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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Human Rights Defenders in China After the Olympics

By Emmanouil Athanasiou, FIDH Asia Desk Programme Officer, Human Rights Without Frontiers Int'l
December 06, 2008

HRWF Int'l (06.12.2008) - Website: < - Email: < -   province, to remove their corrupt village chief in 2005. Immediately following his activities in  Taishi, he was detained for three months on "suspicion of disturbing the public order." In  November 2005, the Shengzhi Law Office was shut down because its founder, prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, represented Falun Gong practitioners and posted three letters on the Internet criticizing the Chinese government for its repression of the Falun Gong.


When Gao was detained in August 2006, Guo also provided legal assistance to Gao. Guo himself was formally arrested in September 2006 on the charge of "illegal business activity" in connection with the 2001 publication of Shenyang Political Earthquake, a book he edited about a political scandal in Shenyang, Liaoning province. In November 2007, he was sentenced to five years in prison and fined 40,000 yuan. During his 15-month detention in Guangzhou and Shengyang, Guo was tortured numerous times, including being:


<-interrogated for 13 consecutive days and nights right after his initial detention;

<-tied down to a wooden bed for 42 days with his arms and legs shackled;

<-hung from the ceiling by his arms and legs while the police electrocuted his genitals

 with a high voltage baton. Guo attempted suicide the following day.


According to Guo's wife, Zhang Qing, Guo's conviction was based on the confession he gave during the torture with electric baton. In December 2007, a month after his conviction, Guo was transferred to the Meizhou Prison, Guangdong province, where he began a hunger strike to protest his treatment. A few days later, he was severely beaten by a fellow inmate while 200 other inmates watched. The prison authority also threatened to send him to a mental institution. At Meizhou Prison, he went on hunger strike several times. During one of these strikes, in February 2008, he was force-fed a liquid that made him vomit for more than a week and turned his urine red.

At Meizhou Prison, in addition to beatings and forced feeding, Guo has endured solitary confinement and been deprived of reading materials and monthly family visits. His wife, Zhang Qing, last visited him on August 29, 2008, and reported that Guo's health has not returned to normal and that Guo looked emaciated. She was not allowed to give him the medicine she brought with her.



Ladies and gentlemen,


The case of Guo Feixiong, documented by Human Rights in China, an organisation – member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in its alternative report submitted to the United Nations Committee against Torture, is one of hundreds of examples that HRIC and FIDH follow closely in China. The fact that Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games last August had inspired the hope that progress would be made in the domain of human rights. This hope was quite rapidly dashed. Chinese authorities pursued their systematic violations of human rights and continued to muzzle all forms of dissident opinion against a backdrop of increasing social protests, in particular against forced evictions, local authority corruption and expropriation of lands. Repression of these protests was particularly virulent in the period preceding the 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The weakness of the International Olympic Committee, denounced by FIDH on several occasions, has made the Chinese government more obdurate and harsh in its repression.


In this context, Chinese human rights defenders and civil society are struggling to survive. According to the annual report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), authorities continue to use the legislative framework to silence dissident voices, in particular through the arrest and persecution of human rights defenders for crimes vaguely defined such as "endangering State security" (Articles 102 – 113 of the Criminal Code) which includes "inciting subversion of State power" (Article 105(2)), "disclosure of State secrets" and "disturbing social order". Let me insist a little bit more on a particular legal aspect. As Human Rights in China (HRIC) note "the state secret system stands as the single most significant obstacle to the prevention of torture in China". Indeed, it does sweep a vast universe of information, including much of the specific information requested by several UN Committees (torture, human rights, arbitrary detention etc) into as HRIC calls it very successfully "a non – transparent – black hole of protected information". This over broad reach of state secrets system makes it extremely difficult to obtain accurate, comprehensive and reliable information on a wide variety of issues, from death penalty and ethnic separatist activities to cases of criminal investigations and information on the place of custody or circumstances of prisoners or detainees with great influence. This legal labyrinth has been recently criticized by the UN Committee against Torture, in its concluding observations 10 days ago. 


Moreover, despite an increase in the number of NGOs in the country, their freedom of action is seriously restricted, in particular in terms of registration requirements and fund raising. Any civil organisation must indeed obtain the prior approval and support of a Government or Party Department or a State affiliated organisation working in the same field. 


Ahead of the Olympics, the number of "soft" detentions or house arrests, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials, intimidation and physical assaults were steadily increased. Very sensitive to its image, the regime  did everything to protect its "good" reputation and worked hardly not only to clean the capital from garbages and ugly buildings but also to clean it from migrants, homeless and political dissidents and human rights activists.      


In such a context, lawyers became a favorite target of violence and victims of torture. The legal profession today is considered today one of the most dangerous in China, just after that of police officers and journalists. Lawyers are not only vulnerable to physical assault. Article 306 of the 1997 Penal Code places them under the constant threat of being accused of false testimony. If a defence lawyer wishes to use testimony that contradicts the prosecutors 's assertions, the prosecutor can simply make reference to this article and demand the arrest of the lawyer for false testimony. I must note that article 306, along with article 39 of the Criminal Procedure Law has led to imprisonment of more than 500 lawyers, including Teng Biao (detained last spring for some days) and Gao Zhisheng, to whom I made reference at the beginning of my intervention and who is currently imprisoned for defending freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The French based China Collective Olympic Games (RSF, Amnesty International, FIDH, Solidarité Chine present in this room have actively participated in this Collective) has made the repeal of the article 306 one of its 8 requirements addressed to Chinese authorities, in the framework of its advocacy campaign and lobbying ahead of the Olympics. 


One should not believe that human rights activists defending political rights are the only targets of the regime. In spite of China's commitment and big declarations about its dedications to the improvement of social and economic conditions of the Chinese people, repression of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights is as harsh as the one targeting defenders active in the field of  political rights. Defenders fighting against expropriations and forced evictions like Gong Haoming and Chen Ningbiao, defenders of the right to environment like Sun Xiaodi and Wu Lihong, defenders of the right to health and fighting against HIV/AIDS like Mme Mao Hengfeng or even defenders of workers rights Huang Qingan, they were all victims of judicial harassment, unfair sentences, sent to Re – Education Through Labour (RTL) camps.  


Ladies and gentlemen,


The situation of human rights defenders in China is similar to the situation of human rights defenders in any repressive, authoritarian and totalitarian regime. With two main differences : the sophisticated methods that the regime is using to dissuade, silence or simply make disappear the Chinese human rights defenders and second the fact that the People's Republic of China today has the profile of the power, unwilling to take note as recent developments on the question of Tibet have shown, of any kind of criticism because simply it has the luxury to ignore it !


The role of human rights defenders now in this period of transition is more necessary than ever. As Chinese scholars and HRIC confirm a significant number of cadres and public service personnel have little knowledge or sense of human rights and are only aware of human rights from the angle of international human rights struggles. A significant percentage of public has only a vague understanding of the concept of human rights. Citizens are not aware of the rights they enjoy, they do not know how to exercise and preserve their rights and they do not know what actions violate the law and their rights. In order for ordinary citizens to protect those rights more legally and more effectively, human rights NGOs and civil society are needed more than ever, as the communist party's propaganda has resulted in a exercising a strict control of popular understanding of the rule of law, the state and democracy, an always considered western concept in the Chinese province. 


The French Collective China – Olympic Games 2008 had made a list available to public of 40 central figures of Chinese civil society, imprisoned and victims of harsh repression, intimidation and attacks orchestrated by the regime. Following the presentations of the priorities of the French EU Presidency before the European Parliament and the incident between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the Chair of the Green Group, Daniel Cohn Bendit, FIDH, together with RSF and HRIC worked on the elaboration of the famous list submitted to French President just before he left to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics. For your information, FIDH was against the boycott of the Olympics as our Chinese counterparts were insisting on the need for the world to come and send a signal of support to Chinese civil society. Chinese human rights activists were considering that the Olympics could offer the possibility to open China to the world and to bring an air of freedom. On the contrary, FIDH was in favor of the boycott of the opening ceremony agreeing with RSF that being present at this important moment, it would simply legitimize one of the most repressive regimes in the world. However and to make a long story short, the French President submitted the list of imprisoned activists, political dissidents and human rights defenders to the Chinese authorities in the name of the European Union. However, several months after the ceremony and some days after the human rights dialogue between the European Union and China, being here at the European Parliament, talking again about human rights in China and remembering the session where Hu Jia had taken the floor some days before being arrested and sentenced to prison, I realize the failure of the European Union to protect effectively the human rights defenders in China. The European leaders missed an opportunity to promote human rights at the moment of the Olympics, few of them had the courage to push for this issue the Asian giant. Now, after the Olympics, with Hu Jia still in prison, despite the Sakharov price of the European Parliament and Chinese civil society is still under harsh repression. It's time to act and send a strong signal to China that international legitimacy will come only when human rights universally recognised principles and standards are actually respected by the authorities.


Thank you,  


Emmanouil Athanasiou

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