Rights activists chide China’s infamous detention methods

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Originally published by ANI on 29 December, 2021

Washington [US], December 29 (ANI): Human rights activists have chided China’s infamous Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), highlighting that Chinese authorities torture and forcibly hold people without providing them with the right to legal counsel.

RSDL is a form of detention that is employed by Chinese authorities on the individuals “endangering state security”. Human rights activists, now and then, have flagged that this kind of detention is in violation of human rights and have urged China to stop using it.

Based on the data fetched from Supreme People’s Court and testimony of survivors and lawyers, Spain-based rights group Safeguard Defenders put out a significant report. The rights group said that since 2013 as many as 274,208 to 56,963 people have gone through China’s RSLD system.

Recently, two Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were released by the Chinese authorities after being kept in detention under RSDL, that rights groups have likened it with enforced disappearance.

The two Canadians were kept in detention for a period of 1000 days. The prison where the duo was kept was not an ordinary prison and they had limited access to a lawyer or consular services. They lived in cells also had lights on 24 hours a day.

The Chinese criminal law changed in 2012. Post-2012, police can now detain anyone, foreign or Chinese, for a period of six months at an undisclosed location.

Michael Caster, a co-founder of rights watchdog Safeguard Defenders said: “These high profile cases obviously attract a lot of attention, but they shouldn’t detract from the fact that there’s no transparency. Collecting the data that is available and analysing the trends, the estimate is every year 4 to 5,000 people are disappearing into the RSDL system alone.”

Caster termed such cases as “tip of the iceberg”

The estimation done by Caster suggested that, in 2020,
between 10,000-15,000 individuals went through the Chinese RSDL system. In 2013, this number was just 500 and has increased significantly since then.

Some very high profile and well-known names are included in the list of detained people. Artist Ai Wei and human rights lawyers–Wang Yu and Wang Quanzhang–were caught by the Chinese police during the crackdown in 2015 on human rights defenders.

Another foreign national Peter Dahlin, a Swedish Activist and co-founder of Safeguard Defenders, has also gone through the RSDL system. Canadian Couple and missionaries– Kevin and Julia Garrett– who were accused of espionage in 2014 were also detained under the RSDL system.

William Nee, a research and advocacy coordinator at China Human Rights Defenders RSLD has become a widely and frequently used detention tool in China. He said that almost a decade ago the use of an extrajudicial system like RSDL was only an exception, unlike today.

“Before, when Ai Wei Wei was taken away, they had to make an excuse that it was really about his business, or a tax issue or something like that. So there’s this trend, a decade or two ago, where they would use a pretence to detain someone when the real reason was their public participation or their political views,” said Nee.

“There was a fear that [RSDL] was going to make it more routine ‘legal,’ given a veneer of legality and legitimacy to it. And I think that’s been well borne out.”

Since 2018, a similar parallel system called liuzhi is functional in china for Communist Party members, state employees, and anyone involved in “public affairs”.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people have been held under liuzhi system since its inception in 2018.

Inmates in both the RSDL and liuzhi systems are said to be tortured and forcibly held without providing them with the right to legal counsel. According to multiple rights groups, survivors of both systems have reported that they were deprived of sleep, kept in isolated and solitary confinements and forced into stress positions. In some extreme cases, the movement of inmates’ limbs are restricted and they are kept in the infamous “tiger chair” position for days. RSDL, liuzhi and similar extrajudicial procedures, all have “systematised arbitrary and secret detention,” said Caster.

China, on the other hand, has accused the ‘UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances’ of maligning the country’s image and misrepresentation of the RSDL system.

China has defended RSDL, saying the system is governed by the country’s criminal code. It also boasted about its Constitution and said that the Chinese Constitution is against the law of illegal detention of any individual or depriving them of their personal liberty.

When asked to comment on the illegal detention of the Canadian couple—Spavor and Kovrig, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the pair was detained because they were suspected of posing threat to national security.

The ministry also said that their “lawful rights had been guaranteed”, they were not held in “arbitrary detention” and their cases moved forward “in accordance with the law.”

The entire episode of the detention of the Canadian couple is seen as a hit back to the Canadian authorities. Notably, in 2018, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested by Canadian authorities at the request of the United States. The US Department of Justice wanted Meng because of her alleged involvement in helping the Chinese tech giant conduct business in Iran despite US sanctions.

Spavor, a businessman who worked in North Korea, was found guilty of espionage just before his release. He was then sentenced to prison for 11 years while Korig had yet to face sentencing.

The situation only diffused when Canada finally allowed Meng to return to China after living under house arrest and the Canadian couple escaped further prison. It may be a moment of respite for the couple however for many others, RSDL remains a matter of grave concern.

“For the hundreds or thousands of members of civil society who don’t have their own Wikipedia entry, they might be held for the maximum amount of time under one of these systems. And then they’re released into criminal detention to wait as the investigation continues,” he said. (ANI)

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