China Releases Women's Rights Activist Who Supported Hong Kong's Democracy Movement

2017-10-26
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Activist Su Changlan at her house following her release from a three-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power," Oct. 26, 2017.
Activist Su Changlan at her house following her release from a three-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power," Oct. 26, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Su Shangwei.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have released women's rights activist Su Changlan, who once supported Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and campaigned for the land rights of rural women.

"Su Changlan has been released, and she is here with us," her brother Su Shangwei confirmed to RFA on Thursday. But he declined to comment further, hinting that he is under constant surveillance.

"I'll tell you more about her health later; it's a problem talking on the phone right now," he said.

The trigger for her detention on Oct. 27, 2014 appeared to be her publicly expressed support for the pro democracy Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, however.

After spending more than two years in pretrial detention amid growing fears for her health, Su eventually stood trial on April 21 last year at the Foshan Intermediate People's Court in Guangdong on charges of "incitement to subvert state power."

Su was handed a three-year prison sentence, but time already served is usually counted as part of the sentence in China, and she was released on Thursday because her sentence was considered completed, her lawyer told RFA.

"She has been released and has returned home," defense attorney Liu Xiaoyuan said. "I don't know any other information about her situation right now."

"I have been in constant contact with her husband and brother via our WeChat group ... and at some point after 9.00 a.m. ... he posted a photo of Su Changlan that appeared to have been taken in a breakfast cafe."

"I don't know if they went to meet her themselves, or whether the police had already brought her home, because they didn't say," Liu said.Su's brother Su Shangwei said via social media that his sister is looking forward to a period of quiet rest, and doesn't wish to be contacted by friends "for the time being."

Earlier this year, Su became the third recipient of the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for Human Rights Defenders, in honor of her work "promoting human rights at the grassroots level in China," the awarding Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said on its website.

Health concerns

Su's husband Chen Dequan has repeatedly cited concerns with her thyroid and heart problems while in detention, as well as a deteriorating mental state.

But he declined to comment on Thursday, also hinting at police or government surveillance.

"It's not convenient for me to talk by phone these days, regardless of the time of day," Chen said. Asked if his calls are being monitored, he replied: "Yes, that's right, they are."

Fellow Foshan rights activist Chen Qitang was jailed for four years and six months on the same charge as Su.

The court judgement found that Su and Chen had "used the internet and social media to spread rumors and defamation, and repeatedly published or forwarded articles and posts containing attacks on the socialist system."

Activists in Hong Kong staged a protest against the sentences, because some of the posts made by Su and Chen had been in support of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.

Sun Tao, a rights activist based in the southeastern province of Fujian, said he had been detained for a month for openly expressing support for Occupy Central.

"I have a lot of sympathy for people who have served a long time in jail, but I don't think it's all for nothing," Sun said. "There will be a historical reckoning; it's just that we can't see it yet."

"All of these things, whatever action we take, are all meaningful; they're not in vain."

The Occupy Central movement saw hundreds of thousands of people pour onto the streets in a campaign for full democracy, using umbrellas to protect themselves from sun, rain, and pepper spray, which gave the demonstration the nickname Umbrella Movement.

But the movement ended with no political victory, and amid accusations from the ruling Chinese Communist Party that the civil disobedience campaign was being orchestrated by "hostile foreign forces" behind the scenes.

Su's detention has been judged "arbitrary" by the United Nations, which has called on Beijing to release and compensate her.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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