Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Killing Chickens: China's Thugocracy

(Ai Weiwei, China Bench)
Any foreigner, especially a non-Asian, who has spent time in mainland China knows the feeling. As fast as you can say cha siu bao, you're suddenly the most popular guy on the train or the most conspicuous gweilo in the crowd. While similar occurrences happen in other Asian countries like Japan or South Korea, something a little more sinister might be at work underneath all the emotive bonhomie in China.

Those penetrating eyeballs might not be attached to benevolent admirers or welcoming natives to the Middle Kingdom after all; they could be connected to what Naomi Klein has called, "China's All-Seeing Eye," the surveillance state's great panopticon outlined in the Wall Street Journal. As a recent article in the SCMP (paywall) makes clear, the Chinese police are being trained to view foreigners as de facto "anti-Chinese":
Many of those detained were apparently forced to sign confessions, letters of repentance and guarantees they would not engage in rights work any more or have contact with foreign friends, the media or people within their circles. And if they met anyone, they were required to report it to the police.

The techniques used to secure compliance appear to have been consistent.

"They were made to confess, and then they made the person take the transcript and read it out to the camera," a source said.

"There were varying numbers of promises and commitments that had to be made, but all of the lawyers who were detained could only be taken back if they signed guarantee promises."

Detainees were asked about a few general topics: contact with foreigners, whom the police see as anti-Chinese; oppositionists, lawyers and other activists who challenge the party; and the "jasmine revolution".
Chinese authorities are increasingly turning to a "non-uniformed" thugocracy to do their dirty work when it comes to security and the silencing of dissent:
Many of the lawyers and activists have been illegally detained and held for excessive periods in violation of Chinese laws. In some instances, people have been abducted off the streets, with a black hood thrown over their heads by non-uniformed security officers.

The victims of "black-hooding" are often illegally held in unknown locations, incommunicado for periods ranging from days to months in what some call a "black box". Sometimes the abductions are carried out by thugs hired by the police to intimidate the targets.

"The most worrisome thing is that what we know the least about is what measures they're using to keep people silent upon their release," said Jerome Cohen, professor and co-director of the US-Asia Law Institute at New York University's school of law and adjunct senior fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Many of these guys are tough. What could be so effective? Apparently, there are new measures that are making them less willing to be contacted upon their release.

"What could you do to these people to make them unusually silent when they should have expressed outrage?"

Some details of the treatment may be known to fellow lawyers, but except for a handful of cases, those released have vehemently refused to go public with what happened to them, apparently under threat from the authorities, who warned them not to speak.

Even when the details are known, experts and journalists have been reluctant to speak publicly about them for fear the release of the information could result in official retaliation.

In some cases, however, it is believed the targets were allowed to tell fellow lawyers of their experience, using a strategy called "killing a chicken to scare the monkeys".

"We felt, at the same time, they wanted him to speak out in order to raise the level of terror," the Beijing lawyer quoted earlier said of a colleague who had been detained.

"They wanted to use him to threaten everyone else."

The human rights scholar agreed, saying: "This is a perfect way of spreading terror."

Cohen feared that the methods used by police were "more sinister" than torture methods known to have been used before. "Is there something more and more unnerving?"

According to some reports, threats have been made regarding the family members of the people targeted in the campaign.

In one case, police summoned the wife and small child of a lawyer to the police station, where they were intimidated. Police told the wife: "We can deal with you in the same way we dealt with your husband."

Another lawyer was repeatedly warned: "You should think about your family."

"This is the revival of the old custom of family retribution - collective criminal punishment," Cohen said, referring to a tradition from imperial days, when the relatives of criminals were also punished.

"I worry about threats to family members. How can you risk your family for human rights?"

It seems certain that plain old torture has been used in many cases.
This is why the release of Ai Weiwei was "fake" and why U.S. companies like Cisco and Hewlett-Packard have to do more than take China "at their word," as Todd Bradley, an executive vice president who oversees H-P's China strategy, recently said. He added, "It's not my job to really understand what they're going to use it for. Our job is to respond to the bid that they've made." If the Obama administration refuses to act, the U.S. will be guilty of aiding and abetting China's slaughtering of dissent.

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