In isolation. No access to a lawyer. Without his family knowing where he is, other than the fact that security guards had taken him away. Subject, denounce his people, to “torture to extract confessions”. Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who specializes in cases of discrimination and defending free speech, spent five months and 16 days, between October 2020 and April of this year, in what Chinese law describes. and authorized since 2013 as a residential surveillance in a designated place. Site (RSDL). It was his second time in this detention process, whose name was as bland as feared among Chinese dissidents: those who experienced it denounce the physical and psychological harassment, mistreatment and torture.
The RSDL has been applied in China to many detainees considered particularly problematic, because of their notoriety or because they are critical – or perceived to be critical – of the system. Entrepreneurs and movie stars like Fan Bingbing, investigated in her tax fraud case, have been there; dissidents like Ai Weiwei, Liu Xiaobo or Xu Zhiyong; many human rights lawyers such as Chang himself. Fears elite tennis player Peng Shuai might find herself in this predicament after reporting sexual abuse by a senior Chinese official sparked calls from the Women’s Tennis Association and international athletes to clarify her whereabouts. . After three weeks of disappearance, Peng appeared on a video conference this week to say that she was “healthy and healthy.”
The human rights organization Safeguard Defenders, author of a recent report on this tool, denounces that its use has increased since its codification in 2013 following an amendment to the law on criminal procedure in China. “Our review shows one of the most extensive, if not the most, systems of enforced disappearances in the world,” the organization said in a letter to the United Nations. “The use of RSDL is undoubtedly extensive and systematic,” adds the NGO, whose founder, Swede Peter Dahlin, himself underwent this procedure in 2015.
This instrument legalizes detention in a secret location for a theoretical maximum period of six months, although the period has sometimes been exceeded. It precedes the formal arrest and it is not necessary for a court to give its approval. According to the Chinese government, it is essential to defend national security and the country guarantees respect for the rights of detainees. For human rights defenders, it is a tool against activists that violates international standards and which, far from the public eye, opens the door to all kinds of physical and psychological abuse.
The protections provided for by law – access to a lawyer, control of the prosecution service – are in practice set aside. Police can invoke an “exception” if they consider the detainee to be a risk to national security, explains the Safeguard Defenders report, Locked up: inside China’s RSDL secret prisons (“Locked Up: Inside RSDL’s Secret Prisons in China”), which collects testimonies from detainees and their families and examines Chinese court databases.
Researchers from this organization found that in 2013 this procedure had been used against at least 325 people. In 2020, against more than 5,800. In total and in July 2021, they located 22,845 cases in which court verdicts hint at the use of RSDL before trial. But the real numbers could be higher – between 38,000 and 57,000 people could have gone through this system, calculates the NGO – since the databases do not include cases that are considered to affect national security.
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This instrument, denounces the NGO, “is frequently used outside its declared objective, the investigation phase of a criminal case, since a significant proportion is never formally arrested”. According to his calculations, a third of the victims he identified and interviewed were released on bail or without charge. Instead, the RSDL can be used as a tool for intimidation and to obtain testimony against others. [sospechosos]», He specifies.
Torture in the ‘tiger chair’
Chang’s case is typical. The young lawyer was first arrested on January 12, 2020, after attending a meeting two weeks earlier with a group of human rights activists and lawyers in Xiamen city. After 10 days in RSDL at a hotel on the outskirts of his hometown (Baoji, central Shaanxi province), he was released. In October of the same year, he posted a video on YouTube in which he denounced having suffered torture during his detention: forced to sit all the time in the tiger chair – A metallic device that immobilizes the inmate and eventually causes swelling and severe pain in the buttocks and legs – as a result, he had lost sensation in two fingers of his hand. Five days after the video was posted, his second arrest and entry into the RSDL came. In April, he was charged with “subversion against the state”, a crime that can cost him life imprisonment.
In September, already in ordinary detention, he saw his lawyer for the first time, 11 months after being taken away by security agents. According to his lawyer and explained to MRT his wife, doctor of microbiology Chen Zijuan, took him to the same hotel in Baoji during his two arrests. There was a room waiting for him – different each time – with padded surfaces and sealed windows, to keep him from injuring himself. During the second arrest, the room was tiny: about 3×3 meters, half of which was occupied by the security guards who questioned him.
Throughout the five months and 16 days of his second stay at the RSDL, the wife denounces, the lawyer suffered various acts of torture, ill-treatment and harassment, including once again the tiger chair. His left hand was also immobilized for two consecutive months. He was prevented from sleeping and provided only the bare minimum of food and water.
“It wasn’t until he did what state security officials wanted him to improve on food, sleep and room temperature. They provoked a reaction pavloviana, making him obedient like a dog, ”says the microbiologist.
The situation affected his mental state. “In the third month of his RSDL he became paranoid, he believed that everyone in his life had been put by the authorities to harm him, including his mother and me. At the time, he was convinced that these suspicions were reasonable. He says the psychological torture in that room was the most terrible thing for him ”.
Other victims of this procedure report similar experiences. All report, at the very least, psychological abuse – including threats against their families – during interminable interrogations. Lots of, sleep deprivation or insufficient nutrition, having to take suspicious drugs or stay in painful positions for hours.
“During interrogations, if I didn’t say what they wanted to hear, they punished me. For example, they wouldn’t let me blink. They forced me to sit for a long time in the tiger chair, or standing all day in my cell, even when I was too weak to stand and fell all the time, ”said Yang Zhisun, a human rights activist detained in Beijing in late 2015, testimony collected in the Safeguard Defenders report .
Chang’s mistreatment had many consequences, Chen says. Her husband, in perfect health before his arrest, now suffers from blood in the stool, difficulty in spinal movement and a herniated disc. “Before, he could cover 1,300 kilometers, the distance between Baoji and Shenzhen, my workplace, in one sitting. And now, having been in the hands of security, you have so many problems. They are all a consequence of the long immobilization ”.
Chang is now formally detained in Baoji pending the completion of an investigation against him by the police, which is being extended, seeking sufficient evidence to bring him to justice. “Usually, when prosecutors order an investigation to be extended, it is because there is insufficient evidence to bring a person to trial. But in such political cases [como el de Chang] the additional extensions are a means of surreptitiously prolonging his detention, ”adds his wife.
The young lawyer has not been able to see his wife or son since he was taken away over a year ago. “The letters that I wrote to him were read to him by his lawyer, they did not allow him to give them to him. He also wrote letters to me, but the detention center did not allow him to send them to me, ”she said.
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