Chinese Activists Who Protested Dissident's Death Under House Arrest

Cao Shunli in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of HRIC (

Authorities in Beijing have placed a number of rights activists under house arrest after they protested over the death last week of prominent dissident Cao Shunli, who was refused medical treatment for months while in detention, her supporters and lawyers said.

"The authorities have tightened up their everyday security a bid to 'stabilize' the situation around Cao Shunli's death," rights activist Hu Jia said on Tuesday, adding that he is currently being prevented from leaving his Beijing apartment by state security police.

"There are two reasons for this; one is Cao [Shunli] and the other is the visit of the U.S. first lady [Michelle Obama tomorrow]," Hu said in an interview on Tuesday.

Cao, 52, died on Friday after she was denied medical treatment for months while in detention, according to her brother and fellow activists who blasted the government for using denial of medical care as leverage to silence critics.

Cao had been in police custody since September last year and was admitted to intensive care at two Beijing hospitals suffering from various medical conditions, but only after she became seriously ill with tuberculosis in both her lungs, cirrhosis of the liver, and uterine fibroids.

Chinese officials have denied refusing her medical treatment, but fellow activists and supporters have unleashed a storm of online criticism and public protest in recent days.

"We want the authorities to make public information [surrounding Cao's death]," Hubei-based rights activist Chen Yunfei told RFA's Mandarin Service on Monday.

Netizens banded together in a "human flesh search engine" to track down officials in charge of Cao's case, he said.

"We are going to tell their relatives what terrible things they did," Chen said. "We call on all people of good conscience to demand justice."

'Prayers and hunger strike'

Meanwhile, Beijing-based Protestant pastor Hu Shigen said he was also currently under house arrest after staging a 'prayers and hunger strike' event while Cao was still alive in hospital.

"More than 50 people took part, and there were still a lot of people who planned to continue with it," Hu Shigen said.

"Then Sister Cao died, so we will pray for her to rest in peace, and for comfort to her loved ones."

Also in Beijing, artist Kuang Laowu said he had been warned by the authorities after he signed an online petition titled "Opposing the persecution of Cao Shunli," he said on Tuesday.

Cao was set to travel to Switzerland to take part in a U.N. Human Rights Council review last September but police detained her at Beijing's international airport.

She had earlier joined a rare protest outside China's foreign ministry in June last year to demand greater participation in the U.N.'s review of human rights in China.

Cao went into detention in ill health, and told her lawyer in October that she was not receiving medical treatment, overseas rights groups say.

Other prominent Chinese activists, including Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, have been denied medical treatment.

Liu Xia, who is under extrajudicial house arrest, was denied treatment for a serious heart condition. She was finally allowed to receive hospital treatment in late February.

Cao's death came just five days before the United Nations Human Rights Council's second review of China under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, to which Cao submitted a civil society report detailing the plight of petitioners in China.

China won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in November along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba, despite criticism of their rights records.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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