Urgent Calls to Release Journalist Huang Xueqin, in Failing Health After 500 Days of Detention

There have been renewed calls for the release of journalist and feminist activist Huang Xueqin and labor-rights activist Wang Jianbing, who have now spent over 500 days in detention without trial. Since being detained in September 2021 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” the two have been held in Guangzhou without access to family or lawyers. 

Helen Davidson of The Guardian reported on recent concerns about Huang Xueqin’s health and the long-running dearth of information on the two detainees:

Advocates and human rights groups have said the pair should never have been arrested. This week they said information had been brought to them that raised concerns about Huang’s health in particular. They said they were told she has lost a lot of weight, stopped menstruating, and is suffering from untreated long-term conditions and deficiencies.

[…] The advocates also accused authorities of “trying to exert mental pressure and physical torture” of Huang, through repeatedly waking her at night for interrogation and depriving her of sleep.

“These circumstances are only the tip of the iceberg of what we can learn about Huang Xueqin’s detention situation,” the advocates said. “Due to the inability to learn more about Xueqin’s current appointment of official lawyers, it is difficult for us to obtain information on her physical and mental health and the progress of the case.” [Source]

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Director Cédric Alviani issued a statement about possible mistreatment that may have led to a deterioration in Huang Xueqin’s health while she has been held at the No.1 Detention Center in Guangzhou, awaiting trial: 

By mistreating, and presumably torturing Huang Xueqin, detained prominent journalist respected for contribution to #MeToo movement, [the] Chinese regime is evidently trying to set an example and silence all remaining independent voices in the country. Beijing must immediately release Huang, alongside all 114 journalists and press freedom defenders detained in China. [Source]

Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing were among the key human-rights cases raised by the E.U. at the 38th session of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, held in Brussels on February 17, 2023:

During the dialogue, the EU repeatedly addressed the issue of crackdown on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in China, in particular in Xinjiang, the Tibetan areas and Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong. The EU urged China to investigate and stop violations of human rights and international law, expressing concern for cases of unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment. The EU raised several individual cases and called upon China to immediately release those who are detained in disregard for due process requirements:

[…] Individuals deprived of their liberty for their exercise of the freedom of expression, including Fang Bin, Guo Quan, Huang Qi, Huang Xueqin, Wang Jianbing, Wang Zang, Zhang Zhan, and Yang Maodong,

Individuals deprived of their liberty for their exercise of the freedom of peaceful assembly or demonstration, such as Peng Lifa, Qin Yongming and Xu Qin as well persons arrested during the November 2022 protests, including Cao Zhixin, Kamile Wayit, Zhai Dengrui, Xin Shang, Li Siqi, Li Yuanjing and Hou Jinyi. [Source]

In advance of a February 15-16 meeting in Geneva in which the Chinese government sought to defend its compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, an article by William Nee in The Diplomat cautioned that China may well attempt to “bamboozle” the United Nations:

The list of persecuted defenders is endless, but let’s look at a few representative examples.

Take Huang Xueqin, a former journalist and prominent feminist. While Beijing tries to convince the international community that it cares about women’s rights, it has held this leader of China’s #MeToo movement in incommunicado detention since September 2021.

Huang was detained with her friend, labor rights advocate Wang Jianbing. While China – nominally a socialist state – insists to the world that it cares about labor rights, Wang and Huang are facing the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.”

Or take the case of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist who reported on the early outbreak of COVID-19 from Wuhan. She gave the international community access to information about the dire implications of COVID-19 while the government engaged in strict censorship. Zhang urged the Chinese government to protect health rights, but she is serving a four-year prison sentence with life-threatening health conditions. She was sentenced in 2020 on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang is believed to be just 41 kilograms (90 pounds) in prison. [Source]

CDT Chinese editors have archived a statement, which appeared on GitHub, from a group seeking to raise awareness of and press for the release of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. The statement, translated in part below, condemns their detention as a “gravely illegal and inhumane practice,” and calls on the Guangzhou authorities to immediately:

(1) Conduct thorough physical examinations of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, and provide necessary medical treatment and support for any physiological or psychological problems that they may be suffering from.

(2) Guarantee Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing’s rights to retain legal counsel and to communicate freely; resume permission for the two to receive external remittances and to use these remittances as they see fit for their living expenses [while in detention].

(3) Release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing without charge. Their case, which has been delayed for more than 500 days without trial, is an example of baseless political persecution, and violates procedural justice and constitutional protections. The authorities must immediately release them. [Chinese]

There are also a number of young people who participated in the November 2022 “Blank Paper” protests who are either being held in detention or whose whereabouts are unknown. None of them are seasoned activists, and it is not clear exactly how many are still being held pending charges. A recent essay in China Change (by a Chinese journalist writing under the pen name Su Nian) pieces together what is known of the detained protesters, describes some of the places they congregated, and includes interviews with a number of their friends:

Among the protesters arrested for the blank paper protest at Liangmaqiao [in Beijing] are at least several musicians, bar owners, and DJs of whose circumstances we know very little. One of them is Lin Jun (林昀), a musician and boyfriend of Yang Liu. The number could be much higher, reaching over 100 across the country per an estimate by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, but we wouldn’t know who they are if their family members and friends are not speaking up, and have not signed up independent lawyers for them. 

[…] “Of the arrested young women, many hold feminist beliefs, but their concerns are not limited to feminism,” said Ah Tian [a Ph.D. student in anthropology and a friend of four of the female protesters]. “They are Good Samaritans who would take action to counter injustices.” [Source]

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