New Account Sheds Light on Degrading Conditions at Inner Mongolia’s Chifeng Prison.
Human Rights in China (HRIC) called today for the urgent release of prominent Inner-Mongolian prisoner of conscience Hada. Deemed to be “resisting reform,” Hada is reported to be routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and held under a particularly harsh disciplinary regimen at Chifeng Prison, Inner Mongolia. He is believed to be in extremely poor health and in need of urgent medical attention.
China’s most well-known Inner-Mongolian political prisoner, Hada was sentenced to a 15-year prison term under charges of “separatism” and “espionage” in 1996 in connection with the activities of the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance, an organization advocating the preservation of Mongolian culture and self determination.
According to the account of a recently released political prisoner from Chifeng prison interviewed by HRIC, Hada has been routinely abused and brutalized as well as subjected to disciplinary punishments that range from being held in solitary confinement to being chained onto a metal “shackle board” – a bare metal plank equipped with handcuffs at each corner. The source said Hada is prohibited from talking to other inmates, deprived of regular family contacts and denied proper medical attention.
According to HRIC’s source, general conditions of detention that prevail at Chifeng prison are excessively poor and marked by ill-treatment and pervasive brutality. All prisoners engage in grueling work loads of up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Food and healthcare are patently inadequate.
Without any effective avenue for complaint and no exterior supervision, prisoners at Chifeng are reportedly subjected to a vast repertoire of disciplinary punishments – many of them falling under the definition of torture in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which China is a signatory.
In addition to the ubiquitous use of electric batons by guards, customary punishments imposed on prisoners reportedly include being made to be stand for extended periods in uncomfortable and painful positions, being chained upright to a metal door for excruciating lengths of time, and being sent to a cell with dimensions too small to allow the prisoner lie down. The system of pervasive brutality is entrenched by the notorious “cell boss” system, in which certain criminal detainees are specifically appointed by prison officials to enforce discipline – often violently – among fellow prisoners.
Political prisoners and ethnic Mongolians are said to be subjected to an even harsher regimen because of their official designation as a threat to the state under charges such as “endangering state security” or “separatism.” They are reportedly prohibited from talking in their native language and must only use Mandarin, even though some guards are themselves ethnic Mongolians. Further details of conditions at Chifeng Prison, as well as further background on Hada, are provided at the end of this press release.
HRIC President Liu Qing called on the Chinese government to release Hada and open all prisons to external observers. “Hada must be freed and given proper medical attention immediately,” said Liu Qing. “This case illustrates once again that China’s persistent refusal to open its prison system to external scrutiny is feeding a pattern of endemic torture and ill-treatment.”
Human Rights in China is an international monitoring and advocacy non-governmental organization based in New York and Hong Kong. Founded in March 1989 by Chinese scientists and scholars, it conducts research, education and outreach programs to promote universally recognized human rights and advance the institutional protection of these rights in the People’s Republic of China.
For further information contact Stacy Mosher (English) or Liu Qing (Chinese) at HRIC’s New York office: (212) 239-4495, or Nicolas Becquelin at HRIC’s Hong Kong office: (852) 2710-8021.
Egregious abuses at Chifeng Prison
Background on Hada
China’s domestic and international obligations in respect of torture
Photos of Hada and of Chifeng Prison are also available on request. They have not been attached to this press release in order to avoid overburdening mailboxes.
Egregious abuses at Chifeng Prison
The account presented here, based on the testimony of a recently-released political prisoner and supplemented by HRIC’s own research, is the most recent detailed account of prison publicized outside of China. The information indicates that while many of China’s penal institutions have undergone substantial modernization, what takes place within their walls remains fundamentally unchanged.
The identity of HRIC’s source must be kept confidential, as all inmates and released prisoners in China are sternly warned not to reveal anything about prison conditions or personal experience on the threat of “severe repercussions.”
Chifeng Prison organization
Situated less than 300 kilometers northwest of Beijing, Chifeng Prison, officially known as “Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region Prison Number 4,” is a modern-looking provincial-level penal facility. In May 2001, Chifeng prison was designated by the Justice Department authorities of Inner Mongolia as an “Autonomous Region-level Modern and Civilized Prison.”
At Chifeng prison, as in the rest of the PRC penal system, political prisoners are not held separately from prisoners convicted for common criminal offenses. Each prisoner is assigned a regimen according to the nature of their offence and their behavior in prison. The disciplinary regimens range from maximum (teji yanguan), down to level three supervision (sanji yanguan). The stricter the level of security, the more an inmate is isolated from the other prisoners.
Chifeng inmates are organized into brigades (dadui), squadrons (zhongdui) and teams (xiaodui). A brigade comprises 800 to 1,000 prisoners and is typically divided into five squadrons, each of which is engaged in a different type of heavy labor. Inmates at Chifeng Prison are mainly engaged in producing bricks and carpets of the type for which Mongolia has become renowned. Prisoners are also frequently dispatched to work in the fields surrounding the prison. The number of inmates in a squadron varies during the year according to the needs of the different production activities. The smallest unit, the team, is made of 50 to 60 prisoners.
Forced labor at Chifeng Prison
Each squadron in a brigade is assigned specific agricultural and production activities. Squadrons No.1 and 2 are involved in the production of bricks, with inmates from Squadron No.1 responsible for mixing clay with water and then passing it to members of Squadron No.2, who pour the mixture into rectangular containers and load the blocks into a kiln. Squadrons No.3 and 4 engage in carpet manufacturing, with Squadron No.4 weaving the carpets and passing them to Squadron No.3 for cleaning and ironing.
Squadron No.5 consists of inmates who are too weak, old, sick or disabled and cannot carry out heavy labor, and has no prescribed routine tasks. Inmates can be involved in packaging finished products, or in producing soccer balls for a Tianjin company. In addition, prisoners are dispatched to the fields to grow food for the prison or for external sale. Prisoners are paid a government allowance of 6 yuan (less than $1) per month for their work.
National prison regulations limit prison labor to a maximum of eight hours per day. At Chifeng Prison, however, prisoners reportedly work up to 16 hours a day, from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week, under a strict system of daily quotas. The prolonged working hours often result in the physical incapacitation of prisoners through exhaustion or accidents. In one case reported by HRIC’s source, an ailing inmate forced to engage in heavy labor collapsed while pulling a brick cart and died on the spot.
A catalog of abuses
Torture and ill-treatment are reported to be rampant in Chinese jails, and Chifeng Prison is no exception. According to HRIC’s source, guards are well aware that they will face no repercussions for ill-treatment short of the death of a prisoner, a situation that entrenches brutality as an expedient in maintaining “order” in the prison.
HRIC’s source said the daily work and activities of Chifeng inmates is tightly supervised by a two-tier system: while prison guards and officials make up the formal system, specially- appointed prisoners known as “cell bosses” (laotou yuba) or “criminal heads” (fantou) exert an even more fearsome control over their fellow detainees.
Despite having been formally prohibited a decade ago by the 1994 PRC Prison Law, the practice of using cell bosses is reportedly still the norm in China. According to HRIC’s information, Chifeng Prison stands out in this respect by appointing cell-bosses to head its Squadron Disciplinary Committees.
According to HRIC’s source, in addition to the ubiquitous use of electric batons by guards, customary punishments imposed on prisoners include being made to be stand for extended periods in uncomfortable and painful positions, being chained upright to a metal door for excruciating lengths of time, being sent to a cell too small for the prisoner to lie down, and being brutalized or beaten by cell-bosses and their accomplices.
Isolation and solitary confinement
According to HRIC’s source:
“I was never put into solitary confinement, but there was no real difference because no one was allowed to speak to me. I felt as isolated as if I were under solitary confinement….Every day, two inmates were assigned to keep an eye on me. When I walked, they walked with me. When I stopped walking, they stopped. Again, these stalkers were not allowed to speak to me.”
Political prisoners are reportedly submitted to a more severe regimen than ordinary criminals. In particular, they are forbidden from talking to other inmates and subjected to permanent monitoring from fellow detainees. Solitary confinement is another standard punishment. Although the practice is common in any detention facility, at Chifeng Prison the detention can extend far beyond the 15 days maximum specified under the PRC Prison Law.
Use of electric batons
According to HRIC’s source:
“Electric batons! The guards use them all the time. They strike you in the back. Once my entire upper back was blue. It was extremely painful for a long time afterward.”
Guards at Chifeng Prison are reported to routinely use electric batons to punish or otherwise terrorize inmates. Virtually all prisoners have been subjected to such assaults. HRIC’s source said that guards would sometimes poke an inmate just because he had stepped out of line, was not performing his work speedily enough or even just for “amusement.”
When used as a punishment, electrical shocks are administered to an inmate’s back. A series of extended shocks will leave the detainee with painful bruising on his entire back. The use of electric batons as a means of punishment is strictly prohibited under Chinese law.
HRIC’s source said that the most feared punishment for an inmate at Chifeng is to be sent to the “disciplinary cell,” or yaxiaohao, a cell isolated from the rest of the prison where the guards are allowed to impose abuses that are technically forbidden by prison regulations. (Chifeng Prison’s rules are posted on the prison’s Web site at: http://www.chifeng.gov.cn/4/open.htm)
“Hugging the metal door”
According to HRIC’s source:
“Those who are sent to the disciplinary cell will first be hanged up. Do you know what it is to ‘hang up’? They use a metal gate with bars and shackle your wrists and ankles. We called this ‘hugging the metal door’… You can’t move. You can’t rest. They release you for natural functions, but put you back immediately afterwards... Once I was kept in that position for two days. My legs swelled completely. They didn’t release me until I fainted.”
In the punishment called “hugging the metal door” (bao tiemen), the inmate has his wrists and ankles shackled to or around a metal door. Standing upright in this position soon becomes unbearable, but if the victim tries to rest his legs by hanging from his arms, the pain to his wrists soon becomes excruciating. HRIC’s source said this punishment could be imposed for up to 12 days at a time.
“The disciplinary bed”
According to HRIC’s source:
“[Hada] frequently had to sleep on the disciplinary bed. [The bed] is about the size of this table [about 180 cm long and 80 cm wide]. (Pointing at the upper right corner) There is a hoop here. (Pointing at the upper left corner) A hoop there. Both are used as handcuffs. (Pointing at the lower right corner) A hoop here. (Pointing at the lower left corner) Another hoop there for the feet. (Pointing at the middle of the table) There is a hole that can be opened for natural functions. The disciplinary bed can be adjusted to an upright position for urination. The bed is made of steel. Every brigade has one. They use it for inmates detained in the disciplinary cell. Hada was often punished with the disciplinary bed.”
Probably the most fearsome punishment entailed by a stay in the disciplinary cell is the “disciplinary bed” (xingchuan)。As detailed above, it consists of a horizontal metal “shackle board” – a bare metal plank laid flat and supported by four low legs, and equipped with a set of handcuffs by which the prisoner is secured to each corner. As the victim lays spread-eagle on the metal plank, the slightest discomfort will gradually evolve into a tormenting pain. Limbs become numb and painful, making it difficult to rest or sleep adequately. Prisoners subjected to the shackle board rapidly lose strength and experience serious deterioration to their general health.
HRIC’s source said that according to information circulating among prisoners at Chifeng Prison, Hada was often subjected to the disciplinary bed over the past three years because he was not “obedient” and “resisted reform.” After a day of heavy labor, he would be brought back to the punishment cell and shackled to the board for the night.
The use of chain and fetters administered as a punishment – rather than as a temporary measure of restraint – is reported to be standard practice in prisons across China. The use of the shackle board was documented by a former political prisoner from Longxi Prison, Hunan more than a decade ago (see Human Rights Watch, Anthems of Defeat: Crackdown in Hunan Province 1989-1992, New York, 1992). The prisoner described this punishment as “the cruelest and most barbaric form of shackling that I saw used during my own term of imprisonment.”
HRIC’s more recent information suggests that while the facilities of many penal institutions have undergone substantial modernization, what takes place within their walls remains fundamentally unchanged. This failure to improve prison conditions over the past 15 years goes a long way in explaining why China continues to evade any form of independent scrutiny of its prison system.
Background on Hada
Hada was born into a Mongolian family on November 29, 1955. In early 1981 he became an active participant in the growing Inner Mongolian student movement, which sought to preserve Mongolian ethnic identity in Chinese-controlled Inner Mongolia. After graduating from university in 1983, Hada published a number of articles on political theory in the Mongolian language. He became a research student in the political theory department of Inner Mongolian Normal University in 1986, and upon completing his M.A. he devoted his energy to promoting indigenous Mongolian culture, opening a Mongolian studies bookstore in Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, with his wife, Xinna.
In May 1992, Hada and fellow activist Tegexi set up the Mongolian Culture Rescue Committee (eventually renamed the Southern Mongolian Democratic Alliance), of which Hada was elected chairman. In 1994 the group began publishing a periodical, Voice of Southern Mongolia, and in 1995 drafted a new constitution that outlined the Alliance’s chief mission as “opposing colonization by the Han people and striving for self-determination, freedom and democracy in Southern [Inner] Mongolia.”
On December 10, 1995, Hada’s home was ransacked by police from the Inner Mongolian Public Security Bureau, who confiscated numerous documents relating to the Alliance, as well as the names and addresses of more than 100 international scholars with whom Hada had been corresponding. The following day, the authorities detained Hada and interrogated him about the Alliance’s activities. He was formally arrested on March 9, 1996.
The Hohhot People’s Procuratorate formally charged Hada with “espionage”, “separatism,” “stealing secrets for the enemy” and “organizing counterrevolutionary forces” on August 19, 1996. Following a closed hearing, the Hohhot Intermediate People’s Court on November 11, 1996 sentenced Hada to 12 years in prison for separatism and an additional 10 years for espionage, combined for a total of 15 years in prison with four years’ subsequent deprivation of political rights. Hada’s appeal to the Inner Mongolia Supreme People’s Court was rejected. Tegexi was sentenced to 10 year's imprisonment and three years’ deprivation of political rights for “separatism,” but he was subsequently released early, in December 2002, on grounds of “good behavior” (a full English translation of the Court verdict is available at http://www.innermongolia.org/english/hohhot_municipal_intermediate_pe.htm ).
Following Hada’s arrest, more than ten other prominent Mongolian intellectuals were detained. On December 16, Hada’s wife Xinna posted a note on the front door of their book store informing people about Hada’s detention and the crackdown on fellow activists. When students embarked on a protest, the authorities quickly suppressed it and arrested 12 students. Xinna herself was also taken into custody and investigated for “inciting students to cause a disturbance.”
Xinna was released on bail on January 12, 1996, but detained again on January 28, 1996 after giving an interview to an overseas journalist. Although never formally charged, Xinna was not released until nearly four months later, on April 12. The Public Security Bureau closed down the bookstore in Hohhot, leaving the family with no source of income.
In June 1998, Hada’s wife Xinna sent an open letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton, who was visiting China at the time. She reported that Hada’s health problems “[were] not taken seriously by prison authorities” and that she had asked the authorities to transfer Hada to a prison in Hohhot where his family could take care of him more easily, and to allow him to visit a hospital for medical treatment. The Chinese authorities have never acceded to these requests.
China’s domestic and international obligations in respect of torture
Torture and ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners is reported to be widespread and systemic throughout China. Although China ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (hereafter, Convention against Torture) in 1988, the authorities have failed to introduce basic safeguards to prevent torture or to bring many torturers to justice.
Forced labor and ''acknowledgment of guilt'' are central to penal policy, generating an environment in which prisoners are routinely abused. Particularly brutal treatment is frequently reported against prisoners who are deemed to be ''resisting reform'' (kangju gaizao) through failure to meet production targets, complaining, staging hunger strikes or attempting to escape.
Former prisoners who have been held in all forms of criminal and administrative detention report that guards routinely use ''cell bosses'' to discipline, beat and torture their fellow prisoners. During the UN Committee Against Torture hearing in May 2000, China's representatives acknowledged that the government “did not exclude the possibility that some individual police officers use inmates to control inmates in their daily work.''
Obligations under domestic law
Chinese law punishes torture and ill-treatment as a crime in specific circumstances only. Article 248 of China’s Criminal Law makes it a criminal offence for any “custody or supervisory personnel” in a custody or supervision institution such a prison to “beat a detainee or subject him to corporal punishment or abuse, if the circumstances are serious.” Any custody or supervisory personnel “who instigate a detainee to beat another detainee or subject him to corporal punishment or abuse” shall be punished in the same way.
What constitutes “serious circumstances” is not set out in the law or subsequent interpretations. In 1999, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued rules limiting the prosecution of this crime to five circumstances: causing injury to the detained person; instigating the suicide of the detained person or mental disorder or other serious consequences; more than three instances of beating, corporal punishment or maltreatment of one or more detainees; using cruel methods, having an adverse impact; instigating detainees to beat, corporally punish or maltreat other detainees as above.
In practice, even those who can be pursued for criminal responsibility under the law often escape prosecution or receive only light punishment.
As a State Party to the Convention Against Torture, China is obliged to ensure that “all acts of torture are offences in its criminal law,” including any “attempt to commit torture” or “act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.” China must also ensure that all punishments for these crimes reflect their “grave nature”(Article 4).
The Convention also requires State Parties to prevent “other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” when committed “by or at the instigation of” or “with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”(Article 16).
Torture is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiesce of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity” (Article 1).
China does not grant access to prisons to any independent organization, including the International Red Cross. In July 2004, the Chinese government abruptly “postponed” the scheduled visit of the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Torture, Theo Van Boven.
HRIC, Impunity for torturers continues despite changes in the law, July 2000.
Amnesty International, Torture – a growing scourge in China – time for action, February 2001, ASA 17/004/2001.