Group Seeks U.S. Sanctions On Chinese Police Over 'Torture' of Activist

The group wants U.S. President Donald Trump to freeze any assets and deny visas to police chiefs in charge at the time of Cao Shunli's death in detention.

Cao Shunli in an undated photo.

An overseas human rights group has called on the U.S. government to impose sanctions on two Chinese police officers over the "arbitrary detention and torture" of rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in a police detention center after being detained at Beijing's international airport four years ago.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates and translates reports of human rights violations from groups inside China, said it wants Washington to use its powers under Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to take action against those responsible for detaining and torturing Cao.

Cao was detained on Sept. 14, 2013 on her way to attend a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, and disappeared for five weeks before police confirmed she was being held under criminal detention.

Cao's repeated applications for medical bail were refused in spite of her worsening health, and she died in police custody on March 14, 2014.

"Immediately after Cao died and in the years since, the Chinese government has detained her supporters, threatened her family, persecuted her lawyers, and refused to allow any independent investigation into her death," CHRD said in a statement on its website.

The group said it has submitted evidence to the U.S. government recommending that Beijing police officers Fu Zhenghua and Tao Jing be sanctioned under the Magnitsky legislation, which authorizes U.S. President Donald Trump to freeze the financial assets and deny visas to individuals responsible for "gross human rights violations and high-level corruption."

Fu was the head of the Beijing police department when Cao was kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, denied her due process rights, tortured through the deprivation of medical treatment, and died in a hospital under heavy police presence, CHRD said.

Tao, Fu's deputy, was the district police chief with responsibility for overseeing Chaoyang District Detention Center, where Cao Shunli was held, it said.

"Based on the evidence CHRD collected, both Fu and Tao are responsible, under the principle of 'command responsibility,' for the torture and death of Cao Shunli caused by deprived medical treatment in detention, and for failing to punish any of their subordinate police officers involved in her abuses," the group said.

"It is inconceivable that either official was unaware of the gross human rights violations in Cao Shunli’s case."

Chinese pressure stymies UN rights work

Cao had worked, in spite of repeated official harassment, to put pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to allow civil society participation in drafting China’s National Human Rights Action Plans and its state reports for China’s first and second Universal Periodic Review.

But Sophie Richardson, China director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said China has increasingly been allowed to use its position at the U.N. to stymie attempts to bring its human rights violations to account.

Beijing has used its position in the United Nations to veto many human rights resolutions, Richardson told RFA in a recent interview translated into Mandarin.

She said the Chinese government has also used its membership of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of the Economic and Social Council, to obstruct any critical attitudes towards China.

But U.S.-based rights activist Liu Qing, of Human Rights in China, agreed.

"I think public trust in the U.N.'s ability to protect human rights in China and around the world is extremely weak right now," Liu said.

He said Beijing had gotten away with such abuses because of a failure on the part of the international community to get tougher on human rights.

"The international keeps easing off the pressure on Beijing on human rights because of various economic and political worries," Liu said. "Sometimes they just seem to be posturing, and this is why we won't see any improvement in the human rights situation in China."

"In fact, things are likely to keep getting worse," he said.

CHRD called on member states on the U.N. Human Rights Council to express concerns about the lack of accountability in China for persecuting Cao Shunli to death in reprisal for her participation in U.N. human rights activities.

"States must speak out also because of the increasing number of deaths of Chinese prisoners of conscience due to medical deprivation or neglect in China’s incarceration facilities," the group said.

It cited the July 13 death of Nobel peace laureate and dissident Liu Xiaobo in police custody, especially the timing of the diagnosis of Liu’s advanced cancer, the authorities’ disclosure about Liu’s health to his family, and the quality of medical treatment he was offered.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.