Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Sarah Cook, Student at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


  1.  I am a student reading for an LLM in Public International Law with a focus on human rights at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

  2.  I am currently conducting research on rule of law in China and have volunteered extensively for non-governmental organizations working on human rights in China and assisting victims of torture.

  3.  I am submitting this memo in order to bring to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee evidence I have come across in my research, including internal Chinese Communist Party documents. I hope this information will prove helpful to the committee in evaluating the accuracy of the FCO's Human Rights Annual Report (henceforth "Annual Report") and the effectiveness of UK policy to promote human rights and rule of law in China.

  4.  This submission will focus on evidence relating to a sustained crackdown in 2006 on three groups largely omitted from the FCO report: human rights defenders, Falun Gong adherents, and individuals distributing an editorial series entitled Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.


  5.  While the Chinese authorities' surveillance, arrest and torture of human rights defenders is not a recent development, restrictions on individuals engaging in legitimate human rights work reached new heights in 2006.  Several prominent lawyers and activists were sentenced to prison in secret trials or placed under house arrest during the year, leaving few free to engage in human rights work.[8] This crackdown was the government's response to a "rights protection" movement that involved lawyers using litigation to seek redress for victims of abuse and increase government accountability, as well as increased activist cooperation as illustrated by a "Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights" carried out in the spring.[9] The cases of two activists—Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng—as well as a recent CCP directive to lawyers are provided here as evidence of this pattern of abuses. This is followed by an analysis of the FCO's treatment of this issue in the Annual Report.

  6.  Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-taught lawyer, attempted in 2005 to sue officials in Shandong province who had carried out illegal forced abortions and sterilization on thousands of women in the Linyi region. His clients included several women who suffered forced abortions in their ninth month of pregnancy. He was placed under house arrest from September 2005 to March 2006, when he was arrested. In August 2006, just one month after his case was raised in the UK-China human rights dialogue, Chen was sentenced to four years and three months in prison in what Amnesty International and others have termed a "grossly unfair trial."[10] Violations of international fair trial standards included: the trial lasting only one day, it being closed to Chen's wife and the public, and Chen's defense lawyers being barred from attending. Chen appealed his sentence but the lower court's decision was upheld in January 2007 following another closed door trial. He is currently serving the four year and three month sentenced and is at risk of torture.

  7.  Gao Zhisheng, who was named one of China's top 10 lawyers in 2001, has in recent years litigated cases on behalf of dispossessed farmers, coal miners, underground Christians, and fellow rights activists. From October to December 2005, after several failed attempts to filed court cases on behalf of Falun Gong adherents who had been tortured, he published an open letter to China's top leaders calling for religious freedom and an end to the "barbaric" persecution of Falun Gong.[11]

  8.  In the following months, the Chinese authorities escalated pressure against Gao, which included: revocation of his license to practice law, 24-hour surveillance of him and his family, beatings and at least one assassination attempt. In response to such rights abuses against him and other activists, he initiated a "Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights" in February 2006.  In the upcoming months, he continued to regularly post statements online publicizing human rights violations in China. He was arrested in August 2006 when visiting his sister and several days before he reportedly intended to monitor Chen Guangcheng's trial. Gao was held incommunicado until December, when he was sentenced in a secret trial to three years in prison for "inciting subversion". His sentence was suspended, however, and he was released, apparently due to international pressure and the publication of his case. He currently remains under house arrest, deprived of political rights, a legal license and any possibility of continuing his human rights work.[12]

  9.  The arrests and trials of Chen and Gao do not appear to be isolated cases, but rather part of a pattern of increasing restrictions on lawyers attempting to use litigation to advance human rights. A central indication of this was a series of government directives issued in March 2006, called "Guiding Opinions on Lawyers Handling Mass Cases". According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the regulations systematize local authorities' intervention in cases involving 10 or more plaintiffs.[13] They thus infringe on lawyers' independence by requiring them to accept "guidance" from government judicial bureaus, often the same agencies responsible for the violations in the first place. An equally significant block to lawyers taking on such cases is the need for attorneys to get their firms' permission to accept the case and the declaration that lawyers will be held liable if disputes "intensify".

  10.  The regulations thus significantly limit the development of rule of law or government accountability in China and have been widely criticized in the Chinese legal community. For example, Zhang Sizhi, a well-known scholar reportedly called them "a disaster" that was "sending the legal profession back to the situation of the 1980s." Following the regulations' publication, several lawyers confided to HRW that they had come under pressure from colleagues to stop working on certain cases because of fear of government reprisal. In some case, lawyers were forced to quite their firms.[14]

  11.  Despite the abovementioned evidence, the FCO makes no significant mention of the emergence of the "rights protection" movement or the CCP's crackdown against human rights defenders, events which are arguably among the most important developments regarding human rights in China in 2006. That the FCO recognizes Chen's contribution to exposing forced abortions and raised his case during the July 2006 meeting is commendable and important. However, without further information regarding Chen's case or focusing attention on Gao's cases and the broader pattern of abuses against human rights defenders, the report risks distorting the actual situation and the CCP's resistance to progress.

  12.  In addition, the Chinese authorities' intensification of the crackdown against Chen and other lawyers followed a UK-China dialogue session focused on the role of defense lawyers and would indicate the CCP's lack of good faith in engaging in such a dialogue. In contrast, the lessening of Gao Zhisheng's punishment following public statements by lawyers,[15] governments and academics, suggests that public support for human rights defenders is a more fruitful avenue for offering them protection.


  13.  The FCO report mentions in two places the plight of Chinese citizens who practice Falun Gong, an exercise and spiritual discipline banned in China in 1999, stating that Falun Gong adherents face harassment, detention and mistreatment. While this is technically accurate, it also a gross understatement of the severity and scale of abuses facing those who practice Falun Gong in China. While it is impossible to obtain a fully accurate picture of the population of China's prisons and labour camps, the information that is available indicates that Falun Gong adherents are arguably the most severely persecuted group in China. For example, according to a HRW report on petitioners in China published in 2005:

    "Several petitioners reported that the longest sentences and worst treatment were meted out to members of the banned meditation group, Falungong, many of whom also petition in Beijing. Kang reported that of the roughly one thousand detainees in her labor camp in Jilin, most were Falungong practitioners. The government's campaign against the group has been so thorough that even long-time Chinese activists are afraid to say the group's name aloud. One Beijing petitioner said [in 2005]: "Petitioners are usually locked up directly. But the worst is [she whispers] Falungong. They have terrible treatment, not like the others".[16]

  14.  The FCO's statements do not reflect the continued systematic nature of the campaign against Falun Gong and the thoroughness with which it is carried out. Provided below are several examples of individual cases (with photographic evidence) and internal CCP documents that point to a much broader pattern of abuse than what is apparent from the FCO's report and subsequent policy on this issue.

  15.  The case of Gao Rongrong, a 37-year-old Falun Gong practitioner from Liaoning Province, was featured in Amnesty International's 2006 Annual Report. Gao died in custody in June 2005 after being detained in the Longshan Re-education through Labour camp in Shenyang City of Liaoning Province. According to Amnesty International, "on 7 May 2004 Gao Rongrong was discovered reading Falun Gong material inside Longshan RTL facility, and subjected to seven hours of torture at the hands of officials demanding to know where she had acquired the material. This prolonged torture allegedly involved using electric-shock batons on Gao Rongrong's face and neck and reportedly caused her severe blistering and difficulties with her eyesight." Photos taken of her before her detention and 10 days after the above-mentioned torture session are available at and

  16.  In October 2005, the Falun Dafa Information Centre published photographs it had obtained from China documenting the injuries suffered by Wang Yunjie, another woman from Liaoning Province. The photos show the blistering, infection and disfiguration of Wang's breast, reportedly incurred after guards in Masanjia Labour camp shocked her breasts with electric batons for over 30 minutes (available at Wang reportedly died in July 2006 from her injuries.

  17.  Official speeches and documents: In addition to the testimonies of individual torture victims, both public statements and internal CCP documents[17] suggest that the CCP's campaign continues in full force, particularly when the authorities fear public displays of civil disobedience, such as around national holidays. Examples include a 9 May 2006 speech by Jiao Yongle, Secretary of the Political and Judicial Committee of Huoqiu County in Anhui Province, in which Jiao ordered officials to "First of all, continue [to] `Strike Hard' on `Falun Gong' organizations."[18]

  18.  Another example is a 6-10 Office document circulated in April 2006.  Excerpts pointing to elements of the continued campaign against Falun Gong are included below. The full text of the English translation is attached in Appendix D.[19]

    (a)  Threats of punishment for those not sufficiently resolute in the "struggle" against Falun Gong: "Various relevant townships and units must fully understand the seriousness of the struggle against Falun Gong ... Investigations will be resolutely conducted against those who have caused problems because of slackness in the mind, no implementation of the measures, and sloppy work." There is no evidence in similar documents of any intention to punish those who engage in torture of Falun Gong adherents, in violation of China's international and domestic legal obligations.

    (b)  Covertly exercising tight control and surveillance over citizens known to have practiced Falun Gong in order not to attract public or international attention: "Prevention and control should adopt appropriate methods so that internally controls are tight and externally all appear slack, thus preventing negative effects. Regular visits must be made to those who truly have been converted but investigation should be made indirectly so that they may feel they live in a relaxed environment".

    (c)  Mobilizing other segments of society to enable large-scale monitoring of Falun Gong adherents: "Each township and each relevant institution must mobilize its security-oriented households, country patrol team, community hygienic members, taxi drivers, postmen, security control men to participate in the patrol prevention and control work. Conduct massive prevention and massive control so as not to give Falun Gong elements a single chance [to distribute information or carry out acts of civil disobedience]."

  19.  The above evidence suggests that the FCO's documentation and analysis of the persecution against Falun Gong adherents is seriously lacking. Describing the severe torture suffered by Falun Gong adherents as mere "mistreatment" is both disrespectful and irresponsible. Moreover, the lack of understanding of the scale of the campaign limits the FCO's ability to analyse the effectiveness of its policy on this issue.


  20.  One element of the intensified crackdown on both Falun Gong and human rights defenders has been their involvement in the publication and spread of the "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party", a series of editorials highly critical of the CCP that was published by an independent overseas Chinese newspaper in November 2004. Initially, the document was circulated among the Chinese community overseas and in Hong Kong, but soon penetrated into Mainland China and began spreading.

  21.  Within weeks of the publication of the Nine Commentaries, a phenomenon emerged where people began to renounce their association with the CCP or related organizations, expressing the wish to distance themselves from the Party. Soon a website was set-up to which people could submit such statements and by the end of February 2005, over 70,000 postings were recorded. The pace of withdrawals accelerated, with approximately 20,000 resignation statements recorded each day. In February 2007, the total number topped 19 million.

  22.  The act of withdrawing appears to be largely symbolic, with many people from Mainland China using aliases to sign their statements for fear of government reprisal. In some instances, people explain in their posting that they will implement their decision by ceasing to pay party dues or to perform CCP-related functions at their job. A cursory survey of statements posted in October and November 2005 revealed a wide variety of professions, from laid-off workers to middle-level Party officials to chemical engineers, as well as a diversity of locations. Several high-ranking officials and prominent dissidents like Gao Zhisheng have also renounced their Party membership.

  23.  Almost immediately after the publication of the Nine Commentaries, the CCP perceived its spread as a threat. Following a January 2005 nation-wide order of the Ministry of Public Security,[20] authorities across China began implementing a variety of measures aimed at countering the document's spread. These include sentencing those who distribute it to prison, confiscating copies of the book, and blocking access to almost all internet sites that mention the document.

  24.  According to a news item on People's Net, in November 2005, a Falun Gong practitioner named Tan Xiuxia from Shizuishan City in the Ningxia Hui Nationality Autonomous Region was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison by the Dawukou District Court of Shizuishan City. She was reportedly sentenced for having distributed flyers and VCDs related to Nine Commentaries in the Zhengtong Residential Area.[21]

  25.  During the same month, the website of the Financial Department of Xixiu District in Guizhou Province published a document that gave the following directives among others:

    "(1)          Firmly stop the spreading of Nine Commentaries ...[22]

    (4)  Educate our employees and officials not to listen, believe, read and spread the Nine Commentaries. Instead, report to the CCP office and turn in the booklet. Those who keep and further distribute Nine Commentaries will be punished; the active one will receive criminal charge."

  26.  Two months later, in January 2006, a government website in Harbin City cited an order to "set the utmost top priority to prevent and crackdown on production and distribution of the Nine Commentaries."[23] Similar statements appeared in May 2006 on government websites in Anhui and Guangdong Provinces.

  27.  The Chinese authorities have also put significant effort into blocking internet access to the document. According to a report issued by the Open Net Initiative (a collaborative project between research centres at the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School, and Cambridge University) on internet filtering in China: "Sites listed in response to a search for the `Nine Commentaries,' a highly critical evaluation of the Chinese Communist Party published by the Epoch Times, were also nearly totally inaccessible."[24] The study found that 90% of Chinese-language sites related to the Nine Commentaries were blocked, as well as 16% of their corresponding English-language sites. This was significantly more than the percentage of most other Chinese-language human rights- and democracy-related sites that were blocked (see figure below taken from the above-mentioned report).

  28.  Despite the above evidence available in the public domain, the FCO's report makes no mention of this nation-wide effort to suppress freedom of expression and discussion of political reform.


  29.  Taking the above evidence into account, several conclusions and recommendations can be drawn regarding UK policy on human rights in China:

    (a)  Considering the intensification of abuses against human rights defenders, Falun Gong adherents and others, even after such issues were addressed in dialogue sessions, the FCO should conduct a thorough re-evaluation of the use of private dialogues as the primary means of promoting human rights in China.

    (b)  Protecting human rights defenders and publicly condemning their harassment and arrest should form a key element of UK policy on human rights in China because of the short and long term implications for Chinese society that the arrest of prominent activists has on the realization of fundamental rights. As HRW has said: "training programs for improving judicial administration will have little effect without complementary political support for lawyers in China working to advance rule of law". In this respect, a subheading of the annual report should be dedicated to the status of human rights defenders.

    (c)  The ongoing persecution and severe torture of Falun Gong adherents demonstrates the need for FCO policy and training to reach beyond the traditional prison system to re-education through labour camps and the use of torture to force renunciation of beliefs rather than solely the extraction of evidence for use during a trial. Considering the scale and severity of the violations against Falun Gong, pressing the CCP to cease the campaign should be a central focus of UK policy. As such, the group should also have its own subheading in the annual report.

8   Amnesty International, "China: Background briefing on rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng," 22 December 2006, available at: Back

9   Amnesty International, "China: Amnesty International fears for missing hunger-strike activists," 22 February 2006, available at: Back

10   Amnesty International, "China: Chen Guangcheng is prisoner of conscience," 24 August 2006, available at: Back

11   Amnesty International, "China: Fear for safety/death threats: Gao Zhisheng," 19 January 2006, available at: Back

12   Op cit "Background briefing". Back

13   Human Rights Watch, "A Great Danger for Lawyers: New Regulatory Curbs on Lawyers Representing Protesters," available at: Back

14   ibid Back

15   See for example open letter circulated by the Human Rights Law Foundation and signed by international lawyers in Appendix A. Back

16   Human Rights Watch, "We Could Disappear at Any Time: Retaliation and Abuses Against Chinese Petitioners," available at Back

17   The documents have been leaked to overseas NGOs by officials secretly opposed to the persecution policy or from former security personnel who have defected from China. Back

18   Huoqiu Law Education Web: "Jiao Yongle's Speech at the County Political-Judicial Operations Conference", 10 May 2006, see World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), "Investigation on CCP Persecuting People Spreading the Nine Commentaries," 3 October 2006, available at Back

19   The county and province name have been removed in order to protect the source. If additional information or a copy of the Chinese original is needed, please contact the author. Back

20   "Special action plan for nation-wide public security offices on prevention and suppression of Falun Gong's reactionary propaganda to incite public to read Nine Commentaries" 24 January 2005, referred to in several other internal documents. See ibid report of WOIPFG. Back

21   Ibid, Ningxia Page on People's Net, 17 November 2005. Back

22   Ibid. Xixiu District Financial Department website: Financial Department Official Document (11 November 2005). Back

23   Ibid. Harbin City Government Website's Departmental Trend of Political and Judiciary Committee section: "Nangang District has intensified the effort to prevent and control evil cult during `Three Holidays and Two Meetings' period", Harbin, China, 13 January 2006. Back

24   The sites tested were the top 100 sites returned from a Google search engine for the relevant terms. Open Net Initiative, "Internet filtering in China in 2004-05: A Country Study": Back

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