Chinese Government Must End Persecution of Family Members of Activists

Beating of Chen Guangcheng, Yuan Weijing Latest in Series of Abuses

(Chinese Human Rights Defenders- February 11, 2011) On February 10, CHRD learned from a reliable source that human rights defender Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) and his wife Yuan Weijing (袁伟静) were beaten by police in their Shandong Province home. It is believed that police sought to punish the couple because they smuggled out of their home a video recording documenting the illegal house arrest to which they have been subjected for the past five months. The beating  and ongoing restrictions on their movement are the latest in a long line of abuses directed at Chen’s family by officials to intimidate him and retaliate against him for his human rights activism, and are part of a larger pattern of persecution of the spouses, children, or relatives of activists taking place across the country.

Some of the cases of families being targeted by police are well-documented: Yuan Weijing was under intermittent soft detention during the more than four years that Chen Guangcheng was imprisoned, and the pair have been held under unlawful house arrest since his release in September 2010. Liu Xia (刘霞), wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), has been held under illegal house arrest since October 2010. Zeng Jinyan (曾金燕), wife of imprisoned activist Hu Jia (胡佳), has been subjected to police harassment and monitoring for years. The wife and children of “disappeared” human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), and the wife and children of imprisoned activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), fled to the United States in 2009 to escape persecution and gain relief from years of suffering.

“The Chinese government has absolutely no legal basis for detaining Chen Guangcheng and his family, and Liu Xia, in their homes.  Nor is there any legal basis for the police surveillance and harassment of Zeng Jinyan and the many other family members of activists who face ongoing persecution by the authorities,” said Tanya Wang, CHRD’s Deputy International Director.

However, it is not only the relatives of high-profile individuals who face harassment from officials, but those of grassroots activists as well. Police may seek to pressure activists to discontinue their work through targeting their relatives, or they may be retaliating against the family for an activist’s efforts to expose local rights abuses. For example:

  • Li Jinfang (李金芳) and Li Zhuyang (李竹阳), former wife and daughter of democracy activist Qin Yongmin (秦永敏), had their home in Xianghe County, Hebei Province raided by fifteen police officers on July 1, 2010. Police confiscated 74 items, including human rights-related documents, computer equipment and financial documents. Several officers took Li Jinfang, an activist herself, and Li Zhuyang in for approximately five hours of questioning. Following her interrogation, police told Li Jinfang that she was suspected of having committed the crime of “inciting subversion of state power,” and was therefore required to report to the police if she planned to leave Xianghe County. She was also told that her bank account had been frozen. During interrogations, police threatened that Li Zhuyang would not be able to attend university because of her parents’ activities.
  • Xinna (新娜) and Uiles (威勒斯), the wife and son of Inner Mongolian scholar and activist Hada (哈达), have been missing since the days leading up to Hada’s release from prison on December 10, 2010. On December 3, the bookstore run by his wife Xinna was suddenly closed by police, who conducted a 13-hour search of the premises. Xinna was then taken into custody and held at the Inner Mongolia Number One Detention Center. The next day, Hada’s son Uiles was interrogated by police, after which he released a public letter detailing his experience and other instances of police harassment he has faced over the past fifteen years. After speaking to the media about his mother’s situation on December 5, Uiles disappeared. On December 10, a photograph showing Hada, Xinna, and Uiles sitting together was circulated on the internet, and a New York Times report cited a relative who said the family was together, but confined by police to “a luxury hotel in Inner Mongolia.”  CHRD has been unable to contact Hada, Xinna, or Uiles, and cannot independently verify any news related to his release from prison or the whereabouts of his family members.
  • Duan Chunfang (段春芳), sister of Duan Huimin (段惠民), was recently released following a year and a half in prison in Shanghai for “obstructing official business.” Duan Huimin died in early January 2007 immediately after being released from police custody for his petitioning and assisting other petitioners, where he had allegedly been tortured and denied treatment. Duan Chunfang has been seeking an investigation into, and official accountability for, her brother’s death since, and has been routinely harassed and threatened by officials in Shanghai. Her detention stems from a June 2009 confrontation with a security guard who was keeping her under “soft detention.” During the Shanghai Expo, which took place while she was still in detention, her family was closely monitored by local officials.
  • Wu Lingling (吴玲玲), wife of human rights activist and Christian house church organizer Fan Yafeng (范亚峰), was summoned for questioning in relation to her husband’s activities on December 12, and later placed under “soft detention.” Fan was detained and reportedly beaten by police in Beijing between December 9 and December 18, and was then similarly placed under “soft detention” at his home.

CHRD demands the Chinese government hold legally accountable those officials suspected of ordering or carrying out abuses of the rights of human rights defenders and their families across the country. CHRD continues to urge the Chinese government to take concrete actions to protect China’s human rights defenders, as it promised to do when it endorsed the Declaration to Protect Human Rights Defenders at the UN General Assembly in 1999.

CHRD urges the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to inquire into the Chinese government’s persecution of human rights defenders and their families, particularly those at the grassroots level, who are most vulnerable to corrupt and abusive local officials.

Finally, CHRD calls on the United States government to take action regarding the ongoing persecution of Chinese activists’ families. This includes not only raising this issue with the Chinese government during bilateral talks, such as future rounds of the U.S.- China Human Rights Dialogue, but also applying diplomatic pressure within China, through sending American officials to visit families living under house arrest or otherwise demonstrating the United States’ support for Chinese human rights activists.

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 301 547 9286

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660

David Smalls, Researcher (English), +1 347 448 5285

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