on the telephone while he was questioning her, and he asked whatever the person on the phone said. The voice sounded very much like that of Zhang Xiaodong.

“Forceful Institutionalization” of 132 Days

On July 26, 2008, Wu Chunxia was released from detention, but she had not yet regained her freedom.

Wu Chunxia, just released from the detention center, was once again taken to the police station. Just as night was about to fall, several people bundled the weakened Wu Chunxia into a vehicle. Someone at the police station told her: “You’re being sent to RTL!”

Documents show: “On July 25, 2008, the RTL Committee of the Zhoukou People’s Government decided to send Wu Chunxia to one year of RTL for disturbing social order.”

Wu Chunxia never imagined that even before she had entered the RTL center, on the night of July 26, she would be forcibly sent to the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital. This hospital is located in Xinxiang, Henan, right next to the Henan No.2 Prison. Here, she spent 132 days undergoing “treatment.”

In the middle of the night on July 26, a groggy Wu Chunxia was placed on a bed and quickly fell asleep. It was only when she awoke the next day that she realized she was in a psychiatric hospital.

Wu Chunxia was scared and rushed to find a doctor. The doctor told her: “The local public security authorities and your sister-in-law sent you here, saying that you were ill and needed treatment.” The doctor also told Wu Chunxia that the police officer who brought her there had said: “Wang Xia (Wu Chunxia’s sister-in-law) is her only relative.”

On the mere basis of “the local public security authorities sent you here,” Wu Chunxia received 132 days of treatment for “paranoid psychosis.” The hospital kept a record of Wu Chunxia’s illness totaling eight pages. The “primary illness symptoms” were “running around and making allegations for three years.” The doctor’s “medical advice” was: “treatment for mania,” “level-one treatment,” “electroshock treatment,” “suicide prevention,” “escape prevention”....

Wu Chunxia says there are two records in her medical chart from October of that year [saying]: “recommend judicial [psychiatric] evaluation.”

“This shows that even the hospital wasn’t certain whether I was sick,” Wu Chunxia says. However, until the very end, neither the public security authorities nor the hospital ever carried out any kind of evaluation.

Wu Chunxia showed members of the media a sheet of medical advice upon which was written: “level-one management,” “visitation forbidden.” Wu Chunxia explains that level-one management is the strictest form of control involving on-duty nurses 24 hours a day.

While Wu was in the hospital, her older sister entered the hospital posing as a relative of another patient and shouted her name in the hall. But Wu Chunxia was tightly restrained by the nurses and her sister was quickly dragged out of the hospital. A furious Wu Chunxia continually demanded to know, “What gives you the right to prevent people from visiting me?”

In all the excitement, a nurse let slip: “The public security bureau won’t let anyone see you.”

As for “treatment,” Wu Chunxia has written a record: “They gave me electroshock and had me take medication. Eight years after giving birth, when I took their medication white stuff began leaking from my breasts and they swelled unbearably and were very painful....”

“The most unbearable thing was that they blindfolded me, stuck steel needles directly into my head, and turned on the current. Three times a week, there was no way to avoid or escape it, no matter how much you screamed. Anyway, in the psychiatric hospital wild shrieks and howls would come and go. Your screams only proved that you were a psychiatric patient....”

“I pleaded over and over, saying that I wasn’t mentally ill and begged them to stop giving me medication. I was homesick and wanted to go home. I begged them to call the police station and let me go home....”

Wu Chunxia applied to be discharged from the hospital nearly every day. Each time, however, she got the same answer: “Your discharge is up to the police station.” The days passed one by one. Wu Chunxia threatened to commit suicide multiple times. Finally, on December 5, 2008, the psychiatric hospital had the Shucai Township Police Station notify Wang Xia to come retrieve Wu Chunxia from the hospital.

Wu Chunxia’s 132 days of “treatment” were book-ended by a commitment and a discharge both made by an organ of state power. The Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office of Chuanhui District, Zhoukou, paid 14,758.70 yuan in medical expenses and retrieved her from the hospital.

Sues Psychiatric Hospital, Wins 145,000 Yuan

After she left the hospital, the formerly healthy Wu Chunxia contracted high blood pressure and high cholesterol; she was more than 20kg heavier than she had been before her “treatment” began. After a physical examination, she began to seek redress for having been “forcefully institutionalized in the name of mental illness.”

In May 2009, she submitted documents to Yang Zhengchao, secretary of the Zhoukou Discipline Inspection Committee. Yang instructed the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau to deal with the matter. One month later, the Zhoukou RTL Committee revoked its decision of a year earlier against Wu Chunxia. In the meantime, she copied out a letter of guarantee promising not to petition anymore and received a 30,000-yuan “subsidy for difficulties.”

Her plan to protect her rights progressed step by step: In November 2009, Wu Chunxia filed suit with the Chuanhui District [People’s] Court of Zhoukou, claiming that the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital and the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office had violated her rights. One month later, she filed an administrative lawsuit with the same court demanding annulment of the police decision to give her a 10-day detention on July 16, 2008.

At the beginning, the Chuanhui District court refused to hear either suit. After several complicated back-and-forths, the Zhoukou Intermediate People’s Court finally assigned the Shenqiu County court to hear the suits.

On March 23, 2011, the Shenqiu County court annulled the detention decision against Wu Chunxia on the grounds that the defendant “had made an unclear finding of facts, had insufficient evidence, followed improper procedure, and applied the law inappropriately.” The decision was thus “annulled in accordance with the law” and Wu Chunxia received 1,423.30 yuan in state compensation.

After both the RTL and detention decisions had been annulled, Wu Chunxia’s attorney Zhang Chungui adjusted their litigation strategy: “It was the [subdistrict] office, the public security bureau, and Wu Chunxia’s sister-in-law Wang Xia who participated in the forced [psychiatric] commitment. Wang Xia was coerced, so we can’t sue her. For the time being, we won’t sue the public security bureau either. The focus will be on suing the psychiatric hospital and the [subdistrict] office.”

Zhang Chungui’s worry was that suing the public security bureau would make the lawsuit harder to win. It would also be easier for the court to shift responsibility [by classifying] the case as an administrative suit, but since the psychiatric hospital is considered an institutional organization [and not an administrative unit], by combining the [defendants], the suit would be hard to move forward.

The attorneys for the psychiatric hospital appeared to see through Zhang Chungui’s strategy. They insisted on treating Wang Xia and the police as joint defendants, but Wu Chunxia refused and the court rejected this demand. The Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office that was sued alongside the hospital also objected to making the public security bureau a joint defendant.

The Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office also claimed in defense that it had no idea that Wu Chunxia had been forcibly committed. The only reason it paid Wu’s medical expenses was to offer assistance to a resident under its jurisdiction.

At the first hearing on October 27, 2011, a representative from the hospital requested to evaluate “whether Wu Chunxia is mentally ill,” but this was rejected by the court.

Wu Chunxia claimed that she had suffered insult to her person, and her attorney Zhang Chungui answered back sarcastically to the defendant’s lawyer: “Well, I also suspect that you are mentally ill. Shall we evaluate you?”

The representative for the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital maintained that the additional defendants and subjecting Wu Chunxia to psychiatric evaluation were both extremely important to clarifying the nature of the case. Zhang Chungui argued in response that it was the plaintiff’s right to decide whom to sue and that even if an evaluation showed Wu Chunxia to be mentally ill, it would not prove that she had been mentally ill at the time she was forcibly committed.

The two sides argued for over an hour. The representative from the psychiatric hospital also pointed out that at the time of her discharge from the hospital Wu Chunxia had refused to take along medication that would stabilize her treatment. Since “paranoid psychosis” often involves relapse or fluctuation, it would be necessary for the court to establish whether she was currently ill in order to determine whether she was in possession of [full] civil capacity and the ability to engage in litigation. He therefore submitted an application to delay the trial. According to legal statute, applications for this sort of “special procedure” should be handled by the Chuanhui District [People’s] Court, located in the place of household registration for the target of the request. Thereupon, the judge announced an adjournment.

Immediately after exiting the court, Wu Chunxia telephoned an official at the Chuanhui District court who then promised her that [the court] would definitely not accept the request.

Several days later, the lawyers representing the psychiatric hospital applied to file a case with the Chuanhui District court, but this was rejected, as expected: “They said Wu Chunxia again went to make a scene at the case-filing department, so no one dares accept this case.”

In the eyes of the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital, Wu Chunxia had been petitioning and filing suits for many years. Even if the police, prosecutors, and courts in Zhoukou were afraid of her, they were undermining judicial fairness in the interest of maintaining stability. Of course, Wu Chunxia doesn’t agree with this assessment: “The court should have helped me right this wrong from the beginning.”

On March 8, 2012, a first-instance civil trial verdict from the Shenqiu County court said that the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital was at fault in three ways in its treatment of Wu Chunxia as a psychiatric patient. First, according to the defendant’s Regulations for the Management of Clinical Work, only a patient’s guardian or a judicial organ can commit a patient to the hospital. But in this case it could only be established that Wu Chunxia was sent for treatment by her sister-in-law Wu Xia, who was not her legal guardian, and the psychiatric hospital could not provide evidence to prove that a judicial organ had sent [Wu] for treatment. Second, even if the person who committed [Wu] met the regulations, the defendant admitted her solely on a statement by Wang Xia and gave her treatment for “manic psychosis.” Third, plaintiff Wu Chunxia was committed on July 26, 2008, and the time of diagnosis recorded in her case file is October 23, 2008. But in a treatment summary on that date and a note recorded five days later during rounds by one of the hospital’s deputy directors, it was “recommended to conduct a judicial evaluation.” This shows that at that time the defendant had not yet established whether the plaintiff was mentally ill.

The Shenqiu County court ruled that the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital should compensate Wu Chunxia more than 110,000 yuan: 5,841.10 yuan in lost wages, 4,302.10 yuan in medical expenses, 600 yuan in transportation costs, and 100,000 yuan in damages for mental anguish.

Following the trial of first instance, both Wu Chunxia and the hospital filed appeals. On June 15, the Zhoukou Intermediate People’s Court issued a final ruling, confirming that the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office had participated in committing Wu Chunxia and ruling that the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital and Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office “jointly compensate” Wu Chunxia in the amount of 145,336 yuan. Of this, 100,000 was still damages for mental anguish.

Although the ruling spoke of “joint compensation,” the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital never contacted the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office to discuss how to divide up the compensation payment. Lou Tao, head of the hospital’s medical section knew they “simply couldn’t count on them.” During the three trials, the subdistrict office had tried to deflect responsibility for the commitment completely.

Recently, Wu Chunxia heard that the Shenqiu County court had checked the accounts of the Xiaoqiao Subdistrict Office and found that they had no funds to spare.

Ultimately, the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital footed the bill for the judgment and then some. In the view of the hospital, this is not unusual: “Both the court and the subdistrict office are under Zhoukou’s jurisdiction. We’re in Xinxiang. Of course they’ll do everything they can to ensure we pay....”

In the end, nearly four years after being “forcefully institutionalized in the name of mental illness,” Wu Chunxia had the label of “mentally ill” removed. In an interview, Lou Tao, head of the medical section of the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital, said that this was the first time in the 61 years since the hospital was established that it had lost a case involving a dispute over “forceful institutionalization.”

Suing the Public Security Organ

While she was suing the psychiatric hospital and the [subdistrict] office, Wu Chunxia was also preparing another case: a suit against the unlawful [police officers] who handled her case.

Her suit claims that the 132 days of so-called “treatment” caused her to contract cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and very possibly led to her becoming infertile.

Wu Chunxia says that she frequently has visions of a person who makes her furious beyond repair. Everything that has happened to her—from when her husband divorced her to her seizure from the courtroom, her administrative detention, and her commitment in the psychiatric hospital where she was tormented—is nearly all related to this person.

After the RTL and detention punishments were revoked and she won her lawsuit against the psychiatric hospital, Wu Chunxia went to petition at the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau, demanding that it hold police officers Zhang Xiaodong and others accountable for her detention, RTL, and commitment.

A person at the public security bureau once urged her: “We never sent you to RTL, the detention was annulled, and we gave you compensation. What are you suing for!?”

“It’s precisely because the court annulled the RTL and detention [decisions]; this shows that they [i.e., the police] violated the law in handling my case,” Wu Chunxia says.

On May 6, 2013, Wu Chunxia again won another lawsuit. On this day, the Zhoukou Intermediate People’s Court found that the former Sha’nan Branch of the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau participated in sending Wu Chunxia to the Henan Provincial Psychiatric Hospital. It acted in error and this action is considered a violation of the law.

After the verdict was delivered, the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau filed an appeal. On the afternoon of July 18, the Henan High court held a trial hearing. In the courtroom, the two sides argued over whether the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau carried out the commitment, whether Wu Chunxia’s administrative lawsuit against the public security has passedthe [statutory] deadline, and whether, if the Zhoukou Public Security Bureau carried out the commitment, it did so in violation of the law.

Since the lawyers willing to represent Wu Chunxia pro bono were only notified by the court on July 12 of the time the trial would commence and were [thus] unable to make it to the trial on time, Wu Chunxia decided to appear in court on her own behalf.

“The facts are the facts—no one can change them,” Wu Chunxia repeatedly said in the courtroom. “Whoever violated the law should be held accountable.”

Even though the Henan high court did not announce a verdict immediately, Wu Chunxia is confident that she will win this lawsuit because she has always remained steadfast in her belief that the law will ultimately give her a just response.

Monday, August 5, 2013

RTL Detainees Pressed to Work, Paying to Leave, Officers Say


Men assemble Ethernet cables at the Shijiazhuang RTL Center, May 23, 2012. Photo credit: He You/CFP

Individual miscarriages of justice have helped to turn Chinese public opinion against the decades-old form of administrative detention known as reeducation through labor (RTL or laojiao). Most scrutiny has been focused on the arbitrary manner in which police determine sentencing. Considerably less attention has been paid to the myriad problems inside RTL facilities.

The veil was briefly lifted earlier this year when a Chinese magazine published a lengthy article exposing the dehumanizing conditions in a women’s RTL center in Masanjia, Liaoning Province. Domestic censors quickly attempted to minimize the impact of the article that revealed torture, frequent hunger strikes, and exploitative labor practices.

Coercive labor got fuller exposure in May in an article published by Southern Weekly (translated below). Providing accounts from several former correctional officers, the article looks at the way in which “unwritten rules” conditioned the labor experience at one RTL facility in Sichuan Province and ultimately demonstrates how economic incentives are behind a number of forms of corruption and mistreatment endemic within the RTL system. Stamping out low-level corruption is one of many reasons for central authorities to thoroughly reform RTL, but the abundance of licit and illicit economic opportunities for local authorities also helps explain why there has been longstanding resistance to reform.

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Confessions of Disgraced RTL Officers

RTL Centers: Labor First?
Chai Huiqun
Southern Weekly, May 2, 2013

[Indented, italic text is in the voice of the interviewed officers.—Trans.]

Editor’s note: The criminal prosecution of five police officers for embezzling “state-owned assets”—actually, the revenues produced by people laboring in RTL—revealed problems such as revenue targets, overtime labor, and bribery at one RTL facility. Under the influence of interests, the function of “education and reform first, labor and production second” was turned on its head. Southern Weekly found three of the officers and conducted separate interviews with them, cross-checking their accounts against each other and verifying those accounts against the relevant legal documents.

“‘Laojiao’ puts labor first and education second. This idea clearly violates RTL policies but everyone thinks this way. [They] probably felt that the name ‘laojiao’ wasn’t so good so they changed it to ‘apprenticeship.’ But this is only a change in name, like calling a prostitute a ‘sex worker’ instead of a ‘whore.’”

On April 26, 2013, the final verdict was handed down in a case involving a “den” of corruption inside an RTL facility in Luzhou, Sichuan. Five RTL officers from the Luzhou RTL Center were held criminally responsible for embezzling state assets, corruption, and taking bribes. Earlier, the appeal of another RTL officer given a suspended sentence for “taking bribes” was rejected by a court of second instance.

All six RTL officers appealed. Three officers involved confirmed the facts of the case to Southern Weekly and said that, to a certain degree, the problems involved were universal.

RTL Detainee Death by Drinking “Alcohol”

The incident came about because of the death of an RTL detainee. The person was named Hu Minghong; he died after drinking industrial alcohol. Perhaps you might find it odd: how does a person in RTL come upon industrial alcohol? There are clear regulations strictly forbidding alcohol from being brought into detention facilities. The underlying reason [that alcohol got into the facility] is actually economic interest—the RTL facility’s own economic interest.

At the time, the facility was processing liquor boxes for a company. At first, they used sparkling wine as a cleaning agent, but later they felt that was too expensive. In order to reduce costs, they switched to industrial alcohol. This accident occurred as a consequence.

After the six officers got in trouble, an official from the provincial justice department was overheard at a meeting lamenting that Luzhou “was not unified.” There was profound meaning behind this. Although similar incidents are very sensitive, generally speaking, as long as people “are unified” internally and do not make a big fuss, it will not lead to anything. Take our Luzhou RTL Center for example, as early as 2003 a detainee died while being “hired out,” and in 2005 a man named Xia Tian unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by jumping off a building. Neither case led to anything. Last year, a person detained at the [Luzhou] Public Security Bureau’s drug treatment center died under unnatural circumstances. Three officers were indicted for dereliction of duty, which seems quite serious, but not a single officer received criminal punishment.

Originally, what happened to Hu Minghong was also kept under wraps. After a “humanitarian compensation” payment of over 20,000 yuan, his family did not complain. Because “effective measures” were taken and there were no public consequences, people in charge of the Luzhou RTL Center even applied for a commendation. After nearly a year, it was said that there was a dispute between higher-ups and facility officials over personnel appointments, which led to the disclosure of this incident. Subsequently, out came [the news] of collective corruption and bribe-taking by officers.

The Luzhou RTL Center was established in 1998, one of two RTL facilities in Sichuan to be run by prefectural-level cities. In 2009, it added the sign “Luzhou Compulsory Drug Treatment Center.” There are more than 50 correctional officers at the facility. Before the incident, there were around 200 people in RTL, the vast majority of whom were there for compulsory drug treatment.

The procuratorate found that at the beginning of 2011 the Luzhou Compulsory Drug Treatment Center signed a liquor-box production contract with Luzhou Texing Printing Company Ltd whereby the people in drug treatment would process liquor boxes. The enterprise used industrial alcohol to replace the cleaning agent. Hu Minghong took some industrial alcohol back to his cell, mixed it with water, and drank it, leading to his death by poisoning. Three others in drug treatment were treated in the hospital for poisoning.

One year after the incident, Chen Jinrui, the former head of the Luzhou RTL Center’s Second Brigade, was indicted for dereliction of duty. He told Southern Weekly that, according to regulations, alcohol, as a flammable and explosive material, cannot be brought into detention facilities. But, for the sake of production, “we did this for several years.”

After the death of Hu Minghong, there was no autopsy. The local hospital issued a diagnosis report listing five causes of death, none of which included alcohol poisoning. The family did not “make a fuss.”

In the trial of first instance, the prosecution’s charges against Chen Jinrui were not accepted by the court because Hu Minghong’s cause of death was never ascertained. Chen Jinrui was not the officer on duty at the time of the incident. He believes that even if Hu Minghong really did die as a result of alcohol poisoning, he should only be held responsible as the person in charge and not be indicted as the only officer involved in the case. In his view, things turned out as they did because of “competing relationships.”

Wages Defined as “State Assets”

I’m confident that concealing funds is a common phenomenon among low-level officers inside the RTL system. The only differences are in form and degree. You could call it “corruption,” you could also call it a “bonus,” because no one knows for sure how to classify this money. Put simply, the funds are actually earned by the RTL detainees, but they’re treated as “finances.” As far as whom the “finances” belong to—the finance bureau, the RTL facility, the production brigade, or a particular official—this is a gray area and it is uncertain. This uncertainty then becomes a hole that can be exploited.

At the Luzhou RTL Center, according to regulations, “labor payments” made by enterprises must be handed over by the basic-level production brigades to the center, the center must hand it over to the finance bureau; then the finance bureau returns a portion to the center, and the center returns a portion to the production brigades. From the perspective of the production brigades, they always hope to receive a little bit more because they’re the ones with the most worries and who take on the risk. So, when they complete their production tasks, they reserve a portion [of the revenues]. Besides using some for activity fees of the production brigade, the rest is distributed to officers in the form of a bonus in order to reward them for working actively. This is an unwritten rule.

Originally, the enterprise signs a production agreement with the RTL center, but it’s the brigade that manages things concretely and the labor payments must pass through the brigade on the way to the RTL center. The bosses of the enterprises are all smart guys who understand that the “county official is not as good as the person really in charge.” If I get you, an official at an RTL center, on my side in order to sign a production agreement, this is only the first step. You are not the one in charge of production, effectiveness, and quality. So, I have to win over the people below who are truly overseeing the production line and arranging production in order for [them] to get things done for me. By “get things done,” I mean pressing the RTL detainees to work and make money. To [the enterprises] and from the perspective of production, the brigade head is more important than the head of the RTL center, so they acquiesce in and even take the initiative to help the brigade conceal revenue. This is definitely not an isolated phenomenon.

In the corruption of the two production brigades in this instance, basically every officer got a cut. In the Second Brigade, each person got more than 10,000 [yuan], and in the Compulsory Drug Treatment Center it was over 20,000. It’s unclear how much each person got specifically. This is because there are no account books, the officers did not sign a note of receipt when they took their money, the two sides didn’t see each other, and the payments were made very quietly. The brigade leaders purposefully manufactured these circumstances, seemingly out of [concerns about] “security,” but it was actually also to make it possible for the higher-ups to be even more corrupt. This makes it even easier for them to line their own pockets.

You think that during this entire process the superiors at these centers don’t know what’s going on? I don’t believe it. As far as the brigade is concerned, the center never allocated any funds for office expenses or any other expenses. If an RTL detainee gets sick, the brigade has to find the money for him to see a doctor. Now that the problem’s come out, they call it “reserving” and “concealing.” But don’t forget this fact: the brigade must be prepared to invite higher-ups to a meal, to a banquet, to [watch detainees] doing drills. This is a huge expense, even the primary expense. Last time, the audit bureau asked us, “Do you know how much your brigade head spent inviting center higher-ups to a meal?” I said the brigade head told us afterwards it was 5,000 yuan. The audit bureau said: “5,000 yuan? It was more than 20,000 yuan! There were two tables, 10,000 yuan per table.” That’s three months of my salary.

I’m someone at the brigade level with no other source of funding. You’re an RTL center official always having these meals. How much per meal? How much per bottle of liquor? How many bottles? Roughly how much are we spending? Add it up and you’ll understand. Did [I] come by this money legally? Can a person with ordinary logical thinking not be clear about this? I can’t believe that officials are not as smart as me—they’re definitely smarter. You just have to analyze it a bit and you’ll discover that the source of the money is problematic. Police officers wouldn’t use their wages to invite officials out to eat, and we don’t have any office funds. As an official, it should be easy for you to figure it out. Once you’ve figured it out, you tacitly acquiesce or at least you don’t raise any objections.

The procuratorate found that the Luzhou RTL Center signed a contract with Luzhou Meishun Packaging Materials Ltd (hereafter “Meishun”) in February 2011 to produce liquor boxes. The Luzhou RTL Center assigned the production tasks to two “production brigades”—the drug treatment center and the Second Brigade. The heads of the two production brigades had talks with Meishun Deputy Manager Gong Junming and decided to conceal a portion of the product from the RTL facility each month and hand it over to Meishun under a false name in exchange for cash payments. In total, they held back and embezzled more than 700,000 yuan. Aside from a portion that was used for the office expenses of the two brigades, the rest was privately divided up between the 18 RTL officers of the two brigades. Each of the officers from the Second Brigade took in over 10,000 yuan, and the officers from the drug treatment center each got more than 30,000 yuan. Full- and deputy brigade leaders at the drug treatment center each got an additional 40,000 yuan on top of the over 30,000 yuan. Other than the five who were prosecuted and convicted for having primary responsibility, none of the other officers who divided the money were sanctioned in any way and merely had to refund some of the money.

In the course of the trial, there was a major argument between the prosecution and defense over how to characterize these embezzled “labor payments.” The defense attorneys maintained that the so-called “labor payments” were income from operations involving production by persons in compulsory drug treatment and arranged in violation of relevant RTL regulations and in the absence of a business license by the Luzhou RTL Center and others. It therefore constituted illegal proceeds, and the prosecution’s charge of “corruption” was not tenable.

The court of first instance agreed with the defense and convicted the five RTL corrections officers of embezzling state assets, which carries a lighter sentence. The defendants and their attorneys rejected the idea of treating “illegal proceeds” as “state assets” and appealed. The prosecution stuck to its charge of corruption and also appealed.

The court of second instance chose to split the difference by upholding the first-instance verdict against the three RTL officers but added on three years’ imprisonment for corruption to the sentences given to the two drug treatment center officials who split the more than 40,000 yuan in additional payments.

According to revelations from several RTL officers connected to the case, the office funds held back by the brigades were primarily used to invite officials from the facility and other functional offices to meals and recreation. An official from the RTL center also used the funds to pay his party dues.

“Production Definitely Comes First”

Whether it’s money given to compensate the relatives of Hu Minghong or money gotten through corruption and embezzling by officers, at the end of the day this is money that is being made by RTL detainees. There’s a deep-seated mentality in the RTL system: “Laojiao” puts labor first and education second. This idea clearly violates RTL policies but everyone thinks this way. Later, those up above probably felt that the name “laojiao” wasn’t so good, so they changed it to “apprenticeship.” But the reality hasn’t changed. This is only a change in name, like calling a prostitute a “sex worker” instead of a “whore.” The reality is that we force RTL detainees to work and make money [for us]; that’s what every RTL center does.

Whether it’s the RTL centers or the officers, they all lack money. Even if they didn’t lack money, there’s so much idle labor in the RTL centers, who wouldn’t want to use it to make some money? The only questions are how much to make and how to make it. There have never been clear regulations, or there are regulations but they have never been seriously implemented. For example, the Ministry of Justice long ago prohibited RTL facilities from setting revenue targets and required them to spend half of their time on education and half on labor. But none of the RTL facilities I know of can do that. How can you not have revenue targets? Labor by RTL detainees is passive labor—who would do it voluntarily? And once you have revenue targets, it’s impossible [to spend] “half the day on labor and half the day on education.”

For the RTL centers, production definitely comes first. Every unit puts its pursuit of economic interests first. Under this sort of policy, the lawful rights and interests of RTL detainees inevitably cannot be protected.

Once there are production targets, the management of the RTL centers becomes intimately entwined with production. The RTL facility gives a target to the brigade. If they can’t meet it, the officers get their allowances docked; if they surpass it, they get a bonus. The brigade gives a target to the RTL detainees. If they can’t meet it they get docked points, and docked points means “term extensions.”

Each time there’s a production task, the center will give the basic-level brigades production targets. For example, according to a 2011 facility document, in processing liquor boxes for a Luzhou liquor company, the minimum production target was set at 350, which means that, calculating per person, each month each person must complete 350 yuan of production. This figure doesn’t look very high, but, on the one hand, the factory will set the unit price very low and, on the other hand, detainees who serve as group- or team leaders or who run the warehouse don’t participate in production or generate value. But that 350-yuan target is calculated per person, so it must be equalized through [the work of] others, raising their targets to compensate. If the RTL detainees in the facility want to make this target, on average they must work seven or eight hours per day. In all of Sichuan, a production target of 350 is probably rather low. In RTL facilities in more developed areas, the target might be 800 to 1,000.

Of the surplus exceeding the 350-yuan production target, the facility returns 10 percent to us in the basic-level brigades to serve as the production withholding bonus. Of that, a portion is to be distributed among the RTL detainees to allow them to improve their food. This is only symbolic—each person gets an average of eight to 10 yuan, and it’s not in cash. For the amount exceeding 500 yuan, the facility returns 20 percent. We later calculated that according to the facility’s return policies, each officer got 200 yuan each month. We felt that was too little, so the brigade began concealing part of the revenues so that everyone could get a bigger cut.

A target of 350 yuan is only the lowest requirement. Whether it’s the RTL centers or the brigades, we all encouraged the RTL detainees to produce more, because producing more was in the interest of the center, the brigades, and the officers. Of course it was even more in the company’s interest. Why did these companies cooperate with the RTL facilities? In order to reduce their labor costs. For example, on this project if the company wanted to hire workers to produce the liquor boxes, they would have to pay wages of at least 1,500 yuan—plus, they’d be responsible for social security and worker’s compensation insurance: that’s 2000 yuan at least. But the company could hire four RTL detainees for that 2,000 yuan. The value created by an RTL detainee and an ordinary worker is the same. That means that the actual cost is only one quarter as much. You can imagine how huge this makes the profits. So, it’s the system that makes things this way.

The problems would get exposed sooner or later. The only way for the RTL facility to pursue even greater profits is to extend the detainees’ working hours. On this point, the detainees understand things very clearly. They’ve analyzed how many hours they work in a day and can calculate how much output value they create. They might learn a little about the unit price of the product from people at the factory and then figure out how much money [the company] is making and compare that to how much they are actually making. For instance, this year we brought in 100,000 yuan in revenue. According to the 10 percent ratio, that’s 10,000 yuan. The officers take a cut, probably leaving 5,000. If there’s some underreporting, some of that cut won’t get returned, probably meaning a return of only 2,500. There’s a gap there, and they can figure out the problem. Even more important, since you’ve exaggerated the detainees’ labor strength, they might start to feel resentment, [thinking that if you work us] too hard we’ll join together and report the problem which may lead to exposure.

Since its birth, the RTL system, which is based on the idea of “education, reform, and rescue,” has added another important function—getting detainees to make money for RTL facilities. There are many ways to make money—some set up their own enterprises, others work for [existing] enterprises doing processing. The Luzhou RTL Center falls under the latter category.

The two production brigades involved in the corruption case at the Luzhou RTL Center were considered the facility’s “backbone” whose “contributions” to the facility reached their peak in 2011. Together, they brought in a total of 1 million yuan in revenue for the facility, each exceeding their targets and more than doubling their performance in the previous year.

Driven by interest, the RTL detainees were compelled to work overtime. One former detainee surnamed Qiu who was at the Luzhou RTL Center’s Compulsory Drug Treatment Center from 2010 to 2011 told Southern Weekly that he had to process 3,000 to 4,000 [sic] liquor boxes per day, with average work hours of more than nine hours and up to 12 hours per day at the most. (The Ministry of Justice requires that work hours not exceed six hours per day.) If they didn’t complete their tasks, they would be beaten. As for living conditions, he summed it up with [an idiom referring to food that means]: winter melon, tomatoes, pumpkin, and cabbage. Besides this, medication and items for daily use were much more expensive inside the RTL Center. “Outside, Liu Wei Di Huang Pills are eight yuan a bottle. Inside, they’re 20 yuan a bottle.” According to Qiu, detainees in the compulsory drug treatment center once carried out a collective hunger strike to protest the labor and living conditions, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.

Among the six RTL officers implicated in the case, the one considered to have been most “wronged” is Chen Jinrui, who was given a suspended sentence. As the brigade leader, his cut of the revenues was no more than the other ordinary corrections officers, but because he was in charge of the brigade, he was sentenced.

Unwritten Rules for Release

Since there are production targets and these targets are directly linked to officers’ incomes, this of course leads to RTL detainees working overtime. Working overtime of course causes the detainees to react and this reaction leads to the employment of high-pressure policies such as beatings and [other] corporal punishment. This forms a vicious cycle. Thus, as soon as [one] is sent to RTL he or she begins to think about getting out early, which gives birth to another sort of corruption.

In the RTL facility, it’s been a longstanding and relatively common unwritten rule that corrections officers help detainees to be released early in exchange for benefits. This also occurs in prisons, but it’s much harder to carry out [in prison] because [sentence reductions] require a court ruling. It’s easier in the RTL facilities, which mostly use medical parole or non-custodial forms—for example, shifting (someone in drug treatment) from compulsory drug treatment to community drug treatment.

This time, two corrections officers at the Luzhou RTL Center were convicted of taking bribes. Actually, it would be more accurate to call it fraud than taking bribes. In fact, some RTL detainees are eligible for release according to the regulations but they don’t realize it. So, when you come to find me and ask whether I can help get you out, I’m happy to take full advantage of the opportunity. The guys who drank industrial alcohol with Hu Minghong were like that. After one person died, the people in charge of the center worried that others were going to die in the detention center [sic] and wished they could get rid of them quickly. But the detainees, themselves, were unaware of this and were willing to pay money [to get released early]. From the perspective of the officers who did this kind of thing, it became a habit to accept money from people because it was always being done. They wouldn’t let you leave without paying, even if it was time for you to leave.

Transferring people who used drugs to community drug treatment was always done on the grounds of illness, and it required a very complex process. You needed to get diagnoses from the RTL center’s clinic and the Luzhou People’s Hospital and then get final approval from the public security bureau. This was a complicated process involving people in charge as well as public security, because public security was in charge of both sending you to RTL and releasing you. There were only two RTL officers implicated in this case for taking bribes, which shows they didn’t investigate very deeply: this only scratches the surface.

At the time of investigating Hu Minghong’s death, the Luzhou Justice [Bureau] accidentally got a lead that these two RTL officers were taking bribes. The Matan District People’s Procuratorate in Luzhou found that between February 2011 and January 2012, Luzhou RTL Center Drug Treatment Center Director Li X and corrections officer Yuan XX conspired to use their positions and employ measures like fabricating medical records to enable four people in compulsory drug treatment to be shifted to community drug treatment, for which they received a total of 78,700 yuan.

The den of corruption concealed for many years inside the RTL facility was thus finally exposed. Eighteen officers were suspected of collectively embezzling revenues, with six ultimately being convicted.

After the case was uncovered, the Luzhou RTL Center was for a time unable to operate normally, and it was only recently that it again began accepting people for drug treatment. Southern Weekly learned through investigation that in the 15 years since the Luzhou RTL Center was established, three different facility directors have been removed from their posts for various reasons. (Among them, the first facility director “got into trouble” for accepting 1.68 million yuan in “drug treatment fees.”) But as far as pursuing criminal responsibility, this collective “den [of corruption] case” is a first.