Ke Chengbing (柯成兵), Wei Zhili (危志立), Yang Zhengjun (杨郑君)

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Ke Chengbing (柯成兵), Wei Zhili (危志立), Yang Zhengjun (杨郑君)

Ke Chengbing (柯成兵), Wei Zhili (危志立), Yang Zhengjun (杨郑君)


Ke Chengbing (left), Wei Zhili (center), Yang Zhengjun (right)

Criminal charge: Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

Length of Punishment: N/A

Court: N/A

Trial Date: N/A

Sentencing Date: N/A

Dates of Detention/Arrest: January-March 2019 (detention; see specific dates in text); February-April (Residential Surveillance in Designated Location, RSDL; see specific dates in text); August 2019 (arrest; see specific dates in text)

Place of Incarceration: Shenzhen City No. 2 Detention Center (current location as of August 2019 & previously from January-April 2019 before being held in RSDL); previously unknown location during RSDL


Police in Guangdong seized three editors of iLabour, an online labor rights advocacy platform—Yang Zhengjun on January 8, 2019, and Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, on March 20, 2019—in retaliation for their exercise of free expression and association rights. Specifically, the men had used iLabour (新生代) platform to publish information on the cases of migrant workers from Hunan Province who had contracted pneumoconiosis, an occupational lung disease, while also counseling them about defending their labor rights and petitioning over their grievances. The workers had demanded that Shenzhen authorities both recognize that laborers were stricken with disease from working in the city’s pneumatic drilling industry and also provide financial compensation for medical treatment and support for workers’ families.

Officers from the Shenzhen City Public Security Bureau (PSB) detained Yang Zhengjun the day after about 50 workers with pneumoconiosis came to Shenzhen to demand a reply from authorities about their complaints. Police responded by preventing workers from entering the government’s petitioning office and forcibly sending them back to Hunan. Police seized Yang and three others from a rented room and took away computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. While Yang remained in custody, the other individuals were released within 24 hours, after being questioned about their ties to Yang and the workers’ rights-defense actions.

Ke Chengbing and Wei Zhili were seized in Guangzhou after they had both kept providing legal advice to the afflicted workers and publicizing their cases. Ke was initially disappeared and officers from Pingshan District in Shenzhen told Wei’s parents they were taking him away for “education,” claiming that Wei had been “brainwashed,” as he had neither purchased a house nor had children since graduating from university, and because he had not worked in a formal occupation for several years. Police also said that Wei, through his advocacy actions, had “disrupted public security” and “opposed the Communist Party.” The families of Wei and Ke did not receive official notice of their detentions on March 26 and March 27. All three were transferred into Residential Surveillance in Designated Location (RSDL) as the 37-day time period for arrest following a criminal detention closed in. Yang was moved on February 6, 2019, and Ke and Wei on April 19, 2019.

The three have had limited access to lawyers and police have illegally put pressure on their families to dismiss their lawyers. Authorities have deprived Yang Zhengjun of access to a lawyer during his entire detention, claiming that Yang wrote a note dismissing his family-hired lawyer but did not provide evidence of the note or that it was a freely-made decision. Ke Chengbing and Wei Zhili have been deprived of legal counsel since being transferred to RSDL, although they each had been allowed to meet with lawyers being taken into custody; Ke met his family-hired lawyer twice and Wei met his lawyer three—on March 28, April 8, and April 18, 2019. Police have also put pressure on Ke and Wei’s family to dismiss their lawyers, including briefly detaining Ke’s father. Zheng Churan (郑楚然), Wei Zhili’s wife and a well-known Chinese feminist activist, has faced retaliation for speaking out about his case.

On August 5, 2019, as the six-month period of RSDL for Yang Zhengjun was coming to an end, the family of Wei Zhili were informed orally that Wei had been formally arrested for “picking quarrels.” In mid and late August, police gave all three families written notices that the three had been formally arrested on “picking quarrels” charges. None of the three men have been granted access with their lawyers following the formal arrests, as authorities claimed they “fired” the family-hired lawyers and are being represented by two legal aid attorneys. The arrest notice listed the detention location as Shenzhen No. 2 Detention Center. When families attempted to deposit money for the three following their arrest, their ID numbers were listed alongside pseudonyms, though the money was accepted. Later the names were changed back to their real names.

The three activists launched iLabour in 2013, as both a website and a WeChat account, to raise awareness of labor rights issues through covering worker-related stories and news. It has existed under various names while surviving attempts by police to fully shut it down due to its mission to “promote economic democracy, safeguard labor value, and build a just society.” Its articles were written by contributing writers that include scholars and labor activists and the platform also shared workers’ human rights advocacy experiences, and provided workers with a platform for labour rights consultation.

The three men’s detentions came amid widespread suppression by Chinese authorities against grassroots labor rights movements. As a prime example, in July 2018, authorities launched a crackdown against workers at a Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen.

Born in Hubei Province on May 9, 1989, Ke Chengbing (aka “Laomu” 老木) is a labor rights defender and helped launch iLabour in 2013, which he has been affiliated with ever since. Ke graduated in 2012 from Jinan University, where he focused on grassroots rural human rights issues, joining student societies and undertaking countryside field research. After graduation, he assisted workers in the Pearl River Delta, participating in research on the situation of Foxconn workers after 13 workers committed suicide in 2010.

Born on June 18, 1988, in Guangzhou, Wei Zhili (aka “Xiaowei” 小危) is a labor rights defender, advocate for feminist issues, and helped launch iLabour in 2013, which he has been affiliated with ever since. Wei, who graduated from Guangzhou University in 2010, had been attentive to the living conditions of Chinese migrant workers since he was in high school, and has devoted himself to improving their living conditions. At university, Wei participated in various labor-related studies and provided services to factory workers. After graduating, Wei joined Hand-in-Hand Workers’ Activity Center (手牵手工友活动室) in Shenzhen, providing legal advice, representation, and organizational support to workers.

Born on April 10, 1985, Yang Zhengjun (aka “Baozi” 包子), a native of Chongqing Municipality, is a labor rights defender and helped launch iLabour in 2013, which he has been affiliated with ever since and has served as the editor-of-chief for since 2017. Yang participated in a national movement of students who went to countryside areas to conduct research that laid the basis for his rights advocacy ideas involving workers and rural residents while an undergraduate student at Beihang University. In 2008, Yang Zhengjun initiated and organized the “University Students Coca-Cola Watch Group” to investigate Coca-Cola Inc.’s bottling and supplier factory labor conditions. He acted as lead writer of a report that revealed Coca-Cola’s abuse of dispatch labor and demanded Coca-Cola respect China’s Labor Contract Law. Following the suicides of 13 Foxconn workers in 2010, Yang organized university students to investigate the plant’s labor conditions and called for a public demonstration in Beijing’s Zhongguancun Technology Park to commemorate those who had died. Yang graduated from Beihang University with a bachelor’s degree in Biological and Medical Engineering and from Minzu University of China with a master’s degree in Political Economy.

Further Information

UN Special Procedures, Communication from working groups on arbitrary detention & enforced disappearances, and special rapporteurs on freedom of expression and HRDs, UA CHN 14/2019, July 19, 2019 (中文版本)

Communiqué Alleging Arbitrary Detentions of 3 Labour Rights Defenders in PR China, July 11, 2019, CHRD

China Must Release Detained Labor Rights Advocates, July 25, 2019, CHRD

China Human Rights Briefing March 19-26, 2019, CHRD

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