Thursday, September 25, 2014

Surge in Foreign Prisoners in Beijing

Foreign prisoners marching in Shanghai Qingpu Prison. Image credit: Phoenix Weekly

The paucity of statistics on China’s prisoner population sometimes results in observers concluding that recent events represent new trends. For example, a recent spate of arrests and convictions of foreign nationals—e.g., Canadians Kevin and Julia Garratt on suspicion of espionage, Briton Peter Humphrey and Chinese-American Yu Yinzheng for allegedly trafficking in private information, and naturalized American citizen Vincent Wu for allegedly running a criminal enterprise (China does not recognize Wu’s American citizenship)—has raised concerns that foreign firms and businesspeople operating in China are being treated more harshly. Official statistics uncovered by Dui Hua indicate that growth in China’s number of foreign prisoners may be an ongoing trend, but that historically, the most common reason for incarceration probably relates to a different business, trafficking in drugs.

Annual volumes of Beijing Prison Yearbook show that the number of foreign citizens (not including Taiwanese or Hong Kong and Macau “compatriots”) imprisoned in the capital nearly quintupled between 2006 and 2010, reaching 232 prisoners, or 1.8 percent of the prisoner population in China’s second largest city. The number of countries with citizens incarcerated in Beijing rose from 22 to 53. The number of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau residents incarcerated in Beijing rose 170 percent to 68 prisoners.

Breakdown of Foreign Nationals in Beijing Prisons by Nationality, 2006‒2010
Region Country 2006 2010 Region Country 2006 2010
Europe France 1 3 Latin America Brazil 3
Lithuania 1 Columbia 3 3
Portugal 1 Peru 1 4
Russia 1 1 Uruguay 1
Sweden 1 Africa Benin 1
UK 1 Cameroon 9
Middle East &
Central Asia
Afghanistan 2 Congo 2
Iran 1 8 Egypt 1
Kyrgyzstan 2 Gambia 1
South Asia Bangladesh 1 Ghana 1 9
Cambodia a Guinea 5
India 2 3 Guinea-Bissau 2
Indonesia 3 Ivory Coast 2
Malaysia 3 3 Kenya 4
Pakistan 2 24 Lesotho 1 1
Philippines 1 4 Liberia 1 3
Singapore 2 4 Mali 1
Sri Lanka 1 Malawi 2
Thailand 9 Morocco 1
Vietnam 1 Namibia 1
East Asia Japan 3 3 Nigeria 4 47
Mongolia 1 South Africa 2
N. Korea 1 Sierra Leone 1
S. Korea 13 7 Tanzania 5
Oceania Australia 5 Togo 1
Nauru 1 2 Uganda 11
N. America Canada 1 4 Zambia 1
US 3 5 Zimbabwe 10
Total 49 232

Growth in the number of foreign prisoners took place virtually across the board. The combined number of prisoners from North America, Europe, and Australia tripled. However, the biggest growth came from African and South Asian countries, specifically Nigeria and Pakistan. The number of African prisoners rose from just nine in 2006 to 121 in 2010 to account for more than half of Beijing’s foreign prisoners. Outside Beijing, Dongguan Prison is known to be holding a large number of African prisoners who reside in Guangdong Province, home to tens of thousands of African migrant workers, business people, and those seeking political asylum in Hong Kong.

The reasons for the sharp rise in foreign prisoners in Beijing likely vary by country. Drug trafficking is probably a primary reason for the uptick in Pakistani and Nigerian prisoners, if not for prisoners of other countries. According to a report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), China arrested 1,559 drug traffickers from 50 different countries in 2009. The previous year foreign drug traffickers arrested in China were primarily from Burma, Pakistan, Nigeria, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. Nigerians and Pakistanis accounted for an equal percentage of drug trade arrests in Pakistan from 2000 to 2008, and police in Kazakhstan frequently report the involvement of Nigerians in trafficking Afghan heroin to China from Kazakhstan, the UNODC report said.

Although official data does not break down foreign prisoners by crime, a prison inspector told Dui Hua that most foreign nationals are convicted of economic crimes, including smuggling common goods, and drug-related crimes. A smaller percentage is convicted of violent crimes, and very few are convicted of endangering state security crimes, making the espionage charges against the Garratt’s quite rare. American geologist Xue Feng (薛峰) is the only foreign national known to be presently serving a sentence for endangering state security in China. He was transferred to Beijing No. 2 Prison to serve his sentence in 2011.

Direct foreign investment in Beijing rose a relatively modest 40 percent over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010. The 2008 Summer Olympics took place during the period, but the numbers of tourists visiting the capital in August 2008, the month the games were held, were a disappointing 388,000, considerably less than the anticipated 500,000. The poor attendance was due to the global economic crisis, which also affected investment and trade, and to strict security and visa controls imposed on visitors to Beijing.

South Korea, Malawi, North Korea, and Sweden were the only countries for which official data showed a decline in prisoner numbers. The number of South Korean prisoners dropped from 13 in 2006 to seven in 2010. This may be due to requests for prison transfers. According to a report by The Global Times, South Korea originated 107 of the 198 requests for prisoner transfers (both within China and to foreign countries) that the Ministry of Justice had received by early 2012. Dui Hua research indicates that South Korean pastors and missionaries have been imprisoned in China for helping North Korean refugees enter South Korea, while those charged with proselytizing have been deported.

Of the 232 foreign citizens in Beijing prisons at the end of 2010, 184 were men and 48—a striking 21 percent—were women. (Women generally account for 2 to 10 percent of national prison populations.) Most men were incarcerated in Beijing No. 2 Prison where they accounted for nearly 15 percent of all prisoners. Women were incarcerated in Beijing Women’s Prison. As in most provinces and municipalities with large foreign prisoner populations (e.g., Shanghai and Guangdong Province), in these Beijing prisons, foreign nationals are housed in separate cell blocks. Foreign prisoners, like prisoners from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, generally do not mix with inmates from the mainland. Yancheng Prison, China’s only prison run by the Ministry of Justice and not by a provincial prison bureau, is located immediately across Beijing’s border in Hebei Province. It houses scores of foreign nationals, including several sentenced by Beijing courts.

Managing large numbers of foreigner prisoners poses challenges for the Beijing Prison Administration Bureau (PAB). In addition to granting prisoners regular monthly visits from their family members, countries with consular agreements with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs are permitted regular access to their citizens, in many cases in the form of monthly visits. In 2010, the PAB arranged more than 3,000 visits to foreign prisoners by diplomats, embassy officials, and family members from more than 40 countries and translated over 300 letters. That year, Beijing prisons also received 145 overseas visitors on legal exchanges including members of judicial delegations from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. A delegation of American experts organized by Dui Hua visited Beijing’s only juvenile reformatory in May 2010.

In 2008 a report by the Ministry of Justice called language and healthcare the two biggest problems facing the management of incarcerated foreign nationals, The Global Times reported. These and other issues can cause tension, and disciplinarily actions are sometimes taken. A group of 10 foreign citizens who were deemed to “pose management problems” was dispersed from Beijing to prisons in Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, and Jilin in 2010.

Deaths of incarcerated foreign nationals, though rare, do occur. A Zimbabwean woman died of heart complications resulting from AIDS in 2010. The Zimbabwean Embassy was notified, and the woman was cremated.

Beijing statistics provide a glimpse of what may be a national upswing in the number of foreign nationals imprisoned in China. Nationwide, there are more than 6,000 foreign nationals serving sentences in Chinese prisons, The Global Times reported citing Guo Jian’an, director of the Ministry of Justice Department of Judicial Assistance and Foreign Affairs. In order to ensure the health, rights, and dignity of these men and women, consular involvement and access as well as Chinese laws are necessary—China’s Prison Law does not mention foreign prisoners.

Prison transfers should also be considered. China has signed bilateral prisoner transfer agreements with 11 countries and has been approached by more than 20 other countries regarding such agreements, according to The Global Times report. Guo Jian’an said China is willing to work on a case-by-case basis to transfer prisoners and has transferred more than 40 foreign prisoners, or about 10 people per year.

Particularly where drug crime is the major driver of incarceration, root causes like drug use, addiction, and poverty must also be addressed both inside and outside China to help people lead free lives.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

MPS: China Has 116 Custody and Education Centers Nationwide

Detainees participate in work training at a custody and education center in Nantong, Jiangsu Province. Image credit: 

As several recent posts have pointed out, the formal abolition of reeducation through labor (RTL) at the end of last year has prompted new scrutiny of other arbitrary forms of detention routinely used in China. Getting the most attention in recent months is the system known as “custody and education,” used to punish both prostitutes and their clients with up to two years of detention without any formal judicial process.

A recent article from the Guangzhou newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily showed how critics of custody and education have successfully used requests for “open government information” to get details about the measure and its use in China. This summer, Beijing lawyer Zhao Yunheng received a reply to his request to the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) for information about custody and education. The reply included an acknowledgment that there are currently 116 custody and education facilities nationwide.

Though Zhao did not get all of the detailed information he requested, the MPS response does reveal a number of interesting things. First, it is clear that, with only 116 facilities nationwide, there are many parts of China where custody and education is not being enforced at all. Thus, in addition to the arbitrary nature of the procedures used to send individuals to custody and education, there is also a serious problem of geographical inconsistency of enforcement—meaning that individuals accused of the same illegal behavior might receive very different degrees of punishment, for example up to 15 days of administrative detention in places where there are no custody and education facilities but a minimum of six months in custody and education in places where there are.

Distribution of custody and education centers by province based on provincial public security department data obtained by Southern Metropolis Daily. Image credit: 

Second, there are some puzzling discrepancies between the data reported on the national level and information collected locally. The MPS report of 116 custody and education centers contrasts with an earlier figure of 90 facilities derived by Southern Metropolis Daily through open government information requests and reporting at the provincial level. Because the MPS did not provide details, such as the names of each facility or their relative distribution throughout the country, it is difficult to know how to reconcile the two different figures.

Even though he did not get all of the information he requested, Zhao Yunheng expresses general satisfaction with the way the MPS handled his response and remains optimistic that custody and education will undergo substantial reform in the near future. The fact that the issue continues to receive periodic coverage in the national media suggests that changes to the system may indeed be on the reform agenda. Continued pressure from the media and civil society—including demands that the government reveal more details about the various ways it locks up its citizens—will undoubtedly help to further this process along.

MPS Replies to Open Government Information Request,
Now 116 Custody and Education Centers Nationwide

Wang Xing, Southern Metropolis Daily
August 1, 2014

In a recent reply to an open government information request, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) for the first time made public the number of custody and education facilities nationwide—116. The MPS also stated that China has not yet abolished custody and education and that public security units continue to enforce this measure.

“I never imagined that the MPS Open Government Information Office would take such a conscientious attitude,” said lawyer Zhao Yunheng, who applied to have the information made public. “They acted fully in accordance with procedures, and even telephoned me to explain when they needed to extend the time limit.”

Custody and Education Still Being Enforced

In its July 22 reply entitled “MPS Open Government Information Response,” the MPS Open Government Information Office responded separately to each of Zhao Yunheng’s three questions.

On the question of which provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions were still enforcing custody and education and which had effectively abolished or ceased enforcing the measure, the MPS reply stated: In 1991, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee passed its Decision Concerning the Strict Prohibition of Prostitution and Visiting Prostitutes.” Article 4(2) of that decision states: “Public security organs, in cooperation with other relevant agencies, may subject those who engage in prostitution or visit prostitutes to between six months and two years of compulsory legal and moral education and productive labor so that they may change their bad habits. Detailed measures are to be enacted by the State Council.” In 1993, the State Council promulgated and put into effect the Measures for the Custody and Education of Prostitutes and Clients of Prostitutes. These measures specify that prostitutes and those who visit prostitutes are subject to custody and education and provide detailed provisions concerning the decision-making body, term of custody, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease, inmate education and management, and procedures for release and remedy. The reply added: “Currently, the state has not abolished custody and education and public security authorities continue to enforce the measure. We have no information about abolition of custody and education by local authorities.”

According to an investigation by Southern Metropolis Daily (see the previous report in Weekly In-Depth Report, July 2 [Translator’s note: This report is no longer available on their website, but is available here.]), of the 31 provincial-level areas nationwide (excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan), 26 have at least one custody and education center. Anhui, Jiangxi, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Tibet do not currently have custody and education centers. Of these, Ningxia, Qinghai, Tibet, and Jiangxi have never had custody and education centers, so abolition is not an issue there. Anhui once had 17 custody and education centers, but around 2005 they were ordered to close because the “conditions for custody no longer existed.” Even though there is no longer custody and education there, no one has ever said anything about formally “abolishing the custody and education system.”

No Mention of Specific Designations or Distribution

With respect to the number of custody and education centers nationwide, as well as their designations and locations, the MPS reply states: Article 4 of the Measures for the Custody and Education of Prostitutes and Clients of Prostitutes stipulates that: “Based on the need for custody and education work, public security organs at the level of the province, autonomous region, municipality or autonomous prefecture, or city district shall submit plans for the establishment of custody and education centers to the people’s government at the same level for approval.” According to figures from the MPS Detention Facility Administration Bureau, there are 116 custody and education centers nationwide.

There are more than 330 cities or autonomous prefectures at the prefectural level in China. With 116 custody and education centers, that means that there is one center for every two prefectural cities on average.

Between April and May of this year, public security departments in 19 provinces nationwide responded to requests for open government information, revealing a total of 55 custody and education centers. Southern Metropolis Daily reporters then visited the 12 other provincial-level public security departments, all of which apart from Guizhou provided figures on the number of local custody and education centers. Calculating from the 19 provincial replies to requests for open government information and the information provided during visits to 11 other provinces (excepting Guizhou), one gets a total of 90 custody and education centers.

According to Zhao Yunheng’s analysis, perhaps the custody and education centers in some areas have already stopped operating in practice, but because they have not been formally abolished, this leads to the discrepancy in the data.

The MPS reply did not provide the specific designations or distribution of the 116 custody and education centers. Based on previous investigations, the centers are distributed extremely unevenly. In some provinces, nearly every city has one, while in others the centers have been set up in only a few cities. Yesterday, Zhao Yunheng submitted another open government information request for additional information.

Applicant: MPS Attitude Conscientious

Zhao Yunheng, the person who made this application for open government information, is the director of the criminal defense division at the Dacheng Law Firm. In early June, he, Duan Wanjin, and other criminal defense lawyers at the Dacheng Law Firm met to discuss the problem of custody and education, out of which came the request for open government information. “A few days later, I got a call from the MPS Open Government Information Office,” said Zhao. “They said our request wasn’t formatted correctly and suggested that I go to the MPS website to download the correct form and reapply.” By default, the applicant on the standard open government information request form is a citizen or legal entity, so when Zhao Yunheng resubmitted the application it was in his capacity as an individual citizen.

Zhao’s application requested information about the implementation of custody and education in each province; the names, numbers, and distribution of custody and education centers nationwide; and the number of people being held in custody and education. Zhao Yunheng believes that many delegates to the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, legal experts, lawyers, and others have already made a great effort and carried out a valuable investigation into the issue of custody and education. He and his colleagues wanted to approach the problem from the angle of open government information in hopes that they could provide a better basis for debate if they received more information.

According to the regulations on open government information, the department receiving the request should furnish a reply within 15 working days. As the deadline was about to approach, Zhao Yunheng received a call from the MPS Open Government Information Office. “They said this information concerned a large number of bureaus and that they themselves did not have the information,” Zhao recalled. “They said they would have to coordinate with these agencies to collect statistics, so they hoped to extend the 15-day deadline. This was fully in keeping with the regulations, and I felt this was perfectly ordinary.” On July 23, a registered letter was delivered to the Dacheng Law Firm. It was dated July 22—a reply delivered within the statutory deadline.

Zhao Yunheng said that in his many telephone interactions with them, the MPS Open Government Information Office took a very conscientious attitude, and he was personally satisfied with their attitude and the response they provided: “I believe the MPS took a positive attitude. I am relatively optimistic that custody and education will be reformed in the near future.”