By Yaqiu Wang, published: August 2, 2015
During the recent sweeping crackdown on rights lawyers, Chinese authorities placed lawyers Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and Xie Yang (谢阳), as well as activist Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定居所监视居住), according to official reports. Some observers of China’s human rights practices were relieved upon hearing this. The literal meaning of this coercive measure gives the impression that, compared with formal detention, there must be relatively fewer restrictions on movement under residential surveillance. Gou Guoping’s wife, upon learning that her husband was to be placed under residential surveillance, was, in her own words, “ecstatic.” But after calling the public security bureau to obtain more information, she was told: “The case is under investigation. The whereabouts of the person is a secret.”
There are two kinds of “residential surveillance” in China: enforced at the domicile of the suspect, or enforced at a designated place. Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law (刑事诉讼法) stipulates: “Where, for a crime suspected to endanger State security, a crime involving terrorist activities and a crime involving a significant amount of bribes, residential surveillance at the domicile of the criminal suspect or defendant may impede the investigation, it may…be enforced at a designated place of residence.”
The Criminal Procedure Law further stipulates: “Where a criminal suspect or defendant is placed under residential surveillance at a designated place of residence, his/her family shall be informed of the information related thereto within 24 hours upon enforcement of residential surveillance, unless notification cannot be processed.”
But the reality is that authorities usually refuse to tell the individual’s family or lawyer where they’re being held. As a result, the suspect’s lawyer goes from detention center to detention center, from police station to police station, as well as to the Office of Letters and Calls, in a vain attempt to find out where they are.
As Teng Biao (滕彪), a visiting fellow at US-Asia Law Institute, New York University, points out: “The essence of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is pre-trial custody in a place outside of legally designated places of custody. Because it does not need to be subject to the rules of formal detention centers, in reality ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is often a more severe form of detention. When a detainee is tortured, it is difficult to obtain evidence.” Furthermore, authorities are allowed to detain “suspects” under this law for six months—no other legal process required.
The best known case of “residential surveillance at a designated place” is probably artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) 81-day secret detention in the spring of 2011 in Beijing. At Venice Art Biennale 2013, the artist exhibited a set of six installations called S.A.C.R.E.D. that depicts the scenes of his forced disappearance.
During the pro-democracy protests, or “Jasmine Revolution,” in 2011, the Chinese government placed a large number of political dissidents under “residential surveillance at a designated place,” including rights lawyers Liu Shihui (刘士辉) and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵). Liu recalled: “The agents beat me. I had to get stitches. My ribs were in severe pain. I was deprived of sleep for five days and five nights. To be taken to a detention center actually became my highest hope at that time.” Tang Jingling was deprived of sleep for 10 days. It was not until “his entire body started to shiver, his hands became numb, his heart beat erratically, and his life was in danger” that the police allowed him one to two hours sleep per day.
At around the same time, dissident writer Ye Du (野渡) was placed under residential surveillance in a police training center in Guangzhou for 96 days. He told China Change: “I didn’t see sunlight for a whole month. I was interrogated for 22 hours a day. One hour for food, one hour for sleep. I was interrogated like this for seven consecutive days until I suffered terrible gastrointestinal bleeding. Then they stopped.”
Writing about his 85-days of “residential surveillance” in 2002, He Depu (何德普), a pro-democracy activist who also served eight years in prison for organizing the Chinese Democratic Party, gave this assessment: “I feel that China’s residential surveillance system is one of the cruelest systems of torture there is.”
“Residential surveillance” is also applied to other categories of prisoners. Hua Chunhui (华春辉), a dissident who was once criminally detained, recently tweeted: “A co-inmate of mine who was allegedly involved with a criminal gang was first incarcerated in a re-education-through-labor center, then he was placed under residential surveillance at a designated place. Several months later he was taken back to the detention center. He told me that it wasn’t a place for humans.” At that point Hua understood “the horrors of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place.’”
Yaqiu Wang (王亚秋) researches and writes about civil society and human rights in China.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.