China: End Mistreatment of Defenders with Disabilities and Advocates for Disability Rights

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China: End Mistreatment of Defenders with Disabilities and Advocates for Disability Rights

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, August 12, 2022) CHRD urges the Chinese government to end torture and mistreatment of detained or jailed human rights defenders with disabilities, lift restrictions on civil society organizations, and comply with its treaty obligations to protect disability rights. Next week, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is set to cross-examine the Chinese government’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

In CHRD’s report, submitted to the Committee for this review, we documented cases of human rights defenders with disabilities being subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment. While the government portrays a rosy picture of comprehensive progress led by the Party-State, in fact, during the last 10 years, disability rights activists on the ground, who have been critical to the actual implementation of national legislation on disability rights, have come under assault.

The limited gains in improving disability rights protection have been hard-won and come at a cost. Civil society advocates interviewed by CHRD noted that they have experienced a wide range of harassment and abuses by government officials for their advocacy, including discrimination, detention, and violence.

Independent disability rights advocacy has been severely hampered by the Chinese government’s broader crackdown on civil society coinciding with the period under this CRPD review: 2012 to 2022. Laws enacted during this time period, such as the National Security Law and the Foreign NGO Law, target civil society organizations with strict registration requirements and curbs on activities. Independent groups have since be subjected to heightened surveillance, harassment, and criminal prosecution.

Two of the most prominent groups advocating for disability rights were shut down. One of them, Yirenping, had launched successful grassroots advocacy campaigns, such as pushing for access for persons with disabilities to participate in national college entrance examinations, making them accessible for the visually impaired. This NGO was shut down and some of its staff members were criminally detained in 2015. Another NGO, Changsha Funeng, had filed lawsuits on behalf of persons with disabilities for employment discrimination. In July 2019, Hunan provincial police criminally detained three staff members—Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong—and ultimately sentenced all three for “subversion of state power” in grossly unfair trials.

We find that Chinese authorities subjected detained or jailed human rights defenders with disabilities to mistreatment, punishing them by depriving them facilities or assistance due to their disabilities. Rights defender Ni Yulan, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after she was denied medical treatment for serious injuries inflicted by police, while in detention and prison, was denied access to a wheelchair or crutches. She was forced by guards to crawl on the floors when she was ordered to assemble with other prisoners or needed to use the bathroom. 

Harsh treatment in detention has also left prisoners or detainees of conscience with disabilities or resulted in life-threatening health conditions. In a current case, Human rights defender Xu Qin, who is disabled, became active in rights advocacy in China and is currently in detention for “endangering state security.” On June 27, 2022, Xu’s lawyer learned that she had become paralyzed and was in poor physical health. Despite her dire health condition, Xu Qin has been denied bail.

Lack of accommodations for detainees with disabilities are also a problem earlier in the judicial process: hearing-impaired health rights advocate He Fangmei was not allowed any accommodations during her court hearing. The court did not to allow her to look at any written materials during the proceedings.

In these cases, no officials or policemen accused of mistreating these rights defenders with disabilities have been investigated or held accountable so far, despite complaints filed by their family members, lawyers, and human rights groups.

CHRD calls on the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to ask the Chinese government during the dialogue with its official delegation and in its Concluding Observations of the review to: 

  • Ensure that no person, including persons with disabilities, is subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. 
  • Revise laws that place onerous and draconian restrictions on civil society organizations. 
  • Ensure government personnel involved in providing government services to persons with disabilities to undergo disability rights trainings that are in compliance with CRPD standards.  

Read CHRD’s full report here.

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