Activists continue to face persecution as thousands mark Tiananmen anniversary in Hong Kong

Association

Human Rights Campaign director Zhen Jianghua charged

Zhen Jianghua, the executive director of civil society organisation Human Rights Campaign in China, who has been held incommunicado on charges of inciting subversion since September 2017, was formally charged on 30th March 2018.

He is being denied access to legal counsel and his family, due to “national security” concerns according to Chinese police. Human Rights Campaign in China is an online platform that publishes information related to detentions of activists, police abuse, and other human rights violations. He is also the founder of ATGFW.org, a website that provides information and services to help people scale China’s "Great Firewall" to access the uncensored global internet.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said:

“By formally arresting Zhen, Chinese authorities are demonstrating their intent to eradicate human rights monitoring in China. The case against Zhen is an attack on all rights reporting.”

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2016, the Chinese government has tried to eliminate the country’s few independent human rights news platforms by jailing their founders and key members.

Human Rights lawyer Wang Yu refused passport by authorities 

Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia have reportedly refused to issue a passport to human rights lawyer Wang Yu, effectively banning her from leaving the country. Wang Yu and husband Bao Longjun were both detained in a massive nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers and activists that began in July 2015.

They had previously been prevented from sending money out of the country to finance their son's studies in Australia, and Wang had hoped to take him the money in person. However, she has now been slapped with an effective travel ban by the police-run entry and exit bureau in Inner Mongolia's Hinggan League.

Wang Yu had represented clients ranging from the high profile campaign group known as the "feminist five", members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, and Ilham Tohti, an outspoken scholar of China's Uighur ethnic minority.

Wang Yu’s detention marked the beginning of a widespread crackdown on lawyers and activists in China. It later became known as the "709 crackdown" - a reference to 9th July 2015, the date of the mass arrests, and also the date Wang Yu was taken from her home. During her first week in detention, Wang Yu had to spend her days sitting handcuffed in a small square her captors had painted in red on the floor. She was slapped by the guards if her limbs moved even fractionally outside her painted prison.

Travel bans are becoming increasingly common for critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which is cracking down hard on any form of public dissent, direct or implied, under the administration of President Xi Jinping.

Expression

Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk convicted

A Chinese court sentenced Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk to five years’ imprisonment on 22nd May 2018 under a national security law, for peacefully advocating for cultural rights in Tibet.

As documented previously by the CIVICUS Monitor, Tashi Wangchuk had been in pre-trial detention for almost two years with no access to his family. On 4th January 2018, the Yushu Intermediate Court upheld the charges of “incitement to separatism” levelled against Wangchuk, under Article 103, Section 2 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China.

The charges stem from comments in an article and video documentary in the New York Times in 2015 that detailed his Tibetan language advocacy efforts. Six UN human rights experts had previously called for his release.

Sentence against activist Wu Gan upheld

On 17th April 2018, the Tianjin Municipal High People’s Court rejected the appeal of human rights activist Wu Gan and upheld his sentence of eight years’ imprisonment. The result of the trial was announced by a one-line notice on the official website of the court. According to his lawyer, Wu Gan was given a harsh sentence in comparison to other activists due to his refusal to plead guilty.

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, on 26th December 2017, Wu Gan was jailed for eight years for alleged "subversion". He was accused of attempting to overthrow the ruling communist party. An administrator at a Beijing law firm, Wu Gan (better known by his pen name Tufu - ‘The Butcher’) had campaigned for victims in criminal cases considered sensitive by the authorities

Discussions blocked around Tiananmen Square massacre anniversary

4th June 2018 marked the 29th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), authorities blocked all discussions and reporting on the anniversary in both virtual and physical realms. Just days before the anniversary, several media outlets reported that Yahoo searches on Hong Kong and Taiwan sites yielded no matches relating to the massacre.

Not a single mainland Chinese media outlet reported on the anniversary. However, one mainland media outlet informed the IFJ that orders had been issued forbidding the mention of Hong Kong, including a prohibition issued for interviews with Hong Kong artists. No explanation was provided for the orders but the media outlet assumes the pending massacre anniversary was to blame. The media outlet also admitted that this year’s restrictions were far more stringent than past years with specific orders issued relating to what could and could not be mentioned.

Fundamental freedoms deteriorating in Hong Kong

According to Human Rights Watch the erosion of civil and political rights protections in Hong Kong is accelerating. Since Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam took over in June 2017, the Hong Kong government has taken further steps to restrict fundamental rights

These include further unwarranted prosecutions of pro-democracy figures and an effort to exclude them from public office; an orchestrated rhetorical attack by Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities against an academic for expressing his peaceful opinion; growing interference with academic and publishing freedoms; and the possible introduction of a national anthem law that will infringe on free expression rights.

Bay on gay content reversed

China’s version of Twitter, Weibo, has reversed a ban on gay content after an outcry accused the company of smearing homosexuality by lumping it together with pornography.

On 13th April 2018, Weibo said it would remove pornographic, violent or gay videos and cartoons in a three-month campaign, singling out a genre of manga animations and comics that often depict raunchy gay male relationships.

In response, LGBT advocates mobilised online to criticise the decision using hashtags, open letters and even calls to dump parent company Sina’s shares. The outcry reflects a fear that growing censorship tends to ban all gay content as “dirty”, a setback for efforts to carve out an online space of tolerance for homosexuality in China.

Social media is a key battlefield for LGBT advocates. Xiao Tie, head of the Beijing LGBT Centre said:

“The problem with the policy is that it equates LGBT content with porn…but the bigger problem is the culture of strict censorship…social media used to be an open space, but in the last year things have started to change.”

On 16th April 2018, Sina backtracked and said the clean-up would no longer target homosexual content.

Assembly

Public gathering in Hong Kong to mark Tiananmen anniversary

Thousands of Hong Kong citizens held candles and paused for a moment's silence on 4th July 2018 to mark the suppression of pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The annual ceremony marked 29 years since Chinese authorities used tanks and soldiers to clear the square that had been occupied for weeks by students and workers. Estimates by scholars and human rights advocates vary over how many people died in the crackdown, with figures ranging from the hundreds to the thousands.

The Hong Kong ceremony included speeches, a eulogy for the victims and a moment of silence. Videos of the Tiananmen protests and crackdown, including images of the iconic "tank man" protester, were shown on a giant screen. Also visible at the venue for the protest, a local park named after Queen Victoria, was a mock-up of the "Goddess of Democracy" statue that became a symbol of the 1989 protests.

Freedom of speech and assembly in Hong Kong are guaranteed under a Basic Law, or mini-constitution, worked out by British and Chinese officials.

Protest by military veterans forcibly dispersed

A five-day protest in eastern China by thousands of military veterans demanding better welfare rights and an end to violence against them was halted on 24th June 2018 after hundreds of armed police were sent in to disperse the crowd. Officials from other provinces and cities also arrived in Zhenjiang to “convince” people to go home.

According to a news report, a veteran, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that several protesters in Zhenjiang needed hospital treatment after the armed police were sent in, and that others had been detained.

The mass gathering in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, was held following a number of violent attacks on campaigning veterans in other parts of the country. According to reports, since May there had been multiple assaults by “gangsters and thugs” hired by local officials to “maintain stability” in Guangdong, Sichuan, Hunan, Hainan, Henan, Anhui and Liaoning, among other places.

China’s 57 million ex-military personnel have been fighting for years for a better deal in retirement. After several large-scale protests last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to tackle the issue, and in April 2018 the Ministry of Veterans Affairs opened for business in Beijing.