2 November 2018

Lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been detained for over three years including six months in residential surveillance in a designated location, a form of incommunicado detention. Since being deprived of his liberty he has not seen his wife or child. Neither, since his transfer to a pre-trial detention centre, has he been able to meet more than once with a lawyer of his choice. He faces potentially serious charges of state subversion for his work as a human rights defender.

In its report to the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record at the United Nations, China claims that it is “continuously deepening judicial reform”. Yet the experience of Wang Quanzhang, and countless others, reveals the right to a fair trial is a distant dream. China’s pursuit of a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” diverges fundamentally from the vision of a rule of law that protects civil and political rights.

The administration of justice is not independent of the Communist Party of China. The Party’s priorities are maintaining stability, control and efficiency. These goals are not shaped by respect for human rights.

The Rights Practice is particularly concerned by the growing use of extrajudicial detention outside the criminal justice system for an ever expanding list of persons, as a form of political control.

In 2013, after its last UPR, China abolished the system of re-education through labour, a form of administrative detention for minor offenders. Yet, in 2018 we have seen the introduction of ‘retention in custody’ for officials and party members investigated for corruption; the continued use of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ and the expansion of so-called vocational training centres for Uyghur Muslims across Xinjiang, in reality a massive system of internment camps. In its national report China ignores the use of these extra-judicial facilities and addresses just one paragraph to criminal detention.

Our submission to the UPR highlighted serious concerns with this growing use of detention without due process, without access to lawyers and without any kind of external monitoring or access to redress. This leaves detainees vulnerable to ill treatment, denial of adequate medical treatment and with no opportunity to challenge their detention. Any progress China has made to prevent the use of torture through improved regulation of pre-trial detention centres is being undermined by recourse to extra-judicial detention for human rights defenders, officials accused of corruption and ethnic minorities suspected of valuing their cultural identity over loyalty to the party state.

China’s brazen use of extrajudicial detention threatens human rights norms in the administration of justice. The Rights Practice urges governments to challenge this practice and to recommend abolition of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ and closure of the camps in Xinjiang.