China Must Release Jiang Tianyong, Liu Feiyue & Huang Qi, Honor Commitment Made at UN to Protect Rights
(Chinese Human Rights Defenders—November 29, 2016) – CHRD urges the Chinese government to release three prominent civil society leaders—human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), and rights defenders and citizen journalists Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃) and Huang Qi (黄琦)—and notify families of their whereabouts as well as any criminal accusations against them, and allow their lawyers to visit them. From information CHRD has received, police are believed to be holding the men in unknown locations, raising fears that they are at risk of torture. The detention and disappearance in quick succession of these well-known leading figures of China’s rights defense movement further signal the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s relentless crackdown on civil society.
Lawyer Jiang Tianyong has been out of contact since the evening of November 21. Liu Feiyue is reportedly under criminal detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power” after police in Hubei took him into custody on November 17. Huang Qi was seized by Sichuan police on November 28.
Jiang Tianyong, a leader of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团) and an outspoken supporter of detained rights lawyers from the “709 Crackdown,” has been disappeared since he was to board a train to Beijing from Changsha in Hunan Province. Jiang had been in Changsha to meet with Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of arrested human rights lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), and Xie’s defense lawyers. They attempted to visit Xie Yang at Changsha City Detention Center but authorities refused the request. On November 23, one of Jiang’s family members reported his disappearance to the Tongbolu Branch of the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau in Henan. Although Jiang is a registered resident in Zhengzhou, authorities there refused to investigate his disappearance, claiming that “jurisdictional constraints” prevented them from doing so because Jiang was travelling to Beijing when he went out of contact. Police in Beijing and Changsha have refused requests from his family and supporters to release surveillance video of the Changsha South Train Station and the train that Jiang was supposed to board. In an open letter, prominent Chinese lawyers have called for Jiang’s release.
The detentions of Liu Feiyue and Huang Qi, who head up grassroots human rights monitoring and advocacy groups, have sent chills through China’s beleaguered NGO community. Liu Feiyue, the Hubei-based founder and director of the NGO Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch (民生观察), is under criminal detention on suspicion of “subversion of state power,” according to his family, who was told this development by a policeman at the Suizhou Public Security Bureau on November 18. Liu’s family still has not received any official detention notice, however, and Liu’s whereabouts remain unknown. Liu had apparently sent out a text message to other activists on November 17, saying that national security officers had taken him to a “mountain village,” in a reference to his previous frequent “forced travels” and “soft detentions” during politically sensitive periods. Police also searched Liu’s home and confiscated computers, printed materials, and other personal items. Liu faces a possible life sentence if convicted of “subversion” (Article 105(1) Criminal Law), a crime in the category of “endangering national security.”
Huang Qi, the Sichuan-based founder and director of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, was taken away from his home on the night of November 28 by approximately 15 police officers. 64 Tianwang volunteer Pu Fei (浦飞) is also reportedly out of contact after sending out messages about Huang’s detention.
Local Chinese rights advocacy NGOs have borne the brunt of Xi Jinping government’s aggressive campaigns aimed at suppressing civil society. Since 2013, Chinese authorities have intensified systematic suppression of free and peaceful expression, assembly, and association, leveraging laws and regulations to curtail these rights and escalate criminal prosecution of those who exercise them. This year, the government enacted the new Charity Law, on September 1, and passed the Overseas NGO Management Law, which takes effect on January 1, 2017. Both laws give police more powers to persecute NGO activists for “illegal” activities for raising and accepting funding online or from outside China. Several UN special experts have urged China to repeal the law on overseas NGOs, expressing concerns that it can be used to “suppress…dissenting views and opinions in the country.” On November 28, China promulgated guidelines for implementing the Overseas NGO Management Law.
Since Xi Jinping took power, there have been many examples of state persecution of NGO staff members and suppression of independent advocacy groups. In Guangdong, four individuals from the Panyu Workers Center were recently tried and convicted on concocted charges—director Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋) and staff Meng Han (孟晗), Tang Jian (汤健), and Ms. Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅). Meng received a 21-month jail term in early November, while the other three received suspended sentences in September. In January 2016, an activist who founded the charity group Handa Social Service Center in 2009 and raised funding to support education in the Liangshan Yi Minority region, was detained for mishandling donations. Since 2014, police have investigated and effectively shut down many domestic NGOs, including Panyu, that work to promote a broad range of human rights, often focusing on their funding sources. Among other groups that have been shuttered are the anti-discrimination group Yirenping, the social policy research and advocacy think tank Transition Institute, disability rights group Zhongyixing, labor rights NGO Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center, and women’s rights organizations Weizhiming Women’s Center and Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center.
Notably, the rights cases involving Jiang, Liu, and Qi are the first major ones since China’s recent re-election to another three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council. Authorities may have waited until after the HRC election—and when much of the Western world had entered the holiday season—to take these actions. Though hundreds of lawyers, NGO activists and leaders, and citizen journalists have been detained, disappeared, or issued stern warnings since 2013, these three cases highlight the hollowness of the Chinese government’s pledges on “promoting and protecting human rights” made when China put up its bid for HRC re-election. China’s campaign to silence dissent and suppress civil society has grossly breached its HRC member obligations, which require it to “promot[e] universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” CHRD had warned of serious setbacks to HRC’s mission and guiding principles before China’s re-election to the HRC, based on the declining state of China’s human rights situation that has been documented during the succession of crackdowns on civil society under Xi Jinping.
Background on Detainees
Jiang Tianyong, 45, has defended or supported many high-profile human rights defenders, including rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) and legal advocate Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚). Judicial officials disbarred Jiang from practicing law in 2009 due to his involvement in such cases. Since then, Jiang has taken an active role in organizing Chinese human rights lawyers to provide legal counsel to victims of rights abuses and criticizing authorities’ abuses of legal rights. Authorities have tortured, disappeared, and arbitrarily detained Jiang on several occasions. Police detained Jiang in March 2014 after he and three other lawyers went to investigate a “black jail” in Jiansanjiang City in Heilongjiang where Falun Gong practitioners were allegedly being held; Jiang was beaten in police custody and suffered eight broken ribs. In May 2012, police seized Jiang when he was on his way to visit Chen Guangcheng in a Beijing hospital, detained him for nine hours, and beat Jiang so badly that he suffered hearing loss. In addition, police forcibly disappeared Jiang for two months in the spring of 2011, following online calls in China to hold “Jasmine Rallies” just as pro-democracy movements spread across the Middle East and North Africa.
Liu Feiyue, 46, has often been harassed, beaten, and detained by police, especially during “sensitive” political periods, since he founded Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch in 2006. The group’s website has reported rights abuses and published interviews with victims, including unpaid teachers, rural children who have dropped out of school, migrant workers, and forced home evictees. The group has documented hundreds of cases of forced commitment of activists and dissidents to psychiatric institutions. Liu’s most recent detention was in October 2016, before the 6th Plenum meeting of the Chinese Communist Party; police kept Liu at a guest house, tortured him, and threatened him with more punishment if he continued his advocacy work. Police also detained Liu this past August as part of “stability maintenance” operations prior to the G20 Summit in Hangzhou.
Huang Qi, 53, established the first known rights monitoring website in China in 1998, disseminating reports about people who had been trafficked and disappeared. The website evolved to report on broader human rights violations and complaints against the government. The Sichuan-based Huang has been detained and imprisoned several times for his work. He received a five-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” in 2003, but was released early and resumed his advocacy. Police detained him again in 2008 after he met with families of children who died in schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. Authorities sent him to prison for three years for “illegal possession of state secrets” the following year. Since his release in 2011, Huang has continued to document human rights violations and faced harassment and detention from authorities around “sensitive” periods, most recently during the 6thPlenum meeting of the CCP this past October.
3 Chinese Rights Activists Disappear in Apparent State Crackdown
HONG KONG — Three prominent Chinese rights activists appear to have been detained in recent weeks by the police, part of a continuing crackdown on groups operating outside the umbrella of the state, advocacy groups say.
The three men, Jiang Tianyong, Huang Qi and Liu Feiyue, all disappeared within days of each other in November, each in a different province. The police have charged only Mr. Liu with an offense. Rights groups say he was detained on Nov. 17 or 18 in the central province of Hubei on suspicion of subverting state power, which can carry a sentence of life in prison.
Mr. Jiang, a disbarred lawyer who had famous clients, including the rights defender Chen Guangcheng, was last heard from on Nov. 21 when he was about to board a Beijing-bound train in Changsha, the capital of the south-central province of Hunan. His wife, Jin Bianling, who lives in California, said by telephone that he had not been heard from since.
“I hope the government could at least tell us, his family, where he is and what crimes he has committed,” Ms. Jin said. “At least we should know his whereabouts.”
Mr. Huang, who, like Mr. Liu, headed a legal rights group, was taken by the police from his home in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan on Monday night, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group that works out of the United States. Pu Fei, a volunteer in Mr. Huang’s organization, is also missing, according to reports by several human rights groups.
Their arrests echo the widespread detentions of rights defenders in July 2015, part of a crackdown on civil society under President Xi Jinping, who has spearheaded a drive to stamp out forces outside the Communist Party’s control out of fear that they threatened its survival.
Several of those people, mostly lawyers who specialized in defending dissidents as well as ordinary people such as victims of a 2008 tainted baby formula scandal, were given harsh sentences earlier this year. One, Zhou Shifeng, who headed a Beijing law firm that took on such cases, was given a seven-year sentence, also on a charge of subverting state power.
Mr. Jiang’s disappearance may be related to those arrests, because several of the rights defenders arrested last year still await trial, and he was active in supporting their families, his lawyer, Chen Jinxue, said by telephone. Mr. Jiang was visiting the wife of Xie Yang, one of the detained lawyers, and was trying to arrange a visit with Mr. Xie when he disappeared, Mr. Chen said.
Two of the men had something else in common. Mr. Huang and Mr. Liu headed rights organizations that have come under increasing scrutiny, and their detentions may be related to the pending implementation of a law on nongovernmental organizations that puts new restrictions on foreign groups operating in China. Such groups will be required to register with the Ministry of Public Security, and the police will have the right to scrutinize their operations, including financing, at any time. They must also find a Chinese partner. The law also makes Chinese groups that receive funding from outside the country more vulnerable.
“This may show the mind-set of the authorities as they come close to implementing the NGO law,” William Nee, a researcher for Amnesty International who is based in Hong Kong, said by telephone.
The mobile phones of Mr. Jiang, Mr. Liu and Mr. Huang were either turned off or appeared to not be working. A police officer in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, said that Mr. Huang had been arrested in Chengdu by officers from the nearby city of Mianyang. The police in Suizhou, Mr. Liu’s hometown, said the city government was handling Mr. Liu’s case but denied any further knowledge. The police in railway stations in Changsha and Beijing, as well as in Mr. Jiang’s hometown in central China, had no information on his whereabouts.
Mr. Chen, Mr. Jiang’s lawyer, said that his client had been moving from place to place in and around Beijing for three years, trying to avoid arrest. He had been detained for months in 2011, amid an earlier crackdown that came in the wake of the movements that swept authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt from power. China feared the so-called Jasmine Revolution would come to China as well.
Mr. Jiang was detained that year for two months, telling rights groups of his abuse at the hands of his interrogators, according to an account of his life on the website of China Change, a group based in the United States.
“If, as is strongly likely, this was an act carried out by state agents, then this would be an enforced disappearance, which is a crime under international law,” Mr. Nee of Amnesty International said. “Jiang Tianyong seems to be placed outside the protection of the law, which makes him at very vulnerable to torture and other human rights violations.”
Tags: 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, Chen Guangcheng, China, Chinese rights activists, Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, civil society, Honor Commitment Made at UN to Protect Rights, Huang Qi, Jiang Tianyong, Liu Feiyue, Ministry of Public Security, tainted baby formula, Zhou Shifeng