Today, September 19, 2022, marks a year in detention for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, freelance journalist and key player in the Chinese #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, labor rights defender .
We, the undersigned civil society groups, call on the Chinese authorities to respect and protect their rights in detention, including access to a lawyer, unimpeded communication with family members, their right to health and their right to bodily autonomy. We stress that their detention is arbitrary, and we call for their release and for the authorities to allow them to carry out their work and make important contributions to social justice.
Who are they ?
In the 2010s, Huang Xueqin worked as a reporter for mainstream media in China. During this time, she covered stories on issues of public interest, women’s rights, corruption scandals, industrial pollution and issues faced by socially marginalized groups. She then 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 arrested by police in Guangzhou and criminally detained at the RSDL for three months – for posting an article about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement online.
Wang Jianbing followed a different path, but her story – like Huang’s – demonstrates the commitment of young people in China to giving back to their communities. He has worked in the non-profit sector for over 16 years, on issues ranging from education and disability to youth and work. Since 2018, he has been supporting victims of occupational diseases to increase their visibility and access social services and legal aid.
Arbitrary and incommunicado detention
On September 19, 2021, the two human rights defenders were taken away by Guangzhou police; after 37 days, they were officially arrested for “inciting the subversion of state power”. Using COVID-19 prevention measures as an excuse, they were held for five months in solitary confinement and subjected to secret interrogations, under conditions similar to “residential surveillance in a designated place”, or RSDL. After months of delays and no guarantees of due process, their case was transferred to court for the first time in early August 2022.
We strongly condemn the long detentions of Huang and Wang. In a communication sent 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 concerns about the disappearance and Wang’s deprivation of liberty. They claimed that Wang’s activities were protected and legal, and that Chinese authorities were using a broad definition of “endangering national security” that goes against international human rights law.
In May 2022, the GTDA went even further, officially declare Wang’s detention to be “arbitrary” and urge the authorities to guarantee his immediate release and access to a remedy. Noting other similar Chinese cases, the WGDA also called on the Chinese authorities to undertake a thorough independent investigation into the case, taking steps to hold accountable those responsible for the rights violations.
We echo their call: the Chinese authorities must respect this UN conclusion and immediately release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing.
Risks of torture and poor health
In addition to the lack of legal basis for their detention, we are also concerned about the conditions of detention of Wang and Huang. Using “COVID-19 isolation” as an excuse, Wang was held incommunicado, during which he suffered physical and mental violence and abuse. His physical health deteriorated, partly due to irregular diet and inadequate nutrition, while he also suffered from physical and mental torment and depression. Legal and UN experts have found similar risks, which may amount to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in other Chinese detention practices, including the RSDL. According to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Mandela Rules”), prolonged solitary confinement – solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days – should be prohibited as it may amount to torture or mistreatment.
Huang Xueqin’s conditions of detention are even more concerning, as in the year she was deprived of her liberty – again, without formal access to a lawyer or communication with her family – no one, including a lawyer of his choice, has received notification of his situation. We are deeply concerned for his physical and mental health and reaffirm that incommunicado detention is a serious violation of international law.
Absence of fair trial guarantees
Considering the circumstances, many brave Chinese lawyers may have come to the defense of Huang Xueqin. But we are alarmed that Huang was prevented from appointing a lawyer of her choice. In March 2022, his family intervened, appointing a lawyer on his behalf; she was not allowed to meet her client or consult the file. Nevertheless, this lawyer was removed from his position – according to the authorities, with Huang’s approval – after only two weeks. The right to a lawyer of one’s choice is not only a fundamental international human rights standard, but a right guaranteed by the criminal law of the PRC.
Chilling effect on advocacy
As is too often the case in China, the authorities’ “investigation” of the Huang and Wang affair had concrete impacts on civil society as a whole. About 70 friends and acquaintances of the two defenders, from all over the country, were summoned by the Guangzhou police and/or local authorities. Many of them were interrogated for up to 24 hours – some multiple times – and forced to hand over their electronic devices. The police also coerced and threatened some people to sign false statements admitting that they had participated in training activities that were intended to “subvert state power” and that mere social gatherings were in fact political events to encourage criticism of the government. The Chinese government has repeatedly been warned by UN experts that the introduction of evidence from coerced or coerced confessions is a violation of international law and that officials who engage in this practice must be sanctioned.
A call to action
A year later, we call on the Chinese authorities to respect human rights standards and respect 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, relevant officials should:
• Ensure that Huang and Wang have free access to the lawyer of their choice and protect the rights of lawyers to defend their clients.
• Remove all obstacles to free communication between Huang and Wang and their families and friends, whether in writing or by telephone.
• Provide comprehensive physical and mental health services to Huang and Wang, including consensual examinations by an independent medical professional, and share results with attorneys and family members, or others upon request.
• Ensure that Huang and Wang are not subjected to solitary confinement or other forms of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that the conditions of their detention comply with international human rights standards.
• Cease actions to intimidate and prevent members of civil society from engaging in advocacy for the protection of rights, and ensure that no evidence from coerced confessions is allowed into Huang’s legal proceedings and Wang – or anyone else.