China Continues Nationwide Crackdown on Rights Lawyers, Activists

Chinese rights activist Liu Jiacai, now in hiding from police, is shown in an undated photo.(Photo provided by Liu Jiacai)

China is continuing a nationwide crackdown on rights activists, detaining lawyer Chang Weiping at an unknown location, while pressing “terrorism” charges against Zhang Baocheng, activists told RFA.

Chang was detained by police in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi and placed under “residential surveillance” at an unknown location on state security-related charges, his family said.

Chang was taken away by state security police while visiting a friend’s home in the provincial capital Xi’an, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said in a statement on its webiste.

He is being held incommunicado in an unknown location on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power … and can be held for up to six months without being charged nor granted access to a lawyer,” the group said.

“He is at great risk of being tortured.”

The provincial justice bureau stripped Chang of his license to practice law last month, and his wife was informed of his status by phone on Tuesday.

An official who answered the phone at the justice bureau in Chang’s home city of Baoji said he had “violated the relevant rules and regulations.”

“There were violations of rules and discipline in Chang Weiping’s practice,” the official said, but declined to comment on Chang’s detention.

“This has very little to do with [politically] sensitive cases [taken on by Chang], and we don’t know if he was taken away,” the official said.

Unable to appeal

Chen Yue, director-general of the “China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group” in Hong Kong, said Chang was only informed of the loss of his license when he was already under surveillance and unable to do anything to appeal the decision.

“What they’re not saying is that that he didn’t have any redress,” Chen said. “His license was canceled on Dec. 31, but they only announced the decision in January.”

“He couldn’t be notified of it, so he lost the option of seeking redress, so really it’s a disguised way of ensuring he will never be able to practise law again,” she said.

Chang Weiping had worked on several cases deemed politically “sensitive” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in recent years, representing rights activists, death penalty cases, and discrimination lawsuits.

Four lawyers remain in custody, with three in “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a practice described by United Nations human rights experts as enforced disappearance by another name.

Beijing-based lawyer Ding Jiaxi was detained on Dec. 26 in Beijing by police from the eastern province of Shandong, where authorities are coordinating the nationwide operation.

Rights activists Zhang Zhongshun, Dai Zhenya, and Li Yingjun were detained a day later by Shandong police in their hometowns in Shandong and Fujian.

Nationwide crackdown

Chinese police launched a nationwide operation detaining at least eight people and questioning others, following a Dec. 13 meeting of liberal-minded activists and lawyers in the southeastern province of Fujian.

Authorities in the eastern province of Shandong set up a police task force after the meeting in the Fujian port city of Xiamen, and had detained eight people in Fujian, Shandong, Beijing, Hebei, Sichuan, and Zhejiang by Jan. 1, CHRD said.

Hubei rights activist Liu Jiacai told RFA he is on the run after attending the gathering in Xiamen, and hopes to flee China and seek asylum overseas.

“I have been on the run since,” he said. “We did not violate any current laws. We acted legally, but the actions taken by the authorities have scared me.”

“I want to escape from this country,” Liu said from hiding.

Terrorism charges

Meanwhile, authorities in the Chinese capital have indicted Beijing-based New Citizens’ Movement activist Zhang Baocheng on “terrorism” charges after he posted items to social media regarding the mass incarceration of Uyghurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Zhang faces charges of “promoting terrorism and extremism” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” with online posts being submitted in evidence by the prosecution, according to a copy of the indictment seen by RFA.

The indictment accuses him of posting online commentary containing “false content” between 2018 and 2019 that was judged to be “anti-party, anti-government, and bringing national leaders into disrepute.”

Zhang is also accused of “distributing videos relating to violent terrorism and extremism.”

Zhang’s wife, Liu Yifan, who is currently in the U.S., said some of the content was related to mass incarceration camps in Xinjiang.

Zhang may have angered someone powerful when he showed public support for jailed rights activist and website editor Huang Qi by helping his mother, fellow activists said.

Beijing-based activist Li Wei said the indictment was a form of retaliation against someone who had always fought for human rights.

“This is all about freedom, human rights, and the rule of law,” Li said, adding that he too is under close surveillance and has been keeping a low profile.

“Sooner or later it may be my turn,” he said. “That is definitely a very big possibility.”

Zhang was previously sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on April 18,
2014 by Beijing’s Haidian District People’s Court, which found him guilty of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.”

New Citizens’ Movement activists Li Wei and Ding Jiaxi, who called publicly on Chinese officials to reveal details of their wealth, and veteran democracy activist Zhao Changqing were jailed at the same time on the same charge.

Dozens detained

Dozens of people linked in some way to the New Citizens Movement were detained around 2014, with at least seven activists linked to the movement handed formal jail terms, rights groups said at the time.

Movement founder Xu Zhiyong was China’s highest-profile dissident to be sentenced to jail since 2009, when Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo was ordered imprisoned for 11 years for subversion after helping organize the “Charter 08” petition calling for sweeping political change and a constitutional government.

In May 2012, Xu penned an article titled “China Needs a New Citizens Movement,” which is believed to have spurred the loose nationwide network of activists to action.

The article called on responsible citizens to oppose corruption and work to support disadvantaged groups, as well as holding political meetings and collaborating to achieve these goals.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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