Chinese dissidents and their families are under constant harassment

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Chinese dissidents and their families are under constant harassment

By Simon Leplâtre

Originally published by Le Monde on Apr. 15, 2024

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, authorities do not hesitate to target the children of Chinese human rights defenders to break any attempts at resistance.

Li Wenzu (center), wife of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, surrounded by law enforcement as she protests her husband’s detention, outside the Hongsecun People’s high court, Beijing, December 28, 2018. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

The photo showed a man in a black jacket on a blue electric scooter, who appeared to be standing guard outside a building. The photographer was a 13-year-old child. He had photographed other black-clad individuals who had been following him in recent days. His mother, Keke (a pseudonym), 48, shared the images with Le Monde. “His older brother is already in prison, but why target a 13-year-old?” she asked. Keke knew that this harassment of her young son was meant to dissuade her and her husband from defending their eldest, who had been sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2020 for “provoking trouble” and “violating the privacy of others.” Niu Tengyu had been accused of working for a website that disseminated information about the daughter of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his mother’s eyes, he was a scapegoat who was paying for the website’s founders, all of whom were based abroad. For the past four years, Keke herself has been a victim of the Chinese police state. She has received regular death threats, her friends have been defamed, and she has been prevented from earning a living, even from sleeping: A shrill noise is broadcast into her home every night, she told us from her home in Henan, central China. As for her husband, he was detained for a few weeks in early 2024 for trying to visit their son, imprisoned in Guangdong, in the south-east of the country.

Extreme as it may be, Niu’s parents’ situation is not an unusual one in China. Their case was cited among some 20 others in a report entitled “If I disobey, my family will suffer,” by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a coalition of human rights organizations.

‘Collective punishment’

The Washington-based NGO has compiled a list of attacks on human rights activists throughout 2023. “Chinese authorities are collectively punishing the families, including young children, of human rights defenders. These punishments have no legal basis, but have severe outcomes for people across the mainland and across diaspora communities outside China. Acts of collective punishment are prohibited in international human rights law,” denounced the organization.

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