CHRD Communiqué Alleging Arbitrary Detention of Zhao Haitong – October 21, 2019

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Submission to:

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

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

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

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Communiqué on Behalf of ZHAO Haitong, Citizen of the People’s Republic of China, Alleging Arbitrary Detention, Deprivation of Rights to Expression, Assembly, and Association, and Torture and Reprisal against a Human Rights Defender


1. Family name: Zhao (赵)  

2. First name: Haitong (海通)

3. Sex: Male

4. Birth date or age (at the time of detention): May 22, 1962

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

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

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

Zhao Haitong, a veteran Xinjiang-based human rights activist and Internet writer, most recently had engaged in advocacy campaigns in Guangdong Province, including protests against Internet censorship and official corruption. Zhao had supported detained activists by visiting them, giving financial donations, and attending their trials. Zhao had often called for the promotion and protection of the rights of Uyghurs, an ethnic minority population concentrated in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. He also was jailed in 1989 amid the Chinese government’s crackdown against the pro-democracy movement. Before engaging in rights-defense advocacy, Zhao had worked as a businessman and a teacher at a technical school.

8. Address of usual residence: Urumqi City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

II. Arrest

1. Date of arrest: August 10, 2013 (disappearance)

2. Place of arrest (as detailed as possible): Turpan City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

3. Forces who carried out the arrest or are believed to have carried it out: Officers of Urumqi City Public Security Bureau, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

4. Did they show a warrant or other decision by a public authority? No

5. Authority who issued the warrant or decision: N/A

6. Reasons for the arrest imputed by the authorities: “Inciting subversion of state power”

7. Legal basis for the arrest including relevant legislation applied (if known): Article 105 (2) of China’s Criminal Law (“Inciting subversion of state power”) stipulates: “Whoever instigates the subversion of the political power of the state and overthrow the socialist system through spreading rumors, slandering, or other ways are to be sentenced to not more than five years of fixed-term imprisonment, criminal detention, control, or deprivation of political rights; the ringleaders and those whose crimes are grave are to be sentenced to not less than five years of fixed-term imprisonment.”

III. Detention

1. Date of detention: September 12, 2013 (formal arrest); May 2014 (sentencing; exact date unconfirmed)

2. Duration of detention (if not known, probable duration): Zhao Haitong has been detained since August 10, 2013. Since he was issued a 14-year prison sentence, Zhao is set to be released on August 9, 2027, if he completes his full sentence according to Chinese law.

3. Forces holding the detainee under custody: Unknown

4. Places of detention (indicate any transfer and present place of detention): Wusu Prison, Wusu City, Tacheng Prefecture, Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (transferred following sentencing in July 2014); previously detained at Liudaowan Detention Center, Urumqi City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

5. Authorities that ordered the detention: Urumqi City Intermediate People’s Court

6. Reasons for the detention imputed by the authorities: “Inciting subversion of state power”

7. Relevant legislation applied (if known): Article 105 (2) of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China: “Whoever incites others by spreading rumors or slanders or any other means to subvert the State power or overthrow the socialist system shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, criminal detention, public surveillance or deprivation of political rights; and the ringleaders and the others who commit major crimes shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years.”

IV. Describe the circumstances of the arrest

Zhao Haitong was forcibly disappeared in Turpan City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on an unconfirmed date in August 2013.

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

The detention of Mr. Zhao Haitong constitutes state retaliation against his long-time human rights advocacy in support of victims of rights abuses, particularly in violation of his peaceful exercise of expression, assembly, and association rights. Before his ongoing incarceration, Zhao had frequently advocated for the rights of activists, dissidents, and “petitioners” (individuals who present personal grievances to authorities beyond the local level, often central authorities in Beijing), and used social media to call for justice for the victims of rights violations. According to content present in the court verdict, Zhao “posted speech against our party and state power through Weibo, QQ, and foreign hostile websites,” underlining the reality that Zhao was being persecuted due to exercise of free expression.

The 14-year prison sentence issued to Zhao follows years of state retaliation that he has faced for his activism, including advocacy that he engaged in within a year of his being taken into custody. In 2012, he was arbitrary detained for a month prior to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, apparently due to “politically sensitive” opinions that he posted online. Zhao was brutally beaten by state agents on February 21, 2013, after he went to visit prominent democracy activist Qin Yongmin, a participant in the Democracy Wall movement in 1979 and co-founder of the China Democracy Party. In March of 2013, Zhao took part in multiple rallies in Guangzhou City, Guangdong Province that called for the release of detained Chinese human rights defenders, justice for human rights defenders who were facing trial in local courts, and an end to the government’s censorship of the Internet. Just prior to his disappearance in August 2013, Zhao had reportedly been assisting Uyghurs in Turpan City, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to lodge personal grievances over rights violations with local authorities.

The above circumstances related to Zhao Haitong’s detention constitute violations of his rights to peacefully exercise free expression, assembly, and association, including those guaranteed under Category II of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (i.e., when the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights under Articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, and 26), and freedoms guaranteed by Articles 18, 19, and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Zhao Haitong’s right to a fair trial have been repeatedly and flagrantly deprived throughout his detention, including in terms of notification of his family of his detention and detention status; having his case tried and appealed in fair and public hearings; and allowing a lawyer of his or his family’s choosing to represent him.

After forcibly disappearing Zhao in August 2013, Chinese authorities failed to produce an official notice to his family regarding his detention status, in violation of China’s Criminal Procedure Law, which stipulates a public security bureau must produce an official notice when placing an individual under detention (CPL, Article 83). Only in October 2013, nearly three months after Zhao disappeared, did Xinjiang authorities notify his family that they were detaining Zhao, and that he had been formally arrested, on September 12, 2013, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Zhao was held in incommunicado detention for over 10 months; Zhao met with two lawyers in detention for the first time on June 17, 2014, and told them he had already been indicted on an “inciting subversion” charge and secretly tried on May 14, 2014. Authorities charged Zhao with the crime of “inciting subversion of state power,” an offense in the category of “endangering state security,” allowing them to take advantage of a Chinese legal provision which permits authorities to deprive detainee access to a lawyer beyond 48 hours, which is the legal limit set for such access for virtually all other criminal charges (CPL, Article 39).

Neither his lawyers nor family were informed of the time or location of his first-instance trial or appellate hearing, which were both held behind closed doors, in violation of Zhao’s right to a fair trial and contrary to international standards. Xinjiang authorities deliberately blocked all information regarding the first-instance trial in May 2014 and assigned Zhao a lawyer for the hearing, violating his right to legal counsel of his own or his family’s choosing, which should be protected under China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL Article 34). Only weeks after the trial did his family receive notification of the court’s verdict, which was issued on an unknown date. In November 2014, Zhao’s family revealed that authorities had notified them that a court had sentenced Zhao to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Zhao’s lawyers indicated that his physical health had deteriorated in detention after meeting him in 2014, raising concerns that he has been subjected to torture or other forms of mistreatment, though the details are unknown. Zhao was known to have been suffering from asthma when he was initially taken into custody. One possible reason for any mistreatment of Zhao is that he had refused to admit guilt to any criminal charges and instead insisted that he would appeal if convicted of crimes.

The above circumstances indicate that Zhao Haitong had been detained solely due to the peaceful exercise of his rights guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and his ongoing detention constitutes violations of Mr. Zhao’s rights guaranteed under Category III of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 9) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 9).

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.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Higher People’s Court held appellate proceedings on Zhaos’s conviction and punishment, and upheld the original 14-year prison sentence in October 2014. His lawyers reportedly had not been told about the date of this appeal hearing or permitted to attend the proceedings, at which the government had apparently assigned another attorney to represent Zhao.

During the period of Zhao Haitong’s ongoing detention, his defense lawyers, activists, and both domestic and international non-governmental organizations and stakeholders have advocated for the protection of his legal and human rights and for his release. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has refused to release him.

Date of Submission: October 21, 2019

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