A newly released human rights report says that Chinese authorities have been abusing the practice of secret detention to persecute dissidents. The practice is not limited to its own citizens, but extends to foreigners living in China.
This is a particular phenomenon of systematic human rights abuses by the Chinese judicial system, a report released Monday (June 21) by Madrid, Spain-based human rights group Defensoria de los Derechos Humanos exposes. The report says that thousands of people in China are subjected to a “coercive detention measure that violates basic human rights” known as “residential surveillance detention (RSDL).
The organization’s researchers noted that in 2013, China changed its laws to greatly expand police powers, which are virtually unchecked. Prior to that, the practice of “residential surveillance in designated places” was less common in China, largely limited to special figures such as Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei. But after 2013, there has been a significant increase in such cases.
In 2013, the report said, there were only about 325 such cases, while in 2020, the number of such cases will surge to 5,800. In total, about 23,000 such cases occurred between 2013 and 2020.
The Defenders report also collected testimonies from those who have lived under “residential surveillance” and provides a comprehensive account of the operation of this clandestine system in China, detailing its practices in terms of targeting, daily operations, secret interrogations, and human torture.
In this system, defenders say that security services are permitted to hold suspects in custody for long periods of time without charges being filed and trials being held. The guards referred to this as “state-sponsored ‘kidnapping'”.
Under normal legal procedures, authorities are supposed to notify the suspect’s family when he or she is taken into custody. However, Defender reports that Chinese police “routinely omitted” this procedure and that the suspect had no access to his family or his legal representatives. The researchers said, “It is almost unheard of for police to allow lawyers to have access to suspects or for family members to visit them.”
In a letter to the United Nations, Defenders said, “This report reveals one of the most extensive, if not the only, system of enforced disappearances in the world.”
The report said there is no doubt that the scope of China’s use of “residential surveillance” is “extensive and systematic.
The report also notes that if the practice is not challenged, it could spread to other countries.
No response to the report has been seen from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The report also says that China uses this practice not only against domestic human rights activists, but also against foreigners in China. The report cites the examples of Australian journalist Cheng Lei and author Yang Hengjun and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor. The report describes these as concrete examples of hostage diplomacy conducted by the Chinese government.