Sharp increase in China state security arrests: rights group

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 11:09am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 5:13pm

China arrested more than 1,000 people last year for “endangering state security” (ESS) according to the official China Law Yearbook, a human rights watch group said.

State statistics show 1,105 people, up 19 per cent from the previous year, were arrested and almost the same amount of people were indicted of ESS crimes last year, said Dui Hua, a US-based charity, on its online blog Human Rights Journal.

ESS crimes were introduced by the State Security Law in 1993, replacing “counter-revolutionary” crimes. There are 12 ESS crimes under the Criminal Law, including treason, subversion and “splittism” (attempts to advocate independence for regions of China), punishable by up to the death penalty.

Amid the increases in arrests and indictments, there were 14 per cent fewer first-instance ESS cases received by Chinese courts according to the Yearbook, as each case now involves more people, Dui Hua said.

Dui Hua cited the official China Law Yearbook for this year as saying that the rise was part of an effort to “fight the crimes of splittism, subversion, terrorism” and to “consolidate the party’s ruling position, and defend the socialist regime”.

The group estimated that ethnically-divided region of Xinjiang, home to the predominantly Muslim Uygur minority, accounted for 75 per cent of the ESS trials last year, down from 86 per cent in 2011, but it did not believe the decrease in the number of trials corresponded to a decrease in the number of people arrested or indicted. Xinjiang’s high court said 314 ESS trials were concluded in the autonomous region last year.

Dui Hua also pointed out in its report that while Han Chinese are usually charged with subversion or inciting subversion, ethnic minorities tend to receive charges related to “splittism” or leaking state secrets. Several ethnic Tibetans accused of being involved in pro-independence or self-immolation protests were convicted of such charges last year, it added.

“Due to real and perceived independence movements, Uygurs and ethnic Tibetans bear the brunt of crackdowns on splittism,” the group said.

China says that ethnic minorities benefit from preferential policies and that it ensures freedom of speech and religious belief, but rights groups accuse the authorities of cultural oppression and economic exploitation.

The ethnic minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang have been regularly hit by unrest in recent years.

More than 120 Tibetans are thought to have set themselves on fire since 2009 in protest at China’s policies in the region, while Xinjiang has seen several clashes between police and locals this year which left dozens dead.

Xinjiang saw 190 “terrorist” incidents last year, according to the state-run magazine Outlook, while China blamed Uygur separatists for a fiery attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last month which killed two tourists, the three attackers also dying.

At the Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee concluded earlier this month, one of the most interesting developments was the establishment of a new State Security Committee, an important step in further centralising power in the hands of the party’s top leadership, wrote Asian studies researcher Wen-Ti Sung in magazine The Diplomat.

“Its primary implications are two-fold: the top leadership now has greater direct control over internal security and Chinese President Xi Jinping can now better streamline civilian and military sides of the foreign and security apparatus,” Sung wrote.

Dui Hua, which maintains a Political Prisoner Database that collects information about political and religious prisoners incarcerated in China since 1980, said ESS cases are difficult to name as they are classified as state secrets.

It has information on only 17 individuals charged with ESS crimes last year, former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun being one of them. Wang was sentenced to 15 years in prison in September last year for defection and other crimes after he fled to the US consulate-general in Chengdu, setting off the Bo Xilai saga.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse