One year in prison: We stand by #Xuebing

China must protect the rights of imprisoned human rights defenders Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing

ISHR regrets that today marks a year of disappearance and imprisonment for two young Chinese defense lawyers. But we are inspired by their work and the spirit of solidarity among all those behind Xuebing.

“This case is based on nothing more than the Chinese authorities’ fear of an active, participatory society and kind-hearted people working to improve their country,” said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR program director.

“Being charged with a national security crime based on online speeches and dinner parties? It would be ridiculous if we didn’t talk about a targeted campaign to repress civil society.’

As highlighted in previous campaigns by ISHR to call for the lifting of the RSDL or “residential surveillance in a specific place”, the practice of incommunicado detention – without access to a family or a lawyer of one’s choice – is evident and widespread in China . Whether formally RSDL or not, such practices violate international law and greatly increase the risk of torture and coerced confession.

In this case, too, it is clear that the authorities are deliberately using Xuebing’s detention to intimidate and silence other activists. Nevertheless, they continue to speak out. ISHR supports Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing by human rights defenders from China and Hong Kong, Taiwanese and Uyghur activists, students and human rights groups from around the world.

See the full text of the letter below and in French and Chinese.

___________

For publication: September 19, 2022

China must protect the rights of imprisoned human rights defenders Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing

Today, September 19, 2022, marks a year in prison for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist and key player in China’s #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labor rights lawyer.[1]

We, the undersigned civil society groups, call on the Chinese authorities to respect and protect their rights in detention, including access to legal counsel, unrestricted communication with family members, their right to health and their right to physical autonomy. We emphasize that their detention is arbitrary and we call for their release and that the authorities allow them to carry out their work and make important contributions to social justice.

Who are you ?

In the 2010s Huang Xueqin worked as a journalist for mainstream media in China. During this time she reported on issues of public interest, women’s rights, corruption scandals, industrial pollution and problems of socially excluded groups. She later supported victims and survivors of sexual harassment and gender-based violence who spoke out as part of the #MeToo movement in China. On October 17, 2019, she was stopped by Guangzhou police and criminally detained in RSDL for three months for posting an article about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement online.

Wang Jianbing took a different path, but his story—like Huang’s—shows the commitment of young people in China to give back to their communities. He has worked in the non-profit sector for more than 16 years, dealing with issues such as education, disability, youth and work. Since 2018 he has been helping victims of occupational diseases to increase their visibility and access social services and legal assistance.

Arbitrary incommunicado detention

On September 19, 2021, the two human rights defenders were arrested by police in Guangzhou; After 37 days, they were officially arrested on charges of “inciting to undermine state power”. Under the pretense of COVID-19 prevention measures, they were held in solitary confinement and secretly interrogated for five months under conditions similar to “residential surveillance at a designated location” or RSDL. After months of delays and no guarantees of due process, her case made its way to court for the first time in early August 2022.

We strongly condemn Huang and Wang’s long terms. In a statement to the Chinese government in February 2022, six independent UN experts – including the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) – expressed serious concern about Wang’s disappearance and deprivation of liberty. They claimed that Wang’s activities were protected and legal, and that the Chinese authorities used a broad definition of “threatening national security” that contravened international human rights law.

In May 2022, the WGAD went a step further, formally declaring Wang’s detention “arbitrary” and urging the authorities to ensure his immediate release and access to justice. In light of other similar Chinese cases, the WGAD called on the Chinese authorities to conduct a full independent investigation into the case and take action to hold those responsible for rights violations accountable.

We repeat their appeal: The Chinese authorities should respect this UN finding and release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing immediately.

Risks of torture and poor health

In addition to the lack of legal basis for their detention, we are also concerned about the detention conditions for Wang and Huang. Wang was held incommunicado under the pretense of “COVID-19 isolation,” and was subjected to physical and mental violence and abuse. His physical health deteriorated in part due to an irregular diet and inadequate nutrition, while he also suffered from physical and mental anguish and depression. UN and legal experts have identified similar risks in other Chinese detention practices – including RSDL – which may amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. According to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Mandela Rules”), prolonged solitary confinement – solitary confinement of more than 15 days – should be prohibited as it may constitute torture or ill-treatment.

Huang Xueqin’s detention conditions are even more worrying as no one, including a lawyer of her choice, was deprived of her liberty during the year – again without formal access to a lawyer or communication with her family – without notification of her situation. We are deeply concerned for their physical and mental health and reiterate that their incommunicado detention is a grave violation of international law.

Lack of guarantees for a fair trial

Given the circumstances, many brave Chinese lawyers may have stepped up to defend Huang Xueqin. But we are alarmed that Huang has been prevented from appointing a lawyer of her choice. In March 2022, her family stepped in and hired a lawyer on her behalf; she was not allowed to meet her client or see the case file. Despite this, that lawyer — with Huang’s approval, according to authorities — was fired after just two weeks. The right to legal counsel of one’s choice is not only a fundamental international human rights standard, but a right guaranteed by the criminal law of the PRC.

Dissuasive effect on the defense of rights

As is all too often the case in China, the authorities’ “investigation” into the Huang and Wang case had a concrete impact on civil society on a grand scale. Around 70 friends and acquaintances of the two defense attorneys from across the country were summoned by Guangzhou police and/or local authorities. Many of them were interrogated for up to 24 hours – some even several times – and forced to hand in their electronic devices. The police also forced and threatened some people to sign false statements admitting that they had attended training courses aimed at “undermining state power” and that simple social gatherings were in fact political gatherings for criticism to stir up in the government. The Chinese government has been repeatedly warned by UN experts that the introduction of evidence derived from coerced or coerced confessions is a violation of international law and that officials involved in the practice must be sanctioned.

A call to action

A year later, we call on the Chinese authorities to respect human rights standards and their international obligations in the cases of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. Until the Chinese authorities implement the UN recommendations and Huang and Wang are released, the relevant officials should:

  • Ensure that Huang and Wang have free access to legal counsel of their choice and protect lawyers’ rights to defend their clients.
  • Remove all obstacles to free communication between Huang and Wang and their families and friends, whether in writing or by phone.
  • Providing Huang and Wang with comprehensive physical and mental health services, including consensual examinations by an independent medical professional, and sharing the results with attorneys and family members or others upon request.
  • Guarantee that Huang and Wang will not be subjected to solitary confinement or other forms of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and that their detention conditions will comply with international human rights standards.
  • End measures aimed at intimidating and silencing members of civil society from taking action to protect rights, and ensure that no evidence from coerced confessions is used in Huang and Wang’s court cases – or anyone else – are permissible.

Signed:

ACAT France

Amnesty International

Center for Reproductive Rights

Center for Global Women’s Leadership, Rutgers University

Changsha Funeng

China against the death penalty

China Labor Bulletin

CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front line defenders

Strangers from Hong Kong

Hong Kong Outlanders in Taiwan

human rights in China

human rights now

Index to Censorship

International Human Rights Service

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders

NuVoices

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

protect defenders

Taiwan Human Rights Association

Taiwan Labor Front

The law practice

Uyghur human rights project

World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), within the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

[1] Because their cases are closely related, their friends and supporters refer to them as a single case, dubbed the “Xuebing case,” using a portmanteau of their first names.

Photo credit: @freexuebing

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