The Perils of Defending Rights: A Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (May 4, 2007)

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The Perils of Defending Rights

A Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2006)

Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)

May 4, 2007

Table of Contents:



Part I. Risks and Retaliation for Defending Rights

  1. Norms and Definitions
  2. Persecuted as Political Crime

(a) Defenders in Prison

(b) Defenders at Risk

(c) Endangered Defense Lawyers

Part II. Initial Impact of a Nascent Movement



The situation human rights defenders faced in China continued to deteriorate in 2006. Officials have increasingly tried to limit the impact of China’s growing community of human rights defenders, who have therefore become targets of government persecution, retaliation, intimidation, and surveillance, to the point that their personal freedom and safety are threatened. However, in 2006, more Chinese citizens became aware of their rights as they were exposed to rights abuses in their daily life – from forced evictions to brutal beatings of petitioners, from land grabs to closure of schools for migrants’ children. As more citizens take part, the community of nongovernmental human rights defenders has grown stronger.

From January to December 2006, Chinese human rights defenders have suffered harassment and constant surveillance from the police. They have been taken into custody for interrogation, placed under residential surveillance or house arrest, monitored in their homes and through their personal correspondence (particularly telecommunications) by the heavy deployment of cyber-police, detained or jailed, or tailed by security agents. Almost all had their computers bugged or their Internet/phone use monitored. Many suffered police searches of their private residences and loss of personal belongings to illegal confiscation. Some were severely beaten by unidentified persons thought to be linked to officials. Several were sentenced to jail.

Attacks on human rights activists worsened, and there were several apparent patterns in 2006, as the following examples illustrate:

  • Brutal repression of mass actions to defend land rights in rural areas: The farmer, Huang Weizhong, from Putian in Fujian Province was imprisoned for representing local farmers in petitioning and submitting appeals to authorities to demand protection of land rights. He was found guilty by Putian Court of “assembling a crowd to disturb social order” and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
  • Retaliation against rights defenders with imprisonment based on trumped-up charges: The rural “barefoot lawyer,” Chen Guangcheng, from Linyi in Shandong Province, who provided legal assistance to villagers seeking redress for violations of human rights in the implementation of the one-child policy, was charged with “intentionally damaging property” and “assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic” by the Yinan County Court and sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment. Zeng Jianyu, a former elected representative to the local assembly and campaigner for environmental and other rights in Lu County, Sichuan Province, was convicted of “fraud” and sentenced to three years in jail. Mao Hengfeng, an activist for housing rights and women’s right to reproductive freedom in Shanghai was convicted of “vandalizing public property” and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The Guangdong-based writer/activist Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong) has been detained without trial on charges of “engaging in illicit business activities” since September 2006.
  • Intimidating and persecuting human rights lawyers: The Beijing lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, was convicted of “inciting subversion of the state” by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court and sentenced to three years imprisonment with a five-year suspended sentence. Xi’an lawyer Zhang Jiankang and Guangzhou lawyers Tang Jingling and Guo Yan all had their licenses to practice law suspended. Beijing lawyers Li Jingsong and Li Fangping were severely injured during an attack by unidentified persons when they went to Linyi, Shangdong, to provide legal counsel to the jailed activist Chen Guangcheng in December 2006. Other lawyers who worked on the case, including Xu Zhiyong and Teng Biao, were harassed or detained for questioning by Linyi police.
  • Harassment of NGO activists providing protection and care for victims of abuses or neglect: The HIV/AIDS activist Wan Yanhai was taken into custody for three days by the Beijing national security police for organizing a conference on “Blood Safety, AIDS, Law and Human Rights.” The conference was shut down. The Shanghai activist for the rights of hemophiliacs, Kong Delin, the Henan HIV/AIDS activist, Li Xige, and the Xinjiang HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B activist, Chang Kun all have been detained, put under close surveillance, or threatened. The Xinjiang group Snow Lotus, a NGO that focuses on the rights and interests of people with HIV/AIDS, was outlawed by the Xinjiang authorities.
  • Police surveillance, house arrests, and restricted movements of activists in many cities: In 2006, the police put many human rights defenders under residential surveillance or house arrest or other forms of monitoring and harassment. Some, such as the Beijing-based activist Hu Jia and other independent writers or outspoken intellectuals, were detained in their homes or monitored for well over half of the year. Activists outside the capital also suffered from this form of harassment, such as the rural activist Yuan Weijing, wife of Chen Guangcheng in Shandong, HIV/AIDS activist Li Xige in Henan and housing rights activist Ma Yalian in Shanghai.
  • Large deployment of police units to harass, stop, detain, and forcibly return petitioners to their places of origin: Petitioners who try to go to provincial capitals or Beijing to file complaints at the government “letters and visits” offices are frequently intercepted by police and forcibly taken back to their hometowns under guard. They tend to come from remote rural areas with grievances against local officials.

Please click here for the full report in pdf file

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