A prominent Chinese Christian human rights lawyer and two publishers of human rights news websites in China disappeared in the past two weeks, renewing fears of a crackdown on human rights defenders.
The men could have been detained, although police have only charged one man with an offense. The disappearances are reminiscent of a 2015 operation called the 709 Crackdown, referring to July 9, the day the arrests began, when police arrested more than 250 human rights lawyers, activists, and legal aids in an attempt to silence threats to the Chinese Communist Party’s control.
The family of Jiang Tianyong, a 45-year-old Christian lawyer in Beijing, said he recently traveled to the city of Changsha to visit the wife of human rights attorney Xie Yang, who was arrested in the 709 crackdown. Jiang told his friends he would take a train back to Beijing on the night of Nov. 21, but he never arrived and could not be reached by phone.
When the family reached out to local police, officers claimed they had no record of Jiang’s whereabouts and refused to let them view the closed-circuit television of the railway station where he went missing.
Jiang is known for representing the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng and Christian dissident Gao Zhisheng. He has also represented a Xinjiang journalist and HIV-infected patients and has fought numerous religious liberty cases. Authorities revoked his license in July 2009, yet he carried on his work. Police have abducted and tortured him multiple times, causing a hearing impairment and broken ribs.
“I am very worried about him,” Jiang’s wife, Jin Bianling, told The Guardian. Jin and their daughter have resettled in Los Angeles to escape government persecution. “I am worried about his health. I am worried he might be tortured while in jail.”
A week later, police raided the Chengdu home of Huang Qi, the founder of human rights news website 64 Tianwang, and detained him. The site documents issues covered up by state-controlled news such as local government corruption, abuse of power, protests, and the secret detention of activists. Huang, 51, has been imprisoned twice for his advocacy, most notably for his investigation into the poor construction of Sichuan schools that led to thousands of deaths during the 2008 earthquake.
A volunteer of 64 Tianwang who posted about Huang’s detention has also gone missing, and supporters said they are unable to locate Huang’s mother.
“The arrest of Huang Qi signals a renewed effort to punish those who publish material the Chinese government does not wish to see made public,” said Robert Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on Chinese authorities to release Huang immediately and to cease jailing online journalists for reporting the news.”
Police have also clamped down on the founder of another website monitoring human rights abuses. On Nov. 17, authorities in Hubei detained citizen journalist Liu Feiyue for subverting state power. If convicted, Liu could spend life in prison.
Liu founded the website Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch in 2006, which, like 64 Tianwang, reports on human rights violations. In one instance, the website documented hundreds of cases in which the Chinese government committed dissidents and activists to mental hospitals, claiming they needed psychiatric treatment.
The whereabouts of all three men are currently unknown, “raising fears that they are at risk of torture,” according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders in Washington, D.C. The group said in a statement that because China is a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), “China’s campaign to silence dissent and suppress civil society has grossly breached its HRC member obligations, which require it to ‘promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.’”
— by June Cheng