The United States is concerned about the growing number of people in China recently – also including European citizens – who appear to have been coerced to confess to alleged crimes on state media, often before any trial or the announcement of any charges. Some of these people have not been afforded timely legal or consular representation, and there are also instances in which foreign nationals appear to have been brought to mainland China against their will and by extra-legal means.
Recent detainees who appeared on China Central Television, or CCTV, in prerecorded "confession videos” include Hong Kong-based publisher Gui Minhai of Mighty Current Media and Causeway Bay Books. Gui, a Swedish national, emerged on CCTV this month after disappearing from Thailand.
Just three days after’s Gui’s appearance on TV, another Swedish national, China-based human rights worker Peter Dahlin appeared on CCTV, apologizing for allegedly "hurting the feelings of the Chinese people." Mr. Dahlin founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group to help train human rights lawyers and other activists and was accused by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua of "encouraging the masses to oppose the government."
Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific spokesman Benjamin Ismail said his organization was "outraged by the dissemination of forced 'confessions' that have no informational value." Xinhua and CCTV, he added "represent a threat to freely produced news in the public interest." In the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, China ranks 176th out of 180 countries.
Veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who also appeared in a so-called confession on CCTV before being jailed for allegedly leaking state secrets overseas, later said her confession was coerced after Chinese authorities threatened her son. In 2015, she was sentenced to seven years in prison, which was later reduced to five years on appeal. Due to medical reasons she is currently serving her sentence outside of prison.
Others who have been paraded before the cameras with forced confessions include Xiang Nanfu, Chen Yongzhou, and Charles Xue.
"These actions," said State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner, "undermine China’s claim to be a rule of law society and run contrary to China’s human rights commitments and hinder its attempts to build a more transparent and effective justice system."