Human rights organizations urge China to repeal illegal detention, as human rights lawyer faces prolonged detention

As Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Wei-ping suffers from the lingering effect of RSDL, human rights organizations are urging Beijing to repeal the “illegal practice.”

A year after he was arrested by Chinese police for the second time, Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Wei-Ping revealed last week that because he was tortured during the residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL,) he still suffers from several physical and mental injuries caused by the experience even until today.

In a statement issued on October 23, his wife Chen Zijuan revealed that Chang has been suffering from delusions of grandeur, which causes him to believe that his father and his wife are both sent over by someone to hurt him.

“He said the police would threaten him with the safety of his family members, and one time, police brought him several photos of his brother-in-law and asked him to accuse human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi based on those photos. He has been living under torture, threats, and lies in detention,” she wrote.

She also mentioned that Chang suffers from several health problems, including varicose veins, limited neck movement, dizziness when turning his head, and nausea. “Since he was arrested last October, he was chained to a tiger chair for more than two months, including while he was sleeping,” she wrote. “It causes him to suffer from his current symptoms.”

Additionally, Chen said she was informed that Chang’s case was returned to the police department for “further investigation.” She points out that the case has been returned for more investigation twice before, and this is the third time that authorities have done it to the case. She believes this proves Chang is now in overdue custody and she urges the local police department to release Chang if there is no evidence against him.

In fact, Chang has been put under RSDL twice since he was arrested for participating in a private dinner in Xiamen City at the end of 2019. His wife Chen Zijuan says that during the RSDL, Chang was tortured and it was only after her husband was put under RSDL, that she realized police could have unlimited access to the defendant without any external supervision.

“I was shocked to find that he has developed delusions of grandeur because he used to be a clear-thinking lawyer,” she said. “But after being put under RSDL for more than five months, he is now suffering from a mental illness. It’s fair to say that he is on the brink of going crazy.”

Human rights organizations urged China to repeal RSDL

On October 24, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Safeguard Defenders, The Rights Practice and The 29 Principles launched a campaign that calls on the Chinese government to repeal RSDL. Additionally, they are also urging foreign governments to use all bilateral and multilateral channels to press the Chinese government to repeal RSDL.

According to Safeguard Defenders’ estimation, around 57,000 people have been put under RSDL in China between 2013 and 2020. ISHR says RSDL is a form of enforced disappearance, citing characterization made by UN human rights experts in 2018.

“Many human rights activists have stopped promoting dignity, peace, and justice in their communities because they fear to be disappeared by the police,” ISHR wrote. “This practice — enforced disappearance — is absolutely wrong and prohibited under international law.”

Additionally, the UN human rights experts also determined that China is failing to meet its binding international law obligations by enacting and making use of RSDL. They argue that RSDL gives police and public security too much power to carry out arbitrary arrests.

Raphael Viana David, the Asia Program Officer at ISHR, says in addition to taking away a lot of rights guaranteed by law from defendants, RSDL has also created a lot of negative impacts on family members of those in detention. “Apart from detaining human rights activists at an undisclosed location, police’s goal of enforcing RSDL is also to separate them from their family members,” he said. “It’s a tactic that not only deters human rights activists but also their families, which are a very important source of support.”

While RSDL has created a certain level of impact, David argues that it doesn’t mean the Chinese government’s strategy has been completely successful, since the wives of many human rights lawyers in China still come out to advocate for their husbands.

Chang Wei-ping’s wife Chen Zijuan says she was shocked that China would implement such a measure into its criminal procedure law, and she thinks the initial purpose to enact the law is to crackdown on human rights activists.

“There is no support system for the defendants’ family members,” she said. “Over the last year, I’ve written hundreds of complaint letters to different government agencies, but I didn’t receive any response. For normal citizens in China, there is no channel for them to file their complaints about RSDL.”

David says that it is an incremental process to impose international pressure on China, and they usually need to mobilize different actors to ensure that the topic stays high on the agenda. “Since RSDL has a lot of legal technicalities, the international community also needs to build up their knowledge,” he said.

“It is important to help those actors understand the central role that RSDL plays as a repressive tool in the Chinese government’s repression and crackdowns against different human rights communities, especially human rights lawyers, who are the pillar of human rights movements in China as they connect different communities,” he added.

Chen Zijuan says apart from paying attention to human rights activists in China, she thinks the international community should also boycott events like the 2022 Beijing Olympics because it is an occasion for the Chinese government to promote the “wonderful aspect” of the country.

“Human rights lawyers in China are facing serious crackdowns launched by the government, so Chinese citizens’ lives are not as wonderful as the Chinese government tries to depict,” she said. “I think the international community shouldn’t tolerate such fake propaganda.”

The piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.