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Formal arrest of three health rights defenders

Status: 
Tried in Secret
About the situation

Health rights defenders Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wuge Gejianxiong were tried in the first week of September 2020 at the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court. Their families were not informed about the trial until after it had taken place.

On 10 July 2020, Shi Minglei, health rights defender Cheng Yuan's wife, contacted the Changsha Municipal Procuratorate and was informed that her husband and two fellow defenders, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong, were indicted on 24 June 2020.

On 26 August 2019, the defense lawyers of Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong were informed by the state security bureau in Changsha, Hunan province, that prosecutors approved the formal arrest of the human rights defenders. The three human rights defenders, who are all members of the public interest advocacy NGO Changsha Funeng, have been in incommunicado detention since 22 July 2019 and are accused of “subverting state power” which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

About Cheng Yuan

Cheng YuanCheng Yuan (程渊) is the co-founder of Changsha Funeng and has over ten years of experience advocating for health rights, non-discrimination, and the empowerment of vulnerable groups, including persons living with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B patients, and persons with disabilities. He led and supported the impact litigation of several hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS discrimination cases, which fellow defenders said contributed positively to the dismantling of systematic discrimination based on health status in China. In 2013, Cheng Yuan and another lawyer led a HIV employment discrimination lawsuit in Jiangxi province, which resulted in an unprecedented, landmark court decision to award compensation to the plaintiff, who was denied a teaching position due his HIV-positive status. Cheng Yuan has also campaigned for an end to China’s One Child family planning policy and reform of the discriminatory household registration system.

11 September 2020
Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Gejianxiong secretly tried

Health rights defenders Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wuge Gejianxiong were tried last week at the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court. Their families were not informed about the trial until after it had taken place.

On 11 September 2020, Cheng Yuan’s wife, Shi Minglei, telephoned the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court and was told by a court official, speaking on behalf of the presiding judge in the case, that the trial of the three defenders took place the previous week and that the trial had been “open to the public”. However, when Shi Minglei went to the court and asked an officer at the information desk to search for the names of the three defenders in the court’s electronic database, the officer said the search returned no results.

Since the detention of the defenders in July 2019, the lawyers appointed by the families have not been permitted to meet their clients, despite multiple requests. The lawyers were told in March this year that the defenders had “dismissed” them and that the government had assigned them new lawyers under the State’s legal aid scheme. The families believe that the dismissals were made under duress and contested the legality of the government-appointed lawyers. The State-appointed lawyers have never made contact with the families, despite multiple attempts by family members.

Front Line Defenders condemns the secret trial of the three defenders and the serious violations of their right to a fair trial. It is also deeply concerned about the participation of lawyers from private law firms who accepted the government’s appointment to “represent” the defenders against the will of the defenders’ families, which raises serious questions about the lawyers' compliance with domestic laws and regulations as well as international standards governing the professional conduct of lawyers. It calls on the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court to exonerate the three defenders, release them immediately, and provide compensation to them for their arbitrary detention.

14 July 2020
Indictment of Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong

On 10 July 2020, Shi Minglei, health rights defender Cheng Yuan's wife, contacted the Changsha Municipal Procuratorate and was informed that her husband and two fellow defenders, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong, were indicted on 24 June 2020.

Detained since 22 July 2019, the three health rights defenders were unable to consult their family-appointed lawyers. The authorities subsequently informed the family's lawyers that they were "dismissed" by their clients who are now represented by government-appointed lawyers. The Changsha procuratorate has failed to share the identity and contact information of the new lawyers with the families however, and as a result have been unable to obtain any updates regarding the legal process.

28 August 2019
Formal arrest of three health rights defenders

On 26 August 2019, the defense lawyers of Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong were informed by the state security bureau in Changsha, Hunan province, that prosecutors approved the formal arrest of the human rights defenders. The three human rights defenders, who are all members of the public interest advocacy NGO Changsha Funeng, have been in incommunicado detention since 22 July 2019 and are accused of “subverting state power” which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Download the Urgent Appeal

Cheng Yuan (程渊) is the co-founder of Changsha Funeng and has over ten years of experience advocating for health rights, non-discrimination, and the empowerment of vulnerable groups, including persons living with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B patients, and persons with disabilities. He led and supported the impact litigation of several hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS discrimination cases, which fellow defenders said contributed positively to the dismantling of systematic discrimination based on health status in China. In 2013, Cheng Yuan and another lawyer led a HIV employment discrimination lawsuit in Jiangxi province, which resulted in an unprecedented, landmark court decision to award compensation to the plaintiff, who was denied a teaching position due his HIV-positive status. Cheng Yuan has also campaigned for an end to China’s One Child family planning policy and reform of the discriminatory household registration system.

Liu Dazhi (刘大志, also known as Liu Yongze刘永泽) joined Changsha Funeng in 2017 as a full time staff member. He is also a volunteer and co-founder of the Changsha Chunyu Mutual Aid Team, which campaigns for the rights of workers, victims of occupational diseases and their children, and other vulnerable groups in need of legal aid. In recent years, Liu Dazhi has filed formal requests for government information disclosures, as a means to hold local government offices accountable for environmental issues such as transparency of data on tap water quality and improper disposal of biomedical waste.

Wuge Jianxiong (吴葛健雄) is a human rights defender and a member of Changsha Funeng. He is new to the field of public interest law and his role at Changsha Funeng mainly involves working with lawyers.

When state security agents broke into Cheng Yuan’s home in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and took him away on 22 July 2019, they also put a black hood over and handcuffed his wife, Shi Minglei, and took her for interrogation overnight. Shi Minglei reported that during the interrogation the officers threatened to bring her three-year-old daughter along for interrogation and to further detain two other colleagues of Cheng Yuan’s if she did not answer their questions satisfactorily. The authorities also confiscated her identity documents, bank cards, cell phone, and computer. She was released but has now been placed under residential surveillance at her home in Shenzhen. On 8 August, police in Nanjing summonsed Cheng Hao, Cheng Yuan’s older brother, and interrogated him at a police station about his social media posts publicising his brother’s detention.

Since detaining the three human rights defenders at the Hunan Provincial State Security Bureau detention center, the Changsha authorities have repeatedly denied them access to their lawyers and families.

Front Line Defenders sees this case as part of a pattern of increasing harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in China. It is particularly concerned by the serious accusation of “subverting state power” against the Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong, which allows the authorities broad discretion to deny access to legal counsel and keep them in extended incommunicado detention. Front Line Defenders believes the detention and formal arrest of the three defenders to be directly linked to their peaceful and legitimate work in promoting and defending human rights.

In 2015, UN member states, including China, committed to realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in particular to achieving the goals of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, combating hepatitis, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, and achieving "zero discrimination" against people living with HIV. As the current chair of the governance board of UNAIDS, China also has the responsibility to contribute to meeting the main goals of the organisation, which include protecting and promoting human rights. The legitimate activities of the three human rights defenders and their organisation contribute positively to achieving these important goals.