Rights Group Wants Canada to Take Action Against CGTN’s Broadcast of Forced Confessions

Much alarm has been expressed over China’s broadcasting of likely forced confessions aimed at chilling public activism and dissent in recent years. In 2018, Safeguard Defenders published an in-depth report on the methods, motives, and consequences of these broadcasts, emphasizing their highly choreographed nature. The Madrid-based organization has now filed a formal complaint with Ottawa over Chinese state television’s airing of confessions in Canada. The group’s director, Swedish NGO founder and legal reform activist Peter Dahlin, was himself subject to a forced confession that was televised on CCTV in 2016. At the Star Vancouver, Jeremy Nuttall reports:

Safeguard Defenders, a human rights organization based in Hong Kong and Europe, filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. It is calling on the federal government to use so-called Magnitsky legislation to punish those responsible for broadcasting the confessions.

“We believe that the violations are severe enough that their licence should be pulled,” said Peter Dahlin, executive director of Safeguard Defenders, whose own forced confession was run on Chinese television in 2016 after he’d been detained for more than three weeks.

The target of the complaint is China Global Television Network, an international television station based in China and owned by the Chinese government. The network is available in Canada via digital service.

Dahlin said that over the past five years, Chinese state-run media has broadcast nearly 100 forced confessions from prisoners, and about half of them have been broadcast into Canada. He says this is a violation of broadcast standards. [Source]

At the China Neican newsletter, Dahlin recently pointed to an official investigation of CGTN launched by the U.K. television regulator Ofcom as an example of how the West can respond to the unprecedented global disinformation campaigns–of which the global airing of forced confessions is part–that has characterized Xi Jinping’s external propaganda policy. The U.K. investigation came after a complaint was filed by British corporate investigator Peter Humphrey, who along with his wife was broadcast on Chinese television making a confession in 2013 before being sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

The practice of ‘forced confession’ is not merely an internal matter in China. Such confessions are routinely broadcast by CGTN across the world. The victims are often foreigners or the crimes alleged related to international affairs. These broadcasts are used as direct foreign policy statements by the CCP. An example is the TV confessions by Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, used to attack Sweden’s right to provide assistance to its citizen.

[…] Ofcom found evidence that CGTN had violated the Broadcasting Code in a severe manner, which led to official investigations on matters related to Mr Humphrey and Mr Gui. The UK regulator has taken important steps in launching these investigations into CGTN, and the verdict will have far-reaching consequences. The UK is the base for CGTN’s expansion plans across Europe and setup of a new CGTN Europe division. A guilty verdict will force CGTN to stop these broadcasts as well as to pay greater attention to the UK’s regulations overall.

[…] Through Ofcom, the UK can continue to demonstrate the way forward by ensuring consistent enforcement of existing rules. The UK also needs to ensure that once its Magnitsky Act procedures are finalised, it gives civil society a channel for filing such recommendations for sanctions, and move towards regular enforcement.

However, the UK could do more. It can place greater scrutiny of staff hires by Chinese media organisations in the UK, to prevent these entities from hosting Ministry of State Security agents. It can also enact legislation similar to the U.S.’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), to force disclosure of staff and financing by those entities that are deemed to be operating in the UK under control of a foreign government. [Source]

Dahlin also notes the recent televised confession of Simon Cheng, a former U.K. consulate worker in Hong Kong who was detained in China for 15 days in August during which he reports being tortured. Safeguard Defenders last month reported that Cheng filed a complaint with Ofcom on November 28:

Simon Cheng, Hong Kong resident and former employee at the United Kingdom’s Consulate in Hong Kong, on November 27, 2019 filed an official complaint with Ofcom against CGTN – China Global Television Network – for broadcasting his forced TV confession, extracted while Simon was tortured, held incommunicado, at a secret location, in solitary confinement. The complaint highlights a long list of sections of the UK Broadcasting code that the broadcast violates.

[…] The complaint by Simon, about a broadcast aired by CGTN on November 21, follows multiple similar complaints earlier. One year ago, UK citizen Peter Humphrey, also with support from Safeguard Defenders, filed a complaint against multiple similar broadcasts of himself and his American wife. Shortly thereafter, Angela Gui, daughter of missing Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, with support from Safeguard Defenders, filed a complaint against several more broadcasts by CGTN. All these complaints are against broadcasts of forced TV confessions aired before trial, sometimes even before arrest.

[…] Simon is filing this complaint from an unknown location. He has been threatened with being kidnapped by the Ministry of State Security if he speaks about his experience. With intelligence agent Wang Liqiang now defecting from China to Australia, and having exposed the kidnapping of UK citizen Lee Bo in Hong Kong back in 2015, those threats are very real. [Source]

The AFP reports that the British embassy in China expressed disappointment this week after CGTN chose not to air an interview with the ambassador that included mention of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong:

The British embassy voiced disappointment Wednesday after the English-language branch of Chinese state television decided not to air an interview with the ambassador that included a discussion on Hong Kong.

Beijing has repeatedly warned Britain to keep off its internal affairs as London has voiced concerns over increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in the former British colony.

Ashley Rodgers, head of communications at the embassy, said that Ambassador Barbara Woodward was asked about Hong Kong during an interview in October with Liu Xin, a well-known anchor at China Global Television Network (CGTN).

“They had a good discussion and it’s a shame that it won’t be broadcast,” Rodgers said, declining to give more details about what the ambassador said. [Source]

In an earlier report by Jeremy Nuttall at the Star, Dahlin predicted that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadians detained in China last December in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada, would be released after conviction: “China needs to save face, so there will be some form of trial, I’m pretty certain, no matter what, but with the understanding they will be released upon a verdict.”  Meanwhile, last month a consortium of media organizations–including the CBC, The New York Times, CNN, and The Globe and Mail–requested that Meng’s extradition trial, which begins on January 20, be televised. Bloomberg’s Natalie Obiko Pearson reported last month that Meng’s lawyers have argued that her trial should not be televised, citing that it could “raise the risk of U.S. President Donald Trump muddying her case.”


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