China Should Protect Socio-Economic Rights Defenders’ Civil & Political Rights

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China Should Protect Socio-Economic Rights Defenders’ Civil & Political Rights

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, June 3, 2016) – As the US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue opens in Beijing on June 6, US officials should use this opportunity to strongly push for the Chinese government to end its persecution of human rights defenders (HRDs) who protect and promote social and economic rights. These HRDs, as active members of Chinese civil society, should be allowed to play an essential role in ensuring a safe, fair, transparent, and sustainable future for China, but they instead have been targeted under President Xi Jinping in the most repressive period in China since the pro-democracy movement was crushed in 1989. Currently, a number of the over 2,000 detained HRDs whose cases CHRD has documented in the past three years have been persecuted simply for peacefully promoting social and economic rights.

In depriving these HRDs of civil and political rights—the right to political participation, to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and due process rights—the government has obstructed, rather than promoted, the realization of economic and social rights of disadvantaged and marginalized social groups. Socio-economic human rights defenders in China should be protected as valuable players for solving problems brought on by unsustainable development and massive labor migration, some of the consequences of China’s rapid and drastic transformation over the past few decades.

China ratified the International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2001, and thus has a legal obligation to respect these rights. Following a review of China’s implementation of that treaty in 2014, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommended China engage with non-governmental organizations and members of civil society to implement its recommendations. Instead, the Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has continued with its unrelenting crackdown on civil society advocates for human rights, including rights of women, LGBT, workers, rural children, persons with disabilities or those living with HIV/AIDS or other serious health conditions.

In light of the upcoming dialogue, CHRD would take this opportunity to highlight the cases of seven socio-economic human rights defenders currently in detention or prison. The US-China S&E Dialogue should be a platform for demanding that Chinese government release them immediately and unconditionally: 

  • Housing rights activist Jia Lingmin (贾灵敏) has been serving a four-year prison sentence since 2015. Police detained her in 2014 after she tried to aid victims of forced demolitions. Jia became an activist following years of fighting for justice after authorities demolished her home, and she traveled across China to give lectures on how to defend housing rights. Jia is the second recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders.
  • Labor activist Liu Shaoming (刘少明) was put on trial in April 2016 in Guangzhou on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” for writing articles online about the 1989 movement. A former participant in the pro-democracy movement, Liu has promoted workers’ rights in China’s southern industrial regions in recent years. He has been frequently harassed by police in reprisal for his activism.
  • Labor activist Meng Han (孟晗) was arrested in January 2016 on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” He is a staff member at the Panyu Workers Center (番禺打工族文书处理服务部), an NGO in Guangzhou that police targeted in a series of raids against labor rights advocates in December 2015. Originally from Hubei Province and a former security guard in a hospital, he served several months in prison in 2014 after promoting labor rights, including organizing security guards to demand worker benefits.
  • Housing and women’s rights activist Su Changlan (苏昌兰) was put on trial in April 2016 after 17 months in pre-trial detention. Police detained her after she expressed support for the Occupy Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. She has faced years of harassment after she began to fight discrimination against rural married women and forced evictions in Guangdong Province.
  • Xing Shiku (邢世库), a petitioner from Heilongjiang Province, has been forcibly committed in Daowai District Psychiatric Hospital in Harbin since March 2007. Xing began to petition in 2006 about corruption and problems related to the privatization of the state-owned printing plant where he once worked. In May 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion that declared Xing’s detention “arbitrary,” and called for his release and requested the Chinese government grant him compensation.
  • Labor activist Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋) was arrested in January 2016 on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” He is the director of the Panyu Workers Center in Guangzhou. Zeng became a labor rights advocate after handling labor disputes as a lawyer for corporate management. He has previously been detained and beaten in retaliation for his NGO work.
  • Activist Zhou Decai (周德才) has been serving a five-year sentence since 2012 after a clash between farmers and developers over a land seizure case in Henan. His advocacy has focused on housing and labor rights, including successfully halting land grabs from real estate developers and local authorities, and forming a labor union for tobacco workers who were laid off.


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at], Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens[at], Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve[at], Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD

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