[CHRB] China Must Release 5 Activists on Trial: Cases Marred by Abuses (4/13-21/2016)Comments Off on [CHRB] China Must Release 5 Activists on Trial: Cases Marred by Abuses (4/13-21/2016)
China Human Rights Briefing
April 13 – 21, 2016
Arbitrary Detention, Freedom of Expression & Assembly
In a flurry of court proceedings in China, four detained human rights defenders have been tried since April 15, and a fifth is facing trial on April 22. All of them have spent lengthy periods of time in detention—two of the five for almost three years—without seeing a judge. The activists—Liu Shaoming, Yuan Bing, Yuan Xiaohua, Su Changlan, and Chen Qitang—were detained in apparent violation of their rights to exercising free expression and assembly, and after posting essays, messages or photos of a “politically sensitive” nature online, or taking part in peaceful demonstrations. They have been indicted on criminal charges that include “inciting subversion against state power,” “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place,” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
The cases against these individuals have been marred by numerous abuses of their due process rights that have become commonplace in the crackdowns on China’s civil society under President Xi Jinping. Violations include restricted access to legal counsel, unreasonably prolonged pre-trial detention, deprivation of proper medical treatment, and increased use of “endangering national security” charges. Several of those who have been put on trial over the past week have alleged they were tortured or mistreated in other ways while in custody. CHRD calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
Below are more details about the five activists and court proceedings in their cases:
- Liu Shaoming (刘少明): Liu stood trial at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on April 15 for “inciting subversion of state power,” and the hearing closed without a verdict. Liu made a statement in court defending his pro-democracy and human rights activities. Police initially detained Liu in May 2015 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” but later formally arrested him on a more serious charge of “inciting subversion.” At the trial, prosecutors cited articles and essays he wrote and disseminated on social media outlets (WeChat, QQ, and Telegram). During Liu’s 11-month detention, authorities have largely obstructed Liu’s access to his lawyers, Wu Kuiming (吴魁明) and Ran Tong (冉彤)—denying visits on the grounds that they may “harm national security”—with the first visit by legal counsel only allowed in November 2015. After taking part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, Liu was jailed for a year for “counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” Prosecutors asked the court to convict him as a repeat criminal offender due to his previous conviction, even though the crime used to convict him 27 years ago was abolished in 1997. In recent years, Liu has promoted workers’ rights in China’s southern industrial regions, and for his activism, he had been frequently harassed by police. He is being held at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.
- Yuan Bing (袁兵) and Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华): On April 19, the Chibi City People’s Court in Hubei Province heard the cases of Yuan Bing and Yuan Xiaohua for the alleged offenses of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” The trial ended without the judges announcing a verdict. In a particularly extreme case of unreasonable prolonged pre-trial detention, the two activists have spent nearly three years in police custody. They were detained in May 2013 during the crackdown on activists holding demonstrations who called for anti-corruption measures and civic empowerment. Police initially used the state security crime of “inciting subversion” to hold them before formally charging them in January 2014 and October 2015, respectively, with the crimes for which they were tried. In the spring of 2013, Yuan Bing, Yuan Xiaohua, and a third activist detained at the same time, Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) (who was not tried this week), conducted a “human rights tour” in 10 cities across China, staging rallies, making public speeches, and meeting local activists in order to promote civic activism and spread ideas of democracy and rule of law. They also participated in the January 2013 press freedom protests outside Southern Weekly’s headquarters in Guangzhou. Starting in 2011, Yuan Bing, a former factory worker, and Yuan Xiaohua, a one-time school teacher, began to take part in the “Southern Street Movement” in Guangdong, in which activists gathered, often in public, to share their views on political issues. Yuan Bing’s lawyer reported Yuan’s mistreatment in detention by police and fellow inmates, but guards ignored his complaint. The two men are being held at Chibi City Detention Center.
- Su Changlan (苏昌兰): Su, 44, was put on trial by the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court on April 21 for “inciting subversion of state power,” with the trial ending without a verdict. Su pleaded not guilty to the charge, 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). Su was taken into custody in October 2014 after she publicly supported those demonstrations. During Su’s 18-month pre-trial detention, her lawyers, Liu Xiaoyuan and Wu Kuiming, have repeatedly raised concerns over her health in detention, but police have denied family and lawyers’ requests for her release on medical bail. Su suffers from hyperthyroidism, which can be fatal if not properly treated, but due to denied and inadequate medical care, she is now suffering from heart arrhythmia and tremors in her hands and feet. A former school teacher, Su has advocated for rural women’s land rights in Guangdong for more than a decade, leading to harassment from local authorities. In December 2015, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion declaring Su’s detention “arbitrary,” and recommending the government immediately release and compensate her. She is being held at Nanhai District Detention Center in Foshan.
- Chen Qitang (陈启棠,aka Tian Li, 天理): Chen, an online political commentator, is set to face trial at the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court on April 22 on a charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Police initially put Chen under administrative detention in October 2014 after he posted an essay online. A month later, he was criminally detained due to his connection to Su Changlan (above). A former editor of two online publications, Chen previously served two-and-a-half years in prison on “fraud” charges over his support for the land rights of farmers in Foshan. Chen, whose defense lawyers are Liu Xiaoyuan and Li Fangping (李方平), is being held at Nanhai District Detention Center.
If convicted, the three tried for “inciting subversion”—Liu, Su, and Chen—could be sentenced to up to five years (if their offenses are considered “minor”) but longer than that if they are convicted as “ringleaders” (China’s Criminal Law, Article 105 (2)) or as a “recidivist” (in the case of Liu). “Gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” (Article 291) and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (Article 293)—the charges against Yuan Bing and Yuan Xiaohua—each comes with a punishment of up to five years in prison.
The five activists above are among more than 2,700 human rights defenders (HRDs) who have been detained or sent to prison in China since January 2012, according to CHRD’s records. Since Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013, CHRD has documented 110 HRDs who have been tried and convicted, while not recording a single case where a rights defender has been found innocent after a trial. Hundreds of HRDs have been released from periods of deprived liberty without having been brought before a judge to challenge the legality of their detention.
CHRD calls on Chinese judicial authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all citizens held in detention or imprisoned for exercising their rights to free expression, assembly, and association, or for their work defending human rights;
CHRD urges governments and multi-governmental organizations, such as the European Union, that have bilateral trade or military ties with China to raise during high-level meetings their serious concerns about persecuted HRDs and the rapidly deteriorating conditions in China for safeguarding due process rights;
CHRD supports the action by some Member States on the UN Human Rights Council to raise concerns over China’s worsening human rights conditions during the HRC’s most recent session. Such actions should continue and grow in order for Member States to stay true to their voluntary pledges to uphold the highest standard of human rights, to stand up to China’s intimidation at the Council, and to show moral support and solidarity with besieged rights defenders in China.