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Two Hongkongers remain incommunicado in China

HKYouths graphic
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QUINN Moon (乔映瑜), TANG Kai-yin (邓棨然) and 10 other individuals were intercepted by coast guard officers from mainland China after leaving Hong Kong on a speedboat on 23 August 2020.

After an unfair trial, Quinn and Tang were sentenced to two and three years’ imprisonment, respectively, for “organizing other persons to secretly cross the border” (组织他人偷越国(边)境) on 30 December 2020. They were transferred to Guangdong Province Women's Prison and Guangdong Province Conghua Prison in late January 2021 respectively. Another eight of the 12 arrested were sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment for “secretly crossing the border” (偷越国(边)境) and handed over to the Hong Kong police on 22 March 2021 after serving their sentences. The other two, who were under 18 at the time of arrest, were handed over to the Hong Kong police on 30 December 2020 after the Chinese authorities decided not to pursue prosecution. Nine of the 10 HongKongers handed over to the Hong Kong authorities are currently being detained on criminal charges pressed against them before their arrest in mainland China in 2020. These charges include conspiring to wound with intent, rioting, assaulting a police officer, conspiring to commit arson, possessing a substance with intent to destroy or damage property, making an explosive substance, committing arson with intent and conspiring to commit arson with intent. Li Yu-hin is charged with “assisting offenders”, “possessing ammunition without license” and “colluding with foreign or external elements to endanger national security”. 

Since the 12 Hongkongers were intercepted on 23 August 2020, the Chinese authorities have deprived them of their right to legal representation of their choice and claimed that they had “chosen their own lawyers” without allowing any direct communication between them and their family. Apart from rejecting all requests made by family-hired lawyers to meet with the detained Hongkongers, the authorities threatened and intimidated at least four of the family-hired lawyers to withdraw from this case. The practicing licenses of Lu Siwei and Ren Quanniu, the two lawyers representing Quinn Moon and another Hongkonger respectively, were revoked in February 2021. It is reported that at least seven of the returned Hongkongers could not contact their family and lawyers days after they were sent back to Hong Kong.

Amnesty International has documented numerous cases in which detained individuals in mainland China, many of them human rights defenders, have been routinely deprived of their right to see lawyers that they or their families have chosen to represent them. In some instances, the authorities have appointed lawyers for detainees without their consent or consent of the family. In other cases, the authorities threatened lawyers to drop cases, claimed that detainees dismissed family-hired lawyers without producing any proof or stopped families from hiring lawyers – all of which effectively amounts to depriving the detainees’ of their right to legal representation. Individuals deprived of legal representation of their own choice are often denied access to information about their legal rights, making them more vulnerable to unfair legal procedures.

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Hearts and Lives Broken: The Nightmare of Uyghur Families Separated by Repression

Some Uyghur parents were separated from their children as a result of the unprecedented crackdown on ethnic populations.


First contact with detained Uyghur in years

Ekpar Asat
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Ekpar Asat is a Uyghur businessman dedicated to helping older people and children with disabilities. He founded a popular social media app that featured information on a variety of current affairs and cultural topics. He went missing in April 2016, after which he was later convicted without any known trial on charges of “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination” (煽动民族仇恨、民族歧视) and sentenced to 15 years in prison. His family only found out about the trial through communications between the Chinese authorities and a few US senators in December 2019 and January 2020. He is currently detained in a prison in Xinjiang’s Aksu prefecture.

The US embassy in Beijing encouraged Ekpar Asat to apply for the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) after he met with Max Baucus, then the American ambassador to China, in Xinjiang in 2014. The IVLP is a professional exchange programme in which current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience the US first hand and build relationships with American counterparts.

The US State Department mentioned Ekpar Asat’s case in its 2019 human rights report on China. After a bipartisan group of US senators urged China to release Ekpar Asat, the Chinese embassy in Washington, DC, responded by email in January 2020 with information about Ekpar Asat’s conviction and sentencing but without providing any further details. 

Xinjiang is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in China. More than half of the region’s population of 22 million people belong to mostly Turkic and predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs (around 11.3 million), Kazakhs (around 1.6 million) and other populations whose languages, cultures and ways of life vary distinctly from those of the Han who are the majority in “interior” China. 

Media reports have illustrated the extent of new draconian security measures implemented since Chen Quanguo came into power as Xinjiang’s Party Secretary in 2016. In October 2016, there were numerous reports that authorities in the region had confiscated Uyghur passports in an attempt to further curtail their freedom of movement. In March 2017, the Xinjiang government enacted the “De-extremification Regulation” that identifies and prohibits a wide range of behaviours labelled “extremist”, such as “spreading extremist thought”, denigrating or refusing to watch public radio and TV programmes, wearing burkas, having an “abnormal” beard, resisting national policies, and publishing, downloading, storing, or reading articles, publications, or audio-visual materials containing “extremist content”. The regulation also set up a “responsibility system” for government cadres for “anti-extremism” work and established annual reviews of their performance. 

It is estimated that up to a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other predominantly Muslim people have been held in the “transformation-through-education” centres. The Chinese authorities had denied the existence of such facilities until October 2018, when they began describing them as voluntary, free “vocational training” centres. They claim that the objective of this vocational training is to provide people with technical and vocational education to enable them to find jobs and become “useful” citizens. China’s explanation, however, contradicts reports of beatings, food deprivation and solitary confinement that have been collected from former detainees. 

China has rejected calls from the international community, including Amnesty, to allow independent experts unrestricted access to Xinjiang. Instead, China has made efforts to silence criticism by inviting delegations from different countries to visit Xinjiang for carefully orchestrated and closely monitored tours.

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UK: China sanctions will not stop us speaking up against Uyghur abuses

In response to reports of China imposing sanctions on nine UK citizens - including five MPs – Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, says: “We should not turn a blind eye to the horrendous abuses in Xinjiang – the Chinese government must be held accountable, and we welcome public figures in the UK, including MPs, speaking up against the chilling human rights abuses inflicted in Hong Kong and on Uyghur people in China. “It is disgraceful that China continues to detain and inflict such grim conditions on Uyghurs. Their attempt to silence critics and issue reprisals against those who

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China: Uyghur children sent to 'orphan camps' in Xinjiang

Uyghurs in exile in Italy, Turkey and elsewhere discover their children in China have been sent to ‘orphan camps’ Other relatives in Xinjiang targeted and unable to look after the children Orphan camps part of wider crackdown on Uyghurs "Now my children are in the hands of the Chinese government and I am not sure I will be able to meet them again in my lifetime" - Uyghur parent in Italy The exiled families of Uyghur children held in ‘orphan camps’ in the Chinese region of Xinjiang have described their torment in new research published by Amnesty International today. Amnesty spoke to parents

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Activist detained for reporting torture

Li Qiaochu
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Li Qiaochu (李翘楚) is a feminist and researcher on labour issues who has long been involved in issues concerning the equal rights for workers, women and other members of Chinese society. Her research has covered topics such as policies on social protection for retired workers. When Beijing authorities cleared and evicted the “low income population” in 2017, Li worked with volunteers to compile and disseminate information about the most affected communities in order to help the expelled migrant workers find new jobs and affordable alternative accommodation. Li also actively took part in various national #MeToo campaigns. She compiled data, drafted reports and posted online messages of her support for the movement.

In June 2019, Li was diagnosed with depression and had to be on regular medication. However, this did not stop her from her activism. With the outbreak of COVID-19, Li again volunteered to help both online and offline with epidemic prevention. She distributed face masks to sanitation workers and guided pregnant women of the affected communities to help each other out. Having observed the lack of gender perspective, especially with respect to prevention of gender-based violence in the practices of some hospitals, she immediately worked with a group of volunteers to set out recommendations. 

Li’s activism led to frequent police harassment. In early December 2019, public security officers began to be stationed outside her house and monitored her on her way to and from work, which seriously contravened her rights to privacy and freedom of movement.

On 31 December 2019, Li was summoned by the police and held in the Beijing Public Security Bureau for 24 hours. During her detention, the police reportedly refused to give her adequate medical care. As most of the questioning related to Xu Zhiyong, Li Qiaochu decided to reveal her treatment by the police online and called for more public attention for others detained in relation to the gatherings in Xiamen. As a result, Li was arrested on 16 February 2020 and had been detained incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location” before being released on bail on 19 June 2020. 

Since 26 December 2019, police across the country have been summoning or detaining participants who took part in an informal gathering of lawyers and activists in Xiamen earlier that month. Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong are just two of the many participants detained and are currently facing charges related to subversion.

On 6 February 2021, Li Qiaochu sent out two tweets and disclosed the complaints she filed against the ill-treatment and inadequacy of conditions in Linshu County Detention Centre. Shortly after, she received a call from a Beijing police officer and was asked to come out of her home to “have a chat”, at which point she was abruptly detained by Shandong police officers and taken to Linyi City. Li is currently in quarantine at a local hospital in Linyi City, after which she is expected be transferred to Linyi Municipal Detention Centre.

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Activist subjected to torture and charged with subversion

Xu Zhiyong
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Xu Zhiyong was among dozens of lawyers and activists who attended an informal gathering held in Xiamen, a city on China’s southeast coast, in December 2019. Many presents at this private gathering had been active in the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who aimed to promote government transparency and expose corruption in the early 2010s. At the meeting, they discussed the situation of civil society and current affairs in China. Since 26 December 2019, police across the country have been summoning or detaining participants of the Xiamen gathering. 

Friends of Xu Zhiyong say he went into hiding after the meeting in December 2019. In early February 2020, Xu criticized President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and called on him to resign. On 15 February 2020, Xu was detained while staying at the home of a fellow activist and held incommunicado until 21 January 2021. 

Xu Zhiyong’s situation is very similar to human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, who was detained at the same time after attending the Xiamen gathering. The authorities investigated their cases together until 20 January 2021, after which their charges were changed to “subversion of state power” and their lawyers were informed that their cases would be handled separately. No trial dates have yet been confirmed Li Qiaochu, a labour rights and feminist activist and Xu Zhiyong’s partner, was held in secret detention from February to June 2020. As a result of her continued call for Xu’s release and better treatment, Li was again detained by the authorities on 6 February 2021 and is currently being held in the same detention centre as Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi. It is currently unclear whether her case is being handled together with either Xu or Ding. 

Xu Zhiyong is a prominent Chinese legal scholar and rights activist known for his work on behalf of disadvantaged groups and his promotion of a “New Citizens’ Movement”, a loose network of activists founded by Xu to promote government transparency and expose corruption in 2012. He has been jailed previously for his peaceful activism, spending four years in prison on trumped-up public order charges from 2013 to 2017. 

Since the massive crackdown on lawyers and activists in 2015, the Chinese authorities have been systematically using national security charges with extremely vague provisions, such as “subverting state power” and “inciting subversion of state power”, to prosecute lawyers, scholars, journalists, activists and NGO workers. 

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Transferred 1000 km from family, medical care needed

Yu Wensheng
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Yu Wensheng is a prominent human rights lawyer in Beijing. He represented a number of high-profile human rights cases, including Falun Gong practitioners and fellow human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was detained and charged with “subverting state power” during the mass crackdown on lawyers and activists starting in July 2015.

Previously detained at the Xuzhou City Detention Centre, Yu Wensheng was transferred to Nanjiing Prison in Jiangsu Province, which is about 1000km away from Beijing. Yu’s wife, Xu Yan, has expressed her deep disappointment with the transfer, which makes visits much more difficult.
On 17 June 2020, Yu was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for three years in a secret trial. Shortly after Yu’s sentencing, an appeal to the Jiangsu Provincial People’s High Court was filed. On 27 December 2020, Yu’s lawyers received the decision in writing from Jiangsu Provincial People’s High Court that Yu’s appeal was rejected, and the court upheld the original sentencing. According to the judgement, Yu is scheduled to be released on 1 March 2022. 
When Yu was granted the first meeting with his lawyer in August 2020, after more than 18 months in detention, he shared that he had been sprayed with pepper spray water and was at times required to sit on a metal chair for an extended period of time, until he partially lost consciousness. Yu also said that he was often not given enough food and that he suffered heatstroke in the summer and was cold in the winter.  

Yu’s family and friends believe that his conviction is related to an open letter in which he criticized President Xi Jinping as ill-suited to lead China due to his strengthening “totalitarian” rule over the country. 

Yu Wensheng is the winner of the 2021 Martin Ennals Award, an annual prize for human rights defenders that was announced on 11 February 2021. The winner and the finalists are selected by a jury of 10 of the world’s leading human rights NGOs. The award provides protection and support human rights defenders who are at risk. His wife shared this news with him, and Yu sincerely appreciates the work that the international community have done and grateful that he is the winner of the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. 

Yu Wensheng’s wife, Xu Yan, has been tirelessly fighting for the release of her husband in the past three years. Xu made numerous attempts to visit her husband, who has been detained 800km away from their home in Beijing. Xu Yan has been under constant surveillance and harassment by the authorities since she started to advocate for her husband. She has been summoned, detained and banned from travelling.

Activists and human rights defenders in China continue to be systematically subjected to monitoring, harassment, intimidation, arrest and detention.  

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Charged with subversion, torture details revealed

Ding Jiaxi
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Ding Jiaxi was among dozens of lawyers and activists who attended an informal gathering held in Xiamen, a city on China’s southeast coast, in December 2019. Many present at this private gathering had been active in the New Citizens Movement, a loose network of activists who aimed to promote government transparency and expose corruption in the early 2010s. At the meeting, they discussed the situation of civil society and current affairs in China. Since 26 December 2019, police across the country have been summoning or detaining participants of the Xiamen gathering. 

Ding Jiaxi was held incommunicado for more than a year after being taken away on 26 December 2020. In June 2020, Ding’s family received an arrest notice from police in Linyi City, Shandong, confirming that Ding had been formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power”. In December, Ding’s family was told that his case had been granted an extension of the investigation period (延长侦查期) to 19 January 2021.

On 20 January, Ding’s lawyer was informed by the procuratorate office that the charge against Ding has been changed to “subversion on state power, which could carry a maximum life sentence if Ding is deemed to have be a “ringleader” of the alleged activities. No trial date has been set and Ding still has no access to his family members.  

Ding Jiaxi is a Beijing-based former human rights lawyer and a core member of the New Citizens Movement. His activism has included advocating for rights of migrant workers’ children and demanding transparent governance. In 2014 Ding was sentenced to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”. In 2018, he was barred from boarding a flight to the United States, where his wife and daughter live. In 2019, authorities stopped him from travelling to Hong Kong on the grounds that he “may endanger national security and interest”. 

In March 2020, United Nations human rights expert bodies expressed their grave concerns about the disappearance of Ding. 

Since the massive crackdown on lawyers and activists in 2015, the Chinese authorities have been systematically using national security charges with extremely vague provisions, such as “subverting state power” and “inciting subversion of state power”, to prosecute lawyers, scholars, journalists, activists and NGO workers. 

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Trial delay for detained Australian-Chinese writer

Yang Hengjun
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Yang Hengjun is a prominent writer and blogger who has amassed a wide public following for his novels and often-outspoken commentary on Chinese public affairs. Yang is a former Chinese diplomat who also worked in the private sector in Hong Kong before moving to Australia in 1999, where he earned a Ph.D. at the University of Technology, Sydney. Yang became an Australian citizen in 2002 and before his arrest had been living in the United States, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Yang Hengjun was detained by police upon arrival in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where he flew with his family in January 2019. He was initially held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a measure that, under certain circumstances, enables criminal investigators to hold individuals for up to six months outside the formal detention system in what can amount to a form of secret incommunicado detention. When held without access to legal counsel of their choice, their families or others, suspects placed under this form of “residential surveillance” are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. 

For more than eight months from the time he was taken into custody, Yang Hengjun was denied consular access and was not allowed to meet with defence lawyers. Yang was finally allowed to meet online with an Australian consular representative on 31 August and have an in-preson meeting with his lawyer on 3 September 2020. Yang shared that he has endured more than 300 interrogations by 30 different people for sometimes hours at a time in the middle of the night. Yang also said that the lights in his cell are apparently switched on 24 hours a day. 
Yang has denied all allegations of espionage. According to media reports, Yang told his lawyer during his first visit on 3 September that he considers the charges to be political persecution and said he will not confess to any crimes that he did not commit.

Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang (an Australian permanent resident), and their son were allowed to enter China but have been banned from leaving the country. In July 2019, Yuan tried to fly home to Australia but was stopped by a border security official. A few days after this attempt, Yuan was taken away by state authorities and questioned for two hours. According to her close friend, Yuan believes that she will be punished if she speaks to international media. 
This is not the first time that Yang has been detained. In 2011, Yang went missing for a week after having been followed by three men. This sparked global speculation that he had been detained. However, re-emerging a week later, he told the reporters that it is a “misunderstanding” as he had been sick. Yang has since retracted that statement. 

Espionage is categorized as a crime of “endangering national security” under China’s criminal law. Individuals convicted of espionage face a minimum of three years’ imprisonment, and individuals deemed to have endangered national security with “particularly serious harm to the country and the people” may be sentenced to death. Suspects in national security trials are regularly deprived of procedural rights afforded to ordinary suspects, including access to legal counsel of their choice and the right to a public hearing. In 2017, Amnesty International described China’s use of the concepts of “national intelligence” and “national security” as excessively vague and overbroad. 

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