VANCOUVER—Chinese state-run media available in Canada has been broadcasting forced confessions from people detained by mainland China authorities, alleges an international human rights group calling for Ottawa to punish those responsible.
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.
He said when British broadcast regulators began investigating CGTN for the practice in May, such broadcasts stopped for a time.
Dahlin also wants Canada to sanction Chinese television journalist Dong Qian and the former president of China Central Television, which oversees CGTN, Nie Chenxi, for their part in producing and airing the confessions.
The sanctions would be under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials act, also known as the Magnitsky law. Dahlin said pressure from Canadian regulators can go a long way in stopping such confessions from happening because the chance they could lose their broadcast licence is real.
“This is not about censoring Chinese media,” he said. “We do believe China should be held to the same standards as everyone else.”
Dahlin said he is surprised Canadian regulators hadn’t already taken the issue up themselves.
He said the confessions are often obtained through coercion or even torture, noting two brothers, one a Canadian citizen, Chen Zhiheng and Chen Zhiyu, both had confessions broadcast in which they admitted to forgery.
Dahlin said his organization believes were it not for the investigation by the United Kingdom last year, both Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians detained in China for more than a year, would have had confessions broadcast by now.
“It is almost certain both Michaels would have been on TV attacking the Canadian government and being used as a foreign policy tool,” Dahlin said. “That’s how powerful these kind of administrative regulatory bodies can be.”
Spavor and Kovrig were arrested in December last year, shortly after Canadian authorities detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China-based tech giant Huawei, on a request from the United States. The arrest of the two men in China is widely regarded as retaliation against Canada for arresting Meng.
At the time, Dahlin shared his own story of detention with Star Vancouver. He said he was held in a padded room with two guards he wasn’t allowed to speak to, able to hear other prisoners being beaten.
He was released and deported after being manipulated into a taped confession that was broadcast on Chinese state-run television.