Monday, July 21, 2014

International Opinion of China’s Rights Record Sours, Poll

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and US President Barak Obama at the Sunnyland Summit in June 2013. Image credit: AP

An annual poll published this week by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project (PDF) includes for the first time year-on-year data on how sample populations in 34 countries view the Chinese government’s human rights record. When asked whether “the government of China respect[s] the personal rights of its people,” a majority or plurality of populations in 18 of the countries said “no.” In 21 countries, the percentage of negative responses increased over the last year.

Views of China’s human rights record are worst in Europe and the Americas. A staggering 91 percent of German respondents said the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. In every Latin American country, with the exception of El Salvador, where views stayed the same, perceptions have soured. In South Africa, opinions of China’s human rights record have also worsened.

In contrast, perceptions of the Chinese government’s human rights record have held up well in the Middle East and Asia, with the notable exceptions of South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.

In the United States the percentage of people saying that the Chinese government does not respect the personal rights of the Chinese people rose seven percentage points to 78 percent. This shift may be contributing to a decline in China’s overall popularity. The Pew poll indicates that the percentage of Americans who hold a “favorable” view of China is at 35 percent, the lowest percentage since the poll was first taken in 2005. Meanwhile, “unfavorable” views are at an all-time high of 55 percent.

Among Republicans unfavorable views jump to 65 percent of respondents—a data point that may be significant if the GOP regains control of the Senate in November. Among Democrats and Independents, unfavorable views accounted for 53 and 51 percent of respondents, respectively.

Based on the poll data, this decline in popularity does not appear to be related to the economy, but may be related to other issues including China’s growing bellicosity. In 2014, Americans were less likely to see China’s economic strength as a threat. Forty-nine percent of Americans said that China’s growing economy was a “good thing” for the United States, compared with 37 percent who felt that way when the poll was last conducted in 2011. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who called China’s growing economy a “bad thing” fell to 42 percent in 2014 from 53 percent in 2011.

Source: Pew Research Center, 2005-2014. Chart compiled by Dui Hua.

In terms of military threats, two-thirds of American respondents expressed concern that China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors could lead to military conflict, and nearly 20 percent of Americans named China as their country’s greatest threat, second only to Russia. One year after the Sunnylands Summit between presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, only 28 percent of Americans have confidence in Xi’s ability to “do the right thing in world affairs,” versus 58 percent who have little or no confidence in the Chinese president.

The latest Pew survey was conducted among 48,643 individuals in 44 countries from March 17 to June 5, 2014. Only 34 countries were polled in both 2013 and 2014 on whether the Chinese government respects the personal rights of its people. The survey of 1,002 American adults was conducted from April 11 to May 10, 2014. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Identifying Cult Organizations in China

After a killing by alleged "cult" members, Xinhua published an article on the "truth" about cults in China. Image credit:

Chinese media scrambled to identify “cult” organizations after a woman was reportedly beaten to death by six members of Almighty God at a McDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong, on May 28, 2014. Almighty God (also called Real God Church or Eastern Lightning) was outlawed as a cult in November 1995 by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and State Council. As recently as December 2012, the group made headlines when hundreds of members were detained for spreading rumors of apocalypse.

Back in 1995, the Central Committee, State Council, and Ministry of Public Security identified at least 13 groups as cult organizations. Eleven of them were Christian and two were Buddhist. After the McDonald’s killing earlier this year, at least three “cult” lists began circulating online. The longest list names 20 organizations and was compiled by the China Anti-Cult Association (CACA), whose website calls the group a volunteer-run humanitarian nonprofit. The CACA says the list was drawn up by experts in technology, law, and religion.

Major Cult Organizations Identified by CACA

Name Category Founder Year & Place Founded Scale & Influence
Falun Gong
Qigong Li Hongzhi
1992 Jilin Believed to be the largest “cult” identified by the CACA, particularly active in Shandong and northeastern China.
Almighty God
Christian (Shouters offshoot) Zhao Weishan
1989 Henan Estimated to have millions of followers nationwide.
Christian Li Changshou
1962 US Introduced to China in 1979, by 1983 it had up to 200,000 followers across 360 counties and cities in 20 provinces and autonomous regions.
Society of Disciples
Christian Ji Sanbao
1989 Yao County, Shaanxi More than 350,000 followers across over 300 counties in 14 provinces as of 1995.
Unification Church
Christian Mun Son-myong
1954 South Korea Believed to be active among ethnic Koreans in northeast China.
Guanyin Famen
Buddhist Shi Qinghai
1988 Taiwan Introduced to mainland China in 1992, it had 500,000 followers across over 20 provinces at its peak.
Bloody Holy Spirit
Christian (New Testament Church offshoot) Zuo Kun
1988 Taiwan Introduced to China in 1987, it has been active in 20 provinces and municipalities.
Full Scope Church
Christian Xu Yongze
1984 Pingdingshan, Henan Tens of thousands of followers across over 88 counties in 15 provinces and autonomous regions as of 1991.
Three Kinds of Servants Sect
Christian Xu Wenku
1986 Henan Claimed to have a million members, most in Anhui, Sichuan, and northeast provinces.
True Buddha School
Buddhist Lu Shengyan
1979 US Introduced to China in 1988, it was once active in 13 provinces and municipalities
Mainland China Administrative Deacon Station
Christian (Shouters offshoot) Wang Yongmin
1994 Anhui Over a thousand followers in Anhui, Jiangsu, and Henan as of April 1995.
Source: CACA, Dui Hua. Note: The other nine groups identified as cults by CACA are: Spirit Sect (灵灵教), South China Church (华南教会), Established King (被立王), Lord God Sect (主神教) (as recently as 2012 three women in Guangxi were sent to prison for their involvement with this group), World Elijah Evangelic Mission (世界以利亚福音宣教会), Yuandun Famen (圆顿法门), New Testament Church (新约教会), Dami Mission (达米宣教会), and Children of God (天父的儿女).

Under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, individuals who participate in cult organizations may be charged with “organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law” and face prison sentences of 3-7 years. According to a joint interpretation issued by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate in 1999, cult crimes can be applied when one “resists group bans by relevant departments, resumes banned groups, establishes other sects, or continues [illegal] activities.”

Falun Gong

Falun Gong is perhaps the one group identified by Chinese authorities as a cult that is most well-known inside and outside China. It is also the first group on the CACA list. Falun Gong practitioners faced severe persecution in the decade after the qigong group was outlawed by the central government in 1999. But in recent years, police and courts have generally imposed fewer arrests and less severe punishments. According to Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB), the number of Falun Gong prisoners known or believed to be in custody has nearly halved since 2009 (see table below).

Documented Falun Gong Prisoners
Year No.
2009 4,139
2010 3,845
2011 3,121
2012 2,675
2013 2,369
2014 2,201
Source: Dui Hua. All figures are as of December 31 except 2014 which is as of June 30.

Falun Gong is perhaps the one group identified by Chinese authorities as a cult that is most well-known inside and outside China. It is also the first group on the CACA list. Falun Gong practitioners faced severe persecution in the decade after the qigong group was outlawed by the central government in 1999. But in recent years, police and courts have generally imposed fewer arrests and less severe punishments. According to Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB), the number of Falun Gong prisoners known or believed to be in custody has nearly halved since 2009 (see table below).

Almighty God

As mentioned previously, there was a spike in arrests of Almighty God adherents in December 2012. According to Legal Evening News, more than 1,300 people across 16 provinces had been detained for propagating rumors of impending apocalypse during that month. The majority (800) of the people detained were apprehended in Qinghai and Guizhou. A Xinhua news report from June 2014 says that Ningxia police had detained more than 1,000 members of Almighty God since 2012 and that Liaoning police had arrested 113 leading members since 2013.

Official sources say that there are millions of Almighty God members nationwide and characterize most members as under-educated rural women around age 50. With the exception of Henan Province, which publicizes most of its court verdicts online, most jurisdictions do not report the names of people detained in Almighty God cases. That said, according to Southern Weekly, of the 161 Almighty God verdicts published online nationwide, 109 were in Henan and 134 involved violations of Article 300. Among the 134 Article 300 cases, which involved 335 defendants, the lengthiest sentence was eight years’ imprisonment, handed down to only one defendant. Most defendants were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment or above, and one third of defendants received suspended sentences. Defense lawyers participated in only one third of these 134 criminal cases.

Shouters, Society of Disciples, and Spirit Sect

The Shouters lost much of its popularity when it splintered into several groups including Almighty God. Both it and the Society of Disciples reported having hundreds of thousands of followers in the 1980s or early 1990s. Before Article 300 made it into the Criminal Law in 1997, many leaders of the Shouters and Society of Disciples were convicted of “organizing/using a sect or feudal superstition to carry out counterrevolutionary activities,” indicating a political bent to their persecution.

Unlike the groups mentioned above, Spirit Sect is not prominently featured on the CACA list. However, Dui Hua has discovered Spirit Sect verdicts on Chinese court websites that are more recent than those of the Shouters and Society of Disciples. The PPDB has information on 25 Spirit Sect members sentenced for cult activities since 2013, compared to only eight members of the Shouters and Society of Disciples combined. (This may indicate that the Spirit Sect is more active or visible or that there is a difference in public reporting regarding these groups due to divergent local practices or otherwise.)

Common among verdicts for all three groups is that the vast majority of defendants are sentenced to three years’ imprisonment or lesser punishments and that Article 300 is not always applied. A number of defendants are sentenced to administrative punishments or are released after receiving “education.”

Breakdown of Sentences in PPDB, since 2013

Sentence Group
Shouters Society of Disciples Spirit Sect
Suspended 1
2 years 3
2.5 years 14
3 years 3 14
3.5 years 1 2
4 years 1 1
5+ years 1 1
Unknonwn 1
Source: Dui Hua

Other Christian Sects

Cases involving other Christian sects are much less reported in official media sources today. Throughout the 2000s, Full Scope Church, Three Kinds of Servants Sect, and Bloody Holy Spirit were identified in government records as police targets, but the PPDB contains no sentencing information on members of any of these groups since 2010.

Information about Mainland China Administrative Deacon Station is even scarcer. Dui Hua research indicates that the sect remained active in Anhui at least until 2002—seven years after it was outlawed by the Central Committee and State Council. In 2002, two of the group’s leaders Teng Binglian (腾丙连) and Wang Qishu (王启书) were detained for investigation, but the outcome of their case is unknown.

Originating in South Korea, Unification Church is believed to have some influence among ethnic Koreans in northeast China, but as of this writing, no one in China is known to have been convicted for joining this sect. Unification Church is often characterized in official narratives as a source of foreign infiltration largely because its overseas connections are at odds with the “three selfs” principles of China’s officially sanctioned religion: self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation. (Read Uncovering China’s Korean Christians for more information about Korean Christian groups in China.)

Buddhist Sects

Guanyin Famen (GYFM) and True Buddha School are highly commercialized Buddhist groups marketed on healthy practices like vegetarianism and meditation. Although both are frequently listed in local records as inspection targets, no one affiliated with True Buddha School is known to have received prison sentences as of this writing.

GYFM appears to be more suppressed. The PPDB has information on over two dozen GYFM members detained mostly between 1996 and 2005. The most recent conviction reported in Chinese media was in 2012. Two members from Jilin were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for purchasing 2,600 copies of “cult” books. (Read The Cult of Buddha for more information about Buddhist sects.)

More than 20?

The CACA only lists 20 cult organizations nationwide, but Dui Hua has discovered official documents in which local public security offices refer to other groups as cults. Chinese authorities may deem the size and reach of these organizations to be too small to warrant calling them out on the national level. But it is also the case that some local authorities apply different metrics to determine whether groups meet the criteria of a cult: “deifying leaders, deceiving people, and spreading superstitions and heretical beliefs.”

For example, Kindness Sect (恩惠教) was declared a heretical organization in Urumqi in November 1999, but Dui Hua has not found information about the group’s activities in other locations. Active for two years in rural Xinjiang since its founding in 1997, the sect was led by former assistant village head Pan Wei (潘卫). Official sources say that Pan became fervently involved in illegal religious activities after meeting a Korean American missionary in China. From 1997‒1999, Pan and the missionary attended underground meetings in Harbin and organized 30 house-church gatherings throughout Xinjiang. No information on criminal punishments related to the sect has been discovered.

In January 1997 the Henan Public Security Bureau banned China Gospel Fellowship (中华福音团契). Headquartered in Tanghe County, the group allegedly spread ideas that its followers could cure illnesses without medicine and that non-members would go to hell. In 2005 over 80 members were detained in Chengcheng County, Shaanxi. Most were released after receiving “education.” Dui Hua has learned of just one conviction of a China Gospel Fellowship member, but it was a suspended sentence, handed down to He Guangming (何光明) by the Henan’s Xiayi County People’s Court in 2002.

Since 2011, local governments in several provinces including Guizhou, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang have explicitly stated that Amitabha Society (静空学会) is a cult. Despite winning multiple honorary awards overseas, founder Chin Kung (净空), a naturalized Australian citizen born in Anhui in 1927, stands accused by local governments of “deifying” himself through cultural exchanges, trainings, and publications. Expanding into more than 30 provinces since it was introduced to China in the 1990s, Amitabha was initially well-received among religious officials. In February 1998, academic journal Jianghuai Cultural History lauded Chin Kung as a benevolent philanthropist and patriot who supported “the peaceful unification of the motherland.” Today, official sources often accuse Chin Kung of overseas religious infiltration.

Although Amitabha is frequently mentioned in official records of campaigns against cults and foreign or religious infiltration, none of the individual cases Dui Hua has found have resulted in convictions of cult crimes. Most cases result in property confiscations rather than severe criminal punishments. The only individual known to have been imprisoned in connection with Amitabha is Lin Lidong (林立东), who was sentenced to five years in prison for “illegal business activity” around 2005. Official sources say Lin produced a large number of Chin Kung audio materials and “colluded with Amitabha overseas.”

There appears to be consensus on the existence of 20 cults in China, but the number of groups that are being targeted in anti-cult campaigns is greater in number and varies from place to place. Although it was a violent incident that sparked the recent uptick in Chinese media reports on cult organizations, Dui Hua research indicates that violence is only rarely involved in cases involving these organizations.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Is Detention Center Law Enough to Prevent Police Abuse?

A cell inside Zhejiang Zhoushan Detention Center, July 2013. Image credit:

Wrongful convictions and other miscarriages of justice have been the subject of intense scrutiny in China over the past several years. When details emerge of, for example, a person who has been mistakenly convicted of a crime he did not commit or detainees mysteriously dying inside detention facilities, these cases can easily become sensational news. They can also become opportunities for members of the public to vent anger over arbitrary and abusive actions taken by law enforcement authorities who are under strong pressure to fight crime effectively and efficiently in the name of preserving stability.

More often than not, individual cases are symptomatic of institutional flaws and weaknesses in the Chinese criminal justice system. Awareness of these flaws, if left unaddressed, threatens to undermine public confidence in China’s legal system, which in turn reflects badly on China’s political leaders. This, then, creates an opportunity to push harder for reforms to the legal system and, in some cases, overcome resistance from certain sectors who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

When it comes to the problem of torture and abuse in China’s pre-trial detention centers, there has been no shortage of expert opinion about how reform ought to proceed. Previous attempts to regulate these facilities by replacing outdated administrative regulations with national legislation have been stymied, however, despite support from the highest levels in China’s government. Although there is widespread consensus about the desirability of placing pre-trial detention centers under the management of judicial administration authorities (who already manage most of China’s other custodial facilities) and of breaking the current tendency of the police to use pre-trial detention as an instrument of solving crime, such an institutional rearrangement would have practical implications for the “balance of power” inside the criminal justice system. Moreover, by constraining the ability of police investigators to “dig for additional crimes” among detainees, detention center reform could have a significant impact on the perceived effectiveness of China’s law enforcement authorities.

These and other issues were recently explored in an article published in China Youth Daily. The article notes that the Ministry of Public Security has taken the lead in drafting new legislation to regulate pre-trial detention centers. This suggests that long-awaited reforms to the system may be imminent. Experts surveyed on the subject express optimism about the prospects for specific reforms to be integrated into the new legislation, but there is also an undercurrent of disappointment. More far-reaching proposals appear to be off the table, and for the time being at least, China’s police seem poised to retain control over pre-trial detention.

Among the experts interviewed by China Youth Daily was Cheng Lei, deputy director of the Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform at Renmin University of China. Professor Cheng partnered with Dui Hua to conduct research at Chinese women’s prisons and detention centers last year as part of our women in prison symposium. During his interviews, incarcerated women complained most about insufficient family contact. In practice, family visits are prohibited for people in pre-trial detention.

Can a Detention Center Law End “Death by Blind Man’s Bluff”

Xu Xiaotong
China Youth Daily, May 14, 2014

“Coercion of confessions through torture, jailhouse bullies, detention beyond legal time limits, and digging for additional crimes” are four major abuses of the current detention center management system. The 2012 revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law established provisions that prohibit coercion of confessions through torture and forcing self-incrimination and require exclusion of illegally obtained evidence and full audio-visual recording of interrogations. But these are all missing from the Detention Center Regulations. A Detention Center Law being drafted by the Ministry of Public Security will remedy this, possibly ending incidents like “death by blind man’s bluff” and “death by drinking water” that have aroused such public doubt.

At a seminar held at the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in April 2014, Director General Zhao Chunguang from the Department of Prison Administration at the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) revealed that the ministry is in the process of drafting a Detention Center Law (DCL).

Following that, scholars under the MPS said that the formulation of the DCL is focused on incorporating detention centers’ years of reform experience and bringing them into line with the new Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in order to better serve the entire criminal justice system.

Consensus on Detention Center Legislation

The current Detention Center Regulations were issued 24 years ago in 1990. Since then, China’s CPL has undergone two major revisions in 1996 and 2012.

These antiquated regulations are no longer in sync with the CPL.

Fan Chongyi, honorary director of the Criminal Procedure Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law, gives an example: “Now we call them ‘criminal suspects.’ At that time, they were called ‘criminals.’”

The 2012 CPL revisions established mechanisms to prohibit coercion of confessions through torture. Among these are provisions that prohibit forcing self-incrimination, exclude illegally obtained evidence, and stipulate full audio-visual recording of interrogations. But these are all missing from the Detention Center Regulations.

Fan Chongyi believes that, whether in terms of terminology or content, the Detention Center Regulations have already fallen behind the needs of the current era. He also says that another principal feature [of the legislation] will be to sum-up and regularize the reform experiences of the past several years.

In 2009, Li Qiaoming was beaten to death by a jailhouse bully while detained at the Puning Detention Center in Yunnan Province. The detention center claimed that Li had died while playing blind man’s bluff with other detainees. Following this, there were a series of unnatural deaths in detention centers, leading public opinion to focus attention on detention centers.

Under scrutiny from all sectors, the MPS began carrying out reforms to the detention center system. Cheng Lei, deputy director of the Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform at Renmin University of China, told China Youth Daily that to date the MPS has already issued around 200–300 normative documents related to detention centers, with no shortage of highlights.

At the end of 2013, the Henan High People’s Court instituted a reform of its trial process whereby defendants are not required to wear “prisoner uniforms” when appearing in court. Cheng Lei notes that, many years ago, internal MPS rules concerning detention centers had stated that detainees could choose their own clothing when appearing in court. But these rules did not carry the force of law; therefore, it was necessary to upgrade them into law and routinize this practice.

In October 2013, the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee announced its legislative agenda for the coming five years, and the DCL was among the 68 pieces of draft legislation listed therein.

Actually, the MPS began researching how to revise the Detention Center Regulations as early as 2000. In December 2008, the second Central Plan for Legal System Reform clearly called for “perfecting legislation related to detention centers and improving the mechanisms for procuratorial monitoring of detention centers.” These then became legal-system reform tasks assigned to the MPS to take the lead in implementing with assistance from the State Council Legislative Affairs Office and other bodies.

In 2011, the revision plans for the Detention Center Regulations were basically ready, but in the end, they were never passed.

Fan Chongyi told China Youth Daily that the revisions were not passed because of a recommendation from the Legislation Committee of the NPC Standing Committee. The Legislation Committee considered that, according to the provisions of the Legislation Law, coercive measures and procedural institutions concerning restriction of individual freedom can only be enacted through legislation and this legislative authority cannot be delegated to the State Council.

For this reason, revision of the Detention Center Regulations was temporarily put on hold.

Cheng Lei also believes that it would be inappropriate for legislation concerning detention centers to continue to take the form of administrative regulations. He contends that only administrative organs can be bound by State Council regulations, whereas detention centers must also interact with judicial organs like the procuratorates and courts.

Fan Chongyi told China Youth Daily that the MPS began drafting work on a DCL a year ago and has now completed a preliminary draft. Cheng Lei believes that there is basic consensus about the content of the detention center legislation but that its progress will depend on whether the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, which is taking the lead, has enough legislative resources to see it through.

Debate over “Combining Investigation and Detention”

On the subject of detention center legislation, what one hears most from criminal justice experts and lawyers are calls for detention centers to be stripped away from the public security bureaus.

According to the current Detention Center Regulations, detention centers are units of governments at the county level and above that are managed by public security organs. Under this kind of system, detention centers serve the interests of handling cases. They have turned into combined investigation-custody units—that is, they serve the purpose of case investigation.

Professor Meng Zhaoyang of the People’s Public Security University of China has written that, in several seminars discussing the Detention Center Regulations in 2010, scholars all maintained that “coercion of confessions through torture, jailhouse bullies, detention beyond legal time limits, and digging for additional crimes” were four major abuses of the current detention center management system, the causal root of which was the investigation-custody combination.

According to Fan Chongyi, one of the goals of the current legislation is to transform thinking from the notion that detention centers should serve the interests of case investigation to [the notion that they should serve] an impartial position in service of the criminal process. “If you don’t take proper custody and beat everyone to death, how can the criminal process proceed?” he asks. “When it becomes common practice to coerce confessions and beat people during interrogation, how can you safeguard the criminal process?”

The newest recommendations come from the Zhejiang High People’s Court. According to a report in Qianjiang Evening News, Qi Qi, president of the Zhejiang High People’s Court, summed up the characteristics and lessons of wrongful convictions as part of the work report delivered to the second plenary session of the 12th Zhejiang Provincial People’s Congress in January 2014. During his report, Qi also recommended the “separation of investigation and custody.”

But there are some practical obstacles to transferring management of detention centers to the judicial administration authorities. Most detention centers are located at the county level, explains Fan Chongyi. If detention centers are transferred too suddenly, the county-level judicial administration authorities “might not have the personnel, budget capacity, or material resources to keep up.”

Furthermore, Cheng Lei points out that it would be easy to fix many of the problems facing detention centers under public security management. The institutional bottlenecks that inhibit development of detention centers do not all originate in the public security organs; rather, they come from other institutions. “For example,” he says, “[they are the result of the] finance, housing, civil affairs, and health [institutions]. Detention centers are spaces in which people live. It’s necessary to deal with many different aspects, and this depends on the public security organs’ ability to coordinate with each of these institutions.”

Beginning in 2009, the MPS undertook a series of reforms to strengthen the neutral position of detention centers. Fan Chongyi believes that, after five years of reform, they have gradually begun to take on an internal functional neutrality. For example, the MPS requires that responsibility for management of detention and investigation at the county and prefectural levels be divided between two separate deputy public security heads. In this way, there develops a kind of mutual constraint at the leadership level.

A scholar who has participated in several discussions on the problems facing detention centers told China Youth Daily that the biggest obstacle preventing the neutrality of detention centers is “digging for additional crimes.” This refers to the additional questioning and investigation of offenders being held in detention centers or prisons in an effort to uncover new facts or leads related to crime. Objectively speaking, many cases are solved through digging for additional crimes.

According to statistics published in the 2008 China Law Yearbook, more than 600,000 leads related to additional crimes were dug up in public security detention facilities nationwide, from which more than 300,000 criminal cases were solved—12.6 percent of all cases solved by public security organs nationwide that year. For this reason, detention centers have been criticized as the “second front” for public security investigation.

On this subject, Cheng Lei has suggested the possibility of reforming detention center management following the proposal in recent legal system reforms to unify the management of local courts and procuratorates under the provincial level. In other words, provincial-level public security departments would manage all detention centers, enabling them to break free from management by county- and prefecture-level public security units. “This is because the pressure to solve cases comes mainly from the local level,” Cheng says. “In this way, there would be a lot less pressure on the heads of local detention centers.”

Another of his recommendations would be to set up a custodial enforcement authority that would be responsible for managing prisons, detention centers, drug treatment centers, and other custodial enforcement units.

On this point, however, scholars involved in the process told China Youth Daily that the draft being proposed by the MPS would not make major changes to the institutional structure of detention centers.

Opening up the Closed Doors

Apart from an overall change in the way of thinking, detention center legislation is also being directed toward the protection of rights and openness and transparency.

Cheng Lei’s Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform at Renmin University of China is working with the MPS Department of Prison Administration to carry out pilot reform projects in detention centers throughout China. Two such projects concern systems for carrying out inspections of detainees and handing detainee complaints. In the former project, ordinary people are selected to serve as specially invited inspectors authorized to enter detention centers at any time to meet with detainees and carry out spot inspections. In the latter project, individuals from all sectors of society are invited to form a complaints committee to handle major and difficult complaints raised by detainees.

Cheng says that the results from these projects over the past two or three years have been good and have helped make detention centers more open and transparent.

Another area [awaiting reform] is the problem of pre-trial visitation [by family members]. In China, once criminal suspects are taken into custody the earliest they see their family members is at trial. Cheng Lei notes that, actually, the law has no provision prohibiting [earlier] visits. “The detention centers’ own rules state that you must first seek approval from the unit handling the case, but the unit handling the case definitely won’t permit visits in order to facilitate its own investigation.” Because the legal provisions are not clear on this, Cheng believes, there are deviations in enforcement that lead to detainees being deprived of their lawful rights. This is a problem, he contends, that the current round of legislation should try to overcome.

Another area of reform is the strict execution of offsite transfers. According to Cheng Lei, coercion of confessions through torture usually takes place prior to arrival at the detention center or during temporary transfers outside the detention facility. Now, these temporary releases must first get the signed approval of the principal person in charge at the local public security bureau, and [the law] requires that detainees be returned the same day and prohibits them from being held overnight. Moreover, [detainees] must be given physical examinations before they leave and upon return to the facility.

Even though the results of these reforms have been positive, there remain concerns. Can the good intentions of the MPS be implemented in the more than 2,700 detention centers throughout the country? Cheng Lei is not optimistic: “No matter how good central policies might be, public security bureaus are under pressure when they need to solve major or important cases. When they ask a detention center to assist in the investigation, what can the head of the local detention center do?”