Activist Zhou Weilin Named First Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders

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Activist Zhou Weilin Named First Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2015) – Activist Zhou Weilin (周维林) has been named the first recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, selected by three Chinese NGOs sponsoring the award. The award committee, made up of Human Rights Campaign in China, Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, and Rights Defense Network announced the decision on March 13, a day before the one-year anniversary of Cao Shunli (曹顺利)’s death in 2014. To honor Cao’s legacy, some Chinese activists have designated the date of her death, March 14, as “Human Rights Defenders Day.” Zhou, whose work includes advocating for persecuted human rights defenders, was released from prison in February after he served out an 18-month sentence in Anhui Province.

Cao Shunli died in police custody on March 14, 2014, following five months of enforced disappearance and detention in Beijing. She was tortured by being denied necessary medical treatment and other forms of mistreatment. Cao was taken into custody in September 2013 before she was able to board a flight to Geneva, where she was to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and an international human rights training. Her staunch efforts to raise international awareness of China’s human rights situation and her tireless campaign to promote rights protection and hold the government accountable to its rights obligations made her an inspiration to human rights defenders in China and abroad. A year ago, the shock and indignation in reaction to her tragic death spurred outcries by the international human rights community to strengthen institutions at the UN to hold the Chinese government more accountable for its persecution of human rights defenders.

“The international community must not let the Chinese government get away with persecuting Cao Shunli to death, and her torturers should no longer enjoy impunity,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “Cao Shunli’s family, while under strict police watch, has preserved her body with the slim hope of having an independent and objective investigation done in order to seek truth over her tragic death. This award honors her memory and helps the family keep the hope of justice for Cao alive.”

As the award’s first recipient, Mr. Zhou will receive financial support, including funding for specific rights defense projects to continue his human rights advocacy and to work on key areas of Cao Shunli’s unfinished work, such as civil society participation in international human rights mechanisms.

Zhou Weilin (周维林) is the first recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders. (image: RDN)

Zhou Weilin (周维林) is the first recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders. (image: RDN)

A former factory worker, Zhou Weilin began his rights advocacy after he was disabled in a work accident in 1986. He has focused on issues involving persecution of human rights defenders, government corruption, labor rights, rights to equal education, and the rights of persons with disabilities. The 49-year-old Zhou, who documented human rights violations in Anhui and across China for Rights Defense Network from 2009 to 2013, has faced frequent reprisals from police. Besides going to prison, he has served at least five periods of administrative detention and been subjected to physical assaults, threats, and other forms of harassment.

One week before Cao Shunli was stopped at the Beijing Capital International Airport in September 2013, Zhou was detained as he was preparing to travel to Geneva to take part in the same activities as Cao. (A third rights defender invited to Geneva, Chen Jianfang (陈建芳), was intercepted at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport on the same day that Cao Shunli was stopped in Beijing, but released later.) All three had previously participated in a UN human rights mechanism training together and also worked together within China. They are among dozens of human rights defenders who have been blocked and punished in various ways by the Chinese government for attending the training program over the past decade. Several such individuals are under criminal detention or in prison today.

Zhou Weilin faced intensified persecution as President Xi Jinping’s rise to power brought on a more hostile environment for HRDs. In 2013, he was administratively detained three times—briefly incarcerated in April, June, and July—before Hefei City police seized him from his home on September 6 and criminally detained him the next day. In October, procuratorates approved the arrests of Zhou and three other activists on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” in retaliation for their campaigning for the right of activist Zhang Lin (张林)’s daughter to attend school. Held in pre-trial detention for nearly one year, Zhou was eventually put on trial by the Shushan District People’s Court in August 2014 and sentenced to 18 months in prison in December. He was released on February 23, 2015, after serving his term.

In announcing the award, the committee commended Zhou Weilin’s invaluable contribution to the efforts to promote human rights and hold the Chinese government accountable to its constitutional and international obligations. The committee drew parallels between Zhou Weilin and Cao Shunli’s courage and dedication in the face of ruthless government reprisal, with the hope that Zhou, who has courageously persisted in his work to defend human rights, will gain a measure of recognition and protection.



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

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

Frances Eve, Research Assistant (English), +852 6695 4083,

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