Submission to UN on Xie Qiang, Gu Chuan, Wang Debang, Zhou Weilin – June 6, 2010

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Communique on Harassment of Human Rights Defenders Affiliated with the NGO CHRD

TO: The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, and
The Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

In the past three months, police in Beijing and Hefei City, Anhui Province have interrogated and raided the homes of four human rights defenders (HRDs) associated with the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a non-governmental human rights organization (NGO).  In each instance, the police took the HRD into custody for hours of questioning about the HRD’s work relationship with CHRD and the group’s organizational and financial arrangements, among other things, and while the HRD was being interrogated at the police station, other police officers raided the HRD’s home and confiscated computers and other personal property.  CHRD believes that this unprecedented assault on CHRD affiliates is a sign that the Chinese government is now focusing its attention on CHRD as part of its recent campaign to crackdown on civil society organizations and activists who seek to protect and promote human rights. The interrogations and home raids of these four HRDS– Xie Qiang, Gu Chuan, Wang Debang, and Zhou Weilin—is without legal basis and violates , at a minimum, articles 1, 5, and 6 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The four HRDs, whose case details are provided below, were questioned about their relationship with CHRD and the nature of their work with CHRD.  Police interrogated them about their links with other activists, articles they had written and activities they organized or attended, their views on political and rights-related issues, and their involvement with Charter 08, the manifesto outlining a vision of a free and democratic China.

Coupled with these interrogations have been police searches of the activists’ homes. Police confiscated computers and other personal property from each of the HRD’s homes. We believe that the purpose of confiscating these computers is twofold: immediately, it hinders the human rights work of these HRDs, leaving them unable to collect/disseminate information, contact victims/colleagues, and it may also interrupt any long-term research projects on which they are currently working.  On a wider scale, however, police are able to search the computers and obtain e-mail, messaging and other records of digital communications to further identify and track down individuals working together with these HRDs.

Occurring as they are during an ongoing crackdown on NGOs in China, we believe, given the similarity in nature of these raids, the frequency with which they are occurring, and the fact that police in different parts of the country are targeting activists who work with CHRD, that Chinese officials are engaged in a coordinated campaign to clamp down on CHRD, to disable its network so that it can no longer carry out its human rights work. It is much for the same purpose that prominent  NGOs such as Gongmeng, Aizhixing, Yirenping, and the Beijing Women’s Legal Aid Center have been targeted in recent months, following a period of time during which they were allowed to operate openly. The Chinese government appears to have adopted a more aggressive strategy towards CHRD, and temporarily made it the focus of its crackdown on civil society.

While most CHRD staff and affiliates inside China have, in the past, been subjected to some form of harassment, including (but not limited to) “soft detention” (ruanjin), surveillance, summons for questioning, and restrictions on travel inside the country or travel abroad, the recent experiences of the four CHRD-affiliated human rights defenders – Xie Qiang, Gu Chuan, Wang Debang, and Zhou Weilin – are unprecedented.   Their case details are provided below.

Xie Qiang

On March 10, Beijing police interrogated human rights defender Xie Qiang (谢强) for the second time in as many weeks. Nine days earlier, on March 1, police raided his home, seizing computers and personal property.

Nine officers from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Haidian District National Security Unit arrived at Xie Qiang’s Haidian District home at approximately 10 pm on March 1 and searched the premises for roughly two hours. The officers confiscated two computers, Xie’s passport and Hong Kong and Macau Travel Permit, five notebooks, a digital camera, notes, business cards, and copies of books and magazines, including two copies of Charter 08, belonging to Xie.

After the search, Xie Qiang was taken to the Xiangshan Police Station and interrogated for more than two hours. Police questioned Xie about his involvement in the preparing human rights reports with assistance from CHRD, his attendance at a CHRD-organized human rights training/workshop held in Thailand in January 2010, and his views on Charter 08 and the jailed writer-activist Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). Though police presented Xie with documents authorizing the search of his home and his summons, he was not given a copy of these documents. He was once again called in for questioning on the afternoon of March 10, and subjected to what he described as two hours of “oppressive” interrogation.

Mr. Xie is originally from Loudi in Hunan Province. A former civil servant, he has studied law and begun advocating for human rights, devoting himself to promoting the growth of civil society and furthering the cause of democratic reform in China in recent years. Xie has written articles for websites including Minzhu Zhongguo (民主中国) and Boxun (博讯), and taken part in human rights trainings organized by CHRD. He has been active in drafting and circulating public letters and petitions on behalf of Liu Xiaobo and other Charter 08 supporters. He is the author of two reports on human rights abuses in China, and has organized support for human rights defenders persecuted by the government.

Gu Chuan

Plainclothes police officers seized writer and human rights activist Gu Chuan (古川) as he left his Beijing home on the morning of April 9, taking him in for seven hours of questioning. While Gu was being interrogated, a dozen officers entered his apartment and confiscated computers, notebooks, and personal items over the course of a two-hour search. At no point during the day did officers produce any legal document authorizing either Gu Chuan’s interrogation or the search of his home.

Gu Chuan and his wife Li Xinai (李昕艾), along with the couple’s 10-month-old son, were on their way to the market when Gu was forced into an unmarked car by three policemen around 10:30 a.m. local time. Li returned to their apartment, and around noon a group of more than a dozen uniformed and plainclothes police officers arrived at Gu and Li’s home and started searching the apartment. The officers refused to produce a search warrant. When Li demanded the officers identify themselves, one policewoman replied, “Can’t you see we’re wearing police uniforms? We didn’t bring our ID cards!”

The police seized two notebook computers, a flash drive and removable hard drive, business cards, magazines, dozens of notebooks containing Gu and Li’s notes, and both Gu and Li’s passports. Police also recorded information from the couple’s bank card and bankbook.

Gu was warned not to talk to anyone about his experience. Along with questions related to Gu’s work, the interrogation was also designed to threaten Gu against participating in a public forum on environmental protection co-organized by CHRD and other groups in Beijing, originally scheduled for April 10.  The event was cancelled after more than a dozen other organizers of the forum and invited speakers were questioned by police, warned not to participate, or put under residential surveillance, and the hotel scheduled to host the event was forced to cancel the organizers’ conference hall reservation.

Gu Chuan was an editor of the website “Blog China” (www.blogchina.com) between 2005 and 2008. He has written editorials for Southern Metropolitan newspaper, and since 2008 has contributed to various print and online magazines, including Democratic China, an online dissident journal. A signatory of Charter 08, Mr. Gu has also participated in CHRD-organized activities and international human rights training programs in Geneva and Thailand, and worked with CHRD on investigative reports on human rights issues.

Wang Debang

On the afternoon of May 11, officers from the National Security Unit under the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) took freelance writer and human rights activist Wang Debang (王德邦) from his home in southwest Beijing and interrogated him for approximately four hours. While Wang was being questioned, officers searched his apartment and confiscated a personal computer.

According to Wang, he noticed four unmarked cars parked outside his apartment building when he returned home at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon on May 11. Upon entering his home, Wang found two plainclothes and one uniformed police officer, and shortly thereafter a group of officers arrived with a search warrant. Wang was taken to the Zhoukoudian police station and questioned about his human rights activism while some of the officers remained to search his home.

At the Zhoukoudian police station, police informed Wang that he had been summoned for questioning (chuanhuan), but refused to provide him with a copy of the summons notice stating the reason for his interrogation. Officers at the station also refused to provide identification to Wang. He was released around 8:20 pm that night.

Wang, a Beijing-based activist, has frequently been harassed by officials for his work. In early 2009, he was similarly interrogated and had his home raided by Beijing police for his involvement in preparing A Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China, which was published by CHRD. On that occasion, police confiscated his computer and personal items as well.

Zhou Weilin

On the morning of May 26, police in Hefei City, Anhui Province summoned workers’ rights advocate Zhou Weilin (周维林), taking him in for approximately eight hours of questioning. At 7 pm, Zhou was escorted back to his home by police, who then searched his apartment and confiscated his personal computer. According to the summons notice, Zhou was questioned on suspicion of “fabricating and distorting facts, spreading rumors, and acts which disrupt social order.” Police interrogated Zhou about recent rights-defense work he and others had organized, a demonstration took part in outside of a local government office on May 19, and articles he had written and posted on websites, including CHRD’s Chinese-language site.  Zhou was questioned extensively about his working relationship with CHRD, including his knowledge of the organization’s operations, other activists affiliated with CHRD with whom he is in contact, and payment received for writing articles.

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