Submission to UN on Hu Shigen, Xie Yang, Zhou Shifeng, Nov 2, 2016, CHRD

Comments Off on Submission to UN on Hu Shigen, Xie Yang, Zhou Shifeng, Nov 2, 2016, CHRD

Submission to:

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Communiqué on Behalf of Hu Shigen, Xie Yang, and Zhou Shifeng

Citizens of the People’s Republic of China,

Alleging Arbitrary Detention and Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders


1. Family name: Hu ()

2. First name: Shigen (石根)

3. Sex: Male

4. Birth date or age (at the time of detention): November 14, 1955

5. Nationality/Nationalities: People’s Republic of China

6. (a) Identity document (if any): ID Card

(b) Issued by: 

(c) On (date): 

(d) No.: 

7. Profession and/or activity (if believed to be relevant to the arrest/detention):

Hu Shigen graduated from Beijing University with bachelor and master degrees in Literature, and later taught at Beijing Language Institute (now Beijing Language and Culture University). A member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, Hu took part in pro-democracy activities after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, including helped establishing the China Free Democratic Party (中国自由民主党) and the China Free Labor Union (中国自由工会). In 1994, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group” and “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.” He was released in 2008 after serving 16 years and having endured severe torture in prison, and at one point falling critically ill. Following his release, Hu resumed advocating for human rights, democracy, and rule of law and in retaliation faced surveillance, house arrest, and detention. Hu is a leader of underground Christian churches in Beijing, and he was also targeted in a crackdown targeting lawyers and other civil society advocates that began in July 2015, known as the “709 Crackdown.”

8. Address of usual residence: Beijing, China


1. Family name: Xie ()

2. First name: Yang ()

3. Sex: Male

4. Birth date or age (at the time of detention): February 4, 1972

5. Nationality/Nationalities: People’s Republic of China

6. (a) Identity document (if any): ID Card

(b) Issued by: 

(c) On (date): 

(d) No.: 

7. Profession and/or activity (if believed to be relevant to the arrest/detention):

Lawyer Xie Yang has defended many politically sensitive cases, including activists arrested during the “Jasmine Crackdown” in 2011, suppression of the New Citizens’ Movement in 2013, and the clampdown on mainland supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2014. Xie Yang also openly criticized violent assaults against human rights lawyers in retaliation for defending their clients. Xie himself became a victim in an incident of violence while handling a case. The lawyer represented the family of a man shot to death by police in May 2015, in a “politically sensitive” case authorities cited as “subversive” activity conducted by the lawyers in the “709 Crackdown.”      

8. Address of usual residence: Changsha City, Hunan Province, China


1. Family name: Zhou ()

2. First name: Shifeng (世锋)

3. Sex: Male

4. Birth date or age (at the time of detention): November 18, 1964

5. Nationality/Nationalities: People’s Republic of China

6. (a) Identity document (if any): ID Card

(b) Issued by: 

(c) On (date): 

(d) No.: 

7. Profession and/or activity (if believed to be relevant to the arrest/detention):

Zhou Shifeng began to practice law in 1995, and established Beijing Fengrui Law Firm in 2007. He has represented clients in several high-profile cases, including victims in the 2008 contaminated powdered milk scandal, dissident and writer Tie Liu (铁流), and Zhang Miao (张淼), a news assistant with a German newspaper who had been detained for supporting the Hong Kong protests in 2014. Under his leadership, Beijing Fengrui Law Firm has employed nearly one hundred lawyers, including several prominent rights lawyers such as Wang Yu (王宇) and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋). He also hired the influential activist Wu Gan (吴淦) as a special advisor. All three along with Zhou have been detained during the “709 Crackdown.” Prior to his detention, Zhou Shifeng announced he was establishing a China Lawyers Defense Fund of eight million RMB ($1.2 million) to support the families of persecuted lawyers across the country.

8. Address of usual residence: Beijing, China

II. Arrest

1. Date of arrest: Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng (July 10, 2015); and Xie Yang (July 11, 2015).

2. Place of arrest (as detailed as possible): Hu Shigen (Beijing Municipality); Xie Yang (Qianzhou Guesthouse in Tuokou Town, Hongjiang, Huaihua City, Hunan Province); and Zhou Shifeng (7 Days Inn in Songzhuang Town, Tongzhou District, Beijing). 

3. Forces who carried out the arrest or are believed to have carried it out: Hu Shigen (unknown); Xie Yang (Hongjiang City Public Security Bureau (PSB)); and Zhou Shifeng (Tongzhou District PSB).

4. Did they show a warrant or other decision by a public authority?

No notice was shown at time of detention.

5. Authority who issued the warrant or decision:

No notice was shown at time of detention.

6. Reasons for the arrest imputed by the authorities:

No reason was known to be given at the time when Hu and Zhou were detained. Officers claimed Xie Yang was taken away on suspicion of “disrupting social and public security,” but no notice was given to show a specific crime. 

7. Legal basis for the arrest including relevant legislation applied (if known): N/A

III. Detention

1. Date of detention: Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng were detained on July 10, 2015, then formally arrested on January 8, 2016. Xie Yang was detained on July 11, 2015 and formally arrested on January 9, 2016. 

2. Duration of detention (if not known, probable duration): Both Hu and Zhou have been detained since July 10 while Xie starting July 11 of 2015.

3. Forces holding the detainee under custody: Hu and Zhou have been held by Tianjin Municipal PSB while Xie has been held by Changsha City PSB.

4. Places of detention (indicate any transfer and present place of detention): Before being formally arrested, all three had been put under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” during which their location was not disclosed to their lawyers or families. Hu and Zhou are currently incarcerated at Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center while Xie is detained at Changsha No. 2 Detention Center. 

5. Authorities that ordered the detention: Tianjin Municipal Hexi District PSB and Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court (Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng) and Changsha City PSB (Xie Yang).

6. Reasons for the detention imputed by the authorities: Both Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng were arrested on suspicion of “subversion of state power” and have been sentenced to 7.5 and 7 years, respectively. Xie Yang was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

7. Legal basis for the detention including relevant legislation applied (if known):

Article 105 (1) of China’s Criminal Law (“subversion of state power”) stipulates fixed-term imprisonment of not more than 3 years for participants, 3 to 10 years for active participants, and not less than 10 years or life imprisonment to those who organize, plot or carry out the scheme of subverting the state power or overthrowing the socialist system, and to ringleaders and others who commit major crimes.  

Article 105 (2) (“inciting subversion of state power”) stipulates a fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights to those who incite others by spreading rumors or slanders or any other means to subvert the State power or overthrow the socialist system.

IV. Describe the circumstances of the arrest.

Hu Shigen: The activist was disappeared on July 10, 2015, on his way to underground church to give a sermon. No notice or warrant has been provided to his family.

Xie Yang: Along with two colleagues, Xie was seized by local police around 5:40 a.m. from his hotel room on July 11, 2015, without any warrant. According to his colleague, who was released after 24 hours, the police merely stated that they were suspected of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a work unit, and need to be taken to a police station to assist with investigation.” Xie had planned to meet with victims of forced demolition on that day.

Zhou Shifeng: Around 7:30 a.m. on July 10, 2015, at the hotel where Zhou was staying, colleagues in the next room rushed out when they heard Zhou shouting. They saw three unidentified men forcibly taking Zhou away, with his head hooded. No notice or warrant was shown, and his colleagues were not informed where or why he was being taken. Zhou was abducted after he had met with his client, who had just been released from detention. 

V. Indicate reasons why you consider the arrest and/or detention to be arbitrary.

The circumstances surrounding the detentions of the three human rights defenders were uniformly unlawful, inhumane, and have grossly violated international human rights norms and Chinese legal and procedural standards. Both Xie Yang and Zhou Shifeng were taken away from their hotel in the early morning. Zhou and Hu Shigen’s respective situations constitute de facto abductions; in Hu’s case, his family was not informed of his detention, and Zhou Shifeng was forcibly taken from his room with his head hooded by unidentified men. In all three cases, no notice or warrant from either the People’s Procuratorate or Public Security Bureau—as stipulated by article 117 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL)—was shown, indicating that a suspect was summoned by police. These unlawful behaviors also violate Principle 2 of the “Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any form of Detention or Imprisonment” (hereafter, “Body of Principles”).

Moreover, the detentions of the rights lawyers Xie Yang and Zhou Shifeng and activist Hu Shigen have principally been acts of reprisal against them for their activism and exercising their rights to free association. All three have been human rights defenders for many years. Hu Shigen has been leading underground church members while Xie Yang has defended many politically sensitive cases since 2011. Zhou Shifeng and his firm have taken on an increasing number of human rights cases in recent years, with lawyers such as Wang Yu and Wang Quanzhang representing victims of religious persecution and detained human rights advocates. Hu, Xie, and Zhou are part of a loose civil society network of rights lawyers and activists seeking to push forward rule of law in China. This network of solidarity for human rights defense was targeted in July 2015, and all three defenders have suffered because of their activism.

The “709 Crackdown” has been a deliberate and concerted attack against China’s rising but underprotected civil society, where all three have played important roles. According to a court transcript of Hu Shigen’s closed hearing in August 2016 at Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, the procuratorate accused Hu of leading a religious group working on advocacy campaigns around “politically-sensitive” cases, and accused lawyer Zhou Shifeng of using the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm as a platform to launch these activities. Hu was accused of meeting with Zhou and a dozen other people at a restaurant in Beijing in February 2015 to organize such activities, a meeting that public security officers had managed to record. In addition, one of the “politically-sensitive” cases was reference to lawyer Xie Yang representing the family of a man shot to death by police in May 2015.

The criminal charges against Hu Shigen, Xie Yang, and Zhou Shifeng are a blatant pretext used by the government to punish them for their activism. Hu and Zhou have been convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 7.5 and 7 years, respectively, while Xie has been detained on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” As a political priority, the Chinese government has suppressed any efforts by citizens to establish independent political parties, in great part by arbitrarily applying criminal charges related to “subverting state power” to any acts of association or expression that are critical of the government. Chinese authorities have sent a strong signal with these political charges that exercising and defending human rights are acts that allegedly “threaten national security.”

Procedural and legal violations have occurred throughout the detention period of all three cases and during the trials for Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng. An egregious violation of their legal rights is their ongoing incommunicado detention. None of their families received any notice or been informed of their whereabouts after they were seized, a violation of Article 83 of China’s CPL, which stipulates a detainee’s family must be notified within 24 hours. In Hu’s case, he was missing for three months until October 2015, when his lawyer found out Tianjin police had transferred him on August 7 to “residential surveillance at a designated location,” but did not disclose the location. Xie and Zhou were subjected to the same incommunicado residential surveillance, where their family and lawyers were denied communication and visitation. These circumstances have grossly violated Principles 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 of the “Body of Principles.”

In addition, all three were subjected to coerced removal of family-appointed lawyers and allegedly accepted state-appointed attorneys, a further breach of detainees’ due process rights. Lawyer Zhou Shifeng supposedly “fired” his lawyer in January 2016, not long after his formal arrest. However, Zhou’s family has refuted this claim, as they had not hired a new lawyer or received any written communication from Zhou about taking on a different lawyer. Activist Hu Shigen’s lawyers were never informed of any changes to Hu’s defense counsel until the day of Hu’s trial in August 2016, when his lawyers were barred from attending and later found out he had a government-appointed lawyer during the hearing. In lawyer Xie Yang’s case, after authorities repeatedly denied requests for a meeting, they claimed that Xie had engaged a different lawyer. The complete lack of transparency about any such changes in legal representation raises strong suspicions that police have grossly abused their power in coercing or threatening the detainees. These violations breach Chinese law and international norms. As spelled out by CPL, a criminal suspect has the freedom to choose their own legal counsel, or “entrust” their defense to certain individuals (Article 32). Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees criminal suspects the rights to both “communicate with counsel of [their] own choosing” and also wage a defense “through legal assistance of his [their] choosing” in the event of a trial (Article 14 (b, d)). 

Furthermore, all three have faced obstacles to a fair trial, primarily by being held under prolonged pre-trial detention without being brought before a judge for over a year (Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng), and currently for Xie Yang, who has not yet had a hearing in his case. The government deprived the presumption of innocence in lawyer Zhou Shifeng’s case, as the Xinhua state media outlet accused his firm of running a “criminal syndicate” and featured him on state television “confessing”—likely under duress—in July 2015. During Hu and Zhou’s trial in August 2016, the court failed to give the three-day advanced public notice of the trial as required by Chinese law. Instead, the court posted the trial notices on its weibo account either on the day of the trial or the night before. The court immediately convicted both for “subversion of state power” after a hearing of just several hours, despite the severity of the charges, and both men were represented by government-appointed lawyers. Authorities blocked their lawyers, supporters, and family members (who were either detained or put under house arrest) from attending the trials. According to state media, the two men pled guilty and promised not to appeal without any independent verification of their mistreatment over the past year. Such violations of rights to due process and fair trial are grave violations of Principles 36, 37, and 38 of the “Body of Principles.”

The mistreatment of defenders detained and convicted in the “709 Crackdown” reflects Chinese authorities’ continuing gross negligence of domestic legal and procedural laws, in addition to contravening international human rights standards. Namely, being taken into police custody in de facto abductions, held in secret locations, denied access to a lawyer of their own choice and access to their family, vilified in state media, and not given public hearings by an independent court, were of such gravity that they constitute systematic and gross violations of human rights. Lengthy pre-trial detentions and no access to legal counsel have made them especially vulnerable to mistreatment, as a lawyer’s visit is a principal method for reporting mistreatment and a safeguard against it. During extensive periods of incommunicado detention, detainees may face torture and mistreatment, as Xie Yang revealed in the only meeting he has thus far been granted with his lawyer, in July 2016. Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng have not once allowed to meet with their lawyers.

According to Xie Yang’s wife, Dr. Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), authorities had granted the only meeting between Xie and his lawyers under the condition that his lawyers would try to convince Xie to confess. During the meeting in late July 2016, Xie disclosed that he has been subjected to repeated torture and cruel punishment. After Xie was seized, he was taken to the third floor of a guesthouse associated with the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha City, Hunan Province, and was subjected to extensive violent interrogation that lasted a total of 22 hours a day over one week. National security guards beat Xie, repeatedly blew cigarette smoke into his face, inflicted more pain to his leg that was recovering from previous injury, and hanged him from the ceiling. Xie lost consciousness at one point and was taken to the hospital. After Xie was transferred to the detention center from residential surveillance, he was placed with inmates charged with crimes eligible for the death penalty. Xie told his lawyers that the inmates have been instructed to monitor him in his cell, and have beaten him with shackles that resulted in a 10 cm-long open wound to his head. No investigation appears to have been conducted into the allegations, and officials have since refused to allow his lawyers to meet him. At one point, an inmate infected with HIV/AIDS was placed in Xie’s cell (East No. 3 Cell) for more than two months, when everyone had to share the same sanitary items.

Lawyers Xie Yang and Zhou Shifeng and activist Hu Shigen have been detained solely on the basis of the peaceful exercise of their rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The circumstances of their detentions satisfy both Category II (i.e., when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by articles 7, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, and 21 of the UDHR and Category III (i.e., when the total or partial non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, spelled out in the UDHR and in the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned, is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character). Furthermore, forced confession and torture should not have occurred, as stipulated in articles 1, 2, and 16 of Convention Against Torture, which China has signed and ratified.

VI. Indicate internal steps, including domestic remedies, taken especially with the legal and administrative authorities, particularly for the purpose of establishing the detention and, as appropriate, their results or the reasons why such steps or remedies were ineffective or why they were not taken.

Domestic remedies, especially through legal channels, have proved to be futile. Lawyers have received no response to repeated requests for meetings or complaints filed with Public Security Bureaus, Procuratorates, and the detention centers. In addition to denied visitation, Zhou’s lawyer was summoned for questioning by Changsha City PSB and warned by the Changsha City Judicial Department not to travel to Beijing. After Zhou was formally arrested in January 2016, lawyer Yang went to Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center and demanded to see his client. Authorities denied the request, however, claiming that Zhou had engaged another lawyer to represent him. Zhou’s family refuted this claim, because they had not hired a new lawyer or received any written communication from Zhou about hiring a different lawyer.

Xie Yang’s lawyers were repeatedly denied meeting with their client on the grounds that he is being investigated for a crime in the category of “endangering national security,” and since meeting with lawyers could allegedly “hinder the investigation” or “leak state secrets” (Article 37 of Criminal Procedure Law). From September 17 to October 10, 2016, Xie’s lawyer visited Changsha City No. 2 Detention Center every day requesting to see his client, but authorities claimed Xie was being interrogated by a prosecutor every time. On October 10, police told Xie’s lawyer that Xie had hired a new lawyer, but no confirmation from Xie was provided.   

Lawyers, families, supporters, and local organizations in China have posted public calls for the release of the three defenders and repeatedly tried to visit them at the detention centers, to no avail.  Families and supporters also tried to attend Hu Shigen and Zhou Shifeng’s trials; however, they were subjected to to harassment, house arrest, or detention in reprisal.     

VII. Full name, postal and electronic addresses of the person(s) submitting the information (telephone and fax number, if possible).

Back to Top