Posts tagged: state secrets

The Politically Motivated Arrest of Kovrig & Spavor

The Chinese government makes it really hard to believe that its detention – and now arrest – of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor is anything but politically motivated. It adamantly protests the charge that Kovrig and Spavor’s detention is somehow related to the troubles Huawei Technologies is facing in North America; it denies that this is tit-for-tat diplomacy.

But it’s actions reflect otherwise.  The initial detention of Kovrig and Spavor on December 10, 2018, came only days after Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer and the founder’s daughter, was arrested by Canadian authorities in preparation for extradition to the United States. And now, the formal arrest of the two Canadians – after 5 months in detention without access to a lawyer – came only hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting U.S. telecom companies from purchasing foreign equipment from companies deemed a national security threat and the United States Commerce Department officially listing Huawei as such a threat.  Not only does this lock Huawei out of the U.S. market, by being listed as a security threat, Huawei will also no longer be able to purchase key component parts from U.S. tech companies such as Intel, Qualcom, Broadcom and Google; parts that are integral to the future success of its business.

Canadians Michael Kovrig (L) and Michael Spavor (R)

On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after the U.S. government issued its announcements, the Chinese government announced that Kovrig and Spavor had been formally arrested on charges of stealing state secrets, Article 111 under China’s Criminal Law (translation courtesy of China Law Translate). Kovrig is suspected of “gathering state secrets for transmission outside of China” and Spavor is suspect of “stealing and providing state secrets for transmission outside China.”  Although the prosecutors are required to issue an arrest warrant upon arrest, it is unclear if this was done or to whom it was given (see Article 93 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), Art. 93 –  translation courtesy of China Law Translate).  Professor Maggie Lewis does a great analysis of what the world can expect at this stage of the case.

Canadian Embassy in Beijing

But here is the rub that makes it increasingly hard to believe that the Chinese government’s actions against Kovrig and Spavor are not retaliation for what is happening to Huawei. The Chinese government decided to arrest Kovrig and Spavor one month earlier than they had to.  Because Kovrig and Spavor were being detained under Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, the public security authorities had up to six months – or until around June 10, 2019 – before they had to request the official arrest of the two (CPL Art. 79). Once the prosecutors formally arrest the suspect, the time frame to investigate becomes much tighter.  As a result, it is a rare occurrence for China’s public security bureaus not to take full advantage of these six months. But it appears that announcing the arrest of these two only hours after the U.S. declared Huawei a threat to national security was more important.

This isn’t to say that the U.S. is innocent of gaming the Huawei situation as a way to gain leverage against China in the current trade battle. But what is different here is that Chinese government is dealing with two lives; two people who could end up in a prison for a very long time basically as pawns in this game.  Trade disputes can be settled.  But the criminal justice system is a body on to itself. And once it is engaged, especially in China, it’s hard to turn back. 

Meng, Kovrig & Spavor – Same Same But Different

By , March 4, 2019

On Friday, Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the attorney-general of Canada violated her constitutional rights prior to her arrest for extradition to the United States. In her claim, Meng alleges that on December 1, 2018, while transferring flights in Vancouver, CBSA detained her under the guise of a routine immigration inspection.  It was only after three hours of questioning and the seizure and search of all her electronic devices did CBSA finally inform her that she was under arrest, had the right to remain silent and had the right to an attorney.

Meanwhile, in China, two Canadians face a similar predicament.  Like Meng, they have been held in detention; they have been denied access to a lawyer; and they are being bombarded with questions, all in the attempt to have them incriminate themselves. But unlike Meng, their detention is now approaching three months, not a mere three hours; and there is no hope that they will ever be able to bring the claims she has raised – the abuse that is inherent when detained and questioned about a possible crime without a lawyer – against the Chinese government. 

Detained Canadian Michael Kovrig

On December 10, 2018, in what many believe was retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng, Chinese public security bureaus (“PSB”) picked up Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians working on conflict resolution between North Korea and pretty much the rest of the world.  Kovrig, a former diplomat at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, was working for the non-profit International Crisis Group. Spavor was a consultant living in China and working on North Korean issues, include travel tours of North Korea.  Both were picked up by public security, Korvig by Beijing PSB and Spavor by Dandong PSB, for questioning related to possibly “endangering national security,” a crime that could encompass a variety of activities. (See China’s Criminal Law (“CL”) – English translation courtesy of China Law Translate – Arts. 102-112).

But unlike Meng, who is out on bail in Vancouver, free to meet with her lawyers and assist them in bringing new cases that challenge her current situation, Kovrig and Spavor sit in an unknown location in China, at the beck and call of the PSB and with little contact with the outside world.  Unfortunately the rights that Meng can avail herself – right to bail and the ability to challenge the constitutionality of her arrest – are not available to those suspected of crimes in China. Instead, for anyone suspected of crimes endangering national security, Chinese police are able to institute residential surveillance at a designated location (“RSDL”) for up to six months. (See China’s Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”) – English translation courtesy of China Law Translate – Arts. 75 & 79).  And this six-month RSDL occurs before the police arrest the suspect, giving them unlimited access to interrogate the individual in order to build their case, or more aptly to pressure the suspect into confessing.

Detained Canadian Michael Spavor

While the designated location cannot be a detention facility (CPL Art. 75), it can be any other place where the police maintain constant surveillance. And while most criminal detainees have the right to meet with their lawyer, those suspected of endangering national security do not.  Instead, the investigating body – either the PSB or the prosecutor’s office – must approve the meeting. (CPL Art. 39). And largely they do not approve such meetings. Why should they?  From the six-month RSDL to the denial of lawyer access, the system itself incentivizes the PSB and prosecutors’ offices to ratchet up the possible charges, detaining individuals with crimes of endangering national security and then use the next six months to figure it out. 

Add to that the fact that the detention of Korvig and Spavor comes in the midst of the Chinese government’s row with Canada over the arrest and possible extradition of Meng to the United States.  A day after Meng’s lawyers announced that she filed a lawsuit against the Canadian government, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the Chinese Communist Party posted an article on its website about Kovrig’s detention and possible crime.  Relying on an unnamed source within a “relevant department,” the article stated that Kovrig is being investigated for the specific crime of stealing and spying on China’s state secrets and intelligence (CL, Art. 111).  According to this unnamed source, since 2017, Kovrig would enter China on his work visa and obtain state secrets from Spavor. The article failed to state what those state secrets were and how two Canadians meeting and discussing a topic they both work on could somehow rise to the level of stealing state secrets. Oddly, Spavor’s legal liability in all of this was not mentioned.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou

But the article raised the very real possibility that the Chinese government is willing to send Kovrig to jail for a very long time. Stealing state secrets carries a prison sentence of five to 10 years but for those situations where the circumstances are considered “serious,” the sentence can be anywhere from 10 years to life. (CL, Art. 111). If for some reason “grave harm” to China resulted, then the death penalty is a possibility. (Id.)

So while Meng rightfully accesses the protections afforded to all suspects in Canada’s criminal justice system, including the right to zealously challenge the state’s case, Kovrig and Spavor have another three months to go in RSDL before they even find out what charges will be filed against them.

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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