Hong Kong speedboat fugitive in 'educational reform' program in Guangdong prison

Chinese prisons offer inmates who score highly on propaganda tests greater privileges and shorter sentences.
By Man Hoi Yan
2021.11.10
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Hong Kong speedboat fugitive in 'educational reform' program in Guangdong prison Andy Li, who had tried to flee China by speedboat to Taiwan and is now in custody in Hong Kong, is shown in a file photo.
RFA

A former activist now serving jail time in China for fleeing Hong Kong by speedboat after the 2019 protest movement is currently undergoing "labor and educational reform" in prison, according to his family.

Tang Kai-yin, who is serving a three-year jail term for "organizing others to cross a border illegally" at Conghua Prison in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, recently told his family in a letter home that he has been assigned to "labor reform" and "reform through education," according to a Facebook post from his brother.

The letter, which wished his family good health and asked about forthcoming game releases and TV shows, also suggested Tang had been working hard to please his captors, and had emerged with a grade of not less than 60 percent from his recent assessments, entitling him to a call with a family member once a month, the post said.

But former inmates in Chinese prisons told RFA that the upbeat tone of the letter likely belied the suffering Tang was going through.

Beijing-based Guo Li, who served five years in a Guangdong prison before his conviction was overturned, said he had spent a good deal of his time in manacles, chained to the wall.

Guo said he had also undergone "reform through education," and had to sit monthly tests during his time in jail.

"This is a mandatory requirement laid down by the ministry of justice [in Beijing]," he said. "It's mostly about current affairs in China, directives issued by the central government, and various events happening in Beijing."

"I had to watch the national news show for half an hour at 7.00 p.m. every night."

Housing rights activist Ni Yulan, who has served a three-year jail term linked to her activism, said she also had to study speeches made by Chinese leaders and comment on them.

"It's good if you have to read newspapers, because at least you have something to read," Ni said. "When you watch TV, you have to comment according to their standards."

"You also have to learn certain laws and regulations by rote," she said.

A rights lawyer and former prison inmate who gave only the surname Gao said prisons also typically blare out "revolutionary" songs and conduct patriotic education classes.

"They play red songs every day, songs praising the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party (CCP) in prison," he said. "I also had to watch the CCTV news programs at the same time every day."

Guo said Tang is undergoing a process known as "criminal assessment," under which inmates can earn privileges, or even an early release.

"If you get the top scores with no accidents or violations in any month, you can win rewards and praise," he said. "After a few commendations and top scores, you go to a more regular level of inspection, which is every three or six months, and if you do well at that, inspections are annual only."

"If you accumulate [commendations and high scores], you can get a reduction in your sentence," he said.

A history of abuses

In May 2021, the family of fellow speedboat detainee Andy Li said he is being secretly held in a psychiatric hospital following his return to Hong Kong, a newspaper in the city reported.

Andy Li, 30, is being held in solitary confinement at the notorious, maximum security Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper reported, citing people familiar with the case.

It said the facility "has a history of alleged abuses against its inmates."

Li was taken to Hong Kong's Yuen Long police station soon after arriving back on March 22 at the end of his jail term, and immediately arrested under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.

On Dec. 31, 2020, the Yantian District People's Court in Guangdong's Shenzhen city handed down jail terms of three years to Tang, two years to fellow fugitive Quinn Moon for "organizing people to illegally cross a border," and sentences of seven months to Li and seven other detainees for "illegally crossing a border."

They were among a group of 12 Hong Kong activists intercepted by the authorities aboard a speedboat that is believed to have been heading for the democratic island of Taiwan.

Eight detainees were handed over to the custody of the Hong Kong police on March 22, 2021 after time already served was taken into account, while Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon were left to serve their sentences in China.

A further two activists were returned to Hong Kong because they were under 18 at the time of their arrest. They are currently on remand at Hong Kong's Pik Uk Prison awaiting trial on charges linked to their escape bid.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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