Chinese Authorities Must Release Activists, End Escalating Crackdown on Free Expression

 

Chinese Authorities Must Release Activists, End Escalating Crackdown on Free Expression

on Apr 19, 2013

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, April 19 2013) – Police in China have begun detaining activists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens in an apparently coordinated crackdown triggered by advocacy aimed against official corruption and other politically sensitive issues. Authorities have seized activists in Beijing who, under the rubric of the “New Citizens Movement,” have organized a petition drive to demand that more than 200 high-ranking Communist Party officials, including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, publicly disclose their financial assets. Also, activists from around China who had gone to Hefei, Anhui Province, have recently been punished after peacefully protesting the banning of Annie Zhang (张安妮), the daughter of dissident Zhang Lin (张林), from attending school.

 

On the evening of April 17, police in Beijing took into custody Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), a prominent human rights lawyer, and Zhao Changqing (赵常青), a veteran democracy activist, on suspicion of “unlawful assembly.” Apparently, police have been closely watching their roles in the “New Citizens Movement,” an open network of activists spearheaded by the activist Xu Zhiyong (许志勇) that advocates for social justice and political and legal reforms. Officers raided their homes and confiscated laptop computers, video cameras, cell phones, books, and other items. The detentions and raids were carried out by the Beijing Public Security Bureau’s division on Security Protection of Public Transportation. Both Ding and Zhao are being held at Beijing No. 3 Detention Center.

 

A day earlier, on April 16, police detained Sun Hanhui (孙含会), reportedly also on suspicion of “unlawful assembly.” And on April 15, Beijing resident Wang Yonghong (王永红), who is also involved in the “New Citizens Movement,” was detained on a charge of “disrupting social order.” Police raided Wang’s home in the capital’s Haidian District in the early morning of April 16. Like Ding and Zhao, Sun and Wang are currently detained at Beijing No. 3 Detention Center. Another participant in the drive, Qi Yueying (齐月英), was taken away by police on April 17 and formally detained the next day. She refused to sign the detention notice but was sent to Chaoyang District Detention Center in Beijing.

 

Police also took away another activist, Li Wei (李蔚), whose whereabouts remain unknown. Li, who has been involved in the “New Citizens Movement” as well, was last seen around midnight on April 10, when he and others lit candles in front of the building that houses the Ministry of Education. The activists were drawing attention to authorities’ blocking of 10-year-old Annie Zhang from attending school in Hefei, which is likely an act of retaliation against her father, Zhang Lin, a veteran democracy activist who has been imprisoned several times since 1989 (see more below). Li had sent out a message to friends saying that police asked to see him. Lawyer Ding Jiaxi tweeted on April 13 that Li was taken away for “questioning” by police from the Taipingzhuang Office of the Haidian District Public Security Bureau.

 

The above detentions come soon after other activists were seized for similar activities. For instance, CHRD has already reported that four activists—Hou Xin (候欣), Yuan Dong (袁冬), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), Ma Xinli (马新立)—were criminally detained in Beijing for “unlawful assembly” after they displayed banners in streets calling for public disclosure of top Chinese officials’ assets. On March 31, police dragged away the activists, who had demonstrated a dozen times since February. Hou Xin had previously been summoned by police and put under house arrest due to her advocacy. Three of the activists are still being held at Beijing No. 3 Detention Center, while Ms. Hou has been released on medical grounds.

 

In addition, four Guangdong activists were recently given administrative detentions of between 10 and 20 days for supporting Guangzhou-based activist Liu Yuandong (刘远东), who has been detained since late February for protesting North Korea’s nuclear test conducted earlier that month. On April 12, Jia Pin (贾榀) and Nie Guang (聂光) were seized in Dongguan City as they held banners with slogans calling for Liu’s release. Yuan Xiaohua (袁小华) and Chen Jianxiong (陈剑雄) were taken into custody after they went to the scene of the rally to try to locate Jia and Nie.

 

Police in Hefei are now punishing citizens who have publicly called for Annie Zhang to resume her studies, which have been disrupted since February. The escalating campaign over her plight has led to demonstrations in front of the local public security bureau and the girl’s school, neither of which is taking action to allow her back into the classroom. On April 16, activists Zhou Weilin (周维林) and Chai Baowen (柴宝文) were seized by police and then given 10-day administrative detentions on charges of “disrupting public order.” Taken into custody the same day, activist Sun Lin (孙林) has also been handed a 10-day detention, while Yao Cheng (姚诚) was taken away by police on April 17 and ordered to serve a detention of 15 days. Another individual, Yi Chun (伊春), was also detained on April 18 by Hefei police, and his whereabouts are unknown at this time.

 

China’s Criminal Law (Article 296) stipulates that the maximum punishment, if convicted, of the crime of “unlawful assembly” is five years’ imprisonment. The government has long viewed even peaceful demonstrations and expression by its citizens as threatening, and police routinely break up rallies and harass the organizers. Participants in such advocacy activities are often taken into custody and charged with “unlawful assembly,” “disrupting social order,” or other offenses. In line with Chinese law, many individuals try to apply to the government in advance for permits to hold demonstrations, but they are never granted them and are even retaliated against for seeking such permission. In recent years, the rapid rise of online activism has only forced authorities to extend their suppression of free speech to cyberspace.

 

“It violates China’s own constitution and international law to detain any of these individuals for  ‘unlawful assembly’ or ‘disrupting social order,’ since they have only peacefully expressed their views online or in letters sent through the mail, or displayed banners in public,” said Renee Xia, international director of CHRD. “China’s new President Xi Jinping cannot possibly cash in his anti-corruption pledges if he does nothing to lift the ban on free expression and move to release these citizens, who are only asking him to honor his own words.”

 

Further background on detainees:

 

Zhao Changqing, 44, has been very active in pro-democracy and human rights campaigns for decades. He was a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen protests and was imprisoned for six months for his role. He was jailed two more times for his democracy activities (in 1997 and 2002) for “inciting subversion against state power,” for three and five years, respectively. Since his release in 2007, he has devoted himself to promoting democracy and human rights, organizing citizen campaigns on diverse issues—from equal rights to education to anti-corruption efforts—and using the Internet as a platform of action, especially the eJournal and blog “Charter 08” (http://08charterbbs.blogspot.com/).

 

Ding Jiaxi, 45, a human rights lawyer, has defended politically “sensitive” cases in recent years, including that of Chen Kegui (陈克贵), the jailed nephew of activist Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), and also detained Tibetans. Mr. Ding has been providing legal services to the banned NGO Open Constitution Initiative (公盟) in Beijing. He is a key voice in the campaign to push top Chinese leaders to disclose their personal wealth.

 

Wang Yonghong, in his 40s, Sun Hanwen, 40, Li Wei, 42, and Qi Yueying, 50, are all participants in the “New Citizens Movement.” Wang once served in the Chinese military and now works at China Railway, and was also detained for several hours on February 21, and then placed under surveillance and threatened by police at his workplace. Sun has served as a legal consultant for CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center, a non-profit in Beijing). Ms. Qi has been fighting a legal battle to preserve her home from forced demolition; however, on the same day of her detention, her home was bulldozed.

 

Media contacts

 

Renee Xia, International Director, +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.com

 

Victor Clemens, Researcher, +852 8192 7875, victorclemens@chrdnet.com

 

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