Police detained two Chinese human rights lawyers overnight after they tried to visit a friend’s parents
Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang and Chen Keyun planned to visit the parents of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping last Saturday, but before their train left Xi’an station, they were taken off the train by more than a dozen local police under the excuse of “pandemic prevention.” They were later taken to a luxury hotel and detained for more than 24 hours before they were taken back to their hometowns.
On January 16, Chinese human rights lawyer Xie Yang and Chen Keyun planned to visit the parents of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Chang Weiping. His parents have been put under house arrest since December 14, 2020.
However, when Xie and Chen were about to leave Xi’an City on a high speed rail train, more than a dozen police showed up on the train and took them to a luxury hotel forcefully. They were later detained overnight.
This is the second time in less than a week that Xie and Chen have been arrested by police. On January 14, the two of them were part of a group of nine human rights lawyers that was arrested and detained by local police in China’s Sichuan Province for nine hours, after they tried to attend the hearing of Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei.
Chang Weiping was placed under the second “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) in October, 2020 after he revealed how he was tortured during his initial detention under RSDL in January, 2020. Chang has been under detention since then.
Chang’s parents staged a protest outside the local police station in Baoji City in China’s Shaanxi Province on December 14, 2020, but they were soon placed under house arrest as the local police ordered one of their son-in-laws to monitor them at all times.
Xie said he and Chen wanted to visit Chang’s parents on January 16 as his friends, and before they got to the hotel, police already confiscated their phones.
“The police separated me from Chen and they interrogated both of us,” Xie recalled. “They asked me why I was going to Baoji and whether I was asked by anyone to go to Baoji. They also asked if I had taken money from someone to go visit Chang’s parents. I emphasized that there was no conspiracy behind our visits and we were simply visiting Chang’s parents as his friends.”
Police from Changsha City and Guangzhou City, where Xie and Chen usually live, arrived in Xi’an on the evening of January 16. They escorted Xie to board a flight to Changsha the next day and they arrived in Changsha at 11 p.m. on January 17. They returned Xie’s phone to him and let him go.
“Chinese police has been illegally infringing on citizens’ rights and freedom in the name of ‘pandemic prevention’ since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak,” Xie said. “What they did to me on January 16 were all illegal because they restricted two citizens’ freedom of movement. Before I left Xian, they never explained what was the legal ground for them to take me off the high speed train.”
“The police is trying to let my husband die”
In fact, Xie and Chen were not the first few dissidents targeted by local police due to Chang’s case. Chang’s wife, Chen Zijuan, said police from Baoji City went to the hospital that she works at in Shenzhen eight times between October and December last year. They asked Chen not to publicly advocate for Chang’s rights, or else they would try to get her fired from her job.
According to Chen, police from Shaanxi’s Provincial Police Department and Baoji City went to the hospital on December 22. They showed her boss accusations made against Chang Weiping by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Chang was described as a criminal in those reports.
“Those police met me on December 23, and they accused me of organizing the protest outside the local police station in Baoji on December 14,” she said. “The police threatened to arrest me under the charge of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble,’ and they warned me not to speak out for my husband. They said if I did, I would lose my job.”
The police also claimed that Chang joined an anti-China group and he vowed to overthrow the Chinese government. The police went as far as saying that Chang wanted to be the provincial governor of Shaanxi Province once he overthrew the government. The series of accusations made Chen believe that the police were smearing Chang for the sake of creating some achievements at work.
“I believe my husband is innocent and I don’t think he has ever done anything that constitutes ‘subversion of state power,” she said. “He handled a lot of public interest cases and I think he did it for the sake of social improvement. I think they want to make sure that my husband’s case is under their control and they also want to ensure that no one would share the truth about the case.”
Chen said police from Shaanxi Province has been visiting Chang’s friends and classmates across China and they tried to interrogate many of them. However, after the interrogation, the police would try to misinterpret what Chang’s friends said during the interrogation. She worries that the police might be planning something more evil.
“I can be ok with them causing me to lose my job and I can also accept being detained,” she said. “However, I think they are trying to let my husband die so I need to stand out to defend his rights.”
“Human rights lawyers need to bear the brunt for their dreams”
Over the last few weeks, the Chinese government has revoked the licenses of two human rights lawyers in China. On the day of Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei’s hearing last week, local police in Sichuan Province arrested at least nine people who tried to attend the hearing, which is supposedly to be open to the public according to Chinese law.
Xie Yang was arrested on that day and to him, the recent wave of crackdown shows that the Chinese government is trying to silence the human rights lawyers completely. He worries that Beijing’s crackdown will become more severe than the “709 mass arrest” in 2015.
“When the international community focuses on China’s increasing crackdown on civil society, the Chinese government’s behavior reflects their anxiety,” Xie explained. “Beijing is now trying to kill all the voices that are different from them.”
Xie describes licenses as tools for human rights lawyers to earn a living. As the Chinese government begins to revoke their licenses as a form of punishment, Xie thinks human rights lawyers in China will face heightened risks in the future.
“We are still trying to earn a living, but after many of our licenses are revoked, we will face greater risks in China,” Xie said. “During such difficult time, human rights lawyers in China should move forward with both dreams and tough experiences. We need to bear the brunt in order to keep the dream alive. We all know the possible risk of facing criminal charges in the future, but we need to keep focusing on injustice in society.”
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.