UN Human Rights Council Report Cites Intimidation, Reprisals against Chinese Activists Who Cooperate with the UN

A September 17 advance report from the UN Human Rights Council notes that the Chinese government has engaged in intimidation and reprisals against activists who have cooperated with the United Nations on human rights issues related to China. The section on China, which appears on page ten of the report, cited numerous specific instances of intimidation and retaliation:  


  1. Multiple UN actors addressed allegations of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations that cooperated, or were perceived as cooperating, with the UN, in particular their arbitrary detention including in “residential surveillance at a designated location.”  Names and further details on some cases are withheld for fear of further reprisals.  
  2. Some representatives of civil society in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region declined to engage further with or have their cases raised by OHCHR and UN human rights mechanisms due to a fear that they would be in contravention of the June 2020 Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong (see CHN 17/2020 ). 
  3. The human rights defender network Civil Human Rights Front was placed under police investigation for having, inter alia, sent a joint letter on 10 December 2020 to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Its convenor, Mr. Figo Hu-Wun Chan, received a formal request from police on the purposes of the letter.
  4. It was reported to OHCHR that Mr. Shen Youlian, human rights defender in Guizhou province, was administratively detained for ten days following his online posting of an open letter to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 
  5. It was reported to OHCHR that human rights defender Ms. Li Qiaochu was detained, allegedly as a reprisal for meeting online with two experts from the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (see CHN 4/2021).
  6. Annex II contains developments in the situations of Ms. Li Yuhan, Mr. Liu Zhengqing, Ms. Xu Yan, Ms. Chen Jianfang, Ms. Wang Yu, Mr. Qin Yongmin, Ms. Zhao Suli, Mr. Mi Chongbiao, Ms. Li Kezhen, Ms. Li Wenzu, Ms. Wang Qiaoling, Mr. Li Heping, and Mr. Jiang Tianyong. [Source

During the forty-eighth session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from September 13 to October 1, 2021, the Chinese delegation has made numerous attempts to distract from the report—including hosting no fewer than four “invitation-only” side events that either point the finger at other nations’ track records on indigenous people’s rights, or seek to deflect criticism aimed at China. 

Another recent report notes China’s attempts to thwart NGO applications to the United Nations. As CDT has reported in the past, this is but one of many long-running Chinese interference tactics at the UN. Rana Siu Inboden, senior fellow with the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas-Austin, described some of the methods used, in an excerpt published in Foreign Policy:

China is the most active country in stalling NGO applications at the United Nations, even if the organizations engage in the most innocuous and uncontroversial activities. China is not content to control civil society within its own borders. Given the role of NGOs in advancing human rights globally and drawing attention to China’s human rights crimes, Beijing is working hard to shrink the space for these groups internationally.

[…] Current U.N. Committee on Nongovernmental Organizations rules allow states to pose any question, even mundane and repetitive ones, to defer an NGO’s application until the committee’s next biannual meeting. […] Several repressive states have used this method to continually delay some applications for years. An analysis of committee meeting summaries and reports from 2016 through 2019 revealed China was the most frequent member state to pose questions to delay and block civil society applicants. It did so 340 times, outpacing South Africa (337 times), India (283 times), Cuba (220 times), and Russia (172 times).

[…] Other countries—especially authoritarian powers—often join Beijing in stalling NGO applications, and their actions often appear to be coordinated. According to my own research, the Like Minded-Group of Developing Countries, an informal coalition of an estimated 51 (mostly autocratic) regimes, is responsible for 94 percent of NGO-application deferrals. [Source]

One of the individuals named in the Human Rights Council report, Ms. Li Qiaochu, has been in detention since March 2021, most likely in retaliation for meeting online with two experts from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. A longtime advocate for labor rights, civil rights and women’s rights, she is also the partner of veteran activist Xu Zhiyong; her willingness to speak out about torture he suffered while in detention has caused her to be surveilled, harassed and detained. She is reportedly suffering from depression and auditory hallucinations while in detention, and her requests for bail pending trial have been repeatedly denied. A number of human rights organizations have called for her release:

There has been news in the case of Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, two of the activists and legal scholars behind the New Citizens’ Movement. The two, who are currently being held in a centre in Linshu county in Shandong province, have spent over 20 months in detention on charges of “subversion of state power.” Mimi Lau of the South China Morning Post reported the details of the recent indictment against them:

According to the indictment issued by the municipal procuratorate in Linyi city in Shandong early August, Xu is charged with subverting state power for leading a “citizens’ movement” together with fellow activist Ding Jiaxi.

The two are accused of recruiting a network of people to produce an “illegal” documentary, set up websites and publish subversive articles, and of organising “secret meetings” to subvert the state.

The indictment, which has been circulating online, says Xu used the messaging app Telegram to network and exchange ideas and used Zoom “to organise regular ‘non-violent’ colour-revolution training for members of the ‘citizens’ movement’ with the objective of subverting state power”.

Other “illegal activities” listed in the indictment included secret meetings in Yantai in Shandong and Xiamen in Fujian in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

In the 2019 Xiamen meeting, Xu and Ding are accused of preparing an action plan for their “citizens’ movement”, including a fundraising drive and a drive to spread their colour revolution ideas at the grass-roots level. [Source]

China Change has published a detailed case history, putting the charges in context and providing  an explanation of why the indictments against Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were only made public recently:

Now, after more than a year and half in detention, six months of which were spent in RSDL, a lengthy “investigation” and repeated “supplementary investigations,” Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were indicted on August 5, 2021. Though their lawyers were notified of the indictment at the time but didn’t receive a copy of indictments until early September. Without legal grounds to do so, the court arbitrarily forced the lawyers to sign a confidentiality agreement barring them from sharing hard copies of the Indictment with family members or making them public.

Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were indicted separately as two cases, though by law they should be of the same case. [Source]

Lastly, it appears that #MeToo activist and journalist Huang Xueqin and labor activist Wang Jianbing, who have been missing since they disappeared in Guangzhou on September 19, are under suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” and are being held in RSDL by police in Guangzhou. On September 28, Reporters without Borders (RSF) posted an update and called for their immediate release:

Chinese independent journalist Huang Xueqin (Sophia Huang), famous for her involvement in the #MeToo movement in China, was arrested on 19th September, 2021 in the southern city of Guangzhou under suspicion of ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Huang, who was preparing to leave China to study in the United Kingdom, is believed to be held under “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL), a term that refers to solitary confinement in the regime’s “black prisons”, in which the prisoners are often tortured.

“Huang Xueqin is a prominent journalist who was only serving the Chinese public interest by investigating social issues, and it is outrageous to suspect her of subversion”, insists Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East-Asia bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who calls for Huang’s “immediate release alongside all other journalists and press freedom defenders detained in China.” [Source]



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