February 4, 2018
China, which British Prime Minister Theresa May visited last week and with which the Vatican has reportedly signed a controversial deal, is a land of euphemisms. Underneath the glistening bright towers of economic growth, the vicious strangulating repression of the Communist regime lurks, and under Xi Jinping its reach has widened and its brutality intensified. Xi’s regime has perfected an ability to twist truth as it twists the necks of dissidents, and turn the rule of law into rule by laws that legalise barbaric torture. American scholar Perry Link once aptly described the ‘anaconda in the chandelier’ in China’.
One of the latest euphemisms is the peculiar term “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL). It sounds mild compared to imprisonment; it sounds like you might simply be monitored at home, or held under some form of house arrest. In truth, it’s the very opposite – a licence to disappear people in the middle of the night, to an unknown location, to torture with impunity. Hotel rooms, the backs of restaurants, offices and empty apartments are transformed into secret torture chambers.
A new book, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, documents what happens under RSDL – it is the first of its kind to do so. A compilation of testimonies edited by American human rights activist Michael Caster, it paints a chillingly consistent picture of a land of lies, intimidation and physical and psychological torture.
Teng Biao, a well-known exiled Chinese lawyer, defines RSDL in the Foreword as “a system for prolonged, pre-trial detention outside a formal, legal location” but one which includes “a more severe, more terrible coercive measure than normal criminal detention”. RSDL, he adds, “is not limited by detention centre regulations, nor any real supervision at all. The chances of torture are greatly increased; in fact, torture has become rampant under RSDL.” The forms of torture include “long periods of sleep deprivation, beatings, electrocution, forcibly handcuffed and shackled, ….subjected to stress positions, denial of food and water, … extensive and continuous interrogation sessions, threats of violence, or threats to family. Everyone placed in RSDL is kept in solitary confinement.”
The suddenness of abductions of dissidents and activists taken into RSDL is shocking. Lawyer Wang Yu recalls the night the police came for her, the lights in her house were cut “without warning”. Before being able to telephone for help, she writes, “someone had already broken through the door, and was instantly upon me. The light from his headlamp flashed into my face.” She was handcuffed behind her back, pushed onto a bed and a black hood was forced over her head.