China: Intensified Attack on Human Rights Defenders

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For immediate release

Sept. 11, 2009

China: Intensified Attack on Human Rights Defenders

Intensified persecution of human rights activists in recent days has seriously undermined the Chinese government’s pledges to respect international human rights. These are pledges that the government made in its bid for membership on the UN Human Rights Council and its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Since mid-August, authorities in Beijing and elsewhere have set out in an apparently coordinated campaign to clamp down on human rights activists all over the country. A large number of rights activists, including human rights lawyers, journalists, writers and other activists have been detained or watched and harassed by Public Security Bureau (PSB) and National Security Bureau (NSB) officers. Some activists have disappeared. Several have been subjected to unfair trials or harsh sentences in local Chinese courts.

The current crackdown violates provisions in the Chinese Constitution that explicitly concern “the respect and guarantee of human rights.” It also contradicts the public pledge to uphold the rule of law and to protect human rights that the Chinese government made when it sought election to the UN Human Rights Council last May. The harsh clampdown not only thwarts hopes that the international community had after that pledge was made; it also creates a tense political atmosphere and sows the seeds of further social unrest.

The government has apparently timed this crackdown to prepare for the upcoming Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of Chinese Community Party (CCP) this fall, the 17th CCP Congress and general election to the National People’s Congress in 2007, and the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders is concerned about the implications of the intensifying crackdown that targets human rights defenders because it appears likely to be the beginning of a systematic and extended “clean-up” operation aimed at tightening security for these upcoming political events and the Beijing Olympics.

The ruling authorities appear not to appreciate that their conventional tactics of using harsh crackdown to tighten control in advance of major political or social events has become obsolete. Rights consciousness is on the rise in China and grassroots activities to defend rights have been spreading rapidly. Repression has contributed to a growing and more active community of human rights defenders.

The international human rights community has long been skeptical of the promises about human rights and free expression that the Chinese government made to the International Olympics Committee when Beijing won its bid to host the games. As the Chinese government continues to fail in its promises, it should be clear to any fair observer that it is not Chinese human rights activists or any critics of the government’s human rights violations who discredit the nation, but the government itself, through its repeated failures to guarantee free independent reporting and free movement, and by its refusal to engage in open consultation with the communities that are negatively affected by such things as evictions and relocations. Liberality and open consultation are the true Olympics spirit, and these are being squashed in Beijing.

Highlights of the recent crackdown

On August 9, 2006, human rights activist Guo Feixiong was beaten up by a gang of police officers on the train to Beijing. On the same day, Yao Baohua and Zhou Yaqin, representing landless peasants in Changzhou in Jiangsu Province were put under criminal detention by the local police and charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” They had been seeking to petition the local government and were expressing their views peacefully.

On August 11, Tan Kai, an environmentalist from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province and founder of the NGO called “Green Watch,” was convicted of “illegally acquiring state secrets” and sentenced by the local court to 18 months of imprisonment. He had been protesting illegal pollution. The same day Zan Aizong, a Zhejiang correspondent for “China Ocean News,” received seven days of administrative detention for reporting the demolition of a church in Xiaoshan city. The Hangzhou Public Security Bureau accused Zan Aizong of “spreading rumors and disturbing public order”.

On August 15, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was secretly arrested by police in Dongying city in Shandong. Gao had spoken out about his concerns about violations of human rights. The authorities have yet to announce the specific reasons for his arrest. Since his arrest, the police have placed his wife and children under close and invasive surveillance.

On August 17, in Yinan County in Shandong Province, Dr. Xu Zhiyong, who had been providing legal assistance to the activist Chen Guangcheng, was accused of theft. Yinan police detained Xu, as well as two lawyers, Zhang Lihui and Li Fangping, who were accompanying him. They were taken to Jiehu police station for questioning.

On August 18, other activists, including Deng Yongliang and lawyer Zhang Jiankang, were also detained by police in Yinan, Shandong, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

On August 19, the Yinan County People’s Court sentenced blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng to four years and three months in prison for “gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic order” and “willful damage to property”. The authorities refused to let Chen’s lawyers represent him in court.

On August 20, Li Jianhong and Ouyang Xiaorong, both members of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, were beaten by police in Qingdao, Shandong and forcibly returned to Shanghai and Yunnan.

On August 22, rights representative Liu Zhengyou in Zigong City, Sichuan Province was badly beaten by unidentified thugs right before the eyes of police. Liu has been urging the government to negotiate with peasants to settle a land dispute fairly and had been participating with the farmers in peaceful demonstrations.

On August 25, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Zhao Yan, a researcher at the Beijing office of New York Times, to three years of imprisonment on charges of “fraud.” In a trial that drew much international scrutiny, Zhao was found not guilty of “divulging state secrets.” Zhao Yan had been paying close attention to issues such as peasant land rights and fair compensation. He had also been providing legal aid to help people begin litigation against corrupt officials.

On August 31, the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court delivered a judgment in an initial hearing for Cheng Xiang (Ching Cheung), the chief China correspondent for the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times. Cheng was found guilty of “espionage” and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment plus one year of deprivation of political rights. The court also confiscated 300,000 yuan of Cheng’s personal property.

Since mid-August, police all over China have carried out a centrally coordinated clampdown on rights activities. Without due process or legal procedure, large numbers of writers, intellectuals, lawyers and rights activists have been subjected to house arrest and other forms of tightened control. In Beijing alone nearly 100 people have been affected. They include Liu Xiaobo, Jiang Qisheng, Wang Lixiong, Wei Se, Zhang Zuhua, Jiao Guobiao, Teng Biao, Li Heping, Jiang Tianyong, Li Baiguang, Fan Yafeng, Zhang Lihui, Li Fengping, Li Jingsong, Li Subin, Hou Wenzhuo, Li Hai, Hu Jia (twice detained for questioning in recent days), Liu Huo, Qi Zhiyong, Liu Jingsheng, Ma Wendu, Li Jinping and the family and contacts of lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Another, Zhao Xin, was forcefully returned to Yunnan Province.


CRD calls on the international human rights community not to shy away, in the face of charges that someone is injuring China’s national pride, from scrutinizing China’s human rights behavior. The international community does the Chinese people good service by holding their government accountable for its promises to improve human rights and protect freedom of expression. Only when these rights and freedoms are respected will it be possible to secure the rights of citizens or private property owners who are forced into eviction or re-location in order to make way for the Games, the rights of migrant laborers who are working on unfair terms to construct facilities for the Games, the freedom of journalists, Chinese or foreign, to report on conditions leading up to and during the Games, and freedom of movement of Chinese citizens inside China or overseas, who wish to go to Beijing to watch the Games.

We urge the Chinese authorities to stop immediately the various forms of harassment of human rights defenders. In particular, we call for:

–The release of Chen Guangcheng, who has been illegally put under house arrest, detained, and unfairly tried and convicted;

–The release of Gao Zhisheng;

–An end to illegal surveillance of activists’ families and residences; and

–Effective steps to guarantee freedom of press and expression.

A “harmonious society,” which the government claims to aspire to, and in the name of which it has carried out its crackdown, will be impossible without social justice, and social justice will be impossible without protections for freedom of expression and rule of law.

At the same time we call on fellow citizens to speak up peacefully about and seek legal remedy for government officials’ unconstitutional and criminal activities. A country governed outside the rule of law puts at risk everyone’s fundamental rights and interests. Only when Chinese citizens actively participate in protecting and pushing for their human rights will it be possible to build a “harmonious” society based on justice and respect for human dignity.


September 11, 2006

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