No End in Sight to China’s Prolonged, Opaque, Extralegal Detentions

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By Oliver Young

Originally published by China Digital Times on May 03, 2022

While millions of Shanghai residents are locked in their homes due to pandemic-prevention and quarantine measures, other Chinese citizens are held in government detention on trumped-up political charges. A series of recent cases shines a light on the CCP’s continuing use of extrajudicial detention to silence dissenting voices. One such case involves a Chinese employee of the EU delegation to Beijing, An Dong, who was recently revealed to have been in custody since September 2021. Finbarr Bermingham from the South China Morning Post reported on An’s detention, allegedly for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”:

“Despite multiple requests on our side to the Chinese authorities, we have so far not been informed either of the allegation(s) nor of the specific charge(s) he faces. We will continue inquiring until we get a proper answer,” [said Nabila Massrali, the EU’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs.]

The case was first reported by French newspaper Le Monde, which named the employee as An Dong who worked in the IT department of the EU delegation in Beijing. The report said he was being held in Sichuan province, thousands of kilometres west of the capital.

[…] According to Le Monde, the EU wrote to China’s foreign ministry in October, using a form of diplomatic communication known as a “note verbale”. They asked the ministry to investigate and explain the detention, and to ensure their employee had access to a lawyer of his choosing, rather than a court-appointed representative. [Source]

Big story from @LemaitreFrederi of @lemondefr – A local employee of the EU delegation in Beijing has been detained by Chinese authorities since September 2021. The delegation has written 3 letters seeking info & demanding his release. No response
— Noah Barkin 🇺🇦 (@noahbarkin) April 29, 2022

An Dong, an employee for the 🇪🇺 delegation, has been detained for “picking quarrels & provoking trouble.” He was known for posting politically risky content to Chinese social media, but it is unclear what led the security services to detain and charge him
William Nee (@williamnee) May 3, 2022

According to Le Monde, it is common knowledge that🇨🇳employees are regularly called upon to “account” to CCP authorities. It is to be feared that by arresting one of them from the #EU diplomatic mission, that Chinese authorities seek to frighten his colleagues.
— Theresa Fallon (@TheresaAFallon) April 29, 2022

The Wall Street Journal noted that An spoke positively of democracy on WeChat, and Le Monde stated that within the delegation he was open about his Christianity and was known to occasionally post on Facebook, which is blocked in China. Having received no response from the Chinese government about why An was detained, the EU delegation then sent a second “note verbale” in late November 2021, and a third one in February of this year. None of them garnered a response. “It is an unprecedented affair,” Le Monde’s Frédéric Lemaitre wrote. “It seems that this is the first time a Chinese employee of a Western diplomatic mission has been arrested for something other than a common law affair. This precedent risks increasing pressure on this category of personnel.” 

There have been other similar incidents. In August 2019, Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong, was detained by the government for 15 days for allegedly “soliciting prostitutes.” After his release, Cheng claimed that he was tortured during detention and forced into a false confession. In December 2020, Haze Fan, a Chinese news assistant for Bloomberg, was detained on national security charges. There has been no news of her condition or whereabouts since her disappearance almost one and half years ago.

May 3 is #WorldPressFreedomDay — a good time to ask again: where is Haze Fan? This member of Bloomberg’s Beijing bureau is still being detained in China. #FreeHazeFan. via @bpolitics
— Marilyn Geewax (@geewaxnpr) May 3, 2022

Another recent case concerns Taiwanese businessman Lee Meng-chu, also known as Morrison Lee, who has been subject to an exit ban. Lee was arrested in mainland China in 2019 after attending pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and sentenced to 22 months in jail and two years’ deprivation of political rights. Although he recently completed his prison term, authorities claim he cannot leave the country until his two-year deprivation of political rights expires. Safeguard Defenders described Lee’s case and the authorities’ position toward it:

Lee disappeared in August 2019 from Shenzhen in southern China shortly after he had taken part in anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong. He was held under China’s secret jail system, Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), and later appeared as one of several Taiwanese giving forced confessions on state television broadcaster CCTV. Lee was tried in secret, accused of espionage, based on photos he took of military drills in Shenzhen. However better quality photo and video of the same scene were also published on Chinese media, indicating that his prosecution was politically-motivated.

[… D]eprivation of political rights according to China’s Criminal Law (Article 54), is not associated with limiting freedom of movement. Rather is defined as “The right to elect and the right to be elected; the right to freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration; the right to hold a position in state organs; and the right to hold a leading position in a state-owned company, enterprise, or institution or people’s organization.”

By not allowing Morrison Lee to leave, Beijing is also violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it signed in 1998, although not yet ratified. Article 12-2 says: “Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” [Source]

This is due to being deprived of rights to political participation after the end of his jail sentence, which apparently includes the right to return to Taiwan. The Tsai admin seems to have kept a low profile regarding this for fear that this would influence Lee Ming-che’s return
— Brian Hioe 丘琦欣 (@brianhioe) April 28, 2022

Meanwhile, many human rights activists and lawyers have languished in custody, and little information has surfaced about their health or the conditions in which they are being held. The NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders profiled some of those with delayed trials and unreasonably prolonged pretrial detentions

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.  

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. 

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.

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

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. [Source]

“If speech can be a crime, I am ready to be criminalized along with Wang Aizhong.

Let this be used as evidence.”

— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) April 12, 2022

One year ago, Chinese activist Li Qiaochu was arrested. Charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’, to this day she remains detained as her mental state steadily declines. Here you can read her testimony about her previous experience of detention.
— Made in China Journal (@MIC_Journal) February 6, 2022

Tennis star Peng Shuai has not been seen since her seemingly coerced appearances at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Last week, Steve Simon, head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), confirmed to the Tennis Podcast that the WTA would not resume any of its activities in China this year due to Peng’s treatment by the Chinese government. “We remain dedicated to finding a resolution to this,” Simon said. “We want to find a resolution that Peng can be comfortable with, the Chinese government can be comfortable with, and we can be comfortable with.” He added that the WTA has not had any recent communication with her.

Chinese #MeToo activist Sophia Huang Xueqin is also in detention, along with labor activist Wang Jianbing, after being forcibly disappeared in September of last year. The pair were charged with “inciting subversion,” and in March their case was transferred to the Guangzhou Municipal Procuratorate for review and decision on prosecution. Safeguard Defenders recently learned that “since her arrest, about 70 of Xueqin’s friends and fellow feminists have been continuously summoned, intimidated and interrogated by the police, and forced to sign false confessions alleging the two of having partaken in so-called training activities to ‘subvert state power.’” Last month, NüVoices published an open letter by a group of Chinese feminists criticizing the inaction by Huang’s university and scholarship program, and calling on them to step up their support:

When Sophia first disappeared, the University of Sussex released a statement expressing concern. But since her arrest has been confirmed, the university has not publicly commented on her case. The students are also unaware of what exactly the University of Sussex has done so far on the case, and whether they are still keeping an eye on her situation. Everything seems to have fallen onto the deaf ears. We cannot help but question if the University of Sussex truly cares about the safety and well-being of its students, and if it is willing to pressure the Chinese government on behalf of the safety of its students.

It is also disappointing to see the lack of action from the Chevening Awards Programme. Despite the fact that a number of Chevening scholars have strongly raised concerns about the plight of Sophia and Jianbing, and have asked Chevening to stand with them and demand for their release, there has been no official statement from the programme since her arrest had been confirmed.

[…] We hope that the University of Sussex and the Chevening Awards Programme will take concrete action to support and demonstrate solidarity with Sophia and Wang Jianbing, and negotiate with the relevant authorities transparently, in a way that those who are concerned about the two activists are able to witness. Do not disappoint and shame your students, staff, alumni and the community at large by your inaction. [Source]

Lausan recently published an interview with two activists in the global campaign group to free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, who shared their reflections on their activism from abroad and what it means for the future of Chinese social movements:

Uchiyama: How can feminists and labor activists outside of the PRC support their friends in the PRC? 

Yaya: I think the first thing is to pay attention to them and listen to them. Don’t pretend the elephant does not exist. In official propaganda especially, activists and related issues are more easily disappeared. Secondly, keep speaking out on social media or in your daily life, especially when some people are forced to be silent. Third, those of us who are overseas need to use the resources around us as much as possible. For example, we can use academia and the media to inform more people about cases like Xueqin and Jianbing’s, and encourage them to pay attention to feminism and labour issues. Last, I think it is important to build solidarity with different groups, whether they are feminists, labor activists, or environmental activists. Ultimately, we are all fighting for the same thing: to have a better future for everyone. We cannot watch the fire from the other side (隔岸观火) and pretend that we can be safe by choosing to be silent, obedient and isolated. We are entangled in this world.

Tony: […] Finally, when we continue to talk about Chinese activists, we allow the Chinese movement to be seen and we write its story. We remind the world and ourselves that there are still so many people fighting within China for justice. This is important because we are amplifying the voices of Chinese activists, but also because these activists can be inspirations for other movements. If these activists cannot be remembered domestically, then they need to be remembered internationally. 

This remembrance is also a form of education. I believe more and more people in China will become activists in the future. Issues like workplace justice, the lack of protections for gig workers and the plight of students who face economic crises are major issues right now. When their consciousness is raised, they will need to learn the tactics for social movements from the activists now. Without efforts to document the history of Chinese social movements, there is no future for Chinese activism. [Source]

Journalist #HuangXueqin (#黄雪琴) was detained in Sept 2021 & in Oct arrested on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.”

More than 6 months later, authorities continue to block Huang Xueqin’s lawyer from visiting her or reading her case files#WorldPressFreedomDay
— CHRD人权捍卫者 (@CHRDnet) May 3, 2022

In Sept. 2021, independent journalist #HuangXueqin was arrested by Chinese police on suspicion of“inciting subversion of state power”and has been detained for over 220 days.

On #WorldPressFreedomDay, we call on the Chinese gov’t to immediately & unconditionally #FreeXueqin NOW!
— Free Xueqin&Jianbing 释放雪饼 (@FreeXueBing) May 3, 2022

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