As Party Congress looms, dissidents languish and Party ramps up ideological controlComments Off on As Party Congress looms, dissidents languish and Party ramps up ideological control
In the lead up to the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on October 16, politics trumps all.
Xi Jinping is widely expected to formally take on an unprecedented third term as Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). To clear the way for this move, the CCP has gone to extreme efforts to crack down on any sources of what it perceives as “social instability” ahead of the Congress. Wielding bland jargon like adhering to the “Two Establishes” — establishing Xi’s place as the core of the CCP and establishing his thought as guiding the CCP — the already authoritarian CCP will increasingly be run according to the idiosyncratic whims of a dictator.
In contrast, many human rights defenders (HRDs) have been prominent voices of a vision for a democratic China that respects international human rights principles — and yet, many of these HRDs have languished in pre-trial detention.
Most worryingly, three women human rights defenders — Li Qiaochu, Xu Qin, and Li Yuhan — are facing severe, if not life-threatening, health crises due to prolonged pretrial detention without proper medical care. In other cases, the government ignored the legal protections allowed for by China’s Criminal Procedure Law and conducted trials in secret or denied defendants legal counsel of their own choosing.
As it has become clear over time, ‘Zero COVID’ has morphed from a temporary epidemic control measure to a pretense for wielding overwhelming Party-state control over society. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the Uyghur region and areas populated by Tibetans – where hastily implemented ‘Zero COVID’ lockdowns have led to reports of starvation and other human rights violations, which appear to be ongoing. People who have denounced the harsh COVID policies, or protested against the hardships, have been detained — in Shanghai and in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
On the ideological front, CHRD noted an intensified crackdown on Christian churches that sought to remain independent from state control. And pro-democracy dissidents and those posting on behalf of other HRDs faced persecution.
CHRD would caution that the cases mentioned below are emblematic of broader trends of human rights violations, and readers should be advised that the scale of China’s human rights crackdown goes well beyond what is documented here.
Human Rights Defenders Languish in Pre-trial Detention
Li Qiaochu: Forcibly medicated
There were new concerns about the health and well-being of detained activist Li Qiaochu. On August 11, her lawyer met with the head judge in Li’s case, and had a remote video meeting with Li. In a video conference with her lawyer, Li Qiaochu revealed that she is being forced every day to take 10 pills at 9 am and 2 pm and half a pill at 4 pm for hallucinations, but she’s experiencing intense side effects: this apparent over-medication has caused her to gain weight and she has not had a period for over seven months. She has asked many times for a reduction in the medicine, but the detention center has refused, saying it is a matter for the doctor, but the doctor has also refused her requests.
Her family has requested many times to the police, prosecution, and courts that Li should have a full medical exam conducted by specialists. These requests have been rejected. The judge in the case said, “we’ve received feedback from the detention center that her health is quite good.”
Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi: No news of sentencing after trial
Meanwhile, in the related cases of Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, who went on trial in secret on June 22 and June 24, there has been no further news about their sentencing. Ding’s lawyer visited him, and Ding thanked many friends and his wife for the support shown to him. His health ailments had somewhat subsided — namely, high blood pressure — had improved somewhat due to a makeshift workout program Ding had instituted for himself in detention, such as doing 1,200 squats in 45 minutes. The lawyer also read over 45 letters Ding’s wife had written him.
There has been no news about the well-being of Xu Zhiyong after his June 22 trial.
Xu Qin: Paralyzed in Detention
On July 27, 2022, the family of human rights researcher and activist Xu Qin revealed that her lawyer visited her at the Yangzhou Detention Center and learned that Xu had become paralyzed. When her lawyer saw Xu, she was sitting in a wheelchair, looking exhausted, and in poor physical health.
But even in light of her other physical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and having suffered a stroke, and even after being detained for nearly two years cumulatively, the authorities still have not been able to shake Xu’s determination to plead not guilty.
However, after this news got out, in September, detention center authorities recently denied Xu Qin’s lawyer permission to visit her. They also threatened the lawyer and her family about revealing any conditions related to her detention — or else they would be detained in retaliation.
Li Yuhan: Five years in Detention and Suffering from Seven Ailments
Human rights lawyer Li Yuhan, who represented fellow lawyer Wang Yu in the 709 Crackdown, has now spent nearly five years in pre-trial detention. Her health continues to deteriorate, and authorities are subjecting her to intense humiliation.
Although Li was tried by the Heping District People’s Court in Shenyang, Liaoning province on October 20, 2021, for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “fraud,” a verdict has still not been issued. The case has been delayed for so long simply because she refuses to plead guilty.
Recently, her lawyer revealed that the 65-year-old lawyer’s health is deteriorating. She suffers from seven known conditions: irregular heartbeat, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, inflammation of the stomach, head trauma from concussions (from beatings inflicted by police in the course of her defense work), and hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in the blood), and cerebral infraction (stroke).
Besides this, her lawyer has said that the Shenyang City Number 1 Detention Center authorities are also deliberately subjecting her to other indignities:
- She is not given hot water for showering;
- They are giving her inadequate food — most detainees get two steamed buns (mantou) but she only gets one per meal
- They serve vegetables to her on the pan where other detainees have urinated;
- Friends have been unsuccessful in attempts to deposit money into her detention center account, which would enable her to buy food and toiletries.
Li’s son has called for her release on medical parole in light of her serious health conditions, but the authorities repeatedly denied such requests.
Chang Weiping: No News Post-trial
Chang Weiping went on trial on July 26 in Feng County Court, and authorities took dramatic measures to prevent Chang Weiping’s wife, Chen Zijuan, from attending. However, almost two months later, there is still no news about whether the court has issued a verdict.
Meanwhile, Long Kehai, a human rights defender from Gansu who was in Baoji, Shaanxi, where Chang Weiping was originally detained, appears to have been criminally detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” on August 4 for drawing attention to Chang Weiping’s case. Long Kehai was taken from Baoji and transferred back to Gansu province by state security police.
Tang Jitian: Enforced disappearance continues
October marks the eleventh month of the enforced disappearance of former lawyer Tang Jitian — who was taken away by authorities right before he was set to attend an International Human Rights Day event hosted by the European Union in Beijing on December 10, 2021.
There are new concerns for his health and well-being. According to his sister, since June, Tang has had ongoing headaches (from a fall that occurred when he fainted in the bathroom of June 3), increased blood pressure, symptoms of diabetes, blood in his stools, and his original tuberculosis has flared up.
Since the hotel room where Tang is being arbitrarily detained does not have a window, he cannot receive sunlight, and he is not allowed to interact with outsiders, this has caused some swelling in his body and physical exhaustion and depression.
Rights Defense Network reported in September that several lawyers had asked the authorities if they could have a remote video conference with Tang, but these requests were rejected. Meanwhile, Tang’s daughter remains in a coma in Japan, and Tang is deeply concerned about her health.
Qin Yongpei: China’s Highest Court Prolongs Pre-trial Detention
On July 4, the Supreme People’s Court approved another three months extension in the case of “inciting subversion” of detained lawyer Qin Yongpei. Qin’s lawyer learned of this on July 28. The lawyer had applied for bail on July 14 but still has not been informed of the court’s decision.
Qin Yongpei, a disbarred human rights lawyer from Guangxi, was detained in October 2019 in apparent retaliation for criticizing on social media the corruption of high-level Chinese officials. In the months prior to his detention, Qin had also commented online about “politically sensitive” topics, including the pro-democracy protests happening at the time in Hong Kong. On October 13, 2021, Qin Yongpei finally had a pre-trial court hearing at the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Number 2 Detention Center, although it is still uncertain when his trial may take place.
Wang Aizhong: Trial cancelled with no rescheduling
On July 31, a lawyer met with detained activist Wang Aizhong and learned that he was doing well and in good spirits. With that said, the court has set up and then cancelled a pre-trial hearing and a trial without a clear explanation. Wang has been detained for over a year and the conditions in the detention center are overall very poor: it’s cramped, the food is bad, and it is very hot in Guangzhou. The authorities are not permitting Wang’s family to send him items or deposit money in his detention center account.
Wang’s trial on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” was scheduled for April 12 but the trial was canceled just four days beforehand without any rationale for the sudden cancelation given.
To date there has been no update on when the trial might take place.
Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing: A Year Later, Awaiting Trial
September 19 marked one year since labor activist Wang Jianbing and journalist Huang Xueqin were taken away by police. Sources indicate that in mid-August their case was transferred to the Guangzhou City Intermediate People’s Court, and we are awaiting the trial to start on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.”
Huang Xueqin’s family-appointed lawyer was dismissed, and she has been forced to use a government-approved lawyer — a common practice to facilitate sham trials. Wang Jianbing has been able to see his lawyer, but authorities have prevented the lawyer from sharing case details with the public.
Earlier in the year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion that found Wang’s detention to be “arbitrary” and they urged for his “immediate unconditional release.”
He Fangmei: Put on Trial in Secret
There have been new developments in the case of He Fangmei — the woman who was detained in October 2020 after she protested about vaccine safety while China was rolling out its COVID-19 vaccines.
It emerged in July that on March 22, Hui Country police told He Fangmei she would be released soon, and she just needed to have photos taken and have a health exam. Instead, authorities put her on trial. Her family hired a lawyer as soon as they received her detention notice. However, the lawyer was unable to review the case files, as the court denied this on the unlawful pretense that the case had already gone to trial.
Rights Defense Network reported that during the trial, although He Fangmei has difficulty hearing due to a disability and needs people to speak loudly or she must use lip reading to understand, the court would not provide her with written documents and only would allow her to listen to the trial. During the trial, she dismissed her legal aid lawyer and submitted 50 pages of her own written defense statement.
It was also reported that her husband, Li Xin, had been sentenced to five years in prison. Details of He Fangmei’s trial and Li Xin’s sentence are not certain at this point, and it is unclear who is taking care of their three children.
In July, human rights lawyer Lin Qilei filed a request with Hui County in Henan for open government disclosure with respect to the foster care situation of He Fangmei’s children.
Dong Guangping: Dissident in Hiding Nabbed in Vietnam
On August 24, Chinese dissident Dong Guangping was detained by authorities in Vietnam. In August 2019, after being released from jail, Dong tried unsuccessfully to go to Taiwan to seek freedom. Eventually, Dong went to Hanoi, and lived in hiding for three years.
In 2015, Dong and dissident cartoonist Jiang Yefei successfully obtained status as refugees from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Thailand, but they were returned to China because of pressure from Chinese officials located in Thailand. In 2018, Dong was sentenced to three and a half years by the Chongqing Municipality No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court on the charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally crossing national borders.”
Xing Wangli: Secret Verdict Issued
On June 28, 2022 the Xinyang Intermediate Court secretly issued its second instance verdict in the case of Xing Wangli, upholding the verdict of “slander” issued by the Xi County District People’s Court in April and the sentence of 2 years and 11 months.
Xing’s troubles began after visiting former human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, a nominally free man who has also been under de facto house arrest.
An Anti-Democracy Regime Stifles Pro-Democracy Voices
Ji Xiaolong: Detained for open letter criticizing Shanghai’s leaders and Xi Jinping
Shanghai-based activist Ji Xiaolong was taken away from his home by police on August 31 and his girlfriend received a criminal detention notice saying Ji was detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and held at the Pudong New District Detention Center. On September 23, Ji was formally arrested on the same charge.
Since getting out of prison in April 2022, Ji Xiaolong had been summoned by the police on seven occasions for his criticism of the Shanghai authorities’ handing of COVID, particularly its prolonged lockdown.
Ji’s criminal detention is most likely related to a stinging open letter he wrote criticizing Shanghai’s Party Secretary, Li Qiang, to step down and take accountability for the COVID-19 lockdown, and the “humanitarian disaster” it caused. The letter also reiterated his opposition to Xi Jinping, expressed in 2018, for his “wild ambition” to amend the Constitution and “rule for life.” The letter stated the police would not allow him to go back to his hometown to take care of his elderly parents and obtain his social insurance card.
Ji Xiaolong created his open letter as an NFT so it could not be censored and would “always exist.”
Chen Siming detained for tweeting about a suspicious death
On September 26, Rights Defense Network reported that Chen Siming, a Hunan-based democracy activist, had been administratively detained for 15 days after he revealed that Dong Jianbiao, the father of “ink girl” Dong Yaoqiong, had died in detention on September 23. Relatives of Dong Jianbiao who saw his corpse said it was full of wounds and with blood coming out of his anus. Police did not allow family members to take pictures of the corpse, in an attempt to document the apparent torture Dong Jianbiao had experienced. State security police then cremated the body, thus preventing any ability to document torture in custody.
Dong Yaoqiong was detained in July 2018 and forced into a psychiatric facility after she threw ink at a picture of Xi Jinping. She was ostensibly released in January 2020, but at the end of the year, Dong tweeted an emotional video describing how the constant state surveillance since her release had driven her to the verge of a breakdown. She subsequently went missing again. In February 2021, Rights Defense Network reported that she had been placed in psychiatric detention again at the Zhuzhou Number 3 Psychiatric Hospital.
Dong Jianbiao had been attempting to help his daughter.
Ou Biaofeng, a human rights activist who was very active on Twitter, was detained in December 2020 after he tweeted on behalf of Dong Yaoqiong.
Ou Biaofeng was subjected to a secret trial without a lawyer of his choice on January 27, but there has been no news of the outcome of that trial. Also, as authorities are preventing Ou from seeing a lawyer of his choice and are preventing family visits, there has been no news about Ou Biaofeng’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Ma Xiu: Pro-democracy activist detained
On September 20, Henan-based dissident Ma Xiu (aka Wu Haizhen) was criminally detained on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Ma is known as a proponent of 三民主义 (Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People: Nationalism, Democracy, Livelihood) and for constitutionalism.
On August 21, Jiang Zongcao, the wife of dissident Bao Tong, died in Beijing. In a sign of the Chinese government’s wariness of dissent and any kind of gathering, authorities strictly limited the funeral to only 30 people, and would not let prominent journalist Gao Yu attend.
Bao Tong was the former secretary to Zhao Ziyang, the Party Secretary who refused to go along with the Communist Party’s decision to massacre students and Chinese citizens during the 1989 Tiananmen protests and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.
Persecution of Christians
Numerous independent Christian churches, particularly Calvinist churches, have come under sustained pressure:
Early Rain: Continued persecution
Early Rain, one of the most prominent, independent Protestant churches in China, continues to face violations of its members’ right to freedom of religion.
On August 28, police in Chengdu took away Wei Lei, a practitioner at the Early Rain Church, who had been conducting a Sunday service at his home. He was taken into custody on the pretext of organizing an “illegal gathering.” Earlier in the month, on August 14, police in Chengdu broke up another of Early Rain’s Sunday church gatherings at a tea house. Congregant Xing Hongwei was taken away for “hitting police” but was later released on bail.
In December 2018, police detained Early Rain’s outspoken pastor Wang Yi. He was subsequently sentenced on the charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business activity” one year later. According to a Rights and Livelihood report from June 2021, pastor Wang Yi has been held in solitary confinement at the Jintang prison in Chengdu, according to people who recently were released from that prison. Wang Yi suffers from Hepatitis B, and the prison apparently serves food that is old and prescribes medication that is out of date. Wang Yi’s current health condition is unknown.
Linfen Family Covenant Church
On August 19, in Linfen, Shanxi, 170 police officers broke up a Linfen Family Covenant Church event held outdoors. Police forced the organizers Li Jie and Han Xiaodong to open their phones and reveal their passwords. Another organizer, You Guobao, was also taken away.
On August 23, preacher Han Xiaodong was put in China’s notorious secret detention system known as “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) on the charge of “fraud.” Preacher Li Jie and his wife Li Shanshan were also put in RSDL on the same charge. On August 25, two lawyers attempted to visit the detained Christians and they argued that it was unlawful to put people in RSDL for “fraud,” as the Criminal Procedure Law only allows for RSDL in cases of endangering state security. However, the police officer claimed it was a city regulation to quarantine suspects for 14 days and the police didn’t allow lawyer’s visits. Finally, the police rudely told the lawyers to “get the hell out of here” (滚).
Li Jie and Han Xiaodong were officially arrested on September 30, 2022 on the charge of “fraud.”
Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church
In September, the Associated Press (AP) reported that more than 60 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church had fled to Thailand seeking refugee status. This was after many of them had previously fled from Shenzhen to South Korea for a period of over two years.. AP’s report noted that the church members decided to flee China in 2019 due to increased political pressure and ideological control. In an effort to coerce the Church members to return to China, government authorities have summoned, intimidated, and interrogated relatives of the Church congregants abroad.
But these coercive methods were not just used on Christians. The Chinese government’s practice and official policies of putting pressure on relatives to coerce “fugitives” abroad was exposed in a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, which revealed that Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 alleged fugitives to return to China between April 2021and July 2022 using such mafia-like tactics.
Changchun Sunshine Reformed Church
On September 7, the Changchun City Civil Affairs Bureau banned the Changchun Sunshine Reformed Church. Two weeks earlier, on August 21, as the congregation was praying on Sunday, it was stormed by police, who seized pastor Zhang Yong, Qu Hongliang, Zhang Liangliang and nine others and took them away.
Pastor arrested in Yunnan
Brutal COVID Lockdowns in the Uyghur Region and Tibet
In the months leading up to the 20th Party Congress, countless cities were under some form of lockdown. In Guiyang, 27 people died when a bus transporting 47 people to a quarantine facility had an accident. The outpouring of grief over the seemingly senseless loss of life resulted in some netizens saying that “We are all on that bus now!”
In Shenzhen, videos emerged allegedly showing people fleeing housing estates under lockdown and fighting with Zero-COVID enforcers.
But it was arguably in China’s regions populated by “ethnic minorities,” where surveillance and control already made communication with the outside world difficult, more desperate than elsewhere. Areas in the Uyghur region and in Tibetan areas appeared to be under prolonged COVID lockdowns. Numerous people complained desperately on social media about the lack of food in Ghulja, XUAR, due to a 40+ day lockdown, and local hospitals stopped accepting patients, including pregnant women and children.
According to Radio Free Asia, on a single day in mid-September, 22 people in Ghulja died of starvation or from the inability to access necessary medical care. In addition, over 600 people in Ghulja were detained after they staged a protest about the starvation residents were facing. Xinjiang TV warned citizens that they would be seen as “separatists” if they spread “rumors” of COVID-related problems, which were well evidenced, even in Han Chinese sources. RFA, which is one of the few outlets that reports on news from the Uyghur region, also noted that the dire situation was made worse by the lack of Uyghur-speaking emergency services to respond to critical situations.
In July, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) learned that Tenzin Choephel, a Tibetan businessman and philanthropist, was sentenced to 18 years in May 2019 on the charges of “inciting separatism,” “illegally sending intelligence overseas,” and “financing activities that endangered state security.” The sentence came after Tenzin Choephel was detained in March 2018 and held incommunicado for over a year.
TCHRD notes that Tenzin Choephel did “notable work on protecting Tibetan culture and environment, promoting unity among Tibetans, and other philanthropic activities such as helping the poor and needy in the community.”
- The Chinese government must immediately release these detained 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 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 severe COVID-19 control measures 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. As the UN has urged, all COVID-19 measures should be proportionate, necessary, and non-discriminatory.
William Nee, Research and Advocacy Coordinator, CHRD, William [at] nchrd.org, @williamnee
Renee Xia, Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at]nchrd.org, @reneexiachrd