Human rights defenders face secret trial
Changsha Funeng (长沙富能) is an NGO advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and other marginalized groups and combats employment discrimination against people living with HIV and hepatitis B through litigation.
Cheng Yuan, the head of the organization, is an experienced public interest– and legal activist in China. By representing clients in about a dozen discrimination cases over the past decade, Cheng has contributed to the reduction of institutional discrimination against hepatitis B carriers in China. In 2013, he led a landmark lawsuit in which an HIV-positive person for the first time ever received compensation for employment discrimination. Apart from that, Cheng Yuan has continually used litigation and advocacy to work towards abolition of China’s “one child policy” and reform of the household registration (hukou) system. Liu Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong are both staff members of Changsha Funeng.
Cheng Yuan, Li Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong all lost contact with friends and colleagues on 22 July 2019. Li and Wu had been scheduled to meet with a lawyer about a litigation case in the afternoon but never showed up. It was later confirmed that the three were placed under criminal detention at their homes in Changsha on 22 July 2019.
A week before their detention, Cheng Yuan travelled to Hong Kong amid the anti-extradition bill protests in order to handle some personal and organizational affairs. Cheng Yuan had earlier mentioned to one of his friends that police had warned Changsha Funeng’s work partners that they were about to arrest him.
Members of the three men’s families also reported being intimidated and threatened by police. They have been told not to post anything online and stop speaking to the media about the men’s detention. On 22 July 2019, Cheng Yuan’s wife, Shi Minglei, was interrogated and held under residential surveillance for “suspicion of subverting state power”. During her interrogation, investigators threatened to harm the couple’s three-year-old child and detain other people she knows if she did not cooperate with them. Later, on 8 August, Cheng Yuan’s brother, Cheng Hao, was summoned for questioning after he made public appeals for his brother’s release.
On March 2020, family-appointed lawyers received notice from authorities that they had been “dismissed”. The authorities claimed that the dismissal had been requested by the three detainees, even though none had been allowed to meet their clients since they were detained. The families believe that the three were coerced to fire the family-appointed lawyers. Amnesty International has documented instances in which the Chinese authorities have forced detained human rights defenders to fire lawyers of their choice and appointed pro-government lawyers to defend them against politically motivated charges.