Following Beijing’s tradition of sentencing high-profile activists, rights lawyers, and dissidents during the week between Christmas and the New Year in an effort to minimize international media attention, more than 12 lawyers and activists were detained, arrested, or otherwise went missing in a crackdown. Several of those detained were participants in a recent pro-democracy gathering in Fujian. Deutsche Welle reports:
Human rights groups said Thursday the latest crackdown was linked to a meeting in the eastern coast city of Xiamen in Fujian province, where participants discussed ways to transform China into a democratic country.
[…] Among those detained by Chinese authorities was Ding Jiaxi, a Beijing-based disbarred lawyer, who was previously jailed for protesting against government corruption, according to China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).
At least seven people, another disbarred lawyer Liu Shuqing, were released after being interrogated.
Pro-democracy activist Xu Zhiyong and human rights lawyer Tang Jingling have gone missing or are currently unreachable, CHRD said, while activists Dai Zhenya and Zhang Zhongshun were detained for “subverting” or “inciting subversion” of state power, a charge often used by China’s ruling Communist Party to silence dissidents. [Source]
Also this week, underground church pastor and prominent critic of Xi Jinping Wang Yi was sentenced to nine years in prison. These detentions, sentences, and interrogations mark the continuation of the Xi Jinping administration’s long-running crackdown on civil liberties, rights and legal advocacy, and civil society.
More from Jing Xuan Teng at the AFP:
The period around Christmas and New Year is traditionally when China chooses to sentence prominent dissidents in an effort to minimise international media attention, “so it is not a surprise that they chose this particular time to launch a manhunt of activists,” [Human Rights Watch researcher] Wang [Yaqiu] said.
The meeting involved a small group of people “peacefully discussing politics in a private space,” she said.
[…] The crackdown showed how the authorities have “zero tolerance of even just private discussion on issues like democracy and human rights,” Amnesty International researcher Patrick Poon said. [Source]
Chinese Human Rights Defenders has called on Beijing to release all activists and lawyers detained in connection with the peaceful assembly in Fujian. The call for action includes information on six of those detained and several others who were questioned and then released.
In the last few days of 2019, Chinese police detained and summoned for questioning a dozen activists and lawyers in Fujian, Shandong, Beijing, Hebei, Sichuan, and Zhejiang. The raids appear to target individuals who attended a small, private gathering in Fujian on December 13. A similar gathering took place one year ago in Shandong, which may explain the lead Shandong police take in this raid.
The Chinese government must release these individuals immediately. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the government has signed and thus must refrain from committing acts in violation of the treaty. The Chinese Constitution also says that all Chinese citizens have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
[…] The international community, including human rights NGOs, Congresses, and Parliaments of democratic countries, international, and multinational bodies, such as the European Union and the United Nations’ human rights agencies, must urge the Chinese government to release the detained activists and lawyers, to honor its international commitments to protect Chinese citizens’ human rights and honor its own constitution. [Source]
Coverage from RFA’s Wong Siu-san, Sing Man, and Xue Xiaoshan provides further details on the activism and background of several of those detained, noting that this roundup was less thematically contained than previous ones, and reporting on the New Year’s message that activist Xu Zhiyong sent before he went missing. RFA last month reported that a group of activists were questioned while en route to the U.S. embassy in Beijing to mark international Human Rights Day.
An employee at the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website said the latest crackdown was unusual in that there was no clear theme connecting all of the detentions.
“In the past, they would divide the opposition into categories, so you would get waves of crackdowns on activist websites, or on lawyers, or the one-off crackdown on the New Citizens Movement,” the employee said.
“This time it was very complicated.”
[…] New Citizens’ Movement founder Xu Zhiyong is currently on the run after penning a New Year’s message to China’s citizens, calling on them to think about whether they want to carry on with an authoritarian government or movement towards democratic constitutionalism, an idea that President Xi Jinping has said has no place in his vision for China. […] [Source]
Xu Zhiyong @zhiyongxu is on the run to elude arrest, so I heard. At least 9 have been taken away, police are looking for more. I spent the last day of 2019 translating Xu's New Year's Message: Change https://t.co/CvhIs46U7w By the time it's done and proofread, it's 2020. #許志永
— Yaxue Cao (@YaxueCao) January 1, 2020
In the opening of his message, Xu Zhiyong lamented those detained in the final days of 2019, and urged all Party members and all Chinese citizens to reflect on the current state of China’s politics, ideology, and economics. From China Change’s translation of Xu’s full New Year’s message:
Where is China heading? Can it sail through the historical gorges and move towards the broadway of modern civilization without upheaval? What choice is each Chinese going to make? Do we struggle in the quagmire of dictatorship, or rise to the call of a constitutional democracy? I ask each and every member of the Communist Party and each and every citizen to weigh an answer.
[…] It took only seven years for a China full of hope and potential to sink into its current lifelessness.
[…]China can not go on like this.
I ask each and every Chinese to think seriously: What can we do? What kind of China are we going to leave to later generations?
[…] If you love China, strive with us. Only by rising up will China escape the fate of going back to the long night of Cultural Revolution. Only by rising up, will China stop the rot of decline. Only by rising up will the Chinese nation embrace modern political civilization. Only by rising up will the people stand with dignity and will the country have a future. It’s a time of crisis, but we, the Chinese citizens, still believe that history will not stop its march of progress. As 2020 arrives, I wish for China to start on the road to constitutionalism, and I wish for every Chinese to stand up and become a proud citizen. [Source]