Human Rights Day 2011: A Dismal Year for Human Rights Defenders in China

Chinese Government Must Honor Its International Human Rights Obligations

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, December 9, 2011) As the world observes Human Rights Day on December 10, CHRD notes that 2011 was one of the worst years in recent memory for human rights and human rights defenders in China. Activists suffer imprisonment, extralegal detention, torture, and harassment for advocating for basic human rights and social justice. Moreover, this year saw the extensive use of enforced disappearance and unlawful house arrest by Chinese authorities against human rights defenders, especially during the “Jasmine Crackdown” between February and June, and the effort by the Chinese government to amend the Criminal Procedure Law to legalize enforced disappearance.

“As a year of harsh crackdowns draws to a close—the severity of which indicates more than anything the Chinese government’s arrogant, fearful, and panicked responses to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo and the Arab Spring –we are hopeful and encouraged by the resilience of Chinese activists, as well as the courage and resourcefulness of many ordinary citizens who have joined the fight for freedom, as demonstrated by the recent campaigns to free Chen Guangcheng and support Ai Weiwei,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “On this Human Rights Day, the world should pay attention to the Chinese government’s ‘human rights hypocrisy’ of having made commitments to human rights on the world stage, but acting in contrary to these commitments at home.”

Extensive Use of Enforced Disappearance  

The year of 2011 has been marked by the extensive use of enforced disappearance, and official efforts to legalize the practice. Prior to the Jasmine Crackdown, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) was the only high profile activist who had been disappeared for an extended period of time. Others who suffered disappearance in the past, such as Teng Biao (滕彪), Li Heping (李和平), and Wan Yanhai (万延海), were held incommunicado for a few days at most. During the Jasmine Crackdown, at least two dozen activists, some very well-known, were forcibly disappeared. Many were held for weeks, others for months, such as the human rights lawyers Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Teng Biao (滕彪), Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), the activists Gu Chuan (古川), Li Hai (李海), and the artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未). Some of these individuals, upon their resurfacing from disappearance, appeared shaken and were coerced to remain silent, those who eventually ended their silence told of psychological and physical torture.

This year the Chinese government has even sought to legalize enforced disappearance. Draft amendments to China’s Criminal Procedure Law proposed in August –if enacted as drafted—would authorize the police to disappear suspects under the guise of “residential surveillance.” Article 73 of the proposed amendments would permit police to detain suspects accused of certain categories of crimes, including “endangering state security” crimes (which activists are often accused of), outside of their homes in a “designated place of residence.” While Article 73 contains a notice provision, police are not required to notify family members within the stipulated 24hour period if the suspected crime involves “endangering state security” and such notice may hinder the investigation.

Unlawful house arrest

The use of soft detention (ruanjin)[1], i.e., unlawful house arrest, was also widely used against human rights defenders during 2011. After imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) was announced winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010, the Chinese government responded with a nationwide crackdown on activists, swiftly putting approximately three dozen activists under soft detention, which lasted into 2011 and in some cases still remains in place. Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) and his family have been subjected to an extreme form of soft detention since September 2010. Chen’s situation exemplifies the extreme degree to which this extralegal measure can be used. While the Chinese government maintains that Chen is a “free man” who is living “a normal life,” over one hundred hired thugs guard Chen’s home, and they use violence to prevent activists and concerned citizens from visiting Chen and his family.

Activists Caught in Jasmine Crackdown Remain Detained

While many individuals detained or disappeared earlier this year have been released, there are seven arrested Jasmine Crackdown victims whose cases are still pending. Three of these cases, Sichuan activist Chen Wei (陈卫), Beijing activists Ni Yulan (倪玉兰) and Dong Jiqin (董继勤) have been sent back repeatedly to the procuratorate or the police for further investigation due to lack of evidence while the charges against Zhejiang activist Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫) have reportedly been dismissed by the court though Zhu remains detained.

On Human Rights Day, CHRD calls on the international community to:

  • Publicly call for the release of Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, and those who remain detained as a result of the Jasmine Crackdown, including Chen Wei, Ni Yulan, Dong Jiqin, and Zhu Yufu;
  • Endeavor to visit Chen Guangcheng and his family, and Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, to contest the government’s claim that they are “free” or “living a normal life”;
  • Publicly express concern about the proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedural Law which would effectively legalize enforced disappearance.

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286, reneexia@chrdnet.com

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660, songlianwang@chrdnet.com

[1] Individuals subjected to soft detention are guarded by police stationed outside their homes. Though some individuals may be allowed to leave their homes during this kind of detention, they are closely followed and monitored by police, or are required to travel in police vehicles and are often barred from meeting other “sensitive” individuals. Some being detained in this way may not be allowed to leave their homes at any time during their soft detention. The length of the detention period will usually last until the “sensitive period” which triggered the detention has passed, or in rare cases, it may be extended for months, or even years. This form of detention has no basis in law and does not include “residential surveillance” (jianshi juzhu), which is authorized under the Criminal Procedural Law (CPL).