Hong Kong’s chief executive has formally withdrawn the bill that would have allowed its prisoners to be extradited to mainland China. But a Hong Konger who travels to the country can still be subject to a justice system that’s grown increasingly opaque and arbitrary under President Xi Jinping.
In Xi’s China, forced disappearances and reports of torture have led to hollow confessions, apologies to the state, and arbitrary charges that — at least, in the case of the Australian writer Yang Hengjun — could come with the death penalty. Under Xi, no one is out of bounds: not even the president of a high-profile organization like Interpol or the country’s highest-paid actress, fresh off a trip to Cannes.
Just as Xi came into power in 2013, China expanded a law that had once let police detain suspects at home, to allow them to detain a suspect anywhere. That meant no perp walk to a jail, no cameras, and no fellow prisoners. It essentially legalized solitary confinement. The law also gave police with a raft of excuses not to notify a suspect’s family or lawyer. Thus, the disappearances.
China’s foreign ministry has responded to allegations of unjust imprisonment by saying “everything in China is done in accordance with the law.” Beijing has denied allegations of torture in the past.
Last year, Xi’s government went further, amending the constitution to create a new branch of government under the Orwellian title, the National Supervision Commission. Ostensibly charged with investigating bribery and corruption, it essentially empowered police to pick up “anyone that they would want,” says the human rights advocate, Michael Caster.
In 2016, Caster co-founded Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO that’s been advocating for victims and tracking disappearances. He spoke with VICE News Tonight about how Xi’s changed the justice system, and why Xi doesn’t just have his eye on Hong Kong.
This segment originally aired August 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.