Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chinese State Security Arrests, Indictments Doubled in 2008

Arrests and indictments for "endangering state security" (ESS) in China soared in 2008, more than doubling for the second time in three years, according to data made available by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) in its annual work report to the National People's Congress (NPC) on March 10.

While no figures for ESS were explicitly provided, data appended to the work report distributed at the annual plenary session of China's legislature point unambiguously to such a rise. Based on those statistics, The Dui Hua Foundation estimates that last year more than 1,600 individuals were arrested and more than 1,300 individuals indicted on state security charges in China.

Arrests and prosecutions for alleged "splittist" activities by Uyghurs and Tibetans are believed to have contributed significantly to the large increases in 2008. Security forces cracked down in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang following an uprising in Lhasa last March and numerous protests throughout the Tibetan plateau amid concerns that ethnic unrest and social instability would mar the Olympic Games held in Beijing last August.

Close Tracking Makes Estimate Possible

In 2007, Dui Hua called attention to the doubling of ESS arrests in 2006 over the previous year. Last year, the foundation used data announced in the SPP work report for 2007 to reveal another 23 percent increase in ESS arrests for that year. As early as January 2009, there were indications that arrests and prosecutions for ESS increased significantly in 2008. That month, an official spokesperson for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region People's Procuratorate revealed that nearly 1,300 individuals were arrested for endangering state security in that region alone—compared to 742 for the entire country in 2007.

The version of the SPP work report for 2008 that was distributed to NPC delegates, members of the media, and other observers included charts breaking down arrest and indictment totals by the crime categories as found in China's criminal code. In these charts, the three smallest categories—ESS, "endangering national defense interests," and "dereliction of duty by military personnel"—are combined in a category marked "Other." When these totals are routinely reported in the China Law Yearbook, each category is listed separately. Looking at the data over time, one finds relative stability in the number of arrests and prosecutions made for endangering national defense interests and dereliction of duty by military personnel—meaning that most of the variance can be attributed to ESS cases.

Analysis Yields Astonishing Results

From 2004 to 2007, arrests for endangering national defense interests and dereliction of duty by military personnel remained at a fairly consistent rate of about 7 per 20,000 total arrests. (By contrast, arrests for ESS over this same period displayed considerable variation.) Assuming that this rate did not vary considerably in 2008, it would mean that Chinese law enforcement authorities arrested more than 1,620 individuals for ESS that year. This marks a 119 percent increase over 2007 and a 448 percent increase over the historic low reported in 2005. Similar calculations for indictments yield an estimate of 1,327 for ESS in 2008, a 114 percent increase over 2007 and a 280 percent increase over 2005.

Corroboration of a doubling in arrests and indictments for ESS in 2008 can be seen in figures made public in the work report of China's Supreme People's Court, which shows that first-instance trials for ESS (and a small number of trials for dereliction of duty by military personnel) increased by more than 50 percent compared to 2007. Given that it routinely takes 12 months or longer to conclude ESS trials, one would expect to see a substantial proportion of the arrests and indictments in 2008 reflected in trials concluded in 2009. (Click on the chart below to view data on ESS arrests and indictments in China since 1998.)

Dui Hua's estimates for arrests and indictments for ESS in 2008 raise questions about the report from Xinjiang earlier this year. If, as reported, 1,295 individuals were arrested for ESS crimes in Xinjiang during the first 11 months of 2008, this would comprise 80 percent of Dui Hua's estimated total, leaving roughly 330 arrested throughout the rest of the country—including Tibetan areas, where dozens, if not hundreds, are suspected of having been charged with ESS during the year. This number appears rather low.

It is possible that the data reported nationally and the data for Xinjiang do not categorize ESS crimes the same way, with the Xinjiang total including cases of terrorism and other crimes that do not strictly fall under the category of ESS as defined by the criminal code. However, if uniform criteria are being used, it means either that Uyghurs and Tibetans represent an even larger proportion of ESS cases than previously believed or that Dui Hua's estimate for the total number of arrests and indictments nationally is too conservative. Clarity on these questions will have to wait until the 2009 China Law Yearbook is published—assuming that Chinese authorities maintain a basic level of transparency of the criminal justice system by continuing to report specific figures for ESS crimes.

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