Published on March 4, 2014
CHINESE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: 2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
CALLS FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS Demonstrators called for press freedoms outside the headquarters of the Guangdong-based Southern Weekly newspaper in January 2013 after propaganda officials interfered with the content of the paper’s New Year’s message. One protestor, Liu Yuandong (刘远东) (far right), was later arrested in part for his participation in the protest. He has been subjected to mistreatment while in detention and was eventually tried for a number of offenses in January 2014.
ABUSES EXPOSED AT WOMEN’S RE-EDUCATION THROUGH LABOR CAMP Though the use of Re-education Through Labor (RTL) had been scaled down by the start of 2013—and the government declared at the end of the year that the system would be abolished—an official media exposé in April sparked outrage, revealing brutal mistreatment of detainees at the Masanjia Women’s RTL camp (above left) in Liaoning Province. Zhu Guiqin (朱桂芹) (above right) is among the women who suffered horrendous abuses at the camp. Even with RTL’s impending end, human rights observers worry that another similar system will simply “replace” it, and former RTL detainees still have no clear channels for seeking recourse over abuses suffered in the camps.
BEIJING AUTHORITIES LAUNCH CRACKDOWN ON BASIC RIGHTS A crackdown on peaceful assembly, association, and expression was underway by late March and went on for the rest of the year. Police in Beijing dragged away four activists from the Xidan shopping district on March 31 as they displayed banners as a part of a peaceful anti-corruption campaign, which included calling on the 200 highest-ranking Chinese government officials to publicly disclose their wealth. These activists were later arrested and court proceedings opened in their cases in January 2014. Zhang Baocheng (张宝成) (top left), Ma Xinli (马新立) (top right), Hou Xin (侯欣) (bottom left)
HEIGHTENED CENSORSHIP OF SOCIAL MEDIA Chinese authorities moved quickly all year to stifle speech that they deemed politically or socially “sensitive,” censoring countless bloggers and microbloggers. For example, Shanghai poet Pan Ting (潘婷) was the focus of censors in March for posting messages online (above) after the corpses of thousands of pigs were found floating in the Huangpu River, an environmental incident that sparked criticism of government mismanagement. In September, police detained Duan Xiaowen (段小文), known by his screen name “Uncle Anti-Corruption” (反腐大叔观音土), on suspicion of “creating a disturbance” after he exposed corruption by local officials online.
Photo: People’s Daily Online FURTHER CRIMINALIZATION OF COMMUNICATIONS BY UYGHURS Authorities tightened restrictions in Xinjiang by criminalizing forms of Internet use by Uyghurs and, as elsewhere in China, detained large numbers of people due to their online communications. In a particularly serious case, two Xinjiang courts in March sentenced 20 Uyghurs on charges of “inciting splittism” (above). It is believed that the convicted Uyghurs had only listened to foreign radio broadcasts and gone online to discuss matters of religious and cultural freedom.
NEW CITIZENS’ MOVEMENT Activists linked to the “New Citizen’s Movement,” who had called for political, legal, and social reforms since 2011, were especially targeted in the year’s crackdown on civil society. Xu Zhiyong (许志 永) (top left), a prominent legal advocate who spearheaded the movement, was taken into custody in July. Xu had also founded the “Open Constitution Initiative” (Gongmeng, 公盟), a pro-democracy group that was banned in 2009. (In January 2014, Xu received a four-year sentence on a charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place.”) Financier and philanthropist Wang Gongquan (王功权) (bottom left), a key benefactor of the movement, was detained in September. In a video confession reportedly made in December (and most likely under coercion), Wang admitted to “gathering a crowd to disrupt order” and agreed to cut ties with Xu Zhiyong. He was released on bail in January of 2014.
CHILDREN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ARRESTED AS UN REVIEWS CHINA’S RECORD ON PROTECTING CHILDREN Rallies were held in Anhui Province in support of democracy activist Zhang Lin (张林)’s daughter Annie Zhang (张安妮) (both above), who was blocked from attending school, in part because of her father’s activism. Zhang Lin, along with Zhou Weilin (周 维林), Li Wei (李蔚), and Li Huaping (李化平), were all later arrested in connection to the protests. In September, China was reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which expressed numerous concerns in its Concluding Observations, including about reprisals against activists who have advocated for the rights of children.
REPRISALS AGAINST ACTIVISTS’ FAMILY MEMBERS Chinese authorities in 2013 continued their pattern of harassing family members of human rights defenders. For example, police in Shandong Province kept up intimidation of relatives of activist Chen Guangcheng (陈光 诚), who is now living in the United States. In April 2013, police summoned two of his family members for questioning and threatened his brother Chen Guangfu (陈光福) (far left). Chen Guangfu is the father of Chen Kegui (陈克贵), who is serving a prison sentence in connection with his uncle’s escape from house arrest in April 2012.
FLAGRANT RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AGAINST “JIANGXI THREE” The trial of three Jiangxi activists seized in April for various human rights activities—Liu Ping (刘萍) (female, standing second from right), Li Sihua ( 李思华) (far left), and Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) (far right)—was delayed in July and then suspended in October after their lawyers resigned over several legal and procedural violations. When finally trying the group in December, the court dismissed evidence of mistreatment and torture while breaking myriad laws.
MENTAL HEALTH LAW COMES INTO EFFECT BUT ABUSES CONTINUE China’s first Mental Health Law, which took effect in May, includes a provision stating psychiatric commitment must be voluntary. Still, local authorities continue to forcibly detain Chinese citizens in mental institutions in retaliation against rights defense efforts. Elderly Shanghaibased activist Fan Miaozhen (范妙珍) (right) has been committed to psychiatric facilities three times against her will, most recently in October 2013.
REPRISALS AGAINST LAWYERS INTENSIFY Both violent attacks and punitive administrative tactics were commonly used to intimidate human rights lawyers in 2013. For example, a dozen lawyers, including Tang Jitian (唐吉田) (above), were taken into custody in Sichuan Province in May and physically assaulted by police. Meanwhile, judicial authorities, among other things, delayed license renewals in order to disrupt lawyers’ work. Responding to frequent threats and assaults against lawyers, hundreds of defense attorneys banded together under the name “China Human Rights Lawyers Group” (中国人权律师团).
HARASSMENT OF INDEPENDENT GROUPS & GRASSROOTS LEADERS 2013 saw the forced closure or retreat of outspoken independent groups, and leaders of grassroots campaigns faced severe harassment as well. In general, groups working on issues of health and discrimination that had more space in previous years were subjected to greater scrutiny. In May, police in Guangxi Province detained and beat activist Ye Haiyan (叶海燕) (left), who has long been subjected to harassment for championing the rights of sex workers and persons infected with HIV/AIDS.
RETALIATION FOR DEMANDING CIVIL SOCIETY ROLE UN HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS As China was gearing up for its second Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council in October, authorities suppressed civil society members seeking a role in preparations for the review. Police monitored and broke up demonstrations outside of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between June and October (left), and leading campaigners Cao Shunli (曹顺利) (right) and Chen Jianfang (陈建芳) were blocked from attending UN human rights training activities in Geneva in September. Cao was arrested in October and has suffered from serious health problems after authorities refused to provide her proper medical care. Chen was detained for a short time and later had to go into hiding.
JOURNALISTS ENSNARED IN MOVE TO CONTROL PRESS As part of an overall move to stifle free speech, both professional and citizen journalists in China were detained during the year. Authorities seized two journalists from the state newspaper New Express after they exposed official malfeasance. Liu Hu (刘虎) was arrested for “libel” in September after revealing corruption and abuses of power by Party officials. In October, Chen Yongzhou (陈永州 ) was detained on suspicion of “spreading fabrications that damage the reputation of a business” after he reported on financial fraud by a large state-run firm. Chen’s detention led the newspaper to boldly print a statement calling for the men’s freedom (left).
JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION SETS CRIMINAL STANDARDS FOR ONLINE EXPRESSION The Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued a “judicial interpretation” in September, specifying conditions under which online expression that may “spread rumors” and involve “defamation” would be grounds for criminal punishment. One of the first victims of the interpretation was 16year-old Yang Hui (杨辉) (right), criminally detained on suspicion of “creating a disturbance” for expressing doubts over police claims about a man’s death. Following a public uproar over his case, Yang Hui was released after being held for seven days.
SCOURGE OF “BLACK JAILS” “Black jails,” illegal detention cells that CHRD has closely documented for years, appear to be proliferating across the country as the use of the Re-education through Labor system is being phased out. In a case related to these illegal facilities, Shanghai activists Wang Kouma (王扣玛) and Wei Qin (魏勤) were both given prison sentences in September 2013. They were initially detained the previous September, allegedly for organizing a memorial service for Wang’s mother, a petitioner who died under mysterious circumstances in a “black jail” in 2008.
SEVERE REPRESSION OF TIBETANS Authorities in 2013 maintained and even stepped up restrictions against ethnic Tibetans, issuing lengthy prison sentences that punished both free expression and activities tied to self-immolation protests. In August, a court in Sichuan issued the first known death sentence for that form of protest to a Tibetan man whose wife self-immolated. Also, authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region executed a “mass line” campaign ordered by the central government that aimed to elevate loyalty to the CCP, patriotic education, and mass surveillance. Such policies led to an especially severe backlash in the county of Diru (Biru), where security forces were frequently dispatched to “maintain stability” (left).
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