Thursday, September 11, 2003

China: Public security - tight control with positive image.

Date: Thursday 11 September 2003
Subj: China: Public security - tight control with positive image.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Once again we are faced with a Chinese paradox - take with one hand, give with the other. The issue is that of maintaining tight control while presenting a positive image. This News & Analysis report looks at the role of the Chinese Minister for Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, in both the crackdown on subversion and cults, and the move to eradicate brutality and corruption from the police force.


On 10 December 2002, CNN reported, "Beijing has for the first time in a quarter century named a Politburo member to head the Ministry of Public Security. Former party boss of Sichuan Province Zhou Yongkang last weekend took charge of China's 1.6 million-strong police forces.

"The unusual appointment has underscored the central leadership's commitment to fighting crime and related problems including subversion and cult-related activities." (Link 1)

The new Minister for Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, has been quoted in the official People's Public Security Paper as saying that the authorities would crack down hard on efforts by "enemy forces within and outside China" to infiltrate, subvert and sabotage public order.

According to CNN, "Zhou, 60, also indicated the police would target the Falungong spiritual movement as well as illegal activities by terrorist and separatist groups."

AFP reported on 8 September that a fresh crackdown on Falungong has begun. According to AFP the Chinese government says the crackdown on Falungong is a matter of national security. The government promises to be vigilant because "'Any tolerance toward the cult will lead to extreme harm to the general public,' it said, stressing that 'to eradicate the Falungong cult will help create a harmonious and stable environment for the country's socialist construction and benefit both the country and the people'." (Link 2)

The significance of this is that evangelical house church Christians are generally seen in the same light - as subversive, as cults, "in collusion with Western anti-China forces" (link 2), as problematic. This all points towards an intensification of oppression.


Minister for Public Security Zhou Yongkang has signed and introduced a new regulation that will take effect as of 1 January 2004. The new regulation lays down the procedures to be followed by police investigating "administrative cases". (Most house church Christians who are detained are held on "administrative sentences", i.e. sentences without formal criminal charges and without trial, for matters of public order or other non-violent activities.)

As the South China Morning Post (SCMP) pointed out in an article entitled, "Torture confessions barred by new rule" (10 September 2003), the present situation is that "Police have extensive powers to carry out their duties, which has led to widespread corruption, police brutality and violation of suspects' freedoms and rights.

"The problem was highlighted in March when Wuhan graphic designer Sun Zhigang was beaten to death in police custody in Guangzhou. The authorities sacked the officers responsible and sentenced Sun's murderers to death." (This case caused China international embarrassment.)

Zhou Yongkang has subsequently put prevention of police brutality and a clean-up of the force's image high on his personal agenda. On 31 July he admonished police officers nationwide, demanding they "resolutely stop malignant violations that offend the heavens and reason, and stir up public indignation". (Link 3)

The new rules are designed to regulate the law-enforcement activities of the local police and to stop the illegal practice of torture. Evidence extracted under torture will no longer be admissible in court.

The dignity of suspects is to be respected and no property is to be confiscated for more than 15 days. People will have the right to refuse to pay fines if police refuse to provide a receipt that must be printed and issued by financial departments at the provincial level or above.

Interrogations are to be done by two police officers of the same sex as the suspect and translation services must be provided for those who require it. It will not be permissible to detain children under the age of 16, adults who are over 70, or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby under one year of age. (Link 4)


There is hope that these regulations will improve the conditions for Christians being detained on administrative sentences. Note though, it will not end oppression, but it may lighten the load.

However, the rules will not apply to criminal cases (such as Pastor Gong Shengliang's) and there is no system in place to ensure that the police comply with the new regulations.

The government will need to develop a system whereby the police are supervised and held accountable, and strengthen the role of courts to enforce compliance. As Professor Zhu Guobin, a mainland criminal law scholar at City University in Hong Kong, said, "Local police will detest these rules." (SCMP 10 Sept)


1) Beijing tightens grip on law and order
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam CNN Senior China Analyst
Tuesday, 10 December 2002

2) China vows to intensify crackdown on Falungong
Monday September 8, 13:14 PM
Xinhua Commentary calls for long-term fight against Falun Gong cult
Xinhuanet, 7 September 2003, Beijing

3) Public security no excuse for police excesses
China Daily, 13 August 2003

4) China reins in brutal police tactics
10 September 2003, Beijing