Su Changlan (苏昌兰)

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Su Changlan (苏昌兰)

Su Changla苏昌兰


*Previously under medical watch


Crime: Inciting subversion of state power

Length of Punishment: three years

Court: Foshan City Intermediate People’s Court

Trial Date: April 21, 2016

Sentencing Date: March 31, 2017

Dates of Detention/Arrest: October 27, 2014 (detained); December 3, 2014 (arrested); October 26, 2017 (released)

Crimial Indictment: Guangdong Province Foshan City People’s Procuratorate Criminal Indictment (Chinese)

Verdict: Guangdong Province Foshan City Intermediate People’s Court Criminal Verdict (Chinese)

Date of Birth: August 18, 1971

Medical condition(s): Hyperthyroidism; heart arrhythmia

Place of Incarceration: Nanhai District Detention Center (Foshan City, Guangdong Province)


Guangzhou police seized housing and women’s rights activist, Su Changlan (苏昌兰), after she expressed support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that began in late September 2014. She was originally summoned for “creating a disturbance,” but police criminally detained her that evening on a more serious charge, “inciting subversion of state power.” Local authorities held Su incommunicado for over six months until she was finally allowed to meet her lawyer in May 2015. When Su’s husband Chen Dequan (陈德权) inquired about her at the detention center, staff told him there was no individual by that name detained there. Her lawyers came to suspect that Su was being secretly detained; at one point, the facility receptionist suggested that perhaps she was registered under a different name but refused to say what name.

After her husband received the arrest notice, authorities continued to deny Su her right to legal counsel. Government officials cited concerns over “possible obstruction to investigation.” China’s Criminal Procedure Law gives police overly broad power to deny detainees’ access to their lawyers if a case involves “state secrets” or “state security.” After months of failed requests to see Su, her husband and brother began to protest in February 2015 in front of a police station—holding banners that said, “Conscience is not violence. Su Changlan is innocent.” Both of them were later criminally detained for nearly one month.

The Foshan City People’s Procuratorate charged Su Changlan with “inciting subversion” on November 13, 2015. The first instance trial was held in April 2016 and ended without a verdict being announced. Su plead not guilty, and her lawyers defended her innocence in court. According to one of her lawyers, Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), government prosecutors produced her articles and comments on WeChat as evidence since they did not want to display photos of Occupy Central signs, which showed backing for the 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong (see indictment in Su’s case). On August 19, 2016, the Foshan court sent Su a notice that there would be a three-month delay in announcing a verdict in her case, on the grounds that the case is “very significant” and “complicated.” In February 2017, the Supreme People’s Court approved a fourth extension (of three months) to delay the announcement of Su’s verdict.

On March 31, 2017, the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Su to three years in prison, in a short hearing where the judge didn’t ask Su if she wanted to appeal nor allowed her lawyer to speak. She later filed an appeal from the detention center. Su’s family were taken into police custody after the trial. Her husband Chen Dequan, elderly mother, and older brother Su Shangwen (苏尚伟) attempted to visit Su in the Nanhai District Detention Center following the conclusion of the sentencing hearing; authorities only allowed Su’s mother to see her. Nanhai District national security officers then held the three in a black jail at a youth military academy for two days, before sending them Pingzhou Hospital under the control of their local village public security team. Su’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan filed a complaint with the court over their detention. They were released on April 7.

Concerns about Su’s poor health mounted during her incarceration, especially her struggle with hyperthyroidism, which can be fatal if not properly treated. Before she had been taken into custody, Su was hospitalized in 2014 and received necessary medical treatment. Starting in January 2015, lawyers Liu and Wu repeatedly sought her release on medical bail, but authorities denied their applications. Though authorities were aware of her medical state, Su was sometimes kept in an overcrowded cell that was not conducive to good health; the cell usually holds 50 to 80 women, and she had only a two-foot wide space to sleep, often preventing her from falling asleep. During a meeting in December 2015, lawyer Wu reported Su was brought to the meeting wearing a black hood.

She told lawyers Liu Xiaoyuan and Wu Kuiming (吴魁明) in May 2015—the first time they were able to visit her—that her overall health had declined in detention, and that she had been suffering from intermittent heart stoppage, uncontrollable tearing in her eyes, and tremors in her hands and feet. Her brother consulted with a doctor, who warned that the reported symptoms affecting her heart are very serious. Su reportedly was denied medical care in April 2015, when she suffered from a fever for over a week. At a meeting in December 2015, she told her lawyers that she often became ill in the detention center was but not given proper treatment, and thus had developed a cough and begun coughing up blood. She continued to have tremors in her hands, and a medical examination in the detention center hospital revealed she has heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).

Following a September 8, 2016, visit with her lawyer Wu Kuiming, Wu reported that Su Changlan had been hospitalized 6 or 7 times due to eczema caused by poor detention conditions, with the latest incident occurring on August 20. On June 26, 2017, Chen Dequan finally saw her for the first time since she was seized in October 2014. During their visit, Chen learned that Su was suffering with several issues related to her hyperthyroidism, including a swollen eye, significant weight loss, and incontinence. After a July 27, 2017, visit with Su, her family members found that she was suffering from a throat inflammation, a fever, heart discomfort, and trembling and numbness in her hands and feet. In October 2017, it was reported that Su was battling a liver disease and has been shackled while being held in a hospital. Su Changlan was released on October 26, 2017, having completed her three-year sentence.

Born in 1971 in Guangxi Province, Su Changlan is considered one of the first women’s rights leaders in the neighboring province of Guangdong. She graduated from Cenxi Teacher’s College and began teaching in 1990. She was an elementary school teacher for over a decade until she was fired due to her political activism. In 1999, she successfully provided assistance to a group of rural married women in Sanshan (三山) village in Nanhai City, Guangdong, whose land had been taken away. The unfair treatment and discrimination against rural married women have become a growing issue in China, as laws fail to ensure a woman’s right to land after marriage to someone from a different village. Su produced a substantial amount of legal materials, including appeals and complaints, and the rural women received some compensation. By 2004, Su became a popular figure among hundreds of villagers due to her efforts in defending land grabs in Sanshan, and mobilized farmers to stand together and ward off government encroachment. Su’s advocacy efforts have made her and her family targets of constant surveillance, harassment, and retaliation from local authorities. In 2009 and 2011, Chen Dequan was involved in car accidents that Su and her family alleged were intentionally orchestrated by local authorities. Due to the accidents, Chen suffered permanent injuries to his legs.

*CHRD’s Watch List of Detainees and Prisoners of Conscience in Need of Medical Attention

Further Information

Alert: Trial & Verdict Announcements in 4 Cases at End of March, March 28, 2017, CHRD

Su Changlan Named 2017 Recipient of Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, March 14, 2017

[CHRB] China Must Release 5 Activists on Trial: Cases Marred by Abuses (4/13-21/2016), CHRD

Indictment by Foshan City People’s Procuratorate of Guangdong Province – November 12, 2015

Opinion No. 39/2015 concerning Su Changlan, in Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-fourth session, 30 November – 4 December 2015, UN Human Rights Council (English)

Opinion No. 39/2015 concerning Su Changlan, in Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its seventy-fourth session, 30 November – 4 December 2015, UN Human Rights Council (Chinese)

Submission to UN on Su Changlan, June 12, 2015, CHRD

Individuals Detained in Mainland China for Supporting Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests, CHRD

[CHRB] Guangzhou’s New Restrictions on NGOs & UN Experts Call For Release of Detained Chinese Journalist (10/17-30/2014)

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