Monday, October 3, 2011

State Security Indictments Remain at Historic Highs

Criminal justice statistics published in the 2011 China Law Yearbook (中国法律年鉴) offer more evidence of the heavy security crackdown that has been underway in China since 2008.

According to included Supreme People’s Court data, Chinese courts tried approximately 670 cases involving “endangering state security” (ESS) charges in trials of the first instance in 2010, down only slightly from the previous year’s high of nearly 698. (As in previous years, court statistics published in the yearbook combine the number of ESS trials with trials for “dereliction of duty by military personnel” in a category simply labeled “other.” Based on consideration of additional data, however, Dui Hua can say with a high degree of confidence that 99 percent of trials covered in this “other” category are ESS cases.)

During the decade from 1998—the first full year after ESS crimes were included in the criminal code—through 2007, courts averaged only 289, or 132 percent fewer, ESS trials per year.

Concluded Endangering State Security Trials, 1998‒2010
Note: Limited to trials of first instance. Source: China Law Yearbooks, Dui Hua

Chinese authorities use ESS crimes in their effort to suppress political dissent in the name of protecting national security. Provincial statistics and Dui Hua’s database of political prisoners indicate that subversion, “splittism,” and incitement are the chief offenses for which individuals are charged with ESS.

Meanwhile, statistics from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) continue to show that authorities arrested and prosecuted individuals on ESS charges at historically high levels, with 1,045 arrests approved for ESS in 2010, and 1,223 individuals indicted. Both figures slightly exceed estimates Dui Hua produced earlier this year using incomplete data that the SPP included in its report to the National People’s Congress.

Individuals Indicted for Endangering State Security, 1998‒2010
Note: Limited to trials of first instance. Source: China Law Yearbooks, Dui Hua

Trends in yearbook data clearly show that endangering state security has become a major focus of China’s law enforcement system since 2008, a period that has seen a marked emphasis on stability due to the Beijing Olympics; high-profile commemorations such as the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China; and increased levels of ethnic unrest, exemplified in part by the violence that broke out in Lhasa in 2008 and Urumchi in 2009.

In January 2011, the president of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) High People’s Court announced that courts there concluded 376 trials for ESS offenses in 2010. If this figure is limited to first-instance trials, Xinjiang would account for more than half of all ESS trials reported in China for that year. While the scope of this data remains unclear, other evidence indicates that the majority of ESS trials are brought against ethnic minorities, many of whom with roots in Xinjiang and Tibet.

For example, of the 36 ESS cases recorded in Dui Hua’s prisoner database for 2010, only three involve Han Chinese. Though stark, this data point also clearly demonstrates the scarcity of reliable information available on ESS cases.

While providing information on the number of trials, the 2011 yearbook does not include the number of individuals convicted of endangering state security. SPP data show that, on average, ESS cases involve more individuals than criminal cases taken as a whole—the overall ratio of individuals per criminal indictment has remained consistent at around 1.5 since 1998 versus roughly 2.5 individuals per ESS indictment during the same period and nearly 3.0 individuals per ESS indictment between 2008 and 2010, but there is too much variation in the data to produce meaningful estimates of the number of people convicted.

Although the exact number of ESS convictions remains a mystery, it seems evident that heightened state security concerns are here to stay. China’s recent white paper on peaceful development included the political system as one of its “core interests,” a measure that reinforces the close identity between Communist Party rule and Chinese national security. Given that popular uprisings have toppled authoritarian rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the heightened anxiety surrounding the leadership transition expected during China’s 18th Party Congress in 2012, there is little to suggest any imminent political reform of the decades-old policy of ensuring “stability above all else.”