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Human Rights Dialogue should Not Remain at Rhetoric Level between the Government - UK-China HR Dialogue in 2015

Briefing: UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in 2015

On the occasion of the upcoming UK-China human rights dialogue on 21 and 22 April 2015, I want to highlight a number of key concerns and make a list of recommendations.

Key concerns:

  1. Chinese authorities, using legal provisions, criminalise legitimate  human rights activities based on International Human Rights Conventions. Tens thousands of prisoners of conscience and human rights activists (including ethnic group activists, pro-democracy activists, religious right activists, free trade union initiators, housing & land rights activists,  women's rights activists, child rights activists, disability rights activists, LGBT advocates, environmental activists, lawyers, NGO workers, writers, artists &filmmakers, teachers) have been imprisoned on spurious charges such as "terrorism”,  "separatism", "subversion of state power", "Evil Cult", "creating a disturbance ", “leaked state secrets” , "protecting and harbouring the criminal”,“creating a public disturbance ",  illegal business operation” etc.
  2. Criminalisation of people exercising their right to participate in public life through standing as independent Local People’s Congress candidates or engaging in public policy debates.

Example: Liu Ping (刘萍) of Jiangxi province, and Li Biyun (李碧云) of Guangdong province attempted to stand as candidates in the 2011-12 local people’s congress elections. Acrossing the country, over four-dozen independent woman candidates including Liu and Li experienced harassment from the local authorities including physical and verbal attacks, were prevented from standing, were detained and experienced ill treatment, likely amounting to torture, while they were in detention. The court also refused to file a case to investigate the allegation of torture brought by their lawyer. Li Biyun’s lawyer has reported that beatings by police have resulted in broken vertebrae and her losing consciousness.

  1. Crackdown on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly & association

Example: Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄) (also known as Yang Maodong), a prominent human rights lawyer from Guangzhou, was criminally detained in August 2013 and formally arrested a month later in a nationwide crackdown on freedom of assembly, association, and expression. Police in Guangzhou accused Guo of organizing rallies in front of the Southern Weekly headquarters in January 2013, organizing a campaign calling on the government to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and also leading an anti-corruption campaign. Guo has been ill-treated in prison.

More Individuals Detained in Crackdown on Peaceful Assembly, Association & Expression:


  1. Control and crackdown during the Beijing Massacre Anniversary and Universal Suffrage Movement in Hong Kong. Four dozen of activists participating commemorating the Beijing Massacre Anniversary and Universal Suffrage Movement in Hong Kong have been still held by police. The suppression that began in the spring of 2013—and caught dozens of activists and lawyers in violation of their rights to peaceful expression, assembly, and association—was even more pervasive in 2014. More than 260 individuals were detained either around the June Fourth anniversary or as the pro-democracy protests were happening in Hong Kong._ Now at least 30 activists are waiting for trial.


Example One: Yu Shiwen (于世文) , a student organiser at Zhongsan University during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, was disappeared on 23 May 2014, until May 28, when their family received a notice saying he had been criminally detained on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place.” The charges apparently stem from their organizing a June Fourth memorial event in February 2014 in the hometown of Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳), a former CCP secretary-general who was dethroned for his efforts to stop the 1989 Beijing massacre, and was under constant house arrest until his death in 2005. Of several dozen people who had gathered for the activity, at least 10 have been detained since May. When he was formally arrested in July, the charges against him had been changed. Yu reportedly suffers from hypertension and hereditary cardiovascular disease, which had led to his father’s death. In July 2014, Yu suffered a stroke in detention after not being provided any medication to manage his illnesses. He was sent to the detention center’s hospital for treatment, but his hands and feet were almost always shackled to his bed, which was unbearable for Yu, who decided in the end to return to his cell instead.

Example Two:  Chen Yunfei, a human rights activist and blogger from Sichuan province who has campaigned against environmental degradation, highlighted human rights abuses and spoken out on behalf of the families seeking justice for those killed in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. He has been subjected to threats, harassment, physical attack, illegal detention and house arrest as a result of his work. On 6 April 2015, the family of human rights defender Mr Chen Yunfei received formal notification from the authorities in Sichuan province that the defender has been charged with 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles' and 'inciting subversion of state power'. He is currently detained in Xinjin County Detention Centre in Sichuan Province, where he has not yet been permitted access to a lawyer.

Example Three: Han Ying (韩颖), housing and child rights activist, 2011 independent candidate for Beijing National People's Congress elections, founder of Smile Charity (grassroots NGO), has been seized on October 1, has been formally arrested.

Example Four: Wang Zang (王藏) , artist, was taken away in early October 2014 after he had posted a photo and expressed support online for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests[1]. According to his lawyer, who was finally allowed to meet Wang nearly three months after his initial detention, Wang was subjected to torture and other forms of mistreatment. Authorities initially locked up Wang at a military camp-like facility, and kept him in a padded room for 15 days and under 24-hour watch, purportedly to prevent him from committing suicide. Police then interrogated him for five days straight, depriving Wang of any sleep. During the interrogations, police forced him to stand and struck him when he fell down. The interrogators tried to force Wang to hand over the passwords for his weibo account and his cell phone. Wang subsequently suffered a heart attack and passed out. Prior to being detained, he had no history of heart disease and was generally in good health. Authorities then moved Wang to Beijing No. 1 Detention Center for the remainder of his 37-day criminal detention and later transferred him to Tongzhou District Detention Center after his formal arrest in November 2014.

Example Five: Bian Xiaohui (卞晓晖), a new graduate student and NGO worker, was sentenced to three and half years in prison. Her father, Bian Lichao, has been serving a 12-year sentence in Shijiazhuang Prison since 2012 for practicing Falun Gong. Since then, her requests to visit him had been rejected by the prison authority. In March 2014, she held up a sign outside the prison, saying “I want to see my father.”  Immediately she has been detained.

Example Six:  veteran Chinese dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) and his wife Zhao Suli (赵素利), have been "forcibly disappeared" for over three months.

26 activists are still in custody for expressing support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protests

115 detentions of individuals were taken away since October in the crackdown on supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. Of all those once detained, 27 individuals are still in police custody—24 who have formally arrested and three others who are under criminal detention. Police have denied lawyers visits for an extended period of time for many detainees, some of whom have reported being tortured.[

To date, police in Beijing have recommended indictments in the cases of nine individuals:

Another 15 arrested individuals—all in Beijing or Guangdong Province—remain under police investigation:

  • In Beijing: Guo Yushan (郭玉闪), He Zhengjun (何正军), Jiang Jiawen (姜家文), Li Yufeng (李玉凤), Ran Chongbi (冉崇碧), Zhang Miao (张淼), Zhang Weishan (张伟姗 aka Zhang Ying, 张瑛), and Zhu Yanguang (朱雁光)
  • In Guangdong: Chen Qitang (陈启棠, aka Tian Li, 天理), Su Changlan (苏昌兰), Wang Mo (王默), Xie Wenfei (谢文飞), Ye Xiaozheng (叶晓峥), and Zhang Shengyu (张圣雨 real name Zhang Rongping, 张荣平)

In addition, Ji Sizun (纪斯尊), Sun Feng (孙峰), and Xia Lin (夏霖) remain under criminal detention.


  1. Civil society participation in UN Universal Periodic Review/other international human rights mechanisms blocked.

Example One: Cao Shunli (曹顺利) was detained several times after advocating for civil society participation in the UPR in late 2008. Originally detained in September 2013 at Beijing Capital International Airport while on her way to a training session on UN human rights in Geneva, Cao was held at Chaoyang District Detention Centre where her health seriously deteriorated. Her family’s requests for medical release were repeatedly denied, and she developed a number of serious illnesses, including tuberculosis, liver ascites, fibroid tumours and cysts. Cao was taken to the intensive-care unit of Beijing’s Qinghe Emergency Centre on 16 February 2014. The Chinese authorities’ role in disappearing, arbitrarily detaining, and denying Cao Shunli medical treatment  and tortured her in detention, directly led to her death. During China's October CEDAW review in 2014, over ten women activists in China were prevented them from traveling to Geneva to contribute to the review. In addition, two women’s rights activist Ye Haiyan (叶海燕) and  Wang Qiuyun (王秋云) were detained during the review.


  1.   Deprive medical treatment or torture as a form of reprisal against prisoners of conscience received considerable attention in 2014. For HRDs, “death by detention” remains a very real possibility, and various abuses behind bars led directly to deaths in 2014. Only in 2014, at least 5 prisoners of conscience died in custody or died immediately after they were released. Cao Shunli (曹顺利) passed away in March from illnesses that worsened or were contracted in detention. Tibetan prisoners Goshul Lobsang (果秀洛桑), Kunchok Drakpa, and Tenzin Choedak (丹增曲扎) died in Marc, April and December, respectively, after their bodies were decimated by torture; they had been serving long sentences tied to the demonstrations in the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2008._ Shi Enxiang (師恩祥), an underground bishop died in custody after 14 Years secret detention.


Example One: Wang Bingzhang (王炳章), born in 1947, a veteran US-based Chinese democracy activist has been sentenced to life in prison since 2003, being held in solitary confinement. Wang was abducted by Chinese security forces along the border of China and Vietnam in 2002. He suffers from chronic phlebitis, severe allergies, untreated depression, and has been stricken with at least three strokes in the last six years.


Example Two: Yang Tongyan (杨同彦, aka Yang Tianshui (杨天水), a writer, is critically ill, raise serious concerns about the treatment of detainees in Chinese prisons and detention centers. Yang, currently serving a 12-year sentence for “subversion of state power” in Nanjing Prison, has been hospitalized since mid-September 2009. Yang is ill with a myriad of illnesses, which include intestinal tuberculosis, tuberculous peritonitis, diabetes, kidney inflammation, and high blood pressure.



  1. Fresh “crackdown” on religious communities and other groups in civil society in course of crackdown on civil society and all forms of protest.

Example One: Khenpo Kartse is a popular senior religious figure and well respected for his social work and the promotion and protection of Tibetan language, culture and religion. He was arrested on 6 December 2013 and his health condition has taken a turn for the worse. He currently suffers from a sharp pain in his back and has begun ejecting sputum, a bloody mixture of mucus and saliva. The authorities denied his family's and his lawyer's appeal to release on medical parole while they refused to provide medicine for him. On October 2014, he has been sentenced a two-and-a-half-year prison term in a secret trial in Tibet after being held in detention for nearly a year,

Example Two: Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie (张少杰) and eight members of the state-registered Nanle Church remain in detention after petitioning the authorities about a land dispute. Their lawyers have been harassed, beaten and robbed, and at least two of the detainees have reportedly been tortured in detention. The remaining church members have been prevented from meeting together, and visitors to the church have been harassed, detained and physically attacked.

  1. Charter 08 advocated a whole political change, a new constitution and democracy in China.  Now around two dozens Charter 08 signatories have been jailed or detained. Two dozens have been held under house arrest. Imprisoned Charter 08 signatories inclduding Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xianbin, Chen Wei, Chen Xi, Zhu Yufu, Gao Yu, Pu Zhiqiang, Tie Liu, Zhao Changqing, Guo Yushan, Tang Jingling, Wang Qingying, Yuan,Xinting, Jiang Lijun, Zhu Yingdi, Li Bifeng, Wei Qin, Wang Kouma, Zhang Lin.


  1. Use of unlawful and arbitrary detention including de facto house arrest, “psychiatric hospital”, “black jails”, “so-called legal education centres for petitioners and religious communities.

Example One: Liu Xia (刘霞), wife of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner and imprisoned dissident writer Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), continues to be subject to mistreatment. She has been put under house arrest since October 2010.  She has been cut off from contact with her family and friends.  Pressure and isolation have driven her to the brink of mental break-down, according to a letter that she wrote and smuggled out[2].

Example Two: Peng Lanlan (彭兰岚), Cao Shunli’s fellow activist in the campaign, was tortured and subjected to other forms of mistreatment in psychiatric facilities from 2013 to 2014. More examples: activists and petitioners have been forcibly held in psychiatric hospitals [3].

Example Three: Yu Jinfeng, a Falun Gong practitioner from Hulin city, Heilongjiang province, was sent to a “brainwashing centre” set up in the former Jixi re-education through labour (RTL) camp. This is one of many reports of former RTL institutions continuing to be used to arbitrarily and unlawfully detain groups, particularly Falun Gong practitioners[4].




  1. Tight media and communication censorship, control or suppression of press, publication, and online expression, smother all sorts of criticism and public commentary on party policies. There have been the highest number of journalists in jail for at least two decades.  In the period between 2013 and 2014 more journalists are now in prison than at any time since at least 1990, with more than half being Uighur or Tibetans.

Gao Yu (高瑜), 71, women journalist, was sentenced to seven years in prison on spurious charge “ leaking state secrets” which an internal Communist party document which urged the aggressive targeting of subversive ideological trends including support for western democratic ideals, media independence, civil society and the “universal values” of human rights. This is Gao's third time in prison. Gao, working for the official China News Service in 1980s, mostly produced interviews with various famous personalities and provided her articles including student movements in 1988 to oversea Chinese language media in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries. In 1988, Gao joined the Economics Weekly (经济学周报) which was taken over by the Democracy Wall  veterans Chen Ziming and Wang Juntao. She published a few influencial interviews, including one with Yan Jiaqi and Wen Yuankai on political reform. During the 1989 Pro-democracy Movement, Gao Yu joined her fellow journalists in a few protest marches. After the martial law, on May 21, Gao Yu contacted two dozens representatives in the National People's Congress, demanding a them to revoke the martial law. On June 3, just before the bloody crackdown, Gao Yu was kidnapped in front of her home and then was secretly jailed for 15 months. Gao Yu remained active after her release. In 1993, she was arrested again for "leaking state secret" and sentenced to six years in prison. While serving that sentence, she was bestowed several awards from various international organizations.


More cases:…


  1. In Tibet and Xinjiang (East Turkestan); the current policy of brutal repression violates basic human rights.  Millions of Tibetans have been displaced in their own homeland amid rampant mining and river damming in vacated areas In name of development. A newer strategy for suppressing Tibetans and Uyghurs was evident in 2013-4: “collectively punishing” entire villages in the aftermath of individual acts, such as self-immolations or other kinds of political resistance by Tibetans and Uighurs, that the Chinese authorities blamed on Uighurs and Tibetans “extremists”,  “separatists” or terrorist.

The has regularly instituted extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in the region. Uighurs and Tibetans were given severe prison sentences and faced greater violence from authorities. The life sentence given to Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti in September 2014 was a case study in the perverse lack of transparency and flagrant political retaliation of China’s criminal justice system against any critical voices.


See more:

Tibetan survivors of self-immolation: repression and disappearance

Annual Report 2014: Human Rights Situation in Tibet

Legitimizing Repression: China’s “War on Terror” Under Xi Jinping & State Policy in East Turkestan


  1. Human rights lawyers and lawyer professor were criminally detained—and five of those later arrested—and two others were sent to prison in 2014 (among the two imprisoned are lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) and lawyer professor Xu Zhiyong.The criminal conviction of a lawyer comes with a serious price: an automatic ban from ever practicing law again in China, which severely jeopardizes their chance to earn a living. During the suppression around the June Fourth anniversary, police arrested five lawyers—Chang Boyang (常伯阳), Ji Laisong (姬来松), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), Ms. Qu Zhenhong (屈振红) and disbarred lawyer Tang Jingling (唐荆陵)—and criminally detained another, Liu Shihui (刘士辉). Except for Pu, all were detained in the process of assisting clients. Two other lawyers, Yu Wensheng (余文生) and Xia Lin (夏霖), were seized in October for trying to represent detainees from the crackdown related to the Hong Kong protests.


Based on the above-listed concerns, I would like to recommend that the UK delegation to the dialogue strongly urges the Chinese government to take the following actions:

  1. Set out a clear legislative timetable for ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in line with the UK’s recommendation at China’s Universal Periodic Review);
  2. Call on the UN and independent international organizations to investigate the death in detention of Cao Shunli (曹顺利), including an independent autopsy;
  3. Abolish all forms of arbitrary and extra-judicial detention (in line with the UK’s recommendation at China’s Universal Periodic Review);
  4. Stop extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, especially in Xinjiang (East Turkestan) and Tibet;
  5. Establish a moratorium on the death penalty, take steps toward abolition of the death penalty, and publish the number of executions;
  6. In accordance with the international standards set out in Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, guarantee ethnic minorities the full exercise of their human rights, including their linguistic and cultural rights;
  7. Take immediate measures to implement the recommendations of the Committee against Torture in November 2008: in particular adopt a definition of torture in the Criminal Law compliant with international law. Promote awareness of the Istanbul Protocol and take concrete steps to ratify the Optional Protocol Against Torture. Introduce independent investigations into all deaths in custody or following police detention;
  8. Recognise the contribution of human rights defenders and civil society to the realisation of human rights. Release all human rights defenders who are detained as a result of exercising and advocating human rights, and end harassment and violence against human rights lawyers;
  9. Provide concrete statistics, disaggregated by provinces, on women who stood for grassroots People’s Congress elections in 2011-12 and village committee elections 2006-13, including the number of independent candidates; number of votes obtained; number of candidates who experienced physical attacks, restrictions or detention/imprisonment;
  10. Provide concrete statistics, disaggregated by provinces, on the number of investigations into cases of violence in connection with citizens’ exercise of their civil and political rights, the results of such investigations, punishment of the perpetrators, and what remedies and compensation citizens can avail themselves of;
  11. End coercive measures for implementing family planning policy, and take concrete measures to eradicate forced sterilization and forced abortion;
  12. Include a prohibition of discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, ethnicity, religion, persons with disabilities, and infection with HIV, in labour and employment law in line with international standards;
  13. Provide open access to Tibet and Xinjiang (East Turkestan) including foreign media, diplomats and international observers;
  14. Take measures to protect Uyghurs, Tibetans and other ethnic minorities from discrimination in access to education and employment;
  15. Remove restrictions on the peaceful religious practices of Uyghur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and other ethnic minorities;
  16. Extend protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief to those outside the state-sanctioned religious bodies, and remove all legislation relating to “cults” and “illegal religious activities” not in line with international standards on freedom of religion or belief;
  17. Ensure that means of official registration for religious activities are non-discriminative, and are not used in any way as a means for curtailing the right to religious freedom of any individual or group.
  18. In relation to the Human Rights Action Plan, include benchmarks for progress and measures for implementing the contents of the plans.

Human Rights Dialogue should not remain at rhetoric level between the governments. The UK government should make the process of the Dialogue transparent, for example, through live broadcast on twitter and weibo, and invite human rights activists to participate into the process.



[1]A partial list of detained after expressing support for Hong Kong Democracy 4 Dec 2014



[4] Amnesty International December 2013 Changing the soup but not the medicine? ASA/17/042/2013.


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