Recognizing Women Human Rights Defenders

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders,March 8, 2010) – Whilewomen make significant contributions to the promotion of human rightsin China,their efforts are often overlooked. Many women human rights defenders(HRDs) aregrassroots activists, and because of their lower profile they may notattractthe attention of the domestic or international media. Others may beovershadowed by the work of husbands who are prominent human rightsactiviststhemselves. And yet, despite difficulties gaining recognition andsupport fortheir work, they continue to make great personal sacrifices in theircourageousstruggle for the cause of advancing human rights.

 

“On International Women’s Day,we should honor theincreasing number of women at the forefront of the Chineserights-defensemovement, who often have to overcome tremendous obstacles in theirquest toseek justice and defend human rights,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’sInternationalCoordinator.

 

Women human rights defenders areactive in all facetsof the rights-defense movement, and have played critical roles in someof themost important cases in recent memory. Some, such as Liu Jie (刘杰), work with petitioners,helping organize them tobetter protect their rights and more effectively present theirgrievances. In2007, Liu organized and released a public letter signed by 12,150petitioners callingon leaders at the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress toimplementpolitical and legal reforms.

 

Others use their platform asartists or educators tospeak out against human rights abuses. For example, last October SunYat-senUniversity professor and filmmaker Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明)released “Our Children (我们的娃娃),” a documentary about the 2008Sichuanearthquake. The documentary, which is available online,focuses on the experiences of parents whose children were killed whentheirschools collapsed during the earthquake, and provides an unflinchingview atthe tragedy and its roots.

 

Still others have been involvedwith the fight topromote human rights and democracy through political reform. Theoriginal groupof signatories to Charter 08 includedprominent women including Woeser (唯色), a Tibetan author and advocatefor freedom ofexpression, Liu Di (刘荻), a Beijing blogger andactivist, and ShenPeilan (沈佩兰), a land rights activist fromShanghai.Women human rights defenders have continued to play an active role inthedissemination of the Charter, as wellas efforts to support Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) andcombat the government’s crackdown on the Charter.

 

Though they take diverseapproaches to defendingrights, one common attribute shared by all women human rights defendersis adetermination to persevere despite overwhelming pressure from theChinesegovernment. We take this opportunity to profile a selection of thesewomenhuman rights defenders who have recently been subjected to harassmentfor theiractivism, noting their accomplishments as well as the punishments theyhavesuffered. We recognize that many more women face the threat ofsurveillance,detention in psychiatric facilities and “black jails,” and constantharassmentby officials for their work.

 

Women HRDs currently detained orimprisoned

DuanChunfang

Duan Chunfang (段春芳), a 49year-old human rights activist from Shanghai, was seized by police at alocalgovernment office on July 3, 2009. At the time, she was negotiating thepaymentof a hospital bill incurred after she was beaten and injured bysecurity guardskeeping her under residential surveillance on June 22, 2009. Duan waslatercharged with “obstructing official business” (police claimed sheattacked apolice officer) and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison onOctober 23,2009. Duan’s vision has rapidly deteriorated in the six months she hasbeendetained, and she suffers from constant headaches and back pain, butauthorities have not taken her to the hospital for examination ortreatment. Duanis a petitioner-turned activist, who, together with her brother,Shanghaipetitioner Duan Huimin (段惠民), fought against the forcedeviction oftheir home. Duan Huimin died in January 2007 after being denied medicalcarefollowing a severe beating in detention by interceptors and police.Duancontinued to petition, and in the process, she began organizing fellowpetitioners to defend their rights.

FanYanqiong

Fan Yanqiong (范燕琼), 48, isa locally well-known human rights defender based in Nanping County,FujianProvince. Fan was taken into custody on June 26, 2009, after she postedarticles online alleging official misconduct and cover-ups in the caseof ayoung woman’s death in MinqingCounty, FujianProvince. Fan and twoco-defendants were tried on November 11, 2009, but as of the time ofwriting thecourt has yet to deliver a verdict. If convicted, Fan could face up totenyears in prison. Fan is currently held at Fuzhou City’sNo. 2 Detention Center, where she is seriously ill. Prison officialshavedenied her a hearing regarding her application for release on bail formedicaltreatment. For over a decade, Fan has petitioned for redress of her owngrievances and dedicated herself to helping other petitioners, exposingofficial corruption, and documenting rights abuses.

Hou Ying (侯映), a petitioner-turned-activistfromChangsha, Hunan, was detained on January 21, 2009, while petitioning inBeijing. Chaoyang PSB officials placed her under administrativedetention forfive days for submitting a protest application on behalf of herself and97other petitioners. Because Hou was serving a suspended sentence from2007 for“disturbing public order,” following her five days of administrativedetention,the Furong District People’s Court in Changshathen sent her to prison on January 27, 2009, to serve the remaining ofheroriginal three year sentence.

Hu Yulan (胡玉兰), Sichuan activist and wife ofLiuZhengyou (刘正有), was formally arrested onDecember 7,2009, for “fraud.” She is currently being held in the Zigong City DetentionCenter.As with her husband's case, it is believed that the charge of "fraud"is groundless and is being used as a pretext by police seeking toretaliateagainst Liu and Hu for their rights-defense activities. In the past fewyears,the couple has helped local petitioners file complaints, turning theirhomeinto a non-governmental “letters and visits office.”

Ni Yulan (倪玉兰), 48, adisabled housing rights activist and former lawyer, was sentenced totwo years’imprisonment for “obstructing official business” by Xicheng DistrictCourt inBeijing on December 18, 2008. Ni was detained after she resisted theforceddemolition of her home by Beijing authorities. Ni was badly beaten andmistreated while detained at the Xinjiekou DetentionCenter;police confiscated her crutches and made her crawl when she had to usethebathroom, and kicked her so severely that she fell unconscious for twodays. Ni,who worked as a lawyer for 18 years, is known for her work assistingmanyvictims of forced eviction in Beijing.Ni became disabled after she was repeatedly beaten by police forfilming theforced demolition of a Beijinghome in April 2002.

Wu Huaying (吴华英),another Fujian activist, was arrested together with Fan Yanqiong. Wu,in her40s, is from Fuqing City,Fujian. Wu became anactivist after herbrother was arrested and then convicted for being responsible for abombingattack. Wu, who believes that her brother was wrongly convicted, hassince beencampaigning for his release. Through her efforts to seek justice forherbrother, Wu has become acquainted with many fellow petitioners. For thelastfour years, she has been active in providing legal aid and other formsofassistance to those, like her, who have suffered injustices at thehands ofofficials in FuqingCity.

Zhou Li (周莉), anactivist based in Beijing, disappeared on August 12, 2009. It was laterdetermined that she had been criminally detained for “disturbing socialorder” andheld in Chongwen District Detention Center in Beijing. FollowingNational Day,Zhou was transferred to the DaxingDistrict DetentionCenter in Beijing; it is believed she may soonbeformally charged with a crime. Zhou started her activism when shefoughtagainst the forced demolition of her home in 2005. Since then, she hasbeeninvolved in a variety of activities defending human rights, includingdrawingattention to the case of Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇), ayoung woman who became a cause célèbre after she was charged forkilling a governmentofficial trying to rape her at her workplace.

 

Women HRDs who face harassmentand retaliation

Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明), auniversity professor of women’s studies and gender studies based inGuangzhou,is best known for her documentaries focused on human rights and genderissues.For example, Ai has documented the story of Yao Lifa (姚立法), an activist promotingdemocratic reforms at thegrassroots level, the HIV/AIDS cover-up in the central provinces, aswell asthe deaths of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake, which wereattributed to substandard buildings. In the past year, Ai has beenbarred fromleaving the country to attend events abroad and the authorities havealsorefused to renew her expired passport.

Ding Zilin (丁子霖), a former professor atPeople’sUniversity, is a leader of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of relativesof thosekilled during the Massacre. For the past twenty years, the group hassystematicallyand meticulously documented details about the victims as part of theircampaignto seek justice and official accountability. Ding has suffered repeatedthreats, harassment, detention and interrogations for continuing tospeak outfor justice.

LiuJie

Liu Jie (刘杰), from BeianCity in HeilongjiangProvince, is a petitioner-turned activist. Since 2003, Liu has annuallyorganized petitioners to submit open letters advocating legal andpoliticalreforms. On October 8, 2007, Liu released a public letter signed by12,150petitioners calling on leaders at the 17th Party Congress toreform.Three days later, Liu was seized by the Beijing Police and later sentto 18months of Re-education through Labor (RTL) for “instigating trouble anddisturbing social order” in November 2007. During her time in the RTLcamp, Liuwas repeatedly subjected to brutal torture, forced to work long hoursanddenied access to treatment to her failing eyesight. Liu continues to beconstantly harassed by the police for resuming her work in promotinghumanrights after her release on November 12, 2007.

Liu Wei (刘巍), a human rights lawyer fromBeijing'sShunhe Law Firm, has not had her license to practice law renewed by thejudicial authorities following the conclusion of an annual review ofherperformance on May 31, 2009. Liu is part of a group of about twentylawyerswhose licenses were stripped for taking ‘sensitive’ human rights cases.Most ofthe others have succeeded in having their licenses returned afternegotiationswith the authorities. Ms. Liu has defended Falun Gong practitioners,humanrights activists and HIV/AIDS carriers whose infection was related togovernment misconduct. She has also offered to provide legal aid toTibetansdetained in the wake of the March 2008 protests as well as advocateddirect electionsto the leadership of the Beijing Lawyers' Association in September 2008.

Yuan Weijing (袁伟静), anEnglish teacher, a defender of reproductive rights and wife ofimprisoned HRD ChenGuangcheng (陈光诚). Together with Chen, Yuanbecame thevictim of retaliation by local authorities for revealing the use ofviolence inthe local birth control campaign and publicly opposing the illegalimprisonmentof her husband in Linyi,Shandong Province. SinceSeptember 2005, shehas been under intermittent house arrest and harassment.

Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕), from Fujian, is a well-knownblogger, human rights activist and advocate for the right of HIV/AIDScarriersand orphans. Zeng, based in Beijing,is married to Hu Jia (胡佳), an activist currentlyimprisoned for“inciting subversion of state power.” Zeng is outspoken about humanrightsviolations and in particular, about her husband’s imprisonment. Apartfromconstant harassment and monitoring, Zeng was also prevented by thepolice fromopening a kindergarten in her residential district in Beijing inDecember 2009.

 

Press contacts for this release:

Renee Xia, InternationalDirector (English andMandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286

Jiang Yingying, Researcher(English and Mandarin),+852 8170 0237

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