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16 Apr 2021

Safeguard Defenders warns HK Democracy Movement to brace for the worst

On Friday, 16 April, AFP Hong Kong correspondent Xinqi Su reported on Twitter two more charges are being pressed against Jimmy Lai and that both -  conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice - are related to Andy Li.

On the basis of Safeguard Defenders’ exhaustive investigations into and documentation of the practice of forced televised confessions in mainland China, we believe all signs point to seeing such forced confessions, aimed at discrediting the democracy movement and some of its most prominent members, in Hong Kong sooner rather than later.

Andy Li’s treatment so far and his personal characteristics are in full line with the extensive evidence collected on this practice in mainland China through numerous direct testimonies, as denounced in a Joint Submission by seven leading NGOs to nine UN Special Procedures in August 2020 and documented in our exhaustive publication Scripted and Staged (here in Chinese), which recount the use of torture, imposition of conditions that create immense stress and feelings of fear, threats to family and loved ones, forced medication, denial of access to lawyer and family visits, and prolonged solitary confinement to extract the desired confessions from victims.

Once the detainee is deemed ‘prepared’ enough to confess and possibly under the guise of promises of leniency in treatment or more threats to loved ones, they are routinely told what to say during the confession. Several methods are used, including learning lines or reading from a script-usually based on the final confession statement hammered out during interrogations.

From what we know at this stage:

  • During their seven-month detention in Shenzhen, the Hong Kong 12 – among whom Andy Li – were kept from contact with their families and family-appointed lawyers;
  • During their detention, seven of the 12 wrote letters describing an all-too rosy picture of their detention and, based on the language used, likely written in accordance to an imposed template;
  • Upon his return to Hong Kong, Andy Li was placed in solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital and denied the legal assistance of his family-appointed lawyer;
  • Non-physical contacts with his family since his return to Hong Kong appear to be very sporadic and no communication has been forthcoming;
  • Upon his sole appearance in Court on 7 April, Andy Li did not make any statement other than affirming that he understood the charges after they were read out. He did not seek bail or ask to return to court in eight days to review that decision.

The above signs all point to severe duress being exercised on Andy Li, designed to ‘break a person’ in order to deliver the desired message.

They are fully compatible with indicators in our documented research on forced confessions, which may be used in a further all-out assault on Hong Kong’s legal system through televised confessions, videoed confessions released on social media, on State-owned news media’s websites, as part of (State-media produced) ‘documentaries’ or through in-trial courtroom confessions (sometimes first released on the court’s social media account and then sometimes rebroadcast on state television).

Furthermore, both context and Andy’s personal traits are compatible with evidence collected over the years. Many confessions in the past have been designed to respond to overseas criticism on the Chinese government’s actions, referencing foreign countries or foreign “anti-China forces”, compatible with the charges brought against him and the newly announced charges against Jimmy Lai in which he would purportedly play a role.

As a prominent pro-democracy activist Andy Li corresponds perfectly to what we have witnessed on the mainland in terms of choice of victims' to coerce into such forced public statements. Approximately 60% of them involve detainees who either worked in media (journalists, bloggers, and publishers) or were human rights defenders (lawyers, NGO workers, and activists).

We therefore believe all evidence points to the fact the Hong Kong Democracy Movement needs to brace itself for the use of such forced confessions, warning that their aim is not only to discredit or indict the detainees involved, but to instill fear and disparity into the community.  One victim is targeted to silence their entire community: political terror by definition.