China: Multiple HRDs arbitrarily arrested and disappeared (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 3 February 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: the alleged arrest and subsequent enforced disappearances of human rights defenders Mr. Wang Jianbing and Mr. Yang Maodong (pen-name Guo Feixiong), who are facing the charge of “inciting subversion of State power”, and concerning Mr. Tang Jitian, who has been reported as forcibly disappeared since 10 December 2021.

Mr. Wang Jianbing is a human rights defender who works to promote labour rights and the rights of persons with disabilities. For the last few years, Mr. Wang has worked for an NGO championing equitable treatment for people with disabilities and in 2018 turned his attention to supporting the cause of workers with occupational diseases. He has also been an outspoken advocate of the #metoo campaign in China.

Mr. Yang Maodong,commonly known by his pen-name Guo Feixiong, is a veteran human rights defender who has been the subject of eight urgent appeals and allegation letters sent to your Excellency’s Government; on 6 March 2006; on 19 October 2006; on 1 December 2006; on 30 November 2007 and on 22 October 2013 respectively (CHN 12/2013), 7 August 2015 (CHN 8/2015), 23 December 2015 (CHN 13/2015), 3 June 2016 (CHN 4/2016) and 20 July 2016 (CHN 6/2016).

He has served a total of 11 years in prison since 2007. In 2019, he was released following the completion of a six-year sentence for “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Mr. Tang Jitian is a human rights lawyer who was disbarred in 2010, allegedly as a result of his taking on of human rights cases. He was the subject of four previous communications sent to your Excellency’s Government, dated 7 November 2008, see A/HRC/10/12/Add.1, para. 586- 591, 10 June 2009, see A/HRC/13/22/Add.1, para. 345-352, 27 April 2010, see A/HRC/16/44/Add.1, para. 388-392, and 428-465 and 16 July 2014 (CHN 7/2014).

We further followed up on cases raised in a communication sent to the Chinese Government dated 28 April 2021 (CHN 4/2021), namely those of Mr. Qin Yongpei, Mr. Ding Jiaxi, Mr. Chang Weiping, Mr. Xu Zhiyong, Ms. Li Qiaochu and Mr. Gao Zhisheng. We thank the Government for its response, dated 26 June 2021, and note that it stated, “Information on the cases mentioned in the letter will be provided subsequently”. We regret that this information has not yet been received and use this opportunity to seek further clarification. Furthermore, during its 91st session in September 2021, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding the detention of Mr. Ding Jiaxi to be arbitrary (A/HRC/WGAD/2021/30).

ALLEGATIONS

The case of Mr. Wang Jianbing

Mr. Wang Jianbing was detained by police officers from the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau at his home on 19 September 2021, in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance (i.e. deprived of his liberty and this was followed by a denial of such deprivation and the concealment of his fate and whereabouts). His residence was also searched and a number of personal items were confiscated. It is believed that Mr. Wang Jianbing was detained as a result of his holding a number of private gatherings at his residence in the preceding months. In the aftermath of his arrest, a number of his acquaintances were questioned as to who had attended the meetings, and were allegedly pressured to testify that the meetings were of a political nature, and to sign a document stating that Mr. Wang Jianbing had participated in meetings which “subvert State power”.

A formal arrest notice dated 27 October 2021 (i.e. more than one month after the actual deprivation of liberty took place) was received by Mr. Wang Jianbing’s family stating that the human rights defender had been arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of State power” and is being held in Guangzhou No.1 Detention Centre, although his case has not yet been sent to the prosecutor. Prior to their receipt of this notice, Mr. Wang Jianbing’s family had not received any legal documentation as to his status, his whereabouts or the charges he was facing. Neither Mr. Wang Jianbing’s lawyer nor his family have been permitted access to visit him since his detention on 19 September 2021 to confirm his whereabouts.

The case of Mr. Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong)

Mr. Yang Maodong was forcibly disappeared on 5 December 2021 and family or friends did not receive any information as to his fate and whereabouts until 12 January 2022, when the Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau sent a notification to his family that he had been formally arrested. He has reportedly been charged with “inciting subversion of State power” under article 105(2) of China’s Criminal Law, and is being held in Guangzhou No.1 Detention Centre. Neither Mr. Yang Maodong’s lawyer nor his family have been permitted access to visit him since his detention to confirm his whereabouts. Prior to his enforced disappearance, Mr. Yang Maodong had been prevented from leaving China to travel to the USA to be with his wife, Ms. Zhang Qing, who was suffering from late stage bowel cancer. On 29 November 2021, Mr. Yang Maodong wrote an open letter to Premier Li Keqiang asking him to investigate why the Ministry for Public Security was continuing to block his application to go abroad. Ms. Zhang Qing died on 10 January 2022.

The case of Mr. Tang Jitian

The fate and whereabouts of Mr. Tang Jitian have been unknown since 10 December 2021 and there are legitimate fears that he is detained by authorities. He was due to attend an event hosted by the European Union Delegation in Beijing on 10 December to mark Human Rights Day, but he did not appear at the event and friends and family were not able to contact him for several weeks thereafter. In June 2021, Mr. Tang Jitian was allegedly barred from leaving China to visit his gravely ill daughter in Japan on the grounds that his travel abroad may “endanger national security”. Although Mr. Tang Jitian’s family were reportedly able to reach him by telephone on two occasions prior to 5 January 2022, there has not been any further contact and he has not been given access to any means to contact his family or lawyer. It is further believed that he was under police control during those phone calls. At present, his fate and whereabouts are unknown.

The cases of Mr. Ding Jiaxi, Mr. Xu Zhiyong, Mr. Chang Weiping, Mr. Qin Yongpei, Ms. Li Qiaochu and Mr. Gao Zhisheg

Further to the information contained in the communication sent to your Excellency’s Government dated 28 April 2021 (CHN 4/2021), it has been alleged that the health of Mr. Ding Jiaxi, Mr. Xu Zhiyong, Mr. Chang Weiping, Mr. Qin Yongpei and Ms. Li Qiaochu has deteriorated significantly while in detention. It has been further alleged that the lawyers of these five human rights defenders have been obstructed in their defence of their clients including by not being permitted to make copies of case files and in some instances, to review case files at all. During its 91st session in September 2021, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion finding the detention of Mr. Ding Jiaxi to be arbitrary (A/HRC/WGAD/2021/30). On 31 December 2021, Mr. Qin Yongpei was tried in what was a closed hearing, with his wife being the only person from Mr. Qin Yongpei’s side permitted to attend.

There has been no further information on the whereabouts or wellbeing of Mr. Gao Zhisheng since the above communication was sent to your Excellency’s Government. According to reports, he has been forcibly disappeared since 13 August 2017 and his family have not received any further information on his fate and whereabouts.

CONCERNS

In the communication we expressed our serious concern regarding the detention and subsequent enforced disappearance of human rights defenders Messrs. Wang Jianbing and Yang Maodong, and their subsequent charging. We also raise grave concerns at the continued enforced disappearance of Messrs. Gao Zhisheng and Tang Jitian, and the allegations of lack of due process in the judicial proceedings against and the treatment in detention of Mr. Ding Jiaxi, Mr. Xu Zhiyong, Mr. Chang Weiping, Mr. Qin Yongpei and Ms. Li Qiaochu.             These arrests of human rights defenders for carrying out their legitimate work, or the exercise of human rights, under the pretext of national security is incompatible with international human rights law. Given that six of the nine human rights defenders named in this communication have been detained on suspicion of, or charged with, subversion of state power “inciting subversion of state power”, which falls under China’s national security legislation, we reiterate our alarm at the continued use of national security provisions of the Criminal Code to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

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