Civil Rights Lawyer Chang Weiping Tortured After Speaking Out About Past Torture

On September 14, imprisoned human rights defender Chang Weiping was able to meet with his defense lawyer at a detention center in Baoji city, Shaanxi, for the first time since he was detained and placed in “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL) almost one year ago. Police had detained Chang in October 2020, six days after he posted a video on YouTube recounting the torture he suffered during a previous RSDL detention in January 2020. In this most recent detention, Chang was charged with “subversion of state power” and tortured again. Chang’s lawyer shared details about the torture his client had recently suffered, as documented by Chinese Human Rights Defenders:

  • He was once again subjected to the “tiger chair”, including one stint of six days and six nights.
  • The room in RSDL was very small, roughly 3 by 3 meters, with half being occupied by state security police (guobao).
  • He was subjected to sleep deprivation. If he didn’t repeat the guobao’s talking points, he wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. He was given very little plain food on [a] daily basis – just three mantou (steamed buns) per day.
  • He was subjected to psychological torment, which he found most difficult to handle. Police frequently lied to him, threatened him, gave him hope and then dashed them. On September 8, he was interrogated by the procuracy officials, who told him to watch himself when speaking with his lawyer or else suffer consequences.
  • In total, he was subjected to RSDL for 5 months and 16 days, in which he was allowed to shower five times. He was subjected to video surveillance 24-7, with no privacy to speak of.
  • In RSDL, his predominant feeling was that death would be better than continuing to live. At times, focusing on the tragedy of leaving behind his wife and two small children was his only motivation to keep from dying or going insane.
  • He is now suffering from blood in his stools. [Source]


Numerous human rights organizations have condemned Chang’s treatment and called for his immediate release. Chang has been an active human rights defender supporting marginalized groups through the legal system, as described by Frontline Defenders: 

Chang Weiping (常玮平) is a human rights lawyer based in Baoji city in the northwestern province of Shaanxi. He is known for his public interest litigation in defence of the rights of people facing discrimination because of their health status, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Chang Weiping has also provided pro bono legal counsel to vulnerable groups, including victims of defective vaccines, as well as women, LGBT persons, and persons living with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B who face discrimination in the workplace. He has also provided legal counsel to petitioners and human rights defenders who face judicial harassment for the legitimate exercise of their human rights. [Source]

As a result of his engagement in these high-risk cases, authorities suspended Chang’s legal license for three months in 2018, and later dissolved the law firm where he worked. When Chang attempted to work for other law firms, a requirement for maintaining a legal license, the authorities pressured them to not hire him, and permanently suspended his legal license in 2020. 

In the meantime, Chang participated in the December 2019 informal gathering of pro-democracy activists in Xiamen with Xu Zhiyong. In January 2020, authorities detained Chang for “inciting subversion of state power” and placed him in RSDL, where he was locked in a tiger chair for 24 hours each day for ten days in a row. After being released on bail, pending trial, he was restricted from traveling outside of his hometown and barred from seeing his wife and six-year-old son. Chang’s wife and family members made public pleas for his release, but were subsequently subject to intense harassment by police: their phones were confiscated, they were placed under house arrest, cameras were installed outside their houses, they were threatened with losing their jobs, and they were forced to delete their social media posts about Chang. Here are his parents in December 2020:

The unrelenting torture Chang suffered during his detention brings renewed attention to China’s extralegal practice of RSDL, which researchers at Safeguard Defenders have extensively documented: 

RSDL is China’s system of state-sanctioned kidnapping that it is using against thousands of people every year (new data we are also releasing today show that RSDL may have claimed up to almost 60,000 victims since 2013). The system, which has been condemned by the UN as tantamount to enforced disappearance, has most famously been imposed on hundreds, maybe thousands, of Chinese human rights defenders such as dissident artist Ai Weiwei, human rights lawyers Wang Yu and Wang Quanzhang, as well as on foreigners, especially those caught up in hostage diplomacy cases, like Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The very nature of RSDL, that it takes place at hidden locations with the victim in isolation and incommunicado, and in facilities other than police stations and detention centres, means that there are very few images, or even information about their whereabouts. That RSDL is used by the Ministry of State Security for suspected national security ‘crimes’, and against foreigners, also adds another reason to why it is kept so secret. [Source]

Chang’s latest detention adds to the long list of individuals who have been detained in RSDL during the ongoing “709 crackdown” against Chinese civil rights lawyers, activists, and journalists. Ding Jiaxi, a prominent human rights lawyer turned activist who was also present at the Xiamen gathering, was put in RSDL in December 2019, and formally arrested in June 2020 for inciting subversion of state power. Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who covered the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in Wuhan, has been imprisoned since December 2020, and is serving a four-year sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Her declining health, after a long hunger strike to protest the lack of due process in her trial, has galvanized numerous NGOs to advocate for her release. Other notable figures include Wang Zang, an outspoken poet-activist who was arrested for inciting subversion of state power in September 2020, and human rights lawyers Tang Jitian and Guo Feixiong, who are barred from leaving China. 


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