Latest Update: 31 March 2013
There were a number of developments relating to criminal justice and the rule of law in the first quarter of 2013.
The revised Criminal Procedure Law came into force on 1 January. There are indications that some elements of the revised Law are helping to improve defence rights, as visits to clients in pre-trial detention by defence lawyers have reportedly increased significantly across the country. Implementation of other elements gave cause for concern, however. The controversial Article 73 was used for the first time in January, when activist Zhu Chengzhi, detained since June 2012, was transferred to “residential surveillance at a designated location”. He was returned home on 1 February but again transferred to an undisclosed location in March. He remains under investigation for inciting subversion.
Debate over reforming Re-Education Though Labour (RTL) continued, although detailed proposals have yet to emerge. New Premier Li Keqiang said in March that plans would be published by the end of 2013. At the UN Human Rights Council session in March the UK encouraged the Chinese authorities to publish detailed plans which are compliant with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to implement them as rapidly as possible.
In February over 100 Chinese intellectuals published an open letter urging the National People’s Congress to ratify the ICCPR as soon as possible. This followed the publication of an open letter on 26 December 2012 calling for greater adherence to China’s constitution. An editorial calling for greater adherence to the constitution in the progressive newspaper Southern Weekly was rewritten by censors prior to publication in January. Staff at the paper went on strike and there were protests outside the paper’s offices in Guangzhou. A news crew filming for German television station ARD came under attack by unidentified assailants in Hebei Province in February.
It was announced at the National People’s Congress in March that the National Population & Family Planning Commission would be absorbed into the Ministry of Health. Officials stressed that basic state policy on family planning policy would be retained, although there is ongoing public debate about possible reforms to relax it.
A number of human rights defenders were illegally detained or placed under house arrest during the National People’s Congress, including Tibetan blogger Woeser. Hubei activist Liu Feiyue was illegally detained by state security agents for 12 days. Beijing-based activist Hu Jia was beaten and interrogated on 14 March on suspicion of causing a disturbance, despite having been under house arrest since 26 January. He was denied access to medical treatment for his injuries.
We continue to have concerns about the health of imprisoned rights lawyer Ni Yulan following the denial of her request for medical parole in January. We are also concerned about the mental health of disappeared Mongolian rights defender Hada, who reportedly continues to be held in extralegal detention and refused access to psychiatric treatment.
We are also concerned about the health of Liu Xia, who remains under illegal house arrest in Beijing. In March human rights activists and Hong Kong journalists were detained and beaten while attempting to visit her. Diplomats, including from the UK, have regularly attempted to visit Liu Xia but have consistently been denied access to her. We most recently attempted to see her in March.
Shanghai activist Mao Hengfeng was released on 8 February for medical reasons, to serve out the remainder of her 18 month RTL sentence at home. Her administrative appeal against her sentence was turned down on 22 March. Diplomats, including from the UK, tried to attend the hearing but were refused access.
Relatives of the detained lawyer Gao Zhisheng were granted a second visit to him in prison on 12 January. The meeting was monitored and Gao’s relatives were not permitted to ask him questions about how he was being treated. They reported however that he appeared to be in good health.
Uighur academic and rights defender Ilham Tohti was detained and beaten by state security agents at Beijing airport on 2 February while attempting to board a flight to the USA.
Relatives of Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew, were allowed to visit him in prison in January and February. They had previously been denied access to him since he was detained in May 2012.
Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen was permitted a visit from family members on 15 January. In a highly unusual move, he has been transferred to a women’s prison, where his treatment has reportedly improved.
In January more than 400 Chinese lawyers, academics and activists signed a petition calling for clemency for Li Yan, a woman accused of killing her husband after years of domestic violence and abuse. We understand that Ms Li has not yet been executed and that the Supreme People’s Court is reviewing her sentence.
Four foreign nationals were executed on 1 March after being convicted of killing 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River. State broadcaster CCTV aired a two hour live nationwide broadcast showing them being led to their deaths.
There were 13 self-immolations reported in Tibetan areas of China during this period. At least 13 Tibetans accused of inciting, organising or glorifying self-immolation were convicted in criminal trials, with the majority receiving long prison sentences for homicide. Five Tibetans in Sichuan Province were reportedly given long prison sentences in January in connection with their participation in peaceful protests in January 2012. In February Baroness Warsi highlighted the UK’s concerns about human rights issues in Tibet to Parliament, emphasising the importance of addressing underlying grievances through meaningful dialogue.
The UK is awaiting China’s response to dates proposed for the 21st round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue.