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Formal arrest of three health rights defenders

Status: 
Indicted
About the situation

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 30 March 2020, the local authorities in Changsha informed Wu Youshui, a human rights lawyer and the father of Wuge Jianxiong that the case against his son, Cheng Yuan, and Liu Dazhi has been transferred to the Changsha Procuratorate for review for prosecution. The procuratorate told the families that the government has appointed new lawyers for the three health rights defenders.

On 16 March 2020, the Changsha Judicial Bureau informed the six family-appointed lawyers of health rights defenders Cheng Yuan (程渊), Liu Dazhi (刘大志) and Wu Gejianxiong (吴葛健雄) that the three have “dismissed” the lawyers and that new lawyers would be appointed. Since the detention of the three defenders almost eight months ago in July 2019, the Changsha police has rejected all requests by the family-appointed lawyers to meet their clients. One of the lawyers is the father of Wu Gejianxiong.

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 Liu Dazhi 刘大志 & Liu Yongze刘永

Liu Dazhi (刘大志, also known as Liu Yongze刘永泽) joined the public interest advocacy NGO Changsha Funeng in 2017 as a full time staff. 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 is new to the field of public interest law and his role at Changsha Funeng mainly involves working with lawyers.

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.

7 April 2020
New government-appointed lawyers to review case of three health rights defenders

On 30 March 2020, the local authorities in Changsha informed Wu Youshui, a human rights lawyer and the father of Wuge Jianxiong that the case against his son, Cheng Yuan, and Liu Dazhi has been transferred to the Changsha Procuratorate for review for prosecution. The procuratorate told the families that the government has appointed new lawyers for the three health rights defenders, but refused to disclose the lawyers' identity. The families said they have not yet been contacted by the government-appointed lawyers.

18 March 2020
Dismissal of lawyers of three detained health rights defenders

On 16 March 2020, the Changsha Judicial Bureau informed the six family-appointed lawyers of health rights defenders Cheng Yuan (程渊), Liu Dazhi (刘大志) and Wu Gejianxiong (吴葛健雄) that the three have “dismissed” the lawyers and that new lawyers would be appointed. Since the detention of the three defenders almost eight months ago in July 2019, the Changsha police has rejected all requests by the family-appointed lawyers to meet their clients. One of the lawyers is the father of Wu Gejianxiong.

On 17 March 2020, the families of Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong published a statement expressing shock at the latest development. The families said that any decision to “dismiss” the lawyers was likely made under duress, that any new lawyers must be appointed by the families, and that they reject the legitimacy of any government-appointed lawyers. The statement also said the blanket refusal to allow the lawyers to meet the three defenders is a violation of the due process guarantees under the Criminal Procedure Law.

On 11 December 2019, six UN-appointed independent human rights experts sent a joint letter to the Chinese government expressing serious concerns regarding “the alleged arbitrary detention, short-term enforced disappearance and formal arrest” of the three human rights defenders, as well as the “preclusion from contact with their families and their legal representation in order to mount their legal defence.” On 10 March 2020, speaking at the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union called on China to immediately release Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, Wu Gejianxiong and all other human rights defenders under arbitrary detention.

There has been a long-standing pattern of detained human rights defenders “dimissing” their original legal counsel of choice, often in the context of pro-longed detention during which they were not allowed to meet their lawyers. These “dismissals” are strong indication that the authorities are preparing to move towards prosecution and trial in the coming months.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its call on the relevant authorities in China to immediately and unconditionally release Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wu Gejianxiong, and, pending their release, guarantee their physical and psychological well-being as well as allow them immediate and unfettered access to lawyers of their choosing and to their families.

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.

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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.