[CHRB] Democracy Website Founder Gets 8 Years for Subversion, Rights Abuses Escalate Before Party Congress, and more (10/25-11/2, 2012)

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China Human Rights Briefing

October 25-November 2, 2012


Arbitrary Detention

  • Cao Haibo, Founder of Online Democracy Discussion Group, Sentenced to 8 Years for “Subversion”

Enforced Disappearance

  • Shanghai Petitioner-Activist Out of Contact for Nearly Two Months

Harassment of Activists

  • More Activists, Petitioners Seized in Crackdown Before Party Congress

Law & Policy Watch

  • China’s New Mental Health Law Falls Short in Protecting Rights

Special Notice

  • CHRD Calls for End to Heightened Crackdown Ahead of Party Congress

Arbitrary Detention

Cao Haibo, Founder of Online Democracy Discussion Group, Sentenced to 8 Years for “Subversion”

In another case of political persecution of free speech, Cao Haibo (曹海波), a manager of an Internet café in Yunnan Province and organizer of a website that promotes democracy, was sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion against state power” at a closed hearing on October 31. Reportedly, Cao’s alleged “crimes” consisted of expressing his political views online through a QQ group that he created—“Society to Strengthen China” (振华会), where members have discussed democratic reform and constitutional rights—and posting his own articles on such topics.

The case against Cao, 27, has been fraught with procedural flaws and myriad violations of Chinese law. Detained by police in Kunming in October 2011 and arrested the next month, Cao was tried in closed proceedings by the Kunming City Intermediate People’s on May 22, 2012. Police blocked his family members from attending the trial, claiming that “the case involved secrets.” The recent sentencing hearing was held without authorities notifying his family or lawyers, who only learned of the court’s decision upon receiving notification. “This is way too devious!” Cao’s lawyer Ma Xiaopeng (马小鹏) reportedly exclaimed after learning of the punishment. Originally from Jiangsu Province, Cao has been detained at the Xishan District Detention Center in Kunming.

The harsh sentence against Cao Haibo comes at an extremely sensitive time in China, just as the top Party leaders are in the middle of a tense political power transition, and with authorities nationwide staging a strident crackdown against activists and dissidents (see CHRD’s statement).[1]

Enforced Disappearance

Shanghai Petitioner-Activist Out of Contact for Nearly Two Months

Zhu Jindi (朱金娣), a petitioner and activist from Shanghai, has been missing for nearly two months in another case of enforced disappearance, which is increasingly being used by authorities as a method to punish and silence individuals active in rights defense. On August 24, security personnel from her hometown seized Zhu in Beijing as she was petitioning at the Supreme People’s Court. She was forcibly returned to Shanghai the next day and locked up in a black jail, where she was monitored around the clock by a half-dozen guards. Two local officials came to see Zhu in the black jail and tried to intimidate her by saying that her petitioning activities were unlawful. On August 28, Zhu reportedly went on a hunger strike and removed her clothes in desperate protest over her treatment, and two days later fell out of contact. Zhu, who began petitioning after her home was forcibly demolished in 2004, has also helped other petitioners who have lost their homes, and in retaliation has been detained and beaten by police on several occasions.[2]

Harassment of Activists

More Activists, Petitioners Seized in Crackdown Before Party Congress

Authorities continue to round up activists and petitioners in Beijing and elsewhere prior to the Party Congress, which is set to begin on November 8. CHRD sources suggest that such retaliatory acts may reflect quotas that Chinese police have been tasked to meet in order to “maintain security” before the important event. Below are among the most recent incidents of harassment that have been reported:

  • On October 24, national security officers seized Henan activist and netizen Liu Shasha (刘沙沙) from her Beijing residence and returned her to Zhengzhou. On the way to Henan, officers covered Liu’s head with a hood and beat her. Liu, who is reportedly being held by domestic security officers, has gone on a hunger strike to protest her treatment.[3]
  • Police officers seized Hubei petitioner and activist Zheng Dajing (郑大靖) on October 24 from his rental property in Beijing without giving any explanation to his family. A short time later, officers returned to the residence and confiscated a computer. Zheng’s current whereabouts are unknown.[4]
  • Also on October 24, Shanghai police detained farmers Cao Yuyan (曹玉燕) and Luo Xiuli (罗秀丽), who unsuccessfully tried—for the 69th time—to apply for permission to hold a demonstration about land seizures. The two farmers’ whereabouts are currently unknown.[5]
  • On October 25, Shanghai police summoned internet writer Li Huaping (李化平) for questioning for “disrupting social order.” The day before, Li had sent a text message to friends indicating he might be in trouble. Li recently returned from a 17-month trip around China, which included visits to locations of well-known human rights cases.[6]
  • On October 25, Beijing police detained activist Wu Tianli (吴田丽) for “disrupting the order of a neighborhood committee office” in likely retaliation for her recent demand that the case she filed alleging abuse of power by local police in the run-up to the Party Congress be accepted by the court. Out of contact at the time of writing, Wu was taken into custody after she discussed the unlawful forced demolition of her parents’ home with staff at the neighborhood committee office, and just before she was to take the matter to the local letters and visits bureau.[7]

Law & Policy Watch

China’s New Mental Health Law Falls Short in Protecting Rights

China’s first-ever Mental Health Law, which has been passed after a third and final review by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on October 23-26, according to Xinhua, falls short of providing meaningful legal protections for persons with psychosocial disabilities. For those who are involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions by relatives, police or government officials, the law fails to close loopholes for these agents to abuse the system. Moreover, it is not feasible for those committed to institutions to exercise their rights, which the law nominally grants, to appeal to judicial authorities for review. Having such a law might be better than not having one; however, given the Chinese government’s track record of failures to implement many new laws adopted in recent years, the Mental Health Law (MHL) inspires little confidence among Chinese rights activists who monitor this issue.

The Equity & Justice Initiative (EJI), a Shenzhen-based NGO focusing on mental health and discrimination issues, said in a statement on its website (here) that the MHL, which takes effect in May of 2013, will not adequately protect the rights of those institutionalized with psychosocial disabilities. EJI points to Article 79 as a particularly troubling provision. It requires guardians—relatives or state agencies, including the police—to take on civil responsibility for physical harm or property damage caused by someone diagnosed with psychosocial disabilities if the guardians had previously refused to hospitalize them. In another statement obtained by CHRD, EJI warns that the new law allows hospitals to defer to guardians on decisions about incarcerating those who are involuntarily committed and who challenged the guardians, even if medical professionals at hospitals have concluded that there is no need to incarcerate. The MHL also continues to grant guardians the broad power to decide whether a person can “harm himself or risk harming himself.”

In addition, the new MHL fails to clarify that those committed to institutions have the right to authorize their own representatives to appeal to judicial authorities on their behalf. Those who are committed certainly cannot file appeals in person in court. This makes it practically impossible for those who oppose their guardians’ decisions to commit them—and those who hospitals prevent from having visitors based on “avoiding obstacles to treatment”—to exercise their right to legal counsel.

Despite criticisms like these, health rights activists have indicated that having a mental health law might force the government to allocate more funding to the psychiatric health industry, though such increased funding may not benefit the development of community care outside the state-run health industry. The new law for the first time stipulates that those with psychiatric conditions who are unlikely to cause harm to themselves or others should not be locked up in psychiatric institutions against their will. It grants medical professionals more (though not enough) authority in making decisions about forcible commitment to psychiatric institutions.

For the MHL to truly protect citizens’ rights, Chinese activists call on the NPCSC to refine the terms for those involuntarily committed to file appeals, and implement their right to be appointed counsel and meet with legal representation. They ask for revisions to China’s civil law provisions on “adult guardian system,” and support establishing independent ombudsman groups to monitor guardianship of those diagnosed with psychosocial disabilities. Activists further propose that the government stop building psychiatric institutions that hold patients incommunicado, but instead invest in supporting civil society to develop community rehabilitation facilities. According to estimates from China’s Ministry of Health, there are more than 100 million people with psychiatric conditions in China, and about 16 million of them with severe conditions, but most of them do not receive any mental health treatment.

After a previous MHL draft was released in August, CHRD expressed its concerns in a statement pointing out that the draft continued to allow for disability-based detention and treatment without consent, did not provide for rights to retain legal capacity or access to justice, and restricted communication rights of those who have been institutionalized. CHRD also submitted a report on China’s involuntary commitment and abuses in psychiatric institutions to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[8]

Special Notice

CHRD Calls for End to Heightened Crackdown Ahead of Party Congress

On November 1, CHRD issued a statement decrying the ramped up harassment against Chinese dissidents, human rights activists and petitioners by police and other security personnel in the run-up to the 18th Party Congress. Over recent weeks, many hundreds of citizens have been interrogated, beaten and detained in concerted efforts to suppress free speech and movement. The current onslaught on civil society by authorities clearly has a higher purpose: to “maintain stability” before and during the Congress in order to ensure a smooth, once-in-a-decade leadership transition. The statement analyzes changes in both the approaches of civil society actors and techniques of rights suppression over the past decade, and paints a grim picture of the potential for true democratic reforms under the Party’s new leadership.

Edited by Victor Clemens and Renee Xia

[1] “’Society to Strengthen China’ Website Founder Cao Haibo Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison for ‘Subversion’” (振华会创始人曹海波被以“颠覆罪”秘密判刑8年), November 1, 2012, WQW; “Cai Haibo, Accused of ‘Subversion,’ Has ‘Secret Case’ Tried in Closed Hearing” (曹海波“涉嫌颠覆国家政权”案因“案件涉密”未公开审理), May 22, 2012, WQW; “Cao Haibo Detained for Four Months, Wife and Child in Urgent Need of Assistance” (曹海波被羁押4个月,妻儿急需社会救助), February 29, 2012, WQW; Jiangsu Netizen Cao Haibo Summoned and Home Searched for Suspicion of “Inciting Subversion of State Power” (江苏网友曹海波在昆明被以涉嫌“煽动颠覆国家政权” 带走), October 21, 2011

[2] “Shanghai Rights Activist Shen Jinbao, Others in Beijing Call for Help for Zhu Jindi, Missing for Extended Period” (上海维权者沈金宝等人在北京声援失踪多日的朱金娣), October 24, 2012, WQW; “Shanghai Activist Zhu Jindi Missing for Four Days After Petitioning in Beijing” (上海维权人士朱金娣到北京上访已失踪4天), September 13, 2010, Peace Hall

[3] “Henan Rights Defender Liu Shasha Sent Out of Beijing” (河南维权人士刘沙沙被遣送出京), October 24, 2012, WQW

[4] “Urgent Attention: Hubei Rights Defender Zheng Dajing Taken Away by Police, Computer Confiscated” (紧急关注:湖北维权人士郑大靖被警方带走并扣押电脑), October 24, 2012, WQW

[5] “Lawfully Applying to Demonstrate, Two Shanghai Farmers Who Lost Land Are Illegally Detained” (依法申请示威游行,上海两失地农民被非法抓捕), October 25, 2012, HRCC

[6] “Internet Writer Li Huaping Seized by Shanghai Police, Interrogated” (网络作家李化平被上海警方带走调查), October 25, 2012, WQW

[7] “Urgent Attention: Beijing Rights Activist Wu Tianli Seized in Early Morning by Public Security Officers” (紧急关注:北京维权人士吴田丽今晨被公安带走), October 25, 2012, HRCC

[8] “EJI Recommends ‘Mental Health Law’ Should Provide Judicial Expediency for Institutionalized Patients” (建议《精神卫生法》应为住院患者提供司法便利), October 21, 2012, Equity & Justice Initiative

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