Free Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng: Cases Rife With Injustice

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Free Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng: Cases Rife With Injustice

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders – November 27, 2014) – CHRD calls on Chinese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Guangdong-based activists Guo Feixiong (雄) and Sun Desheng (孙德胜), who face trial at the Tianhe District People’s Court in Guangzhou on November 28.

“The cases against Guo and Sun must be dropped because they were arrested for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “Refusing to set them free, despite allegations of torture, prolonged pre-trial detention, and deprivation of their right to legal counsel, indicates that the government is sliding further back from keeping its promises to ‘protect human rights.’”

In early 2013, both Guo, whose real name is Yang Maodong (杨茂东), and Sun, whose real name is Sun Sihuo (孙思火), took part in demonstrations for media freedom and demanded top leaders make public their personal wealth, testing officials’ commitment to cleaning up the government. They were taken into custody on a charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” in August 2013 and arrested in September and October of the same year, respectively. They were among dozens targeted as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on peaceful assembly, association, and expression that began soon after Xi took power. Both Guo and Sun are being held in Tianhe District Detention Center in Guangzhou.

The Tianhe District People’s Procuratorate indicted Guo and Sun this past June, accusing both of being the “ringleaders” of several advocacy campaigns. One was a rally held in support of the Southern Weekly newspaper in January 2013. Another was an “advocacy tour” that took place in the spring of 2013, when several activists travelled across China to promote civic activism and raise awareness of human rights. Among the activists involved in the tour, Huang Wenxun (黄文勋), Yuan Fengchu (袁奉初 aka Yuan Bing 袁兵), and Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华) have been detained in Hubei Province since May 2013 without trial. Another activist, Liu Yuandong (刘远东), was accused of joining some of these activities with Guo. He stood trial in Guangzhou in January—on the same charge levied against Guo—but no verdict has been announced in his case.

Authorities have extensively used the crime “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” (Article 291 of China’s Criminal Law) since late 2012, roughly around the time when the Re-education through Labor detention system began to be phased out. The charge was heavily used in Xi’s first major crackdown, which began in March 2013, to rein in emboldened civil society activism. CHRD documented 70 cases of detention of activists, lawyers, and journalists; of these, 23 individuals were arrested on suspicion of this crime, with 15 of them put on trial so far (including Guo and Sun) and nine sentenced to prison. The longest sentence based on conviction on this charge alone has been four years, which was handed down to the legal advocate Xu Zhiyong (许志永), the leader of the New Citizens’ Movement, in January 2014.

Authorities seem to be making a calculated decision in using this one-size-fits-all charge against so many activists and lawyers. By accusing them of the crime “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place,” the government appears to be trying to obfuscate the political nature of its suppression in order to avoid some of the bad publicity that often comes with charging activists with more politicized offenses, such as “inciting subversion of state power” or “leaking state secrets.” Imprisoning activists with such a criminal charge also has grown convenient for silencing them after the RTL option was to be eliminated. However, politicized charges have by no means disappeared from authorities’ cache of weapons against dissent, as seen in the latest criminal cases against Gao Yu (高瑜), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵).

By putting Guo and Sun on trial as the organizers of several advocacy campaigns, authorities are making the case for punishing them harshly, as the law imposes an up to five-year sentence for “ringleaders.” Additionally, Guo has served a prior prison sentence, and Article 65 of the Criminal Law stipulates a harsher sentence for recidivism. Guo, a veteran pro-democracy activist and dissident intellectual, served a five-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2006 of “illegal business activity” for publishing a book on government corruption. Guo was severely tortured during his incarceration: he was beaten, tied to a “tiger bench” (an instrument of torture), and hanged from a ceiling by his arms with his legs bent back while being struck with an electric prod on his face, arms, and genitals. The UN Committee Against Torture raised Guo’s case to the Chinese government in 2008.

32-year old Sun Desheng became involved in rights activism in 2008, after he tried to challenge the discriminatory household registration system as a factory worker. Later, he was detained and tortured during the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, a series of pro-democracy rallies that swept across China.

The two activists’ trial was originally scheduled for September 12 but was then postponed after Guo’s lawyer Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠) protested court officials’ refusal to grant him full access to the evidence against Guo, a violation of the Criminal Procedural Law. Zhang refused to attend the hearing, citing that the court had made it impossible for him to defend Guo fairly.

Guo and Sun have now been held for more than 15 months before tomorrow’s trial. The CPL provides loopholes to allow police to excessively prolong pre-trial detentions. Consequently, Guo and Sun have been denied a fair trial within a reasonable time period and subjected to a long period of deprivation of liberty, in violation of their basic human rights.

During pre-trial detention, Guo and Sun have both been subjected to torture and inhumane treatment. Sun was prohibited from speaking with other inmates, some of whom reportedly beat him. He has developed severe arthritis and held a hunger strike to protest his treatment. Guo was denied all visits from his lawyer for four months after he was taken into custody, and he also went on a hunger strike in protest. He reportedly became very weak, and authorities have denied repeated requests from his lawyers and family for his release on medical grounds, claiming that Guo is a “danger to society” if released. In August, a bailiff at the Tianhe District People’s Court shackled Guo’s wrists and ankles tightly during a pre-trial meeting, which cut off circulation to his wrists and legs and caused swelling and numbness that continued for at least two weeks. Authorities have refused to investigate these allegations.

“In punishing activists like Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng, Chinese leaders make it clear that their ‘governing the country by law’ mantra has little do with building rule of law in China,” said Renee Xia. “This and other recent cases undoubtedly show that the government under Xi’s leadership has no intention to loosen its control on the legal system as its weapon to silence and punish human rights and democracy advocates.”

For more information, please contact:

Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 240 374 8937,

Wendy Lin, Hong Kong Coordinator (Mandarin, Cantonese, English), +852 6932 1274,

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539,

Frances Eve, Research Assistant (English), + 1 646 801 9479,

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