Explainer: China human rights detainees for 2010
BEIJING – As Oslo gets ready to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo, China has been hard at work preparing for a media storm. Amnesty International claims hundreds of people have been detained, interrogated or arrested by the Chinese government ahead of Friday’s award ceremony.
Profiled below are 10 prominent Chinese social activists who in 2010 have been jailed, put under house arrest or, in one case, even denied access back into China.
These men and women represent a broad spectrum of Chinese society, in age, religious belief and socio-economic background.
They are now fighting – and sometimes losing – important battles over social issues like the rights of HIV patients, freedom to protest and private property.
Birthplace: Changchun, Jilin Province
Activist career: A distinguished professor and writer, Liu has been politically active since 1989 during the Tiananmen Square protests, where he notably helped persuade students to return home before soldiers forcibly cleared the area. For his participation in the demonstrations, Liu served 19 months in jail.
Since then, Liu has been in and out of jail and forced labor camps for criticizing China’s Communist Party and arguing in favor of rights like democratic elections, an end to one-party rule and greater governmental accountability.
Liu’s work culminated in 2008 with his work on “Charter 08,” a manifesto created and signed by more than 350 Chinese activists calling for a timeline for the democratization of China.
Issued on Dec. 10, 2008, and now signed by more than 10,000 people, Liu never got to witness the public release of the charter. He was detained two days before in connection to his work on it and formally arrested June 23, 2009, on the charge of, “inciting subversion of state power.”
Liu was convicted and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on Dec. 25, 2009. An appeal in early 2010 was heard and rejected.
Current status: Serving an 11-year prison sentence in Liaoning province. Liu Xiaobo will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 2010.
Birthplace: Gulü, Henan Province
Activist Career: In 1996,when he was 9 years old, Tian Xi was in an accident that left him with a mild concussion and requiring a blood transfusion. That transfusion inadvertently gave him HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
China in the mid-’90s was a hotbed of medical schemes gone awry. Popular programs in which poor farmers could sell their blood to harvest the valuable plasma and have the blood re-injected – often with dirty, reused needles – as well as unregulated blood-buying programs created an environment ripe for the spread of HIV.
Since discovering he was HIV positive in 2004, Tian Xi has been working to improve public awareness of the plight of AIDS victims in China and has tried to increase compensation for those wrongly infected.
When a meeting with the director of the hospital where he believes he contracted the virus became heated, Tian flew into a rage and smashed a computer, fax machine and other office supplies.
The next day Tian was detained and later formally charged with "intentionally damaging property."
Current status: Tian Xi is still detained. His case went to trial, and he is currently awaiting a ruling.
Birthplace: Chengdu, Sichuan Province
Activist career: A best-selling author who began producing literary works at age 13, Yu Jie is an outspoken critic of China’s Communist Party. His work is banned in China.
Since his graduate school years at Beijing University, Yu – a devout Christian – has criticized the Communist Party on religious freedom, the stifling of democracy and other topics.
Yu has been frequently detained, most recently in August 2010, when Chinese police became aware of his latest book printed in Hong Kong, “China's Best Actor: Wen Jiabao," a critical look at the country’s prime minister.
Current status: Since his latest book was published Yu Jie has remained under house arrest in Beijing. His computer, phone and other communication devices have been confiscated.
Birthplace: Wenzhou, Zhejiang
Activist career: A onetime economist turned human rights lawyer, writer and blogger, Feng Zhenghu spent three years in prison for “illegal business activities,” but he claims that a book he wrote criticizing Chinese regulations on foreign investment was the real reason for his jailing.
Since his release in 2004, Feng has written a number of pieces that call attention to the practice of forced evictions by local governments in China.
Feng garnered worldwide attention when he was denied re-entry to China eight times during a span of 92 days in 2009-2010.
Though possessing the required documents to enter Tokyo, Feng instead elected to stay in an airport terminal at Japan’s Narita International Airport, where he started a blog and Twitter account and angrily wrote about his status and China’s intolerance toward his political views.
Netizens from around the world were drawn to his writing, and he claimed to receive more than 1,500 emails and 20 phone calls a day.
Current status: Though never actually formally arrested or detained by Chinese police, upon returning to his home in Shanghai, Feng has found himself subjected to regular government and police surveillance.
Activist Career: A longtime member of China’s activist movement, Bai began his activism in 1989 at Tiananmen Square, where he joined an illegal workers' union that supported the student protesters.
Since then, Bai has been active in providing legal assistance to the many petitioners who come from all around China to Beijing to beg the central government for justice when they feel they have no recourse back home. The petitioners are mostly from other provinces and a source of deep embarrassment for provincial officials who fear appearing ineffective or weak in front of Communist Party officials in Beijing.
Bai’s work with the “Petitioners and Rights Defender’s Group” caught the attention of local police, who detained Bai on Nov. 27, 2010, after he posted a photograph of Tiananmen Square student protesters on QQ, a popular Chinese online chat service.
According to Bai’s wife, Yang Dan, police officials called her the next day and informed her that Bai had been picked up under the ubiquitous charge of “incitement to subvert state power.”
Current status: Police officials told Yang Dan that her husband would be held in detention for 30 days. The timing of his detention – as well as the rounding up and harassing of other activists – so close to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has many speculating that this is a concerted effort by the ruling Communist Party.
Birthplace: Shanxi Province
Activist career: A self-taught lawyer, Gao built a Beijing law practice working on behalf of victims of medical malpractice and evicted landowners. His reputation was so great that he was selected by the Ministry of Justice in 2001 as one of “China’s 10 Best Lawyers.”
However, his work on behalf of Falun Gong members and illegal undercover Christian churches soon irked government officials.
In 2006, his law license was revoked and he was arrested under the charge of “inciting subversion.” Though he was later released, Gao was still subjected to near constant government surveillance and harassment.
In early 2009, Gao’s wife and two children fled to the United States and sought asylum. They now live in New York.
Soon after, Gao was suddenly taken into government detention again. Despite reporters badgering government officials to comment on Gao’s whereabouts, he wasn’t seen or heard from again until March 2010, when he showed up in Beijing long enough to renounce his political activism before disappearing again.
Current status: Gao has not been seen or heard from since April 2010, and the police have refused to give any information about his whereabouts.
In September, 30 members the U.S. Congress signed a letterurging President Barack Obama to push the Chinese government for the release of Gao, as well as Nobel prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.
Birthplace: Jintan, Jiangsu Province
Activist career: A prominent artist in Beijing’s burgeoning art community and a signee of the infamous “Charter 08,” Wu led a group of artists in their resistance against real estate developers trying to take over their studios.
In February 2010, Wu and other leaders organized a march down Beijing’s main thoroughfare, Chang’an Avenue.
Any organized march draws concerns from China’s leaders, but the fact that this march was on the main avenue that crosses through the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square caused police to quickly take action.
After the march had covered 500 yards, police broke it up and later detained Wu.
The protest worked: Wu and the other artists were later able to sit down with the developers and negotiate compensation. Wu and many of the artists then moved their studios to Beijing’s most well-known art area, the 798 district.
However, a later dispute between Wu and the property managers led to his arrest. Police allege that he assaulted a police officer, and he was charged with “obstructing public security.”
Current status: According to his Canadian wife, Karen Patterson, Wu Yuren is in the Chaoyang District Criminal Detention Center. His trial has started, but they are awaiting news of when the next trial date will be.
Activist Career: Zhao Lianhai’s activism began in September 2008 when he discovered that his 3-year-old son had a kidney stone.
In the following few weeks, Zhao discovered that his son and nearly 300,000 other children in China had in fact been poisoned in one of the biggest food safety scandals to hit the country.
Several milk companies, most prominently, Sanlu, were accused of knowingly allowing the chemical melamine to be added to watered down milk to artificially boost protein levels and pass quality tests.
Six babies were known to have been killed by melamine poisonings, though that number is suspected to be far higher.
The Sanlu Co. was destroyed by the scandal and its chairwoman sentenced to life in prison for her complacency in the scandal. And in December 2008, 22 other dairy companies were ordered to pay compensation to families affected by the scandal.
For Zhao and other families in China affected by the poisonings, the compensation – $30,000 for a death, $4,500 for serious illness and $300 for a moderately ill child – was simply not enough to pay the immediate medical bills and to mollify concerns about future organ damage to the children that may require additional treatment.
Zhao started a website to organize families and to facilitate discussion online about the compensation. He also organized parents to talk to the media about the scandal and to picket courthouses to demand justice.
Censors soon shut down the website, and Zhao found himself under police surveillance.
In November 2009, police arrested Zhao under the charge of “inciting social disorder.”
On Nov.10, 2010, the court found Zhao guilty and sentenced him to two and a half years in jail.
Current status: Zhao Lianhai is serving his prison term. His wife – who is unemployed – and two children are currently living off donations from supporters.
Birthplace: Zhejiang Province
Activist career: Originally based out of Zhejiang, Cheng began her activism in 2006 after the alleged rape and murder in Hubei of Gao Yingying. Government officials quickly ruled it a suicide and claimed Gao had leapt to her death from the roof of the hotel she worked at.
Various bruises and cuts on her wrists and face, however, suggested foul play.
As the government worked to shut down media coverage of the death, Cheng left her job and traveled to Hubei to provide assistance to Gao’s family.
Working through China’s popular messaging service QQ, Cheng posted stories and videos that called attention to Gao’s case and helped find financial and legal assistance for the family as they geared up to fight for justice for their daughter.
Though the investigation never progressed beyond its initial stages, Cheng had found her calling. “This campaign completely changed my values of life,” said Cheng in an interview soon after. “I realize the root of all this country’s tragedy was the system – a system without supervision.”
She worked as an activist protesting against forced evictions of homeowners by land developers and called attention to the plight of child slavery after 1,500 children were rescued after being enslaved at brick kilns in Shanxi.
Despite her activism, what landed her in jail was a tweet.
Cheng’s reposted a sarcastic tweet from her fellow activist and fiancée, Hua Chunhui, on Oct. 17, 2010, that mockingly called for the Japanese pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo to be attacked.
Japan and China at the time were engaged in a tense war of words over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and the capture of a Chinese fishing boat captain by the Japanese navy in those disputed waters.
Ten days later – the day her fiancée says they were planning to be married – authorities arrested Cheng for “disrupting the social order” and summarily convicted her.
Current status: Cheng Jianping is serving a year’s sentence at the Shibali River women’s labor camp in Henan.
Birthplace: Suining, Sichuan province
Activist career: Liu Xianbin personifies the political dissident who remained in China post-1989 to push for political change from within.
Active in the pro-democracy demonstrations as a student in Tiananmen Square and Chengdu in 1989, Liu did not end his activism after the crushing of the movement.
Liu continued to write essays calling for the formation of a democratic party in China and chastising government officials for the harsh tactics they used against those who participated in the 1989 democracy movement.
Twice in the ’90s, first in 1992 for two years and again in 1998, Liu was arrested for "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement."
Since being released from prison in 2008, Liu has continued his work as an activist.
In addition to being one of the original signees of Charter 08 soon after his release from prison, Liu has been vocal in criticizing substandard building practices at schools in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and has provided support for other political dissidents currently in jail, including Liu Xiaobo.
On June 28, 2010, security officers went to Liu’s home in Sichuan and took him to the Suining City Public Security Bureau. According to the detention notice given to his wife, his detention was ordered due to the suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”
Current status: Liu Xianbin has been in detention since June 28, 2010.
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