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April 12, 2013

Human Rights Defenders Persecuted by China

Secretary of State John Kerry heads to China this weekend to meet with his counterparts in Beijing and discuss a wide range of issues, from national security, to the global economy. One thing that should be on the agenda is China’s treatment of dissidents. In January 2011, Secretary Hillary Clinton said that “we must raise human rights [with China], which remains at the heart of American diplomacy.” Secretary Kerry should follow Clinton’s leadership and remember the human rights defenders being persecuted by the Chinese government:

Wang Yonghang (Imprisoned) Wang is a human rights attorney serving a 7-year sentence for publishing letters online advocating religious freedom and for representing Falun Gong members. He was sentenced in February 2010 after being forcibly removed from his home and beaten by Chinese authorities. In May 2012, sources said he had been subjected to long-term persecution and torture in detention. In the last six months his health has deteriorated significantly and he suffers from tuberculosis, pleural and peritoneal effusions, and shows signs of partial paralysis. Chinese authorities refuse to admit to his poor health or provide additional medical treatment.

Gao Zhisheng, (Imprisoned) a Christian human rights attorney, was granted a rare prison visit earlier this year, which serves as confirmation that he is alive, after nearly a year of strict isolation.  The New York-based NGO Human Rights in China reported that Gao’s younger brother and father-in-law visited him in the remote Shaya County Prison in Xinjian, where he has been imprisoned for the last 10 months.

Gao, an advocate for constitutional reform and religious rights, has been in and out of prison since 2006.  He was initially convicted and jailed for “inciting subversion of state power,” but was released on probation.  He continued his work and was repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, and tortured by Chinese authorities from 2008-2011.  In December 2011, after being disappeared for an extended period, the Chinese government announced that Gao violated probationary measures and sentenced him again.  They declined to release the record.

January's visit is only the second Gao’s family has been allowed since his 2011 sentence. While this is a positive gesture, U.S. policymakers have been formally advocating for Gao’s release, and for the release of all people in China who have been arbitrarily detained.  The Chinese government has not formally responded to this request.

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. During Ni’s second imprisonment in 2008 she was beaten so severely that she is now confined to a wheelchair. In April 2011 she and her husband were detained for “creating a disturbance,” though the case did not appear before the court until December 2011. On April 10, 2012, in a hearing that only lasted ten minutes, Ni was sentenced to two years and eight months and her husband, Dong, to two years. The court later overturned her “fraud” conviction, but still upheld her conviction of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” which cut her sentence by two months. Ni Yulan and her husband are still in prison. According to Ni’s daughter, the human rights activist is suffering from a thyroid tumor in prison that has gone untreated. She has been refused medical parole.

Liu Wei (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 after 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 who faced discrimination. She continues to fight for human rights today, despite having been disbarred.