China continues efforts to arbitrarily detain, torture people under RSDL custodial system

·4-min read
Representtaive Image
Representtaive Image

Beijing [China], June 24 (ANI): Almost eight years after Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the draconian system - Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) - Beijing continues to step up its efforts to arbitrarily detain, coerce confessions from, torture, threaten and mistreat people without any accountability.

The RSDL is a custodial system introduced in 2013 that gave police the powers to disappear anyone into a secret facility, deny them all contact with the outside world, including legal counsel and family, and interrogate them at will, for a total of up to six months, according to a report from a non-profit, Safeguard Defenders.

The report, titled Locked Up, said that United Nations (UN) experts have repeatedly called on China to repeal the system, citing serious human rights concerns. In 2018, ten UN Special Procedures, including the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, described RSDL as "analogous to incommunicado and secret detention and tantamount to enforced disappearances.

Apart from Chinese nationals, the RSDL system has also been imposed on a number of foreigners - including Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, who was kidnapped by Chinese state agents from Thailand, Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin, the founder of Safeguard Defenders.

"RSDL takes place at a secret location. Police do not make public where detainees are kept. And because victims are often black hooded when they are transferred into and out of RSDL and cell windows are blocked by heavy curtains, few can identify the location beyond a rough estimate," the report said.

The victims of the custodial system endure severe physical and psychological tortures including sleep deprivation, food deprivation, extended time in combined shackles and cuffs (sometimes for weeks), beatings, forced medication, denial of medical treatment, sexual abuse, stress positions held for extended periods (such as being hung by the wrists) and threats of physical harm to them and their loved ones.

The report said that despite the gravity of the human rights violations inflicted by RSDL, it is little known outside the world of human rights NGOs working on China, as it is mostly carried out in secret. Moreover, there are few images of RSDL facilities and most victims are scared to speak out for fear of being punished again.

"I tried to phone for help, but before anyone could answer, someone had already broken through the door, and was instantly upon me. The light from his headlamp flashed into my face as he spoke, 'Don't move! We're from Beijing Public Security Bureau'," the report Wang Yu, who is one of the victims.

Another victim, Zhai Yanmin, said: "I was waiting for my lunch, a bowl of cold noodles, when I was kidnapped... all of a sudden, a group of people charged over and pushed me to the ground. They kneed me in my back and in an instant had covered my head with a black hood before I had a chance to say anything. I remember seeing several people filming everything before I was slammed to the floor."

Detailing the experience faced by a victim due to the RSDL system, the report said that the person is shifted into a custom-built cell, where the only company will be two guards assigned to watch a victim 24 hours a day.

"The bathroom was covered with cameras monitoring me and I could hear the guards in the other room talking about me while they watched. The humiliation was constant," said a victim named Chen Zhixu.

The law stipulates that RSDL detainees should be questioned at a different location to that of their residential surveillance, but for rights defenders, this is rarely observed. Often more than not, a person may collapse during the interrogation due to exhaustion and strain.

Daily medical check-ups of victims also includes forced medication with unknown drugs. The guards will watch them closely, or stuff them in the detainees' mouths and force them to swallow the pills. "These mysterious drugs might make your brain foggy, your mind dull, your muscles hurt and even cause your vision to go blurred, among other side effects," the report added.

In case of a female, there is the extra danger of sexual humiliation or harassment. The victim may be verbally shamed, asked to strip naked, threatened with sexual violence, and even worse.

Every movement of the victims is monitored and controlled. Even at the time of release, the person would be under an extension of imprisonment, under house arrest or forced travel. The report said: "Even if you are allowed to leave your home, you will likely be forced to stay within city limits, and followed and harassed by officers for weeks, months, even years to come."

"In RSDL, my interrogator once said to me: 'If you die here, no one would ever know.' It's true. In RSDL, you're being detained in secret. No one knew where I was. No one knew who had taken me. No one would know if I died in RSDL. At least in a detention centre, if something happened to me, someone would have to take responsibility," said Yanmin. (ANI)

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