5-4-2012By Marc Jayson Climaco
New Media Content Specialist
Chen Guangcheng is one of many human rights defenders in China who have been tortured, detained, and harassed by the government. Despite an already dire human rights situation the country, Chinese human rights defenders have become increasingly vulnerable over the past year and a half. The Chinese government has increased its crackdown against its dissidents to prevent the wave of democracy movements that swept Arab countries from spreading into its borders.
In 2011, at least 200 people, including many lawyers “disappeared,” and this year, the government is increasing its use of unofficial detention centers–so-called “black jails”–to hold dissidents. The country has also sentenced several prominent activists to lengthy prison terms. “There’s been a significant crackdown on dissension, political discussion, even the rights and the activities of lawyers who advocate on behalf of people who have been poisoned from tainted food and medicines,” U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said earlier this year.
Human Rights First has urged the United States to go beyond occasional shows of support and establish a consistent policy of engagement with defenders and civil society in China and other countries. Reliable U.S. support–through embassies or other means–is critical in bolstering the work of human rights defenders around the world and increases protection to those at risk. Check out some of the cases in China that we are monitoring.
Chen Guangcheng: Mr. Chen is a self-taught lawyer who has been raising human rights issues affecting rural China, including economic and women’s rights. In 2007, Mr. Chen was imprisoned for advocating against the one-child policy rule in China, bringing international attention to the issue. Though the Chinese government released him in 2010, he remained confined to his home under house arrest–enforced by police and thugs–until he escaped in recent days. While under house arrest, his captors beat him unconscious and did not allow his six-year old daughter to leave the house to attend school. His recent escape to the U.S. embassy in China have gained international attention, making room for the possibility of Mr. Chen to leave the country and seek political asylum.
Gao Zhisheng: Mr. Gao is a Christian human rights attorney advocating for religious freedom and freedom of expression. He was repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, and tortured by Chinese authorities in 2008-2009. After a year of being disappeared, Zhisheng resurfaced in 2010 and spoke with his family for the first time since he was abducted from his home in 2009. After visiting his in-laws in April 2010 he informed family members that he would be returning to Beijing a few days later. He did not return home and went missing for months. News broke out earlier this year that Mr. Gao was detained to serve a 3-year sentence for violating probationary measures that the Chinese government has declined to release.
Ni Yulan: Ms. Ni, a former lawyer and housing rights activist, began to oppose forced evictions in her neighborhood in 2001. In 2002, the government detained her for filming a forced demolition. While in government custody, she was rendered disabled after repeated beatings by police. In 2008, the government demolished Ms. Ni’s home in retaliation for her activism. Then, in April 2011, the government detained her again along with her husband, charging them “creating a disturbance” and “fraud”; a verdict has not yet been reached. The Dutch Government awarded Ms. Ni its 2011 Human Rights Defenders Tulip Awards, but the Chinese government prevented her family members from the receiving the award on her behalf. On April 10, 2012, Ms. Ni and her husband were officially sentenced to prison for 2 years and 8 months.
Liu Wei: A human rights lawyer from Beijing’s Shunhe Law Firm, Ms. Liu lost her license to practice law following an annual performance on May 31, 2009. She is one of twenty lawyers whose licenses were stripped for taking on “sensitive” human rights cases. Most others successfully re-obtained their licenses after negotiating with the authorities. Ms. Liu’s clients included Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists, and HIV/AIDS carriers whose infection resulted to charges of government misconduct. Today, she continues to advocate for human rights in China, despite the fact that she is unable to represent cases as a lawyer.
Li Fangping: As a prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Li took on a number of high-profile cases representing victims of political and religious persecution. In April 2011, the government kidnapped him and held him in an unknown location. The authorities released him on May 4, 2011, following six days in secret detention. After his release, Mr. Li hewed to the practice of many human rights defenders and declined to give details about his detention.
Ran Yunfei: Mr. Ran, a well-known and widely read Chinese blogger, frequently raised human rights violations in China online. Government authorities detained him for six months in 2011 for inciting subversion. The government unexpectedly released him in August 2011, possibly because of an online advocacy effort by government critic, Ai Weiwei.