Categoria: Press release

China’s law-enforcers are going global

LAST year’s big blockbuster in China, “Wolf Warrior 2”, assured citizens not to fear running into trouble abroad: “Remember, the strength of China always has your back!” That is doubtless a comfort to patriots. But for those who seek to escape the government’s clutches, its growing willingness to project its authority beyond its borders is a source of alarm.

In pursuit of fugitives, the Chinese authorities are increasingly willing to challenge the sovereignty of foreign governments and to seek the help of international agencies, even on spurious grounds.

Fugitives from China used to be mainly dissidents. The government was happy to have them out of the country, assuming they could do less harm there. But since Xi Jinping came to office in 2012 and launched a sweeping campaign against corruption, another type of fugitive has increased in number: those wanted for graft. Though they do not preach democracy, they pose a greater threat to the regime. Most are officials or well-connected business folk, insiders familiar with the workings of government. And in the internet age it is far easier for exiles to maintain ties with people back home.

So China has changed its stance, and started to hunt fugitives down. It has managed to repatriate nearly 4,000 suspects from some 90 countries. It has also recovered about 9.6bn yuan ($1.5bn). Still, nearly 1,000 remain on the run, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China’s anti-graft watchdog.

The problem is that only 36 countries have ratified extradition treaties with China. France, Italy, Spain and South Korea are among them, but few other rich democracies. It is easy for Chinese suspects seeking refuge abroad to argue that they will not get a fair trial if returned home, since the government does not believe that courts should be independent. Last year the country’s top judge denounced the very idea as a “false Western ideal”. What is more, China has thousands of political prisoners. Torture is endemic.

The hard way

These failings have forced the Chinese authorities to resort to less-straightforward methods to bring suspects home. Typically, they send agents, often travelling unofficially, to press exiles to return. The tactics involved are similar to ones used at home to induce people to do the Communist Party’s bidding. Many are subjected to persistent surveillance, intimidation and even violence. Occasionally, Chinese agents attempt to kidnap suspects abroad and bring them home by force.

If runaways have family in China, those left behind are often subject to threats and harassment. In an interview in 2014 a member of Shanghai’s Public Security Bureau said that “a fugitive is like a flying kite: even though he is abroad, the string is in China.” Some exiles are told that their adult relatives will lose their jobs and that their children will be kicked out of school if they do not return. Police pressed Guo Xin, one of China’s 100 most-wanted officials, to return from America by preventing her elderly mother and her sister from leaving China, and barring a brother living in Canada from entering the country, among other restrictions. In the end she gave in and went home.

In countries with closer ties to China, agents have occasionally dispensed with such pressures in favour of more resolute action. Wang Dan, a leader of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, says that he and other exiled dissidents have long avoided Cambodia, Thailand and other countries seen as friendly to China for fear of being detained by Chinese agents. The case of Gui Minhai, a Swede who had renounced his Chinese citizenship, suggests they are right to do so. He was kidnapped by Chinese officials in Thailand in 2015 and taken to the mainland. In a seemingly forced confession broadcast on Chinese television, he admitted to a driving offence over a decade earlier.

Many countries, naturally, are upset about covert actions by Chinese operatives on their soil. In 2015 the New York Times reported that the American authorities had complained to the Chinese government about agents working illegally in America, often entering the country on tourist or trade visas. Other foreign diplomats note that officials from China’s Ministry of Public Security sometimes travel as delegates of trade and tourism missions from individual provinces. Chinese police were caught in Australia in 2015 pursuing a tour-bus driver accused of bribery. Though France has an extradition treaty with China, French officials found out about the repatriation of Zheng Ning, a businessman seeking refuge there, only when China’s own anti-graft website put a notice up saying police had successfully “persuaded” him to return to China. The French authorities had not received a request for his extradition.

This pattern is especially disturbing since the anti-corruption campaign is sometimes used as an excuse to pursue people for actions that would not be considered crimes in the countries where they have taken refuge—including political dissent. It beggars belief that the Chinese authorities would have worked so hard to capture Mr Gui, the kidnapped Swede, just to answer for a driving offence. His real crime was to have published salacious books in Hong Kong about the Chinese leadership. By the same token, last year the Chinese embassy in Bangkok reportedly asked the Thai government to detain the wife of a civil-rights lawyer after she escaped over China’s south-western border. Her only known offence was to have married a man who had the cheek to defend Chinese citizens against the state.

Increasingly, China is trying to use Interpol, an international body for police co-operation, to give its cross-border forays a veneer of respectability. Interpol has no power to order countries to arrest individuals, but many democratic states frequently respond to the agency’s “red notices” requesting a detention as a precursor to extradition. In 2015 China’s government asked Interpol to issue red notices for 100 of its most-wanted officials. To date, the government says half of those on the list have returned, one way or another. Small wonder that Xi Jinping, China’s president, has said he wants the agency to “play an even more important role in global security governance”.

Since 2016 Interpol has been headed by Meng Hongwei, who is also China’s vice-minister of public security. That year alone China issued 612 red notices. The worry is that China may have misrepresented its reasons for seeking arrests abroad. Miles Kwok, also known as Guo Wengui, a businessman who fled China in 2015, stands accused of bribery.

But it was only when he was poised to give an interview last summer in which he had threatened to expose the misdeeds of the ruling elite that China asked Interpol to help secure his arrest. When America refused to send him home, the Chinese government requested a second red notice, accusing Mr Kwok of rape.

China’s covert extraterritorial activity suggests that foreign governments are right to be cautious about deepening ties in law-enforcement. If nothing else, the fate of those who do return provides grounds for concern. Although few would shed any tears for corrupt tycoons or crooked officials, the chances of any of them getting a genuine opportunity to prove their innocence are all but zero. Nearly half of the repatriated officials who were subject to red notices have been sentenced to life in prison; the other half have not yet been tried. Chinese courts have an astonishingly high conviction rate. In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, it was 99.9%.

The Economist,Mar 31st 2018

China’s Sina Weibo Cancels ‘Anti-Gay’ Campaign After Viral Protest

In a notice posted on Friday, Weibo said it would be “cleaning up”content on the Twitter-like platform “in order to further create a healthy and harmonious community environment.”

Former Myanmar Child Soldier Given Two-Year Prison Term For Describing Forced Abduction

A court in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon today handed a former child soldier a prison term of two years at hard labor following his conviction for describing his abduction and forced military service in an interview last year with RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Aung Ko Htway, 27, who spent nearly a decade as a child soldier, was sentenced under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code, pertaining to making, publishing, or circulating information that may cause public fear or alarm and incite people to commit offenses against the state or disturb public tranquility.

Speaking to reporters outside the court following his sentencing, Aung Ko Htwe assailed his conviction.

“My rights have been violated.  We have no rule of law in this country,” he said as he was taken away in shackles by police.

A new charge against Aung Ko Htway alleging desecration of Myanmar’s Union Seal has now been filed following an act of protest in which the former child soldier stepped on a copy of Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution during a previous court hearing.

Questioned by reporters after the trial, Police Major Maung Maung of the Dagon Seikkan township police station, who filed the additional charge, struck a female reporter and the defendant’s sister and ran away, sources said.

“We didn’t understand this further charge against my brother, and asked for an explanation from the judge, who told us to direct our questions to Police Major Maung Maung,” Aung Ko Htway’s sister Aye Zar Win said.

“But not only did [Maung Maung] refuse to answer us, he also hit me, and I fell down,” Aye Zar Win said, adding, “I am going to sue him.”

Aung Zaw Oo, a supporter of the defendant and also present at the scene, confirmed the woman’s account.

“When reporters tried to interview the police major, he aggressively tried to avoid the interview and ran away after hitting a female reporter and Aung Ko Htway’s sister. I saw this with my own eyes,” he said.

Abducted at 14

Aung Ko Htway was abducted by a Myanmar army sergeant in 2005 when he was 14 years old and later imprisoned after he and two others escaped and robbed the owner of a motorcycle. One of the other boys choked the man to death, though Aung Ko Htway later said he did not participate in the murder.

Aung Ko Htway served seven months at a prison camp in Lashio, the largest town in Myanmar’s northern Shan state, where he was shackled and fed a mixture of rice and sand until he agreed to sign a confession.

Originally sentenced to death, Aung Ko Htway later had his sentence reduced twice under presidential amnesties. He was finally released on July 15, 2017, and returned home where he started a
business with his sister’s help selling cotton clothing in Kalawae village in Yangon region’s Thanlyin township.

Interviewed about his experiences by RFA in August 2017, he was arrested about a week after his story aired.

The Myanmar army has discharged 849 children and young people from its ranks since 2012, when the country signed an agreement with the United Nations to stop recruiting children under 18.

The U.N., however, continues to list the Myanmar military and seven ethnic armed groups on its blacklist of organizations around the world that recruit and use child soldiers.

RFA,2018-03-28

Tibetan Monk Jailed Five Years on Charges ‘Related to Self-Immolation’ Protest

Authorities in a Tibetan area of China’s western Sichuan province have sentenced a Kirti monastery monk to five years in prison on charges related to a self-immolation protest against Chinese rule, according to sources in the region.

Lobsang Sangye, 36, was handed the jail term on March 28 “in a closed trial” conducted by the People’s Court of Barkham, in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) county, a source familiar with the situation told RFA’s Tibetan Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second source, who also declined to be named, told RFA that Sangye—who is originally from Chigdril (Jiuzhi) county, in Qinghai province’s Golog (Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture—had been “charged with an offense related to a Tibetan self-immolation, and for engaging in political activities.”

The monk had been subjected to a lengthy detention beginning in August 2012 “but he was released afterwards,” the source said, without providing details.

“He was then rearrested in August 2017, and has been held incommunicado since,” he added.

The source confirmed that Sangye’s trial on Wednesday was held “in secret.”

“If he is really guilty of a crime, then his family and relatives would have been told about it, but the Chinese authorities didn’t inform them about either the trial or the sentence.”

According to the source, local authorities have increased control and monitoring of internet traffic, and warned Tibetans from making contact with people outside of China, making “open discussion about happenings in Tibet very difficult.”

“The public has remained tight-lipped, even on the case of monk Lobsang Sangye’s arrest and sentencing,” he added.

Fiery protests

Earlier this month, a Tibetan man named Tsekho Tukchak self-immolated in Ngaba county in an apparent protest against Chinese rule and policies in the far-western region of China.

Sources told RFA at the time that Tukchak likely self-immolated because he assumed the heavy security presence would have made it difficult to carry out his plan on March 10, referring to the 59th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation of the formerly self-governing region.

Security forces had spread throughout the region in the run-up to the anniversary of the incident, which saw thousands of Tibetans killed amid a crackdown by Chinese authorities and led to the 1959 flight into exile of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.

Tukchak’s protest brought to 153 the number of self-immolations by Tibetans living in China since the wave of fiery protests began in 2009.

Most protesters who have set themselves on fire have called for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from India, where he has lived since escaping Tibet in 1959.

RFA,2018-03-30

Chinese Protest Removal of Presidential Term Limits Outside China

Following a protest campaign against indefinite rule by Chinese president Xi Jinping across university campuses outside China, a group of activists took their protest to the streets of California this week.

Holding banners and chanting “Oppose dictatorship!”, a group of ethnic Chinese residents of the city converged on the California State Legislature in Sacramento.

“Long live freedom and democracy!” they chanted. “Mobilize nationally for a constitutional government!”

Some held posters of Xi similar to those produced by a “Not My President” social media campaign that have sprung up on campuses across the world in recent days.

Wu Pinghui, a former student leader of 1989 pro-democracy protests in the central city of Wuhan, said the protest was aimed at “opposing dictatorship” in China, after the country’s rubber-stamp parliament gave the green light to the removal of presidential term-limits last week.

“We are demonstrating outside the California State Legislature building, because lawmakers in the United States have passed so many laws that are progressive for humanity,” Wu said. “But in Chinese territory, history is regressing into the past.”

“We call on all Chinese people of conscience, who want freedom and equality, not to remain silent,” he said. “We should speak out together, to put huge pressure on this tiny minority of robber barons.”

Wu hit out at the NPC’s approval of Xi’s constitutional amendments on Sunday, with just two opposing votes out of nearly 3,000.

“They will go down in history with shame because they approved this,” he said.

Little support for Xi

Fellow protester Tong Mu, of the rights group Humanitarian China, said that while dissent has been tightly suppressed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party domestically, Xi’s move has very little support in the Chinese diaspora.

“Pretty much all of them, whether they are part of the government or outside the government, know very well what is happening; it’s just a question of whether they dare to speak out or not,” Tong told RFA.
“Outside China, we can speak out, because they can’t shut us up.”

He said the removal this week of a Chinese journalist from the NPC press corps after she rolled her eyes at a pro-government journalist’s question has become a symbol of just how careful people have to be in their criticism, direct or implied, of the government.

“This isn’t going to go any better than it did under [late Romanian dictator] Nicolae Ceaușescu,” Tong said. “There are plenty of people among the ruling elite in China who have had enough of [Xi], and the future is too worrying to contemplate.”

“There will be no going back for [Xi] now, not now that he has taken this step.”

Protester Cai Zhenxiang, who hails from the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, said the rest of the world is heading in a more democratic direction, with only China heading in the other direction.

“It really is a tragedy,” Cai said. “Perhaps people back home can’t see it yet, but they should wake up. They shouldn’t stay asleep any longer.”

And Sacramento resident Liu Lina, who moved to the city from Shanghai, said things are about to get far worse for ordinary Chinese people back home.

“I keep praying to God … that there will be a sudden awakening, and a turning back towards humanity,” she said. “But it’s very unclear whether there is any hope of that happening.”

Online campaign

On Twitter, which is blocked for users behind the complex system of filters, blocks, and human censorship known collectively as the Great Firewall, a student-focused campaign group has been using the hashtag #IDontAgree to campaign against the constitutional amendments on campuses in the U.S., Australia, and other countries.

“Xi Jinping’s unrestricted presidency needs to be ended now,” the campaign’s Twitter account profile reads, adding the hashtag #NotMyPresident and calling on students to make protest posters and display them wherever they are studying.

Photographs posted to the account showed posters bearing similar wording displayed on campuses all around the world, including Monash in Australia, Leiden in the Netherlands, University of California at Irvine in the U.S., and St. Andrews in Scotland.

But the account said many Chinese nationals studying overseas run the risk of political reprisals if they take part.

“We put up our posters … at night. We suggest other interested students wear a mask while participating on their campuses,” the campaign account tweeted on Mar. 8. “These are U.S. colleges. Ever thought of why we would do that?”

According to Chinese activists on overseas campuses, China’s state security police are recruiting agents, some of them as long-term “moles,” from among the more than half a million students studying overseas.

Chinese police are particularly keen to infiltrate overseas Chinese dissident groups, such as those fighting for democracy in their home country, or among emigre ethnic minority Tibetans and Uyghurs, according to Georgia University student and activist Sulaiman Gu, who made a recording of one attempt to recruit him by the secret police in January.

RFA,2018-03-15

Three Tibetans Holding Valid Passports Are Refused Entry to China

Chinese authorities at Chengdu airport in Sichuan blocked three Tibetans holding foreign passports from entering China on Thursday, questioning them harshly and detaining them for hours before expelling them, Tibetan sources say.

A visa, canceled by Chinese authorities, held by a foreign-based Tibetan hoping to visit relatives in Sichuan, Feb. 22, 2018.

No explanation was given for the move, which saw the three members of the group, who had hoped to visit family members in Sichuan, sent back to South Korea after being turned away, a Tibetan living in exile told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Two members of the group held South Korean passports, and the third held a U.S. passport, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They were detained for eight hours in a small room at the airport, without even a drop of water to drink,” RFA’s source said, adding that a Chinese immigration official and other police officers took turns interrogating the group.

“Besides asking them all kinds of questions, they also searched their web chat and notebooks and made copies of their telephone contacts,” the source said.

“The authorities did not listen to any of their explanations, and the group feels that they were scorned and mistreated because of their Tibetan origins.”

All three held valid visas to enter China, RFA’s source said.

Strict screening

Tibetans with foreign passports go through a strict screening process and must meet conditions required only of Tibetans when applying for visas at Chinese embassies overseas, the source said.

“But even then, many of them encounter various problems on the way, such being stopped and searched at the airport or having their visas revoked when they arrive,” he said.

Harassment is seen more frequently in the lead-up to politically sensitive dates, such as the March 10 anniversary of a 1959 Tibetan national uprising against Chinese rule, he added.

Chinese control of passports held by Tibetans living in China has meanwhile blocked travel by members of the ethnic group hoping to travel to India to attend religious teachings given by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

In January, authorities in northwest China’s Qinghai province blocked Tibetans from traveling outside the country by refusing to reissue passports confiscated the year before.

The move affected hundreds of Tibetans traveling as pilgrims to India and Nepal and as tourists to other Asian countries, and came amid official concerns over Tibetans’ presence at a series of Buddhist teachings led by the Dalai Lama in January.

Radio Free Asia,2018/02/23

Xinjiang Authorities Launch Anti-Religion Campaign Through Local Police Stations

Authorities in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi), in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, have launched an anti-religion propaganda drive through local police stations, whose officers are rolling the campaign out to residents of the mostly ethnic Uyghur-populated prefecture, sources said.

A purported photo of a group of policemen from Kashgar’s Maralbeshi (Bachu) county holding a banner with the slogan “We Must Solemnly Reject Religion, Must Not Believe in Religion” recently drew attention on the WeChat social media channel, suggesting the launch of a campaign in the prefecture, which has one of Xinjiang’s largest concentrations of Uyghur Muslims.

An officer in Maralbeshi’s Yengisheher township police station, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recently confirmed to RFA’s Uyghur Service that the photo had been taken in his department as part of the campaign, before hanging up the phone.

Officers from two additional township police stations in Maralbeshi—Shi Tong and Awat—also confirmed that they were taking part in the anti-religion drive, before terminating the call.

Sources told RFA that the campaign began around two months ago and is intended to undermine the Islamic faith of local residents.

It was not immediately clear which level of government had initiated the campaign or how it was being carried out in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs complain of pervasive ethnic discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

While Chinese authorities have claimed that previous crackdowns on religion are meant to weed out a small minority of the region’s population whom they deem “extremists,” Uyghur activists in exile maintain that they in fact target Islam and the Uyghur people, and the wording of the new campaign suggests a much broader scope.

Further investigation into the “We Must Solemnly Reject Religion, Must Not Believe in Religion” drive found that it is also under way elsewhere in Kashgar, as well as other parts of the Xinjiang region.

A police officer at the Baghawat township police station in Kashgar’s Yarkand (Shache) county confirmed to RFA that his department was taking part in the campaign, before refusing to answer further questions and hanging up the phone.

And a supervisor at the Aykol township police station, in the seat of Aksu (Akesu) prefecture, said officers were also participating in the campaign there, but would not discuss the scale of the drive or who its intended targets were, citing rules of confidentiality for the police force.

“Yes, we are all aware of it,” said the supervisor, who also asked to remain unnamed.

“Currently this campaign is being carried out in all government sectors, so how is it possible that we would not be aware of it?”

He referred additional questions to the head of the department—a party secretary surnamed Li, who he said was in a meeting and could not take a call at the time.

But an officer at the Qarqu township police station, in Hotan (Hetian) prefecture’s Keriye Nahiyisi (Yutian) county, told RFA that the campaign was being propagated to area law enforcement as well as “the general public.”

Prior “anti-religious extremism” campaigns have been spread through the government’s regional Communist Party cadres and propaganda officers, and the new campaign is the first known example of law enforcement taking part.

And while the authorities have openly restricted party members and cadres from religious activities in the past, the new campaign also marks the first known instance of religious restrictions extending to the police and local residents.

RFA was unable to determine whether those who refuse to follow the campaign will face punishment for continuing to practice their religion.

uyghur-anti-religion-campaign-kashgar-police-banner-400.jpg
Police display an anti-religion propaganda banner in Kashgar’s Maralbeshi county, February 2018. Credit: WeChat

Heavy crackdown

Since April last year, Uyghurs accused of harboring “extremist” and “politically incorrect” views have been detained in political re-education camps throughout Xinjiang.

Authorities have relied on a list circulated early last year of “75 Signs of Religious Extremism” to detain Uyghurs amid a string of harsh policies attacking their legitimate rights and freedoms enacted since Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo was appointed to run the region in August 2016.

Among the signs of extremism on the list were “storing or purchasing large quantities of food for home” and “acting abnormal,” and “praying in groups in public outside of mosques.”

But Communist Party secretaries in villages in Hotan prefecture recently told RFA that they were notified in April 2017 of several new “signs of extremism” security personnel should look for to determine whether a Uyghur is at risk of becoming an Islamic “radical.”

The new signs included those who, when at prayer, stand with their legs wide apart and place their hands above their chest, dye their hair red with henna, grow their hair or beards long, wear short trousers, or wear a watch on their right wrist, the sources said.

China regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns in Xinjiang, including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames some Uyghurs for “terrorist” attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.

Radio Free Asia,2018-02-12