Persecuted Human Rights Defenders Languish in Police Custody

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Persecuted Human Rights Defenders Languish in Police Custody

Detained human rights defenders continue to suffer from arbitrary detention and abuses of their legal rights throughout China. Violations of the right to fair trial seem to be exacerbated by the tense “politically sensitive” climate as numerous cities have imposed lockdowns or other strict measures to achieve “Zero COVID,” and Xi Jinping tightens social control to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the 20th Party Congress later this year. 

CHRD is alarmed at the lack of information about the conditions of detained rights defenders in several cases involving delayed trials and denial of their lawyers’ requests for visits. 

CHRD urges the Chinese government to immediately end the practice of arbitrary detention, particularly targeting those who are advocating for human rights protections and/or exercising their right to freedom of expression. Pending their release, authorities must guarantee human rights defenders access to lawyers of their choice and protect their fair trial rights, including without unreasonably prolonging their time in pre-trial detention. 

Delayed Trials & Unreasonably Prolonged Pre-trial Detention

Wang Aizhong

The trial of Wang Aizhong, a social media activist who highlighted vulnerable communities, was set to take place on April 12 at the Guangzhou Tianhe District Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” but the trial was canceled four days before the scheduled date. The court refused to provide Wang’s lawyer with any rationale for the sudden cancelation, including refusing to confirm whether it was COVID-related.

The police have told Wang Aizhong’s wife that he was detained because of his social media posts and for giving foreign media interviews. While in detention, Wang has lost 10kg due to poor nutrition and he has been prevented from purchasing extra food or toiletries from the commissary.  

Ding Jiaxi, Xu Zhiyong, and Li Qiaochu

In August 2021, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong, two advocates for a new forms of civic engagement, were indicted on the charge of “subversion of state power.” and people monitoring their cases speculated that they could be tried over the Christmas 2021 and New Year 2022 holiday period, although this did not materialize. 

(Xu Zhiyong)

Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong were scheduled to have a pre-trial meeting in late March 2022, but this failed to materialize, and their lawyers received no notices or explanations from authorities. Ding was detained just after both men attended a private gathering in Fujian Province held on December 7-8, 2019.

(Ding Jiaxi)

Xu went in hiding until police hunted him down in February 2020. They have been in pre-trial detention for more than two years. 

(Li Qiaochu)

Also in pre-trial detention in a related case is human rights defender Li Qiaochu, who was detained in February 2021 after she publicly reported that Ding and Xu had been tortured. Li was indicted on February 28, 2022 on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” and the indictment stated that she had come under the politically subversive influence of her partner, Xu Zhiyong, and she had helped him upload articles to his website. However, some of the “evidence” against her has come into question. One of the witnesses listed in the indictment against Li Qiaochu, Zhang Zhongshun, has said that he didn’t even know who she was before he was released on bail on June 19, 2020. 

Denied Access to Lawyers, Detention incommunicado, and Enforced Disappearances

Wang Zang and Wang Li

Almost a year ago, detained poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li were set to go on trial on April 27, 2021 on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power,” but the trial was delayed when one of the judges supposedly became ill. 

Rights Defense Network reported that Wang Zang was tried secretly on December 15, 2021, at the Chuxiong Prefecture Intermediate Court in Yunnan province. The trial was not open to the public on the grounds that the case involved “state secrets.” The couple’s supporters and family members, including Wang Zang’s mother, were prevented from attending. 

However, sources have indicated that the only “evidence” police presented against Wang Zang was his poetry, performance art work, and views expressed on social media—all of which is protected under international law under right to freedom of expression. Sources also believe that Wang Zang’s wife Wang Li (real name Wang Liqin) is being prosecuted as leverage for police interrogators to pressure Wang Zang to confess. 

Now, almost a year later, there is no confirmation of whether a verdict was issued. The couple continue to languish in secret police custody. Their conditions and the status of their cases are unknown. With Wang Zang detained on May 30, 2020, and Wang Li shortly thereafter, the couple has now been separated from their four young children for almost two years.

Ou Biaofeng

On January 27, 2022, Ou Biaofeng, an activist detained for over a year for vocally supporting many other activists and causes on social media, was apparently put on trial in secret inside the Zhuzhong No. 1 Detention Center on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” His family members were not allowed to attend, and he was not permitted to have a lawyer of his choice defend him during the trial.

The outside world including his family do not know whether a verdict was issued, nor do they have any information about Ou Biaofeng’s health condition. 

Chang Weiping 

Detained former lawyer Chang Weiping, who was taken away by authorities on October 22, 2020 after posting a videodescribing how he was tortured while in detention on a previous occasion, has not been able to see a lawyer since December 8, 2021, when his lawyer last gained permission and visited him. Moreover, Chen Zijuan, his wife, learned that Baoji City, where Chang is being detained, now has instituted a policy requiring non-locals to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the city at their own expense. This means it is not practically feasible for a lawyer to visit him.

Given that Chang Weiping’s detention was in apparent retaliation for disclosing torture and he has told his lawyer that he was tortured once again during his second time in detention, without the safeguards of regular visits, he is, again, at high risk of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. 

Chang Weiping was a co-recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2022.

Li Yuhan

Human rights lawyer Li Yuhan, who has been pre-trial detention since October 9, 2017 at the Shenyang No. 1 Detention Center, was tried by the Heping District People’s Court in Shenyang, Liaoning province on October 20, 2021. She was tried for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “fraud.” On the day of the trial, the courthouse was surrounded by police who blocked supporters from entering the court building to observe the trial, including diplomats from six countries. Only one of her two defense lawyers was able to represent her at the trial after authorities revoked the operating license for the second lawyer’s law firm. Court officials also rejected a request from prominent human rights lawyer Wang Yu to represent Li.  

There is still no news about whether a verdict has been issued.

Li Yuhan’s trial has been repeatedly postponed for years. Her defense lawyer reports that in 2021 she was brought several times before a judge who urged her to plead guilty to the charges, which Li refused to do. 

Li Yuhan suffers from poor health, including cardiovascular, gastric, and other diseases, and she has suffered physical abuse while in detention. Authorities have repeatedly rejected requests from her lawyers that she be released on medical parole.

Chen Jianfang

Land and housing rights activist Chen Jianfang should have been released on March 18, 2022 after serving out a three-year sentence for “subversion of state power.” Neither Chen’s lawyer nor family have been able to obtain information about her whereabouts since that date. Her family members have been threatened by authorities and have not been able to share information about her, while her lawyers were unable to obtain permission from authorities to visit her while she was held in prison.

Chen was sentenced to three years on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power” in March 2021. Authorities used fraudulent means to prevent Chen from gaining access to legal representation, ultimately denying her any access to a lawyer for over two years. On March 2, 2021 Chen met with a lawyer, but she challenged if the lawyer, who was a well-respected human rights lawyer, was indeed a real human rights lawyer and not an impostor pretending to be a human rights lawyer at the behest of authorities. She thus requested lawyer Wang Yu, who she knew, to verify the lawyer’s identity. On the day of the trial, police blocked Wang Yu from leaving her hotel room, presumably because the police knew that Wang Yu would help in reassuring Chen about the lawyer’s identity and would provide her with trusted legal advice.  Chen thus put on trial without being represented by a lawyer of her own choosing.  

He Fangmei

He Fangmei, a defender of health rights based in Henan province, has been a victim of an enforced disappearance since October 9, 2020 after she held a one-person protest against unsafe vaccines at a government building in Henan. She was then held incommunicado without any charge by authorities for more than a year, and her children and husband also vanished into police custody in China. At the time of her detention, she was seven months pregnant. 

In March, it what was the first known official statement about her detention since her disappearance, He Fangmei’s family received an arrest notice dated on March 23, 2022 stating that she had been arrested on the charges of “bigamy” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and was being held at the Xinxiang Detention Center in Henan province. Radio Free Asia also reported that Hui County officials also contacted her family with a request to take her three children, saying that otherwise the children could be sent to an orphanage. 

He Fangmei became a leading voice for the parents of hundreds of children sickened and disabled by defective vaccines in 2018 after her own daughter was hospitalized for a spinal cord infection. She led advocacy campaigns for the adoption of a vaccine safety law, public disclosure of government information about vaccine safety, and state compensation for victims of faulty vaccines. From the start of their campaigning in 2018, police across China have harassed, detained, beaten, and forcibly disappeared these health rights campaigners. Despite being targeted by the police, He persisted in raising awareness of the issue on social media.

He Fangmei was a co-recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2022.

Huang Xueqing and Wang Jianbin

Huang Xueqin, a journalist and #MeToo movement activist, and Wang Jianbing, a labor rights activist, were detained on September 19, 2021 and formally arrested on October 27, 2021 by Guangzhou authorities on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” 

(Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing)

For months the authorities denied visits by their family members and access to their lawyers. 

On March 27, 2022, public security officials referred their cases to the Guangzhou Municipal Procuratorate for prosecution. On April 1, Wang jianbing was permitted to see his lawyer via a video conference for the first time. Wang had recently been transferred to the Guangzhou Number 1 Detention Center after being held in a “quarantine area” for 5 months, presumably a facility for RSDL (“residential surveillance in a designated location,” a form of secret detention), which he did not know the precise location of. At that site, he was detained alone and subjected to prolonged interrogations and deprived adequate food. He is said to suffer from mental health issues and gastrointestinal problems.

Since he has been transferred to a detention center, friends have been able to despite some money in his account at the center. 

However, authorities have continued to block Huang Xueqin’s lawyer from visiting her or reading her case files. It has also come to light that more than 70 of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing’s friends and colleagues have been interrogatedin a nationwide campaign led by the Guangzhou police.

Xie Yang

Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer who defended clients involved in New Citizens Movement, the Chinese Democratic Party, Christians, and victims of land grabs, was taken away by authorities on January 11, 2022, after he protested in support of Li Tiantian, a teacher in Hunan province who was forcibly put in psychiatric detention after she protested in support of a teacher in Shanghai, Song Gengyi, who was fired after she questioned the government’s official death toll of the Nanjing Massacre. Xie was criminally detained and subsequently arrested on the charges of “inciting subversion of state power” on February 17. 

Authorities have prevented Xie from seeing his lawyer. The Changsha Public Security Bureau on February 24 gave the following justification: “A lawyer’s visit could harm the investigation and could allow for the leak of state secrets”.

Without any contact with the outside world, there are reasons to be concerned about his risk of being subjected to torture. Xie was detained in 2015 in China’s notorious “709” crackdown on human rights lawyers. It later emerged that Xie was tortured while being interrogated, with his torturers telling him “we’ll torture you to death just like an ant”. The news of his torture caused an international outcry, and Chinese State media outlets called his accusations of torture “fake news”.

Guo Feixiong

Prominent activist Guo Feixiong, whose real name is Yang Maodong, went missing on December 5, 2021 after he wrote an open letter on November 29 to Premier Li Keqiang urging him to allow him to reunite with his wife Zhang Qing, who was suffering from late-stage cancer. Zhang Qing died on January 10.

(Zhang Qing)

On January 17, Guo’s family received a notice stating that Guo had been formally arrested on on January 12 on the charge of  “inciting subversion of state authority.” This was the first confirmation his family had received of Guo’s whereabouts since his enforced disappearance in early December 2021.

(Guo Feixiong)

Guo’s lawyers have been denied access to him, and their requests to review the bases for the Guangzhou Procuratorate’s claim that he was detained him out of “necessity” were also denied. 

On March 2, Guo’s older sister received a letter from him saying that he had received her letter about his wife’s death. He then indicated where he wanted to be buried and said, “I cannot travel to America within the next half year because the pandemic is out of control over there.”

Recommendations

  • The Chinese government must immediately release these human rights defenders. All the human rights defenders in the cases documented above have been detained merely for expressing their views or for their peaceful activism—all of which are protected under international law. A recent communication regarding some of these cases from several UN Special Rapporteurs made clear to the Chinese government: “the arrest of human rights defenders for carrying out their legitimate work, or the exercise of human rights, under the pretext of national security, is incompatible with international human rights law.”
  • The Chinese government must stop using COVID-19 precautions to deny the due process and fair trial rights of detained human rights defenders. As CHRD has noted, the government must immediately align its conduct with international human rights laws and standards with respect to its measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Contacts

Ramona Li, Senior Researcher and Advocate (Mandarin, English), +1 202 556 0667, ramonali [at] nchrd.org, @RamonaLiCHRD

Renee Xia, Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at]nchrd.org, @reneexiachrd

William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, CHRD, +1-623-295-9604, William [at] nchrd.org, @williamnee

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