China Holds Thousands Annually in Incommunicado Detention to Get 'Confessions'

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) locks up thousands of people annually as part of a system of state-sanctioned kidnapping targeting peaceful dissidents, a rights group said on Tuesday.

Safeguard Defenders said in a report on “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) that the authorities have detained more than 57,000 people under the system since its inception in 2013, detailing a system of grueling interrogations and torture used to elicit “confessions” from detainees, who can be held for up to six months without access to a lawyer.

The report cited the case of human rights lawyer Chang Weiping, who was tortured during six months of RSDL between October 2020 and April 2021.

Chang, who was only allowed to meet with a lawyer after nearly a year in detention, was strapped immobile into a “tiger chair” torture device for six days straight, and deprived of food and sleep, his lawyer said in September.

Chinese security forces have also used RSDL to hold and interrogate dissident artist Ai Weiwei, human rights lawyers Wang Yu, and Wang Quanzhang, as well as recently released Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the report said.

However, the system is highly secretive, taking place at hidden locations with the victim in isolation and incommunicado, and in facilities other t

Safeguard Defenders researcher Chen Yanting told RFA that RSDL is tantamount to being “disappeared.”

“They give the police huge powers to detain people in secret facilities and cut them off from any contact with the outside world, and don’t tell anyone where they are,” Chen said. “It’s the same as disappearing.”

“The stipulated limit to such detentions is six months, but actually we have records of some cases where it lasted as long as four years,” Chen said.

“Basically, Chinese police and state security police are arbitrarily disappearing and detaining people without supervision, during which time victims are tortured for ‘confessions,’ so it’s a black jail system.”

Chen called on the international community to condemn the CCP’s use of RSDL and other human rights violations.

Monitored around the clock

Lam Wing-kei, a bookseller who fled to Taiwan after being detained in mainland China for selling banned political books in Hong Kong, said he was held in a similar facility for six months in the eastern city of Ningbo.

He said the facilities were carefully designed to prevent prisoners from committing suicide or self-harming.

“The toothbrush is very small and is attached to a rope to stop you swallowing it, while the walls and the corners of the tables and chairs are all padded,” Lam told RFA. “They’re afraid people will try to commit suicide by hitting their head against the corner of the table or the wall.”

“In other words, they have a lot of experience, and all of the facilities have this kind of protection,” Lam said. “The CCP knows the psychological state of these people.”

“You can’t hang anything on the wall, and you can’t hang yourself, either,” he said. “The windows are all barred and the detainees can’t go anywhere.”

“There is round-the-clock monitoring, and they never turn the lights off, even if someone is asleep.”

He said the facilities seem to vary depending on their location and circumstances, however.

“Sometimes they’re not a whole complex of buildings; sometimes it happens in a hotel; it’s based on what they need,” Lam said.

“The five of us from Causeway Bay Books who were detained were all kept in the same place, at a large complex of buildings in Ningbo, which were more convenient for them to get ‘confessions’,” he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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