Suzhou, 9 human rights activists detained in secret since September

On 8 September 2016, the police seized the protesters outside of the people's court in Suzhou. Eight are under "residential surveillance at a designated place" (RSDL), while another has been formally arrested. Those arrested were protesting the conviction of Fan Mugen. Some of the detainees are accused of having sent "politically sensitive" online messages. In November, other police arrests. The UN Committee against Torture: "The extent to which RSDL is widely abused illicit and open to interpretation and application." Eleven countries have called for an end to the practice.

Beijing (AsiaNews / CHRD) - Nine people remain in custody of the authorities of Suzhou, in the eastern province of Jiangsu: they were arrested as a result of a prolonged police operation that began last September. Of these, eight are under "residential surveillance at a designated place" (RSDL), including a man arrested this week, while another has been formally arrested. The crackdown against activists began on September 8, 2016, when police blocked the protesters outside of the intermediate people's court of the city of Suzhou. They were protesting against the alleged mismanagement of the case of Fan Mugen (范 木 根), whom the local court had sentenced to eight years in prison in May 2015 for killing two members of a demolition team that destroyed his house.

Some of the detainees are accused of sending "politically sensitive" online messages during the G20 summit, which was held in early September 2016 in the nearby Hangzhou and which coincided with a period of harsh repression by Chinese police. Since November, the police have arrested other people, supporters of Fan Mugen or other victims of forced demolitions.

Below are details on the nine cases, listed in reverse chronological order of detention date:

Xu Wenshi (徐文石was placed under RSDL on March 20, 2017, after he was detained by police in Suzhou, and accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Police who searched his home reportedly confiscated many items, including materials on Fan Mugen’s case and protest banners. Police also took away Xu’s wife, Wen Yuxia (温玉霞), accusing her of “obstructing the execution of duties” after she tried to prevent them from taking a laptop computer. Wen was released after several hours, following police interrogation.

Gu Xiaofeng (顾晓峰) was detained by Suzhou police on February 6, and his residence was also searched. His wife received a notice the next day indicating Gu had been put under RSDL on a charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Police denied a visit by his lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), on February 23, and the local procuratorate refused to investigate Sui’s complaint about denied access to his client.

Hu Cheng () was seized on November 8 and put under RSDL the next day, on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” In late November, police told Hu’s lawyer, Peng Yonghe (彭永和), that Hu was suspected of an “endangering state security” crime, though “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” does not fall under that crime category. Authorities have used this as a pretext to prevent Peng and another lawyer, Zhang Jinwu (张金武), from meeting with him, claiming it would “hinder investigation” and possibly lead to a “leaking of state secrets.” In December, police reportedly warned Hu’s wife not to make any public statements about Hu’s detention or seek legal assistance from a rights lawyer, and to instead cooperate with police to “persuade” Hu to confess to criminal wrongdoing.

Ni Jinfang (倪金芳) was taken into custody on November 8 and placed under RSDL the following day, on suspicion of “disrupting court order.”

Xing Jia (邢佳, aka Xing Jiezhong, 邢介忠) was taken into custody on November 8 on suspicion of “disrupting court order” and put under RSDL that same day.

Ge Jueping (觉平, screen name Benbo, 奔博) was put under RSDL on November 4, and accused of “inciting subversion of state power.” Late that month, police denied his lawyer’s request for bail, citing that releasing Ge, who has health problems, may “endanger society.” Police have blocked Ge’s lawyer from meeting with him, claiming that, due to the criminal charge he is facing, a visit may “hinder investigation” or lead to a “leaking of state secrets.” On January 25, police informed Ge’s lawyer, Yu Wensheng (余文生), that his client had “dismissed” him, though Yu has been blocked from meeting Ge to verify this claim.

Lu Guoying (陆国英), who is married to Ge Jueping, has been under RSDL since November 5, after she was taken into custody for “disrupting court order.” Police also claimed that she dismissed her lawyer, Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), on January 9. However, the lawyer has been have prevented from meeting with Lu to confirm such a claim. In December, police informed another attorney for Lu that visits would not be possible since Lu was now being held on an “endangering state security” offense, and that a visit might “hinder investigation” or result in the “leaking of state secrets.”

Wang Mingxian (王明) has been under RSDL since September, after he was detained during the protest in front of the Suzhou courthouse. On February 24, police informed Wang’s lawyer, Sui Muqing, that his client had signed a form stating that he did not need a lawyer while he was being investigated for “disrupting court order.” Police did not allow lawyer Sui to photograph the document, however, thus preventing any attempt to verify its authenticity.

Wu Qihe (吴其和) was taken into custody on September 8, after participating in the demonstration in front of the Suzhou courthouse. Police told his family on March 8 that he had been arrested for “disrupting court order” and sent to a detention center after being held for six months under RSDL. However, his family has not yet received an arrest notice, nor formal confirmation of the charge against Wu or his place of detention.

In addition, the three individuals below have been released following periods of RSDL, having been detained after taking part in the protest outside the Suzhou courthouse in September 2016.

Activist Gu Yimin (顾义民) was released on bail pending further investigation on January 27, after having been held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” from September 9. Police had previously refused to release Gu, claiming it would pose a “danger” to society due to the serious nature of the charge against him.

Xu Chunling (徐春), who was detained on suspicion of “disrupting court order,” was released by early March and has returned home.

Wang Wanping (王婉平) was reportedly released in early March after being held for “disrupting court order,” but she reportedly remains out of contact and has not returned home.

These cases involve tactics that authorities have commonly employed against rights defenders in China, such as in the “709” Crackdown against human rights lawyers: extensive use of “residential surveillance at a designated location” to “forcibly disappear” detainees; an absence of official notification to families of detention status and criminal charges; suspected “forced dismissals” of defense lawyers; and denial of lawyers’ visits to their clients on grounds that detainees are accused of “endangering state security” crimes. There is reason to fear that individuals being secretly detained in these cases are at risk of torture and mistreatment.

Few of the detainees in Suzhou are known to have been accused of “endangering state security” crimes, such as “subversion” and “inciting subversion.” As such, the use of RSDL and denial of lawyers’ visits clearly represent an abuse of police power. Many of the detainees instead have been held on suspicion of “disrupting court order,” a charge that was amended in 2015 in the 9th Amendment to the Criminal Law. The UN Committee on Torture has called the altered provision “overbroad” and open to “abusive interpretation and application.” RSDL, which is stipulated under Article 73 of the Criminal Procedure Law, has been widely criticized as constituting “enforced disappearance.” Most recently, 11 countries described it as “incommunicado detention in secret places” in a letter sent to the Chinese government on February 27, 2017, and called for an end to the practice.