Drop “Subversion” Charge & Release Woman Human Rights Defender Chen Jianfang

(October 21, 2019) Internationalhuman rights NGOs urge the Chinese government to drop the “subversion of statepower” charge against human rights defender Chen Jianfang (陈建芳) and releaseher immediately and unconditionally. Ms. Chen has spent over six months indetention incommunicado and now faces a likely lengthy prison sentence afterauthorities charged her with an endangering state security crime.

The Chinese government is apparentlypunishing Chen for exercising her right to freedom of expression and peacefulassembly. Chen has been a vocal human right advocate using public protests and litigationto battle social injustice in Shanghai. Authorities have blocked her from travelling to attend international humanrights trainings or conferences outside China. Over the past decade, she hasbeen a frequent target of forced eviction, police harassment, detention, andtorture.

Shanghai police initially seized Chen Jianfang and her husbandon March 20 from their home and they vanished into police custody for severalmonths. Police formally arrested her oncharges of “subversionof state power” on May 22, though that informationwas not made public until October, while he was released on bail on April 3. ShanghaiNo. 1 Procuratorate indicted Chen Jianfang on August 30,2019 on charges of “subversion of state power,” one of the most seriouspolitical charges in China’s criminal code that carries a potential lifesentence. Chen’s case has been transferred to Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate Court.Chen is awaiting trial at Shanghai Detention Center.

Justdays before police seized Chen, she wrote an essay paying tribute to activistCaoShunli (曹顺利) to mark the fifth anniversary of Cao’sdeath in custody on March 14. On the same day, several UN independent humanrights experts releaseda statement, renewing calls for aninvestigation into Cao’s death.

Chen has been denied the rightto a fair trial. She has not been allowed a single meeting with the lawyer ofher choice throughout her detention since March. It is unclear if she hasreceived any legal counsel in custody. Chen was subjected to months of enforceddisappearance. Nothing is known about her condition at the detention center.Torture is rampant in Chinese detentionfacilities and Chen is at high risk of torture.

InAugust, four UN human rights experts wroteto the Chinese government expressing concern over the arbitrary detention andenforced disappearance of Chen Jianfang, the denial of access to her lawyer andfamily, and concern over her treatment in custody. The UN Secretary-General also raised her casein his annual report on cooperation with the UNand its mechanisms (the ‘reprisals report’), published in September 2019

ChenJianfang’s indictment follows a recent uptick in the Chinese government’s harshpersecution of human rights defenders in China. The latest escalation is markedby the serious political crime authorities have used against detained HRDs: “subversionof state power.” In July, Hunan police seized threeanti-discrimination and health rights NGO workers and arrested them the nextmonth on “subversion” charges. Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wu Gejianxiong havenot been grantedaccess to legal counsel and the reasonsfor their detention are unknown but maybe related to their NGO, Changsha Funeng,receiving overseas funding. While the charge of subversion has been usedagainst HRDs in the past, such as democracy dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏)or lawyers in the 2015 “709Crackdown,” the use of this crime in relationto HRDs promoting social, economic and cultural rights by exercising theircivil political rights heightens the risks for these defenders. Since 2013, XiJinping drastically shrunk the space for activists and NGOs to advocateenvironmental, housing, land, labor, public health, and disability rights, and toeliminate discrimination. The Chinese government has taken a step further to punishhuman rights defenders as “enemies of the state.”

In a recent opinion, the UNWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the Chinese government’s frequentuse of the crime of “subversion of state power” (art. 105, Criminal Law) topersecute peaceful dissent and rights advocacy is “neithernecessary to protect public or private interests against injury norproportionate to guilt. Punishment should fit the crime, not the criminal.” Thesame Working Group has also remindedthe Chinese authorities repeatedly,in official Communications, that under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic andarbitrary deprivation of liberty may constitute crimes against humanity.

Wecall on the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release ChenJianfang, Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, Wu Gejiangxiong and all other human rightsdefenders detained in retaliation for exercising their rights.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders

FIDH, in the framework of theObservatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

International Service forHuman Rights

Safeguard Defenders

World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts