Communiqué Alleging Torture of Chinese lawyer Li Heping – July 2017

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Submission to:

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

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

I. Identity of the person(s) subjected to torture

1. Family Name: Li ()

2. First and other names: Heping (和平)

3. Sex: Male

4. Birth date or age: October 26, 1970

5. Nationality: Chinese

6. Occupation: Human rights lawyer

7. Activities (trade union, political, religious, humanitarian/ solidarity, press, etc.):

Li Heping, a human rights lawyer/legal advocate, has defended or assisted individuals in criminal cases since the late 1990s, including activists, dissident writers, other rights lawyers, farmers whose property had been expropriated by the government, underground Christian church members, and Falun Gong practitioners. Due to his taking on cases of political and civil rights, Li has long been a target for government reprisal in the form of threats, arbitrary detention, and torture. Judicial authorities did not renew Li’s law license in 2009, effectively barring him from practicing law. Lacking formal lawyer credentials, Li turned to providing legal consultation to victims of rights abuses. Li has been widely recognized for his rights-defense efforts, including by the magazine Asia Weekly, the US-based National Endowment for Democracy, and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. For more information on Li Heping’s background, see: 

8. Residential and/or work address: Beijing Municipality, People’s Republic of China

II. Circumstances surrounding torture

1. Date and place of arrest and subsequent torture

Li Heping was taken into custody at his home by public security officers from Tianjin Municipality on July 10, 2015. Li subsequently served a six-month punishment under “residential surveillance at a [police-] designated location” (Article 73, Criminal Procedure Law), during which time most of the alleged acts of torture occurred. Li was eventually transferred to the Tianjin Municipality No. 1 Detention Center, where he remained until May 9, 2017, when he was released and returned home.

2. Identity of force(s) carrying out the initial detention and/or torture (police, intelligence services, armed forces, paramilitary, prison officials, other)

Public security officers from Tianjin Municipality and state security officers specially assigned to handle cases in the “709” Crackdown against human rights lawyers and other rights defenders, as well as cooperating detention center guards and medical staff.

3. Were any person, such as a lawyer, relatives or friends, permitted to see the victim during detention? If so, how long after the arrest?

No lawyer, relative, or friend was permitted to see Li Heping during his detention. This deprivation of access to legal counsel violated China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states a defendant should be allowed a visit with a lawyer within 48 hours of a request (Article 37).

4. Describe the methods of torture used

In his first days under “residential surveillance,” and typically in the morning, Li was forcibly medicated with between one and six tablets a day of what authorities claimed was “hypertension medicine,” even though Li does not suffer from high blood pressure. Guards, doctors, and nurses restrained his four limbs when he resisted, and pills were stuffed into his mouth. During the entire month of May 2016, Li was held in handcuffs and shackles, which were linked by a short iron chain. Li was subjected to lengthy periods of interrogation, during which he was deprived of sleep and threatened with electric shocks by guards and police. On some days, Li was ordered to keep completely still while standing in a “military pose” with two guards beneath him, reportedly for as long as 15 hours. To monitor his movements on these occasions, a discipline management officer watched him from the front, and a guard watched him from behind. Li would be scolded if he made the slightest movement, and was beaten when his movements were more obvious. Li was also deprived of sunlight for much of his detention.

5. What injuries were sustained as a result of the torture?

Due to the beatings that Li received, he was rendered nearly unable to walk and his right forearm was injured, and it is uncertain if he will recover full use of it. The “hypertension medicine” that Li was forced to take caused side effects after he consumed food, including muscle pain, drowsiness, severe decline in his vision, and other physical problems. Physical restraints placed on Li in May 2016 (handcuffs, shackles, and chains) prevented him from stretching his limbs and from sleeping. Li suffered severe Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun exposure. In addition, Li’s family reports that Li has suffered psychological trauma because of the torture, becoming extremely irritable when recalling the ill-treatment that he faced.

6. What was believed to be the purpose of the torture?

It is believed the purpose of the torture was to coerce Li to confess to criminal wrongdoing, provide self-incriminating evidence, and incriminate other individuals detained in the “709” Crackdown.

7. Was the victim examined by a doctor at any point during or after his/her ordeal? If so, when? Was the examination performed by a prison or government doctor?

While Li was in custody, he was examined by a government doctor who reportedly was also a member of the “team” in charge of the “709” crackdown, and who was not identified to Li by name or work unit.

Since his release, Li has been examined and treated by physicians of his and his family’s own choosing, including doctors of Chinese medicine and of western medicine.

8. Was appropriate treatment received for injuries sustained as a result of the torture?

Yes. Since his release, Li Heping has been receiving restorative medical treatment, from physicians of his and his family’s choosing.

9. Was the medical examination performed in a manner which would enable the doctor to detect evidence of injuries sustained as a result of the torture? Were any medical reports or certificates issued? If so, what did the reports reveal?

No medical report by the government physician was provided to Li or his family, and authorities did not produce any information indicating that Li had been mistreated. However, after Li was released, authorities issued a video containing a part titled, “Doctor’s Introduction to the Circumstances of Li Heping’s Treatment and Diagnosis.” Referring to a “Dr. Zhou,” the video indicated that Li was administered a standard “drug treatment” to treat symptoms of hypertension, including Losartan potassium tablets. The video indicated that “Dr. Zhou” denied that Li had been forcibly medicated or that he suffered any side effects from the treatment (however, some of Li’s reported reactions to the pills he was given are among known side effects associated with Losartan). The video also showed an image of a medical record apparently signed by doctors, nurses, and guards.

The Chinese and western doctors who examined Li after his release diagnosed him with liver, kidney, and gallbladder damage, and recommended medical treatment, including an increase in Vitamin D (due to the extended deprivation of sunlight). These doctors confirmed that Li’s blood pressure is normal.

10. If the victim died in custody, was an autopsy or forensic examination performed and which were the results?

Victim did not die in custody.

III. Remedial action

Were any domestic remedies pursued by the victim or his/her family or representatives (complaints with the forces responsible, the judiciary, political organs, etc.)? If so, what was the result?

Following Li Heping’s release, Wang Qiaoling (his wife) filed formal complaints alleging torture with China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate, on May 12, 2017. Since then, Wang has gone weekly to request a response, and she has also filed a lawsuit involving the torture of her husband. At the time of this communication, government authorities had not provided any response. 

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