Detained Chinese Feminist Wins New Human Rights Honor

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on March 14, 2017

Detained activist Su Changlan, who has been in pre-trial detention for more than two years, on Tuesday received a prestigious human rights award from a coalition of Chinese human rights groups.

Su, 45, is the third recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, in honor of her work “promoting human rights at the grassroots level in China,” the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said on its website.

There are growing concerns for her health after a prolonged period in police detention with no medical treatment, the group said.

“Su Changlan’s health has worsened in detention due to a lack of medical treatment, a form of torture commonly used against incarcerated human rights defenders in China,” CHRD said.

It said Su is suffering from heart arrhythmia and tremors in her hands and feet because of denied and inadequate care for hyperthyroidism, which can be fatal if not properly treated.

However, she has been hospitalized at least a half dozen times due to eczema caused by poor conditions in detention, most recently in August 2016, CHRD reported.

The authorities have refused multiple requests for Su’s release on medical parole.

Born in the southwestern province of Guangxi, Su was an elementary school teacher for more than a decade before being fired in retaliation for her rights activism in the early 2000s, CHRD said.

A self-taught legal advocate, she helped rural women in neighboring Guangdong province to file lawsuits, appeals and official complaints, some of which led to compensation for the loss of their land rights and inheritance after marriage.

No change likely

Her husband Chen Dequan told RFA he didn’t believe the award would change the authorities’ treatment of his wife.

“I don’t think that they’ll pay any attention to it,” Chen said. “Lots of people around the world have expressed concern about her case, but they still keep dragging their feet. We still don’t even have a verdict.”

Before her incarceration, Su had become a “highly influential” activist for women’s rights in Guangdong, working to expose the trafficking of underage girls as child brides and official corruption around rural elections.

The trigger for her detention on Oct. 27, 2014 appeared to be her publicly expressed support for the pro democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, however.

Since then, Su has repeatedly been deprived of her legal and due process rights, including secret detention, denied legal counsel, prolonged pre-trial detention, and delayed announcement of a trial verdict, CHRD said.

Su eventually stood trial on April 21 last year at the Foshan Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong on charges of “incitement to subvert state power.”

The authorities have yet to issue a verdict or sentence in the case, and Su has been denied visits from her husband and brother, who have themselves been detained for protesting about the situation.

‘Arbitrary detention’

Su’s detention has been judged as “arbitrary” by the United Nations, which has called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to release and compensate her. She is still being held in the Nanhai Detention Center in Foshan.

“She has a clear conscience about everything she did,” Chen told RFA. “She would have done all that she did with or without such a prize. The most important thing is that she never did any harm to anyone.”

“She chose to do this work, and I never stood in her way,” he said. “She wrote thousands of articles, which the authorities then used against her in court.”

“But freedom of speech is a right that is enshrined in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China, so they have now deprived her of her constitutional rights,” Chen said.

Su’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said he isn’t optimistic about his client’s fate.

“I don’t think there is cause for optimism, because she has been locked up for such a long time, so somebody somewhere is blocking the progress of her case,” Liu said. “This is probably somebody in a specific government department, and it’s … definitely someone very powerful.”

“The reason that there is no verdict is that the evidence, in my view, simply doesn’t stack up,” he said.

Su’s award is named for late human rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in police detention on March 14, 2014 after being denied adequate medical care.

It was awarded by three Chinese rights groups: Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, Human Rights Campaign in China and Weiquanwang.

Cao was detained on Sept. 14, 2013, as she was boarding a flight to Geneva, where she was to attend a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, where she hoped to participate in drafting China’s human rights action plans and reports for its U.N. human rights reviews.

Rights groups say her detention was a form of official retaliation for those efforts.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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