14 Apr 2021

Foreign citizen accused of supporting anti-China forces abroad paraded on Chinese TV giving confession

Lee Henley Hu Xiang, born Li Huxiang, a Belizean national, was detained in south China’s Guangdong province on 26 November 2019, and quickly disappeared. His arrest, by the Guangzhou city’s unit of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), was approved by the Guangzhou People’s Procuratorate shortly thereafter on 30 November.

On 24 April 2020 it was revealed that his case had been moved to prosecution the day before. Lee was charged with “financing criminal activities against national security” (criminal law, article 107).

All this happened at the height of China’s attempts to paint unrest in Hong Kong as being caused by foreign, especially UK- and US, incitement. Afterward, articles would appear online, linking him with fallen Chongqing Party chairman Bo Xilai, at whose trial Lee apparently testified, and for having been involved with “luring women into the sex trade” back in the 1980s, with other various vague allegations, following the tradition of attacking those deemed politically antagonistic to the CCP with either sex- or corruption allegations (or both).

The Party-controlled, State-owned newspaper Guangzhou Daily stated, after Lee’s prosecution was announced, that “Investigations by the national security agency [MSS] confirmed that the suspect provided a large amount of funds to hostile elements in the US, colluded with foreign anti-China forces to intervene in Hong Kong affairs, and funded the implementation of criminal activities that endangered our national security”.

Until a more recent revision, China's Criminal law article 107 criminalized such activities only if the person or entity funded was inside China. However, recent revisions (CL revision 8) have expanded the scope of article 107, and offering support to a person who is deemed to be a threat to China's national security is now a crime worldwide. Including, as in this case, for a foreign citizen. 

This foreigner’s principal crime, also repeated in other state media, is to have supported, financially, persons deemed to be 'anti-China', in the US. This is a dangerous precedent that cannot be understated and reflects the brand new provisions in China's Criminal Law, echoing the extraterritorial aspects of Hong Kong's National Security Law. Party tabloid Global Times urged China to exert greater ‘extraterritorial control’ when it comes to national security issues, writing "China should accelerate the establishment of a legal system with extraterritorial effects to safeguard national security and interests."

Since Lee’s prosecution was announced, there has been no further news on developments in this case for almost exactly one year. Until tonight.

On the evening of 14 April 2021, Lee was paraded in a forced televised confession on CCTV-13, the flagship news channel in China, in a nearly 14-minute news segment. It remains to be seen if it will also be aired on CCTV-4 internationally, or on its English-language global channel CGTN.

In the video, Lee is referred to as Li Hengli (李享利), formerly known as Li Huxiang (李沪祥). The TV report also said that he had been given an 11-year sentence for funding criminal activities endangering national security on 2 April 2021.

This makes Lee the fifth (known) person to appear on national TV confessing to national security crimes, some before trial, all of them on the same news show, Focus Report, on CCTV-13, in recent months. Like Lee, the other four have all stood accused of crimes against national security, some also for 'instigating' protests in Hong Kong. The other four are all Taiwanese citizens. There have since also been other TV confessions, concerning non-national security crimes. 

Read all about China's use of scripted, forced TV confessions in Safeguard Defenders groundbreaking research report, Scripted and Staged

After growing attention to the practice, including regulatory scrutiny, CCTV-4 and CGTN have appeared to slow down the use of these televised confessions, but CCTV has continued to air them (with some exceptions) only on domestic channels, not internationally. This is likely due to a fear of losing their license or right to air internationally.

However, at the same time as these confessions continue on domestic channels, there has also been a growing use of these confessions instead disseminated through new methods; directly on State newspaper websites, on social media, sometimes run by the police themselves, or even shown to reporters by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There has also been a significant increase in showing such confessions in documentaries produced by State media, aimed at countering the growing allegations of genocide in Xinjiang of the Uyghur people. These televised confessions were also used extensively at the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, when many were harassed and persecuted for speaking against the official CCP line

The practice of forced, scripted, confessions on TV before a trial has been filed for review to relevant Special Procedures of the OHCHR, which has so far failed to act, or even question China's use of this practice, which takes place, in almost every known case, after extensive torture, threats, and which entirely violates the person's right to a fair trial.

This month, over a dozen victims took action and called upon TV providers around the world to stop broadcasting CGTN and CCTV-4, the TV stations that air these confessions internationally, and asking them to stop being complicit in the Chinese Police' attack on lawyers, journalists, and civil society.