[CHRB] Detentions in Suzhou & Xinjiang; New Measures Curb Free Expression (3/20-23, 2017)Comments Off on [CHRB] Detentions in Suzhou & Xinjiang; New Measures Curb Free Expression (3/20-23, 2017)
China Human Rights Briefing
March 20-23, 2017
- Suzhou Authorities Secretly Detaining Activists Since September
- Ex-Judge in Xinjiang Criminally Detained for Helping Farmers & Ex-Soldiers Pursue Complaints Against Officials
Law & Policy Watch
- New State Measures Further Curb Expression & Cyber Activities
Suzhou Authorities Secretly Detaining Activists Since September
Nine individuals in Suzhou in Jiangsu Province remain in police custody after being detained in an extended police operation that began last September. Of these, eight are under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL), including one man detained this week, and another has been formally arrested. The crackdown in Suzhou began when police seized demonstrators outside the Suzhou City Intermediate People’s Court on September 8, 2016. The individuals were protesting alleged mishandling of the case of Fan Mugen (范木根), whom the local court had sentenced in May 2015 to eight years in prison for killing two crew members of a demolition team that destroyed his home. Some of the detainees allegedly posted “politically sensitive” messages online around the suppressive period of the G20 Summit, which was held in early September 2016 in nearby Hangzhou. Since November, police have detained more individuals, all of whom have been supporters of Fan Mugen or other victims of forced demolitions.
Below are details on the nine cases, listed in reverse chronological order of detention date:
- Xu Wenshi (徐文石) was placed under RSDL on March 20, 2017, after he was detained by police in Suzhou, and accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Police who searched his home reportedly confiscated many items, including materials on Fan Mugen’s case and protest banners. Police also took away Xu’s wife, Wen Yuxia (温玉霞), accusing her of “obstructing the execution of duties” after she tried to prevent them from taking a laptop computer. Wen was released after several hours, following police interrogation.
- Gu Xiaofeng (顾晓峰) was detained by Suzhou police on February 6, and his residence was also searched. His wife received a notice the next day indicating Gu had been put under RSDL on a charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Police denied a visit by his lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), on February 23, and the local procuratorate refused to investigate Sui’s complaint about denied access to his client.
- Hu Cheng (胡诚) was seized on November 8 and put under RSDL the next day, on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” In late November, police told Hu’s lawyer, Peng Yonghe (彭永和), that Hu was suspected of an “endangering state security” crime, though “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” does not fall under that crime category. Authorities have used this as a pretext to prevent Peng and another lawyer, Zhang Jinwu (张金武), from meeting with him, claiming it would “hinder investigation” and possibly lead to a “leaking of state secrets.” In December, police reportedly warned Hu’s wife not to make any public statements about Hu’s detention or seek legal assistance from a rights lawyer, and to instead cooperate with police to “persuade” Hu to confess to criminal wrongdoing.
- Ni Jinfang (倪金芳) was taken into custody on November 8 and placed under RSDL the following day, on suspicion of “disrupting court order.”
- Xing Jia (邢佳, aka Xing Jiezhong, 邢介忠) was taken into custody on November 8 on suspicion of “disrupting court order” and put under RSDL that same day.
- Ge Jueping (戈觉平, screen name Benbo, 奔博) was put under RSDL on November 4, and accused of “inciting subversion of state power.” Late that month, police denied his lawyer’s request for bail, citing that releasing Ge, who has health problems, may “endanger society.” Police have blocked Ge’s lawyer from meeting with him, claiming that, due to the criminal charge he is facing, a visit may “hinder investigation” or lead to a “leaking of state secrets.” On January 25, police informed Ge’s lawyer, Yu Wensheng (余文生), that his client had “dismissed” him, though Yu has been blocked from meeting Ge to verify this claim.
- Lu Guoying (陆国英), who is married to Ge Jueping, has been under RSDL since November 5, after she was taken into custody for “disrupting court order.” Police also claimed that she dismissed her lawyer, Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), on January 9. However, the lawyer has been have prevented from meeting with Lu to confirm such a claim. In December, police informed another attorney for Lu that visits would not be possible since Lu was now being held on an “endangering state security” offense, and that a visit might “hinder investigation” or result in the “leaking of state secrets.”
- Wang Mingxian (王明贤) has been under RSDL since September, after he was detained during the protest in front of the Suzhou courthouse. On February 24, police informed Wang’s lawyer, Sui Muqing, that his client had signed a form stating that he did not need a lawyer while he was being investigated for “disrupting court order.” Police did not allow lawyer Sui to photograph the document, however, thus preventing any attempt to verify its authenticity.
- Wu Qihe (吴其和) was taken into custody on September 8, after participating in the demonstration in front of the Suzhou courthouse. Police told his family on March 8 that he had been arrested for “disrupting court order” and sent to a detention center after being held for six months under RSDL. However, his family has not yet received an arrest notice, nor formal confirmation of the charge against Wu or his place of detention.
In addition, the three individuals below have been released following periods of RSDL, having been detained after taking part in the protest outside the Suzhou courthouse in September 2016.
- Activist Gu Yimin (顾义民) was released on bail pending further investigation on January 27, after having been held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” from September 9. Police had previously refused to release Gu, claiming it would pose a “danger” to society due to the serious nature of the charge against him.
- Xu Chunling (徐春玲), who was detained on suspicion of “disrupting court order,” was released by early March and has returned home.
- Wang Wanping (王婉平) was reportedly released in early March after being held for “disrupting court order,” but she reportedly remains out of contact and has not returned home.
These cases involve tactics that authorities have commonly employed against rights defenders in China, such as in the “709” Crackdown against human rights lawyers: extensive use of “residential surveillance at a designated location” to “forcibly disappear” detainees; an absence of official notification to families of detention status and criminal charges; suspected “forced dismissals” of defense lawyers; and denial of lawyers’ visits to their clients on grounds that detainees are accused of “endangering state security” crimes. There is reason to fear that individuals being secretly detained in these cases are at risk of torture and mistreatment.
Few of the detainees in Suzhou are known to have been accused of “endangering state security” crimes, such as “subversion” and “inciting subversion.” As such, the use of RSDL and denial of lawyers’ visits clearly represent an abuse of police power. Many of the detainees instead have been held on suspicion of “disrupting court order,” a charge that was amended in 2015 in the 9th Amendment to the Criminal Law. The UN Committee on Torture has called the altered provision “overbroad” and open to “abusive interpretation and application.” RSDL, which is stipulated under Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law, has been widely criticized as constituting “enforced disappearance.” Most recently, 11 countries described it as “incommunicado detention in secret places” in a letter sent to the Chinese government on February 27, 2017, and called for an end to the practice.
Ex-Judge in Xinjiang Criminally Detained for Helping Farmers & Ex-Soldiers Pursue Complaints Against Officials
Xinjiang police criminally detained a retired judge, Huang Yunmin (黄云敏), on March 12 on suspicion of “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination.” Those familiar with the case said the detention is retaliation against Huang for helping local residents prepare and pursue legal complaints over what they view as unjust court verdicts and rights violations. Police in the city of Tumxuk (图木舒克) in Kashgar Prefecture reportedly seized Huang when they suspected that he was going to accompany farmers to Beijing to present grievances during China’s major legislative sessions in early March. It is unclear why Huang, 58, is facing such a serious criminal charge (Criminal Law, Article 249), which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. In the past few years, however, Xinjiang authorities have filed serious criminal charges against activists and dissidents and meted out harsh sentences, notably in the cases of Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木.土赫提) and Zhang Haitao (张海涛). Huang, who police have also accused of having pornographic images on his cellphone, is being held at Tumxuk City Detention Center in the Third Division of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps brigade.
Huang Yunmin served a five-day administrative detention just prior to being criminally detained. For years, he has helped disenfranchised groups, particularly agricultural workers and retired military personnel, file complaints against the local government. Beginning in the 1990s, Huang served as a judge on the Third Agricultural Army Brigade People’s Court in Tumxuk, and rose to head its human resources department before reportedly being pushed out of his post in 2006. According to his family, higher-level officials had pressured Huang to quit his job after he had criticized judicial bureaucracy and exposed court corruption.
Law & Policy Watch
New State Measures Further Curb Expression & Cyber Activities
In February, authorities released new regulations and measures which will limit free expression and restrict activities on the Internet, fortifying major legislation passed or introduced by the Chinese government in 2016 (see more on laws related to cyberspace in China in CHRD’s most recent annual report, pgs. 14-15).
China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) issued a statement on February 6 that outlines methods for public security forces to “protect judicial personnel” if anyone “disrupts court order” by holding banners, shouting slogans, or engaging in other activities near a courthouse. The guidance issued by the court is likely to further restrict assembly and expression rights. The statement lists disciplinary measures to be taken against individuals who engage in such behavior, including expulsion from the area and fines. The SPC also states that individuals should be held criminally responsible if their acts constitute “gathering a crowd to attack government organs” or other assembly “offenses.”
Also in February, authorities tightened control over information-sharing on the Internet. Beijing authorities ordered Pear Video (梨视频), a popular platform for sharing short videos, to conduct a “comprehensive overhaul,” according to a joint statement released on February 4 by several agencies, including the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. The order came down the day after a clip was posted on Pear Video of an overturned vehicle in front of Tiananmen Square, which led police to detain two individuals for allegedly “fabricating and intentionally transmitting false information about terrorism.”
In addition, the State Internet Information Office released a draft opinion in February that would allow the government to “blacklist” Internet products and services if authorities deem that they involve “national security and the public interest.” Under the draft opinion, the government will establish a review committee to help assess the “safety” of “important” Internet products and services, granting the government further control over cyber-activity. The draft states that products and services should be reviewed if they relate to “national security and the public interest.” Items that do not pass a security review would be blacklisted, thus blocking their legal purchase.
Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD
Victor Clemens, Researcher (English), +1 628 400 7198, victorclemens[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens
Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve[at]nchrd.org, Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD