Authorities Crack Down on Rights Defenders, Lawyers, Artists, Bloggers
Chinese authorities have launched a broad crackdown against rights defenders, reform advocates, lawyers, petitioners, writers, artists, and Internet bloggers in what international observers have described as one of the harshest crackdowns in years. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has expressed "serious concern" at the enforced disappearances of numerous Chinese citizens, some of whom remain missing after more than two months with no information regarding the charges against them or their whereabouts, as detailed below. The impetus for the current crackdown is unclear. The timing follows protests in the Middle East and North Africa, the appearance in mid-February of an anonymous online call for "Jasmine Revolution" protests in China, major annual meetings of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March, and recent official statements stressing the need to maintain social stability.
Chinese authorities have detained, arrested, "disappeared," ordered to serve reeducation through labor, or otherwise harassed numerous rights defenders, political reform advocates, lawyers, petitioners, writers, artists, and Internet bloggers across China since mid-February 2011, according to international human rights groups and Western media.
Disappeared or Missing
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (Working Group) and international human rights organizations have expressed concern over reports of numerous Chinese citizens having gone missing or disappearing into official custody with little or no information about their charges or whereabouts. In an April 8 press release, the Working Group expressed "serious concern at the recent wave of enforced disappearances that allegedly took place in China over the last few months," adding that it had received "multiple reports of a number of persons having [been] subject to enforced disappearances, including lawyers Teng Biao, Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, and Tang Jingling." (See a related April 14 CECC analysis.) The Working Group said, "Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law." The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (list of participants) defines "enforced disappearance" as: "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law" (Article 2).
The non-governmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said on March 31 that the "Chinese government...has disappeared more than 30." As of April 29, CHRD counted "17 individuals who are still missing...and at high risk of torture or other mistreatment while held illegally incommunicado" (for CHRD's most recent update click here). CHRD and Western media have reported that officials have refused to issue formal detention documents or to provide information to the families of the "disappeared." China's Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) generally requires officials to notify a person's family of the reasons for that person's detention and whereabouts. Article 64 requires officials to present a detention warrant when detaining someone and to notify the family within 24 hours of the detention. After the detention, officials have up to another 37 days, with extensions, to decide to formally arrest someone and notify the family of the arrest (Article 69). Articles 64 and 71, however, give officials the discretion to bypass these notification requirements if they determine notification would hinder an investigation or if notification is not possible.
Officials took the prominent artist and rights advocate Ai Weiwei into custody in Beijing on April 3, 2011. While state media and central government officials have publicly stated that Ai is being investigated for "economic crimes," an April 21 Los Angeles Times article noted that authorities had "failed to notify his family of his whereabouts or disclose the charges against him." According to the March 31 CHRD article, Beijing-based Internet user Liu Dejun has been missing since February 27. CHRD reported that police officers in Beijing and Wuhan city, Hubei province, have refused to disclose Liu's whereabouts despite requests from the family for such information and after searching Liu's sister's home in Wuhan three times. State security officials in Beijing reportedly took rights defense lawyer Li Fangping into custody on April 29, and police at the Yangfangdian police station in Beijing, where Li's wife reported his case, would not answer questions about his whereabouts, according to a May 2 Reuters article. According to CHRD, some of the persons have been missing for more than 60 days, including human rights lawyers Li Tiantian and Liu Shihui.
Detained or Arrested
A total of 40 persons were reported to have been detained as of April 29, an increase from 26 at the end of March, according to the CHRD reports. Of this number, authorities have arrested 6, ordered 3 to serve reeducation through labor (RTL), and released 23 others, including 18 on bail. Those currently under detention or arrest include prominent writers, democracy advocates, and artists such as Ran Yunfei, Ni Yulan, Ding Mao, Chen Wei, Zhu Yufu, and Wang Lihong. These persons were charged with or suspected of crimes such as "inciting subversion of state power," "economic crimes," "illegal demonstration," or "creating a disturbance." Those detained or arrested have track records of advocacy for democracy and human rights activities and have encountered official abuses in the past.
The abuse of criminal law provisions to punish the peaceful exercise of rights protected under international human rights standards is well-documented in China. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), in a report on its 2004 mission to China (available on the UNWGAD's Country Visits Web page) criticized the Chinese government for using "vague, imprecise or sweeping" criminal law provisions such as "subverting state power" to punish the peaceful expression of the rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In recent years, Chinese authorities have continued to use "inciting subversion" and other criminal provisions to punish peaceful expression, including against Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (whose 11-year sentence is the longest known for the crime of inciting subversion) and democracy advocate Liu Xianbin (10-year sentence for inciting subversion).
Soft Detention and Other Abuses
According to the March 31 CHRD report, more than 200 people have been subject to "soft detention," a form of unlawful home confinement, and other forms of official abuse, including interrogation, physical assaults, and travel restrictions. An April 4 Radio Free Asia report, for instance, noted that rights advocate Yao Lifa said that police kept him confined to his home every Sunday for seven weeks. An anonymous online "Jasmine Revolution" posting had called for protests every Sunday. CHRD stated "[m]any more activists and netizens have been interrogated about their blogs and Tweets, which mentioned or commented on the 'Jasmine revolution,' or they were questioned about their recent activities and whether they know anything about the organization of these protests." The human rights lawyer Liu Shihui, who is now reportedly missing, told the Guardian that on February 20 unidentified men whom he believed were domestic security personnel beat him as he was leaving his house for one of the "Jasmine" protest sites in Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, according to a February 21 article.
Context of Crackdown
The impetus for the current crackdown is unclear. The timing follows protests in the Middle East and North Africa and the appearance in mid-February of an anonymous online call for "Jasmine Revolution" protests in China. In both cases, Chinese officials sought to censor information about the events in the media and online. The Guardian reported that some of the detentions and harassment began within hours of the "Jasmine Revolution" call appearing online (31 March 11). Chinese media also issued articles noting the Middle East and North Africa protests and emphasizing the duty of individual Chinese citizens to uphold stability. The Beijing Daily, for example, issued front page articles on March 5 and 6. The March 6 article warned of "some people in and outside of China with ulterior motives who are using various means to provoke 'street politics,'" adding:
They are using the Internet to manufacture and disseminate false information, inciting illegal gatherings, with the goal of bringing the chaos in the Middle East and North Africa to China, to mess up China. They are flying the banner of democracy, while in reality are engaging in the shady business of disturbing public feeling and destroying social order.
Little is known about the "Jasmine Revolution," but a February 22 statement (via Boxun, Human Rights in China translation) issued by the purported organizers calls for periodic non-violent "strolls" (sanbu) in major cities to oppose government corruption and advocate for issues such as free expression and judicial independence. (The Associated Press reported on April 6 (via Yahoo!) of one group of 20 domestic and overseas Chinese claiming to be behind the call.) Authorities appeared to target some citizens who may have visited designated protest sites and/or shared information about the call for protests on the Internet, criminally detaining and then releasing on bail to await trial human rights advocate Wei Qiang, and ordering the Internet blogger and activist Hua Chunhui to serve reeducation through labor―a form of administrative detention that allows public security officials to detain citizens, without legal proceedings or due process, for up to three years, with the possibility of an extension of up to one year. Other citizens caught in the crackdown had engaged in rights defense activities prior to their disappearance or detention. Before he was taken away, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong reportedly met with a group of lawyers, news reporters, and rights defenders to discuss providing assistance to the self-trained legal advocate Chen Guangcheng. The crackdown also coincided with the annual March meetings of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. Officials have typically tightened restrictions on activists and others during these major annual meetings.
The crackdown also comes amid speeches by China's leaders regarding the need to strengthen "social management," including a talk by President Hu Jintao on February 19 during a study session for key leading cadres held at the Central Party School during which he stressed the need to "strengthen and make innovations in social management," according to a February 19 Xinhua article. The Xinhua article paraphrased President Hu as saying the purpose of the session was to "correctly grasp new changes and new characteristics of conditions at home and abroad, [and] to address current prominent problems in social management." (See also a speech at the session given by Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, Xinhua, 20 February 11).
In addition, the crackdown comes during official commemoration of 20 years of "comprehensive management of public security" efforts, as described in a March 1 Legal Daily article, which includes the goals of maintaining "social stability," "controlling and reducing major malignant and recurrent" crimes, "decreasing socially repulsive phenomenon" (such as drug addiction), "ensuring public law and order," and providing "a sense of security to the public," according to the Communist Party Central Committee and State Council Decision Concerning Strengthening Comprehensive Management of Public Security issued on February 19, 1991. One Chinese academic called the crackdown part of a "longer term trend," saying the current Hu Jintao administration has become "much more sensitive about social stability" in the past five or six years, and "most of [the measures put in place] will be long-term," according to an April 11 Wall Street Journal report.
International human rights groups are calling the crackdown one of the most severe in years and are noting what appears to be greater official disregard for procedural protections (CHRD, 31 March 11; HRW, 31 March 11; Amnesty, 23 March 11). A March 31 Guardian article quotes Joshua Rosenzweig of the Dui Hua Foundation as saying: "One of the things disturbing about this latest crackdown is how apparently routine it has become for security agents to essentially ignore the legal procedures in their treatment of activists." Other broad crackdowns in recent years followed protests and riots in Tibetan areas that began in March 2008 (see CECC topic paper and pp. 183-204 of the CECC 2008 Annual Report), protests and riots in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in July 2009 (see CECC analysis and pp. 249-253 of the CECC 2009 Annual Report), and the 2008 release of Charter 08, a document calling for political reform and greater protection of human rights in China (see p. 48 of the CECC 2009 Annual Report).
See below for a table of select individuals targeted in the current crackdown (updated as of May 2), with links to more detailed information on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's Political Prisoner Database.
|Ai Weiwei||Artist/Rights Advocate||Missing/Disappeared||Taken into custody on April 3 in Beijing.|
|Gu Chuan||Blogger/Rights Advocate||Released||Taken into custody on February 19 in Beijing. Released on April 22.|
|Jiang Tianyong||Lawyer||Released||Taken into custody on February 16 in Beijing. Released on April 19.|
|Li Fangping||Lawyer||Missing/Disappeared||Taken into custody on April 29.|
|Li Tiantian||Lawyer||Missing/Disappeared||Disappeared in late February or early March.|
|Liu Anjun||Rights Advocate||Released||Taken into custody on February 18 in Beijing. Released in early April.|
|Liu Shihui||Lawyer||Missing/Disappeared||Taken into custody on or after February 22 in Guangzhou municipality, Guangdong province.|
|Tang Jitian||Lawyer||"Soft Detention"||Taken into custody on February 16 in Beijing. Placed under "soft detention" (including home confinement) in March.|
|Teng Biao||Lawyer||Released||Taken into custody on February 19 in Beijing. Released on April 29.|
|Xue Mingkai||Rights Advocate||Missing/Detained?||Taken into custody in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, on February 18. Reports indicate Xue may have been detained, but his whereabouts remain unconfirmed.|
|Zhou Li||Petitioner/Advocate||Missing/Disappeared||Disappeared on or around March 27.|
|Chen Wei||Democracy Advocate||Arrested||Detained on February 19 in Suining city, Sichuan province, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power." Arrested on the same charges on March 28.|
|Ding Mao||Democracy Advocate||Arrested||Detained on February 19 in Mianyang city, Sichuan province, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power." Arrested on the same charges in mid-March.|
|Ni Yulan||Lawyer||Arrested||Detained on or around April 7 on suspicion of "creating a disturbance."|
|Ran Yunfei||Writer/Scholar||Arrested||Detained on February 19 in Chengdu municipality, Sichuan province, on suspicion of "subversion of state power." Arrested on March 25 on charges of "inciting subversion of state power."|
|Wang Lihong||Democracy Advocate||Arrested||Detained on March 21. Arrested on charges of "creating a disturbance" on April 20.|
|Zhu Yufu||Democracy Advocate||Arrested||Detained on March 5 in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."|
|Guo Weidong||Blogger||Detained||Detained on March 10 in Ningbo city, Zhejiang province, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."|
|Hua Chunhui||Blogger||RTL||Detained on February 22 in Wuxi city, Jiangsu province, on suspicion of "endangering state security." Ordered to serve 18 months of reeducation through labor on or around April 1.|
|Li Hai||Democracy Advocate||Bail Pending Trial||Detained on February 26 in Beijing on suspicion of "creating a disturbance." Released on bail pending trial on April 6.|
|Liang Haiyi||Blogger||Detained||Detained on February 21 in Harbin city, Heilongjiang province, on suspicion of "subversion of state power."|
|Quan Lianzhao||Petitioner||Detained||Detained on February 27 on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."|
|Sun Desheng||Rights Advocate||Detained||Detained on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power" in March 2011.|
|Tan Lanying||Petitioner||Released||Detained on February 21 in Shanghai on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order." Released on March 23.|
|Wei Qiang||Rights Advocate||Bail Pending Trial||Detained on February 26 on suspicion of participating in an "illegal demonstration." Reportedly released on bail to await trial on or about April 30.|
|Yang Lamei||Petitioner||Released||Detained on February 20 in Shanghai. Released on March 23.|
|Yang Qiuyu||Rights Advocate||RTL||Detained on March 7 in Beijing on suspicion of "creating a disturbance." Ordered to serve two years of reeducation through labor.|
|Zhang Jiannan||Web Site Founder||Detained||Detained on March 2 in Beijing on suspicion of participating in an "illegal demonstration."|
|Zheng Chuangtian||Rights Advocate||Detained||Detained on February 26 in Jieyang city, Guangdong province, on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."|
|Jin Tianming||House Church Pastor||"Soft Detention"||Placed under "soft detention" (including home confinement and restricted communication) in April.|