Monday, July 18, 2011

Of Spies and Dissidents

Could it be that individuals convicted of espionage have higher rates of clemency than people convicted of non-violent speech and association?

A recent communication from a Chinese government source indicates that the alleged leader of a group of British spies operating in Hong Kong in the 1990s, Wei Pingyuan (魏平原), has had his life sentence commuted and prison sentence reduced. After two sentence reductions totaling two-and-a-half years, he is now due for release on February 20, 2025.

Wei worked on Taiwan affairs for Xinhua in the 1990s before resigning and becoming a naturalized Briton. He was detained while on a business trip to Guangdong Province in late 2003. At a closed trial in Guangzhou in November 2004, Wei was convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from British intelligence for confidential communications between Chinese officials in Beijing and Hong Kong.

One of the most senior Chinese officials based in Hong Kong before the territory’s reversion to China in 1997, Cai Xiaohong (蔡小洪), was convicted along with Wei and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Cai Xiaohong is the former secretary general of China’s Central Liaison Office and the son of former Justice Minister Cai Cheng (蔡诚). Cai Xiaohong received a 20-month sentence reduction in 2007 and was under consideration for medical parole when he was transferred to a Beijing prison in early 2009 to be closer to his ailing father. (On September 2, 2009, at the age of 82, Cai Cheng died proclaiming his son’s innocence.)

Wei allegedly recruited Cai Xiaohong, leading to his harsher sentence. Sources also claim that he refused to cooperate with interrogators, but recent acts of clemency may indicate that he has since acknowledged the court’s verdict.

Clemency for Guangdong, Fujian Agents

Wei Pingyuan’s treatment is among the latest examples of clemency granted by Guangdong courts to individuals convicted of espionage and trafficking in state secrets. Chen Yulin (陈瑜琳), another British citizen and former Xinhua Foreign Affairs Department employee, was convicted of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2004. His sentence was commuted to a fixed term in August 2007 and reduced by 18 months in June 2009. Sun Yuren (孙郁人), detained on suspicion of spying for Taiwan, was released from Guangdong’s Meizhou Prison on January 4, 2011. After three reductions, Sun served about two thirds of his initial 10-year sentence. High-profile sentence reductions for alleged American spy David Dong Wei and recently released Hong Kong scholar Xu Zerong also occurred in 2010 and 2011.

In a 2005 response to a list of cases of concern submitted by Dui Hua, 17 of 28 endangering state security (ESS) prisoners who received clemency were convicted of espionage or providing intelligence outside of the country. A majority of these prisoners were from Fujian Province. Follow-up communication in late 2010 revealed that several of these prisoners have received additional sentence reductions, including six given sentences of seven years or more for spying for Taiwan.

Among the most important acts of clemency for a state secrets trafficker in recent years is the early release of Jin Zhangqin (金章嵚). After retiring as an archivist for the Fujian provincial government, Jin served as a book agent for the University Services Center of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Jin was detained on suspicion of trafficking state secrets in May 2003 and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and three years’ deprivation of political rights in January 2004. He was released early in September 2010 after a 22-month sentence reduction for good behavior in 2007 and a one-year sentence reduction in 2010.

Soft on “Spies,” Tough on Dissidents

The number of sentence reductions for prisoners convicted of espionage and supplying foreign entities with state secrets contrasts sharply with that of prisoners convicted of speech and association offenses (subversion, splittism, and their incitement). A review of records in Dui Hua’s prisoner database—which catalogues about 24,000 cases—and available official statistics suggests that, in recent years, the majority of ESS arrests and trials have been for speech and association offenses. Despite making up the bulk of known ESS cases, speech and association prisoners are rarely granted clemency. There has not been a single known act of clemency for this group of prisoners since September 2009, when Jiangsu-based Internet essayist and political organizer Huang Jinqiu (黄金秋) and Sichuan labor activist Wang Sen (王森) were given 23-month and 10-month reductions, respectively.

Dui Hua research indicates that prisoners convicted of ESS have lower rates of sentence reduction and parole than the general prison population, for which the rate is about 30 percent. Within the ESS category, it seems that clemency is more common for individuals convicted of espionage—a crime most countries consider the greatest threat to national security—than for those convicted of non-violent speech and association. A number of factors may be involved here: discrepancies in information disclosure, differences in average lengths of sentences, official clout, admission of guilt, or individual circumstances.

What may also be at play is systemic prejudice. One official with whom Dui Hua has worked for many years acknowledged Dui Hua’s concern that “spies” had better access to clemency than dissidents by noting that only prisoners considered not to be a “threat to society” are eligible for parole. He stated that once out of jail spies can’t go on spying, while dissidents can continue stirring dissent. One wonders if that means that, for the sake of stability, citizens are better off selling out their country than trying to change it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Official Fear: Inside a Shuanggui Investigation Facility

There is a strong sense among many Chinese that corrupt officials must die. Recently, there were reports of public cheering for the death sentences of the deputy mayors of Suzhou and Hangzhou, and the executions of the head of the State Food and Drug Administration and the director of the Chongqing Municipal Justice Bureau. News of the number of corrupt high officials spared the death penalty also garnered much attention. 

Translated below, a recent post by Chinese blogger Chu Zhaoxian (储昭贤) reveals a lesser-known, and arguably equally ruthless, tactic primarily used for dealing with Party members accused of corruption: shuanggui (双规). People facing shuanggui, which can be translated as “dual designation” and refers to a designated time and place of inquiry, are usually apprehended at their places of work or summoned for “voluntary visits” with investigators. They are then held in an undisclosed location, often a specially designed hotel or office building. There have been reports of psychological manipulation and physical torture during detention and interrogation, such as sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, burning the detainee’s skin with cigarettes, and beating. Since shuanggui is rooted in Party regulations instead of formal legislation, it is a form of extra-legal detention. Because such regulations lack the transparency afforded by a legal system, the extent to which human rights violations are committed during shuanggui is not well documented.

Despite its susceptibility to human rights violations, shuanggui gained the unashamed support of Chu, who assumes the same disposition of his readers. In the post, Chu describes his rare visit to a shuanggui investigation facility. The circumstances that led to the visit are unexplained; however, the trip does result in the publication of what Dui Hua believes to be the first photographic exposé of the inside of a shuanggui investigation facility. 

Throughout his cold description of the rooms and instruments used for detention and interrogation, Chu drops menacing words of caution for the corrupt. He states that corrupt officials tremble with fear at the mention of shuanggui and do not make it three days before confessing. Chu ends the post with another warning: “Do not be invited here. If you come here, your days will seem like years. There is no rank before the law.” 

Chu may be correct that “days will seem like years.” Shuanggui usually lasts several months and can extend to more than one year. Some shuanggui cases, particularly high-profile ones, are converted into criminal cases and adjudicated through the formal judicial process. The typical sentence is death or life imprisonment, with all property confiscated and official positions revoked. The following table summarizes some recent cases:

Position held prior to shuanggui
Alleged offenses
Start of shuanggui
Criminal sentence, date of sentence
Chen Shaoji Chairman, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Guangdong Province Accepting bribes, embezzlement Apr 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Jul 2010
Huang Yao Chairperson, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Guizhou Province Accepting bribes, facilitating an illegal mining enterprise Oct 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Dec 2010
Kang Rixin Party Secretary and General Manager, China National Nuclear Corporation; former member, Committee for Discipline Inspection Accepting bribes, embezzling shareholder equity Aug 2009 Life imprisonment, Nov 2010
Li Tangtang Vice Chairman, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Accepting bribes Oct 2010 Life imprisonment, Apr 2011
Liu Zhijun Party Secretary, National Railway Ministry “Severe violations of discipline,” manipulating competitive bidding Feb 2011 Pending
Lü Jiangbo Village Director, Keren Village, Jinjiang City, Fujian Province “Obstructing official business” (organizing village protests of land seizure) Feb 2010 11 years’ imprisonment, Oct 2010
Pi Qiansheng Director, Special Economic Zone, Tianjin Municipality Illegal receipt of property, “seeking and facilitating benefits for others” Jun 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Dec 2010
Song Yong Deputy Director, Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress Accepting bribes, embezzlement Oct 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Jan 2011
Wang Huayuan Member, Party Committee for Discipline Inspection, Zhejiang Province Accepting bribes Apr 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Sep 2010
Xu Zhongheng Mayor, Shenzhen Accepting bribes Jun 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, May 2011
Zhang Meifang Deputy Director, Department of Finance, Jiangsu Province Accepting bribes Nov 2010 Pending
Zheng Shaodong Assistant Department Head, Ministry of Public Security; member, Party Committee Accepting bribes Jan 2009 Death sentence, suspended two years, Sep 2010
Zhu Zhigang Director, Commission for Budget Affairs of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Accepting bribes, abusing position to advantage others financially, manipulating real estate prices Oct 2008 Life imprisonment, May 2010
Despite possible human rights abuses, or perhaps because of them, shuanggui is likely to remain a common anti-corruption measure for years to come. As the number of officials found guilty of corruption rises, it stands to reason that shuanggui, which can often be a path to harsh criminal sentences, would have some popular support. (As an indication of interest, Chu’s article spread virally with numerous re-postings by various blogs and news media.) Two reasons likely contribute to such support. First, shuanggui detainees are commonly accused of unpopular acts of corruption and graft. Second, shuanggui is almost exclusively used against Party members, who are part of an elevated socioeconomic group that comprises only 6 percent of Chinese citizens. Sadly, acceptance of shuanggui seems to have seeped into international human rights circles and resulted in a dearth of relevant research and advocacy. While stamping out corruption is a worthy cause, it by no means warrants extra-legal detention, torture, or lack of transparency and rule of law. Endnote: Days after publication, Chu’s article was deleted along with all but one of its re-postings. The remaining post contained none of the original photos and has since been deleted.
Where Corrupt Officials Fear Most: Exploring a Shuanggui Investigation Facility Chu Zhaoxian April 28, 2011

A popular saying among Chinese government officials goes: “Fear not the heavens or the earth, but fear the summons of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s Anti-Corruption Office.”

I had a rare opportunity to visit a shuanggui anti-corruption investigation facility. There was no advance notice that I would be brought to this place. When the car reached the highway exit of another city, a police car appeared in front of us and led the way. We were driven through rugged and muddy mountain roads, until we were well within remote mountains. Getting out of the car, I looked around and saw nothing but the desolate mountains. We entered an ordinary-looking courtyard and stopped before a small building, where People’s Armed Police were standing guard.

On the other side, a leader led us into the building and through the security check machines. Not until we passed the security check could we start to move about normally.

Shuanggui stems from Article 28, Section 3 of the Investigations Regulations of the Ministry of Supervision of the Communist Party of China, which “demands a person relevant to a case to appear at a designated time and place to provide explanations regarding all aspects of the case.”

This is the hallway of the investigation facility.

Behind this door is the interrogation room of the facility, where investigators interrogate corrupt officials. Please note the term “interrogation room.” When a person enters this room, it is evident that the [Party] organization has already obtained conclusive evidence that the person is a corrupt official.

These are the investigators’ seats in the interrogation room. Note the presence of video cameras.

The lower podium across [from the investigators’ seats] is the seat for the corrupt official. Regardless of your past brilliance or elevated status, once you are invited to this place, your height [in the lower podium] is the same.

The walls are made of special materials. They are soft to touch, soundproof, and prevent accidents.

Protective fences are installed on the windows. Outside, there are only mountains, remote and uninhabited, leaving one with a desolate feeling. 

The Central Committee for Discipline Inspection’s shuanggui system makes all problem officials tremble with fear. It is also known as “the sharp sword for punishing corrupt officials.”

This is the inquiry room, which is substantially different from the interrogation room.

The inquiry room also has installed a series of equipment [capable of performing] synchronous audio recording, synchronous video recording, synchronous broadcast, and synchronous backup [so that] the entire process of investigation and inquiry is simultaneously supervised. Note the arrangement of the table and chairs, which differs from that of the interrogation room.

This is the psychological examination room.

The psychological examination room has many advanced instruments. Lies are immediately detected. [The instruments] are very sensitive.

[This is the] investigations command room.

I am especially fascinated by this big monitor, which I had only heard of but never seen before. This is the investigations command room’s monitor of the investigation status in every room. Using [a big monitor to provide] a clear picture at a glance is very appropriate. 

I heard that all corrupt officials who are summoned to the investigation facility have their contemptuous behavior exposed. Living under shuanggui is what they fear most. Within three days, they will confess. 

Due to special reasons, some photographs and descriptions have been left out. [Here is] a warning for government officials to bear in mind: The power in your hands is given by the people for seeking the benefit of the people. Do not betray the people’s trust. Be a good official with both competence and integrity. Do not be invited here. If you come here, your days will seem like years. There is no rank before the law.