China: detention and prosecution of human rights defender & lawyer Chang Weiping (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of China on 23 September 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, during which time the Government was expected to respond. The Government did not respond during this period, and any reply, if sent, will be available on the UN communications database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication

BACKGROUND

Topic: detention and prosecution of human rights defender and lawyer Chang Weiping.

Mr. Chang Weiping is a human rights defender and lawyer from Baoji City, Shanxi Province. He has been a vocal advocate for the rights of lawyers in China and the rule of law. In his work as a lawyer, he has defended other human rights defenders and provided pro bono legal counsel for victims of defective vaccines, as well as women, LGBT persons, and persons living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B who face discrimination in the workplace.

In January 2020, Mr. Chang was arrested and placed under residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL), in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance. On 12 January 2020, his license to practice law was annulled. He was released on bail pending further investigation after one week, suspected of subverting State power. During this period of enforced disappearance, Mr. Chang was allegedly subjected to treatment amounting to torture, which he detailed and denounced, along with harassment he and his family had allegedly been subjected to following his release, in a video published on YouTube in October 2020. Subsequent to his publication of this video, Mr. Chang was re-arrested and placed once again in RSDL.

Grave concerns as to the apparent arbitrary nature of the detention of Mr. Weiping, under conditions amounting to enforced disappearance, as well as his alleged ill-treatment potentially amounting to torture, his prosecution and the violation of due process guarantees in his case have previously been addressed to the Government of China through two communications from Special Procedures mandate holders (see AL CHN 20/2020 and AL CHN 4/2021).

While we appreciate the comments provided by the Government in response to these communications, we remain extremely concerned in light of the following allegations regarding developments in Mr. Chang’s case since our last communication on the matter. We also note that further information on individual cases documented in communication AL CHN 4/2021, as stated to be forthcoming in the response of the Chinese Government to this communication, has not been received. We urge the Government to provide detailed information on these cases.

ALLEGATIONS

In April 2021, Mr. Chang was transferred from residential surveillance at a designated location to Feng County Detention Centre, Baoji City, Shaanxi Province. Prior to this, his family or lawyers had not been informed of his whereabouts since his detention in October 2020.

On 23 July 2021, several of Mr. Chang’s family members and his lawyer at the time travelled to Feng County in an attempt to meet Mr. Chang and provide him with money to spend on food and other items in prison. Mr. Chang’s family members travelled approximately 1,900 km from their place of residence to make this visit. Upon arrival at the Feng County Detention Centre, their request to see Mr. Chang and provide him with money were denied without a legal justification being provided. During the same trip, while attempting to lodge a complaint against the Baoji police with the Shaanxi Provincial Procuratorate over their handling of Mr. Chang’s case, Mr. Chang’s lawyer and family members were told that the Procuratorate would not intervene as a result of the sensitivity of the case.

On 6 September 2021, investigating police transferred the case against Mr. Chang to the Baoji Municipal People’s Procuratorate for review within a maximum of one month and 15 days. In response to Mr. Chang’s family being informed of this development, they contacted Feng County Detention Centre to request a meeting between Mr. Chang and his lawyer, however, this request was denied, with Covid-19 restrictions provided as justification.

On 8 September 2021, Mr. Chang was questioned by a procurator from the Baoji Municipal People’s Procuratorate. On 9 September 2021, his lawyer went to the Procuratorate office to examine Mr. Chang’s case file, as provided for by Chinese procedural law once a procuratorate begins its review of a case. After having been denied access to the building due to Covid-19 restrictions, the lawyer was told that examination of case files required prior approval of the responsible procurator and the investigating body over the case, and that files could only be consulted electronically at the procuratorate offices due to the sensitivity of the information contained in them. As a result, Mr. Chang’s lawyer was unable to consult the case file.

On 14 September 2021, Mr. Chang was granted a meeting with his lawyer for the first time since his detention approximately 11 months previous. He was thereafter able to meet with his legal representative on three further occasions. As of this month, Mr. Chang reported suffering from bloody stool, which had not been a health issue for him prior to his detention.

On 22 October 2021, Mr. Chang’s family were informed, after contacting Feng County Detention Centre to request information, that the human rights defender’s case had been sent back to the police by the procuratorate for further investigation, with this to be completed within a maximum of two months.

In December 2021, Mr. Chang received a basic examination in relation to his health problems, however, during a video call with his lawyer six months later, on 22 June 2022, he informed his legal representative that his health problems had continued. Following this, on 1 July 2022, Mr. Chang’s family contacted Feng County Detention Centre to officially request that the human rights defender receive a comprehensive medical examination as a matter of urgency.

One day prior to the video call between Mr. Chang and his lawyer, his legal representative had been granted access to his case file for the first time, but only upon condition that he sign a confidentiality agreement preventing him from revealing any of the details of the case against Mr. Chang, including to his family members. No legal basis was provided to justify this requirement.

On 26 July 2022, Mr. Chang stood trial in closed proceedings at the Feng County People’s Court, Shaanxi Province, charged with subversion of State power under article 105(1) of the Criminal Law. The proceedings ended without a verdict. Mr. Chang’s family members, who had driven approximately 2,000km from their place of residence in an attempt to attend the trial, were physically blocked by State security officers for ten hours while driving towards the courthouse, preventing them from attending the proceedings. No justification for the closed nature of the proceedings was provided to Mr. Chang’s lawyer in the notification he was provided for the trial. Article 105(1) of the Criminal Law provides for sentences of 5 years imprisonment and upwards, with no upper limit specified and extended sentences possible if the defendant is deemed a “ringleader”.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our grave concern as to the ongoing detention of Mr. Chang and his trial being closed doors on national security charges, which we fear to be directly linked with his work as a human rights lawyer and testimony regarding the torture he was allegedly subjected to while detained in 2020. Our concerns in this regard are aggravated by the apparent violations of due process guarantees in Mr. Chang’s case, which would strongly indicate the violation of his right to a fair trial. We reiterate our serious concerns, as communicated to your Excellency’s Government in previous communications (see, notably, CHN 4/2021) as to the vague and broad nature of the concept of “ringleader” in the Criminal Code and the lack of an upper limit on the length of imprisonment foreseeable in article 105(2). We are further concerned as to the status of his health in detention and his access to appropriate medical care.

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