The family of a Chinese activist who disappeared 226 days ago in Myanmar says it is good to know he is alive, but worries for his health and security. Xing Qingxian, who has been disappeared for more than seven months after being abducted in Myanmar, was formally arrested on May 6th on suspicion of “organizing others to cross national borders,” according to a Chinese police notice received by the family.
According to human rights organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), Xing Qingxian is being held in Tianjin Municipal No. 2 Detention Center—the first known confirmation of his exact whereabouts since he and another activist, Tang Zhishun, were taken away last October by Myanmar police and then handed over to Chinese officers and brought back to China. Xing’s arrest was reported on May 18th, 2016 — 226 days after the activists were first taken into custody and held incommunicado. Tang’s family has not received any police notice, but he is also believed to have been formally arrested, and likely on the same charge.
The activists’ case is intertwined with the “709” crackdown on human rights lawyers that was launched in July 2015. When seized at a guesthouse in Mong La, Myanmar, Xing and Tang were accompanying Bao Zhuoxuan, the 16-year-old son of now-arrested rights lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun. With Xing’s reported arrest, CHRD has now confirmed 19 individuals from the “709” crackdown who have been formally arrested.
According to China Change, as part of the biggest assault on human rights in China last year, police on July 9th, 2015 detained the husband of Wang Yu, rights activist Bao Longjun, as well as their son Bao Zhuoxuan, at the Beijing Airport. Bao Zhuoxuan was set to make his way to Australia for his studies and his dad was accompanying him.
At the same time, Wang Yu was taken from the family home, while in the days that followed, several hundred human rights lawyers across China were disappeared, detained, or subject to questioning. It’s already been over 10 months since this took place, and over 20 lawyers and law firm staffers are still being held in secret detention, without access to counsel. It’s been widely feared that they have been subjected to torture.
The “July 9 Incident” highlights the arbitrariness and deteriorating conditions of China’s sham rule of law, China Change says. Strong and sustained criticism from the international community and human rights groups have fallen on deaf ears.
The 16-year-old Bao Zhuoxuan was released after a temporary detention, but police confiscated his passport and told him that he was forbidden to leave China to study. He was then sent off to the home of his paternal grandparents in Inner Mongolia.
On October 6th 2015, the two Chinese human rights activists Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian were arrested for attempting to help the son of human rights lawyer Wang Yu escape China through Myanmar. Their plan was to take him to Thailand through Myanmar, and then to the United States. But the authorities got wind of the plan, and they were arrested in Mong La, northern Myanmar. Local police made the arrest, and handed them to Chinese authorities for repatriation.
Now, seven months after their arrest, the first word of their fates has been heard: Xing Qingxian’s wife was provided with a notice of arrest dated May 5th, 2016 saying that he is suspected of “organizing human trafficking across borders.”
Tang Zhishun’s lawyer Qin Chenshou wrote on Twitter that “From their arrest last October, this is the first time we’ve learnt where they are being detained. Someone has to take responsibility for this forced disappearance and inhuman treatment.” He said the last seven months Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhushun have been subject to “forced disappearance by the government.”
Xing Qingxian’s wife He Juan and Tang Zhishun’s wife Gao Shen, as well as their eight-year-old daughter, are currently in the United States.
If Xing, 49, and Tang, 40, face trial for “organizing others to cross national borders,” a conviction carries a minimum prison sentence of two to seven years. An individual can be given seven years to life imprisonment if found to have been a “ringleader” or if there are other serious circumstances according to article 318 of China’s Criminal Law.
Although the men’s lawyers were told in October that the case had been transferred to Tianjin, police from Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau have repeatedly refused to let the lawyers meet with their clients. Authorities denied lawyer visits in October and November 2015, and again in January and February 2016; police stated that the cases are of “grave significance, hence a meeting is not allowed.”
Due to their lengthy enforced disappearance, there are ongoing concerns about the activists’ vulnerability to mistreatment, including being deprived of necessary medication for serious health conditions. Xing Qingxian requires medicine to treat severe asthma, and he also suffers from rhinitis, a chronic inflammation of the nasal cavity. The Beijing-based Tang Zhishun has hyperthyroidism that requires daily medication and that, if left untreated, can lead to heart problems.
CHRD has sent two communications about the activists’ case to UN human rights experts, first in October 2015, shortly after Xing and Tang went missing, and again in early April 2016, after they had been disappeared for six months. The communication last month highlighted egregious legal and procedural violations in the case, including denied legal counsel and lack of family notification of detention as required by Chinese and international law. Also in April, the men’s wives wrote to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and appealed for assistance in securing the men’s release, after learning of reports that she had recently played a key role in helping free political prisoners in Myanmar.
Xing Qingxian is a human rights defender who has worked in both Chengdu and Guiyang, southwestern provincial capitals. Originally from Guiyang in Guizhou Province, he became involved in rights defense work after filing a lawsuit in 2004 over a wage dispute and termination against a company where he had worked as a technician.
While not a lawyer, he has since 2006 been helping the vulnerable members of the society to defend their rights using legal tools. In 2009, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment on charges of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order” after participating in a peaceful protest outside the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court. Following his release, Xing continued to document rights violations, assist petitioners, and train others on rights defense advocacy.
Tang Zhishun, who has worked as an engineer, began focusing on rights defense issues after his home was demolished in 2006. He wrote a training manual to assist others in defending land rights, assisted eight villages in Beijing where homes were threatened with demolition, and helped found an independent public welfare organization.
Xing Qingxian’s wife He Juan attempted to raise awareness about the disappearance of her husband online, but was quickly shut down by the censors. Two blogs she opened on Sina were only around for 20 days before being deleted; the third only survived only two days. “I’ve just been trying to raise awareness about my husband’s disappearance — I don’t know what would work,” she said.
Tang Zhishun’s wife Gao Shen, as well as He Juan, went to protest outside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco during the Lantern Festival this year, demanding that the Chinese government immediately release their husbands.
CHRD calls for the immediate release of Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhishun, and says that the activists have been detained as political persecution for their activism, including their efforts to rescue Bao Zhuoxuan from house arrest, and they are highly vulnerable to ill-treatment, including not having access to necessary medications.