Posts tagged: subverting state power

The Sentencing of Jiang Tianyong: What it Means for China & the World

By , December 3, 2017

Civil rights activist, Jiang Tianyong, sitting in the courtroom awaiting his sentence on Nov. 21, 2017

Last month, and three months after civil rights activist Jiang Tianyong pled guilty to “inciting subversion of state power,” the Changsha Intermediate Court finally issued its sentence: two years in prison (much of it already served) and the deprivation of Jiang’s political rights for three years.

As far as the crime of subverting state power goes, a crime the Chinese government has increasingly used to silence its civil rights activists, things could have been worse.  Jiang is seen as a leader in China’s civil rights circles, a lawyer who has daringly taken on some of China’s most politically sensitive cases, such as representing Falun Gong practitioners as well as ethnic Tibetans in the aftermath of the 2008 Tibetan riots.  As a result of his zealous advocacy in these cases, in 2009, the Chinese government denied the renewal of his law license.  But lack of a law license did not stopped Jiang from continuing his work.  Ironically, much of his advocacy began to focus on a new vulnerable group: China’s civil rights lawyers.  In 2011, Jiang played an active role in ensuring that blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s cruel house arrest remained in the public eye.  More recently, Jiang was important in supporting many of his colleagues who were caught up in the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 200 civil rights lawyers and activists (“709 Crackdown”). Through blog posts, tweets, calls for protests and interviews with foreign media as well as with Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Jiang effectively kept the 709 Crackdown visible.  It is this type of ardent support for his colleagues that has made him the him the soul of the movement.

Civil rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng at his sentencing. August 4, 2016

And in a legal system where the Chinese government essentially determines the crime and sentence of any activist regardless of evidence, such a leadership role would result in a charge that could lead to a substantial prison term.  But Jiang was only charged with – and pled guilty to – the lowest level of subversion under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law: inciting subversion of state power; a crime that carries a prison term of three years maximum.  Some of Jiang’s colleagues – those caught up in the 709 Crackdown – received harsher sentences for actually subverting state power under Article 105, not just inciting it: Zhou Shifeng received seven years, Hu Shigen seven and a half years.  And more recently, two other activists, Lee Ming-che and Peng Yuhua, both arrested after the 709 Crackdown but still part of the Chinese government’s attack on free speech, were each charged with – and pled guilty – to Article 105’s subversion of state power and were sentenced to five years and seven years, respectively.

Jiang Tianyong, second from left, and proudly standing with other activists outside of a detention center.

But make no mistake, Jiang has suffered just as much as these other activists while in detention.  According to the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, Jiang was repeatedly denied access to his own lawyers and allegations of torture have emerged.    He was demonized in the state-run press and social media outlets, and, although his own lawyers could never gain access to Jiang, the state-run CCTV was able to interview him in which he “admitted” to fabricating allegations of torture of his colleague Xie Yang.  After being held incommunicado for over nine months and under who knows what kinds of conditions, on August 22, 2017, Jiang pled guilty to the crime of inciting subversion.  In his televised, in-court confession, Jiang called upon his fellow rights defenders and rights lawyers to learn from his experiences.  A shockingly far cry from Jiang’s Twitter description“A lawyer who was born at just the right time; a lawyer who’s willing to take any case; a lawyer hated by a small political clique; a lawyer who wants to win the respect of regular folk; a lawyer who kept going even after being stripped of his law license.” (translation courtesy of China Change) – causing many, including his wife, to strongly believe that his confession was forced.

Cultural Revolution Poster: “Imperialists and reactionaries are all paper tigers”

Although much of Jiang’s ordeal calls into question the Chinese government’s commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights and why it must continue to abuse its own people, another deeply troubling trend has emerged: the Chinese government’s anti-foreign rhetoric.  In reporting on the Jiang’s sentencing last month, the state-run Legal Daily blamed the “foreign, anti-China” forces influencing Jiang for much of his behavior.  It is that paranoia of anything foreign that is the most dangerous to the current world order.  With the U.S. retreating from its position of global, moral leader, China is seeking to rise and promote its type of leadership.  From the trial of Jiang Tianyong, that moral leadership model seeks to create societies that are not just unresponsive to its own people, but shut off from connections with the rest of the world.  But it is those connections between cultures and people that have long been a driving force of the post-WWII model and have helped to maintain the peace in much of the world these last 75 years.

But in blaming these elusive, foreign, anti-China forces, the Chinese government ignores the real reason why these civil rights activists exist: the injustices in Chinese society.  It is Jiang’s own life that is a testament as to why the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress these civil rights activists will ultimately fail.  For a long time Jiang was just an ordinary guy; after graduating from college, Jiang was a teacher for almost 10 years. But in 2004, wanting to pursue greater justice for others, he gave up teaching to become a civil rights lawyer, passing the bar exam in 2005.  People like Jiang are not motivated by foreign forces or other entities; they are motivated to correct the injustices and sufferings of others to make their society better.  The Chinese government cannot stop people from feeling that way and the real question is – why would they want to.

Codifying Illegality? The Case of Jiang Tianyong

By , January 20, 2017

Jiang Tianyong

For the Chinese state, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounced Gee-ang Tee-an Young) never seems to learn his lesson.  In 2009, after taking on a slew of politically sensitive cases such as representing Falun Gong practitioners and ethnic Tibetans prosecuted following the 2008 Tibet riots, the Beijing Bureau of Justice declined to renew Jiang’s lawyers license.

But lack of a law license did not stop Jiang from continuing to advocate for some of China’s most vulnerable. Instead, Jiang played an active role in ensuring that blind activist Chen Guangcheng‘s cruel house arrest remained in the public eye. Again the Chinese state came for Jiang.  In February 2011, after meeting with fellow advocates to discuss Chen Guangcheng’s case, Jiang was abducted by local police, beaten, psychologically tortured and held incommunicado for two months.  (For Jiang’s own description of his two month ordeal, click here). Jiang was released, but only after he promised to give up his advocacy work, stop associating with his current friends, cut off ties with foreigners and refrain from making comments on social media disparaging the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Jiang, on the left, with other human rights attorneys and advocates, protesting in Heilongjiang

But even in light of these guarantees, Jiang’s advocacy did not cease. Nor did the Chinese state’s reprisals, which became increasingly violent. In May 2012, Jiang attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng in a Beijing hospital.  After Jiang was denied entry, state security officers took him away, beat him and then placed him under surveillance. In 2013, when Jiang exposed Sichuan province’s largest “black jail,” a secret and unlawful detention center, he was again beaten by local police.  When, in 2014, Jiang went to Heilongjiang province to protest the detention of Falun Gong practitioners in a “legal education base,” Jiang was administratively detained for 15 days and subject to various beatings while in police custody.

Not surprisingly, Jiang, who has yet to give up his advocacy, is back on the Chinese government’s radar, this time with much more serious charges that could land this civil rights attorney in prison for life.  But there is one thing that should make this time different from Jiang’s prior detentions: the implementation of China’s new Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), amended in 2012.  When these amendments passed, they were herald as more protective of criminal suspects’ rights, much needed in a system with a 99.9% conviction rate. In October 2016, the Supreme People’s Court (“SPC”), Supreme People’s Procuratorate (“SPP”), and the Ministry of Public Security (“MPS”) doubled down on the 2012 amendments, issuing a joint opinion, reaffirming each agency’s commitment to a more fair criminal justice system.

But as Jiang’s case highlights, these are just  paper promises.  For Jiang, some of the provisions of the CPL are outright ignored.  But more dangerously, the Chinese police have placed Jiang under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of detention that was added to the CPL with the 2012 amendment.  In the case of Jiang, this amendment is being used to keep him away from his lawyers and, with his precise whereabouts unknown to the outside world, in a situation where torture while in custody is highly likely.  So much for better protecting criminal suspects’ rights.

Why Is Jiang Under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Place?

On November 21, 2016, Jiang went missing.  According to the Legal Daily, Jiang was picked up by the Changsha police after using someone else’s identity card to purchase a train ticket home to Beijing. After being taken into custody, Jiang is now suspected of harboring state secrets, a crime that carries a three to seven year prison sentence depending how serious (Crim. Law Art. 282) and of providing those state secrets abroad, a crime that results in a sentence anywhere between five years to life depending on the severity (Crim. Law Art. 111).

However, according to an advocate close to the investigation, the police notice eventually issued to Jiang’s family also lists suspicion of inciting subversion of state power, a national security crime that the Chinese government has increasingly used to silence its civil rights lawyers.  That charge can carry a sentence of anywhere between three years to life (Crim. Law Art. 105), and where inciting subversion involves foreign entities, the punishment shall be heavier (Crim. Law Art. 106).

Jiang Tianyong’s wife, Jin Bianling, calling on the Chinese government to inform her of her husband’s whereabouts. Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Free Press

For close to a month, Jiang’s whereabouts were unknown; unknown to his lawyers and to his family.  And while this might seem illegal, China’s amended Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) forgoes many of the protections intended to make the system more fair when the crime of endangering national security is potentially involved. When a suspect is taken into custody, Article 83 of the CPL requires that the police inform the suspect’s family within 24 hours except for those crimes that endanger national security or involve terrorism.  Here, Jiang is suspected of subverting state power and passing state secrets abroad, two crimes that certainly endanger national security.  And as a result, the police did not inform Jiang’s family that he had been taken into custody.

In what is increasingly necessary when a civil rights lawyer lands in the exclusive control of the police and his whereabouts are unknown, Jiang’s family and friends resorted to the one tool they had left: pressuring the foreign press to repot that Jiang had gone missing.  With the story of Jiang’s abduction splashed across the international press, on December 16, 2016, the Chinese government, through the government-controlled Legal Daily newspaper informed the world that Jiang not only had been taken into custody but that he was placed in “residential surveillance in a designated place.”

Residential Surveillance in a Designated Place – likely not here.

One of the major amendments to the CPL included what China terms  a “compulsory measure” but in reality is a new form of detention: “residential surveillance” (Articles 72 through 77 of the amended CPL).  Residential surveillance might sound like a more mellow form of detention but when applied, it provides carte blanche for police to interrogate – and usually torture – a suspect without any interference from the outside world.

For any residential surveillance that occurs outside of the suspect’s hometown, or if the suspect is being investigated for crimes of “endangering state security,” “terrorism” or “serious crimes of bribery,” residential surveillance does not occur at one’s home. (CPL, Art. 73) Instead, it occurs at an undisclosed location and while the family is required to be informed that their relative is under residential surveillance at a designated place (CPL, Art. 73), the family is not necessarily informed as to the precise location of the place.

And this is why Jiang shouldn’t be expecting any care packages in the near future from his family; they have no idea where he is.  In fact, according to a source close to the investigation, Jiang’s family first learned about his residential surveillance through the Legal Daily article on December 16, 15 days after he was placed in that form of detention.  True that the amended CPL  does a great job at severely circumscribing suspects rights once they are under residential surveillance, but the one thing that the Chinese government still gives these suspects is reuiring the  police to provide a written notice to the suspect’s family within 24 hours of placing the suspect under residential surveillance, regardless of the type of crime involved, national security or not. (CPL, Art. 73; see also Ministry of Public Security Implementing Regulations of the CPL Art. 109)  But here, according to an advocate close to Jiang’s case, Jiang’s family was not provided official notification until December 23, 2016, 22 days later.

Under the residential surveillance provisions of the amended CPL, the police are given so much power over the suspect, power that is largely illegal in other forms of detention and for other crimes. But even with this power, the police still feel the need to violate the clear language of CPL Article 73 and withhold notice to Jiang’s family.

Jiang Can Be Held for Up To Six Months and Without Access to a Lawyer

Empty chairs at empty tables – No lawyer for Jiang anytime soon

Jiang should also not be expecting any visits from a lawyer for the six months that residential surveillance at a designated place is permitted. (CPL, Art. 77)  And that’s another way that, by slapping a national security charge on a suspect, the Chinese government is able to circumscribe rights otherwise enshrined in the amended Criminal Procedure Law.

Because “residential surveillance in a designated place” usually presupposes a possible state security, terrorist, or serious bribery charge, the requirement that a meeting with the lawyer take place within 48 hours (CPL, Art. 37) is suspended for those possible charges.  (CPL, Art. 37).  Instead, any meeting must be approved by the police. (CPL, Art. 37).   Which fits with the rules that the suspect must follow when in residential surveillance: only with permission of the public security agency can the suspect meet or correspond with someone else. (CPL, Art.75(2)).  That permission must be granted unless the investigation would be obstructed or national secrets may be leaked (Ministry of Public Security Implementing Regulations of the CPL Art. 49)

Changsha police notice informing Jiang Tianyong’s lawyer that he cannot meet with Jiang due to crimes endangering national security (click for bigger image)

Although the regulations strongly favor meeting with a lawyer, in practice, civil rights attorneys held on charges that involve endangering national security are rarely given approval to meet their attorney.  Jiang is no exception.  According to an advocate with close ties to Jiang’s case, on December 27, 2016, Jiang’s lawyer requested permission to meet with his client.  On December 29, 2016, Changsha police denied this request, stating  that  “Jiang Tianyong was accused of crimes of endangering state security, and a meeting with lawyers would obstruct the investigation or possibly divulge state secrets.”

Codifying Illegality?

Jiang’s case makes clear that the 2012 CPL amendments have done little to curb the power of the police and that the Chinese government’s recent pronouncements that it needs to do better to protect suspects’ rights, is nothing more than window dressing. As long as the police unilaterally, and without due process, decide to investigate the suspect for crimes involving national security, all rights are essentially lost: the suspect can be held incommunicado for up to six months without access to a lawyer.  That kind of situation – with no one watching – all but guarantees torture and abuse.  Ironically, it is potential charges of endangering national security where these protections are needed most.

But, starting with the 2015 crackdown on lawyers and now continuing with Jiang Tianyong, the Chinese government has demonstrated that it will use the label of “endangering national security” to forgo the rights that it says it is committed to providing criminal suspects.  In late 2015 and early 2016, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued two sets of rules ostensibly to curb the police’s abuse of residential surveillance in a designated location.  But, as others have noted, the new rules seem to be designed more to ensure that everything looks good on paper than to guarantee criminal suspect’s rights and access to due process.  The case of Jiang Tianyong appears to prove that even those new regulations have had no effect.

As the rest of the world marks the seventh annual Day of the Endangered Lawyer next Tuesday, Jiang Tianyong, one of China’s great civil rights attorneys, languishes in an unknown place, likely subject to constant interrogation and torture, and without any access to a lawyer.  His rights deprived all because the Chinese police are able to claim that it is investigating him for endangering national security.  But the only thing that is being endangered by making a mockery of the protections of the amended Criminal Procedure Law is the actual rule of law.

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Thank you to China Law Translate for providing free of charge most of the translations of China’s laws used in this article. 

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