12-20-2011By Alison Searle
Human Rights Defenders
Even by the Chinese government’s low standards on human rights, 2011 has been terrible. The Chinese government repression increased in reaction to the Arab Spring earlier this year, and the uncertainty over Russia’s future threatens to jumpstart a ripple effect of human rights advocacy that may prove to be too much for even the tech-savvy Chinese government to block. If that’s the case, the fear is that the oppressive human rights environment in China may get worse before it gets better.
While the human rights situation in China remains dire, Human Rights First welcomes Ambassador Locke’s stated commitment to human rights. “In recognition of the universality of this principle and our common humanity, promotion of human rights and religious freedom is at the forefront of American diplomacy worldwide, including China,” he said earlier this month. His naming of specific human rights defenders brings important attention to the issue.
Human Rights First urges the U.S. government to maintain a consistent human rights platform going into 2012 by speaking out publicly against Chinese repression of human rights defenders. Human Rights First continues to closely monitor the cases of several men and women who continue to fight for human rights in China, including the following defenders:
Gao Zhisheng (Disappeared): Gao is a Christian human rights attorney who was repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, and tortured by Chinese authorities in 2008-2009. After a year of being disappeared, Gao resurfaced in 2010 and spoke with his family for the first time since he was abducted from his home in 2009. After visiting with in-laws in April 2010 he informed family members that he would be returning to Beijing a few days later. He never arrived home and has not been seen or heard from since. *UPDATE* Gao has reportedly been detained to serve a 3-year sentence for violating probationary measures that the Chinese government has declined to release.
Li Fangping (Kidnapped): Li is a prominent human rights lawyer who was involved in a number of high-profile cases regarding victims of political and religious persecution. In April 2011, he was kidnapped and held in an unknown location. He was released on May 4, 2011, following six days in secret detention. The AP reported that following his release, Li hewed to the practice of many human rights defenders and declined to give details about his detention.
Ni Yulan (Detained): A former lawyer and housing rights activist, Ni was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing justice in 2008. She was detained for filming the forced demolition of a Beijing home and resisting the forced demolition of her own home. Ni became disabled after being repeatedly beaten by police while in government custody.
Chen Guangcheng (Detained): Chen is a blind human rights lawyer who had been detained since the rejection of his final appeal in 2007. He was released from prison in September 2010, but continues to be detained under house arrest enforced by “police and thugs to keep outsiders away.” Again according to the AP, Chen’s captors have beaten him unconscious on at least one occasion and do not allow his six-year old daughter to leave the house to attend school. His home confinement has attracted the attention of activists who attempt to visit him despite government efforts to deter visitors. US Representative Chris Smith held a hearing in November 2011 to raise awareness for Chen and continue to campaign for his freedom.
Liu Wei (female, law license revoked): A human rights lawyer from Beijing’s Shunhe Law Firm, Liu has not had her license to practice law renewed by the judicial authorities following the conclusion of an annual review of her performance on May 31, 2009. Liu is part of a group of about twenty lawyers whose licenses were stripped for taking ‘sensitive’ human rights cases. Most of the others have succeeded in having their licenses returned after negotiations with the authorities. Ms. Liu has defended Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists and HIV/AIDS carriers whose infection was related to government misconduct.
Ran Yunfei (Released in August 2011): Ran is a well-known and widely read Chinese blogger who frequently aired issues like democracy and human rights online. He was detained for six months for inciting subversion, but his unexpected release is possibly linked to an online advocacy effort by government critic, Ai Weiwei.