China places lawyers, activists under house arrest on Human Rights Day

The move comes as a US-hosted democracy summit suggests democracies could unite to resist authoritarian rule.
By Mia Chen and Malik Wang
China places lawyers, activists under house arrest on Human Rights Day US president Joe Biden speaks to representatives of more than 100 countries during a virtual democracy summit at the White House in Washington, Dec. 9, 2021.

Authorities in China targeted dissidents, rights lawyers and activists and their families with house arrest, round-the-clock surveillance and restrictions on their children's school attendance on Human Rights Day, RFA has learned.

Rights activist Li Wenzu and rights lawyer husband Wang Quanzhang said they were placed under house arrest on Dec. 9, with unidentified security guards refusing to let them leave to take their child to school.

"I'm leaving for the school run," Wang tells them in a video clip posted to Li's Twitter account. "It's OK. We'll take the kid to school for you," comes the reply.

Li said she had asked the people stopping them from leaving to identify themselves, but met with no clear answer.

"Would you please show your ID? In what capacity are you here right now?" Li is heard asking one guard in another clip. "Is this really necessary?" comes the reply. "It's not as if we've only just met."

Fellow activist Xu Yan and her rights lawyer husband Yu Wensheng said around nine people were outside the door of their apartment at 6.00 a.m. on Thursday, and they were unable to get out at all.

"They're not letting me open the door," Xu told RFA. "I can't get it open no matter how hard I push."

"They pushed back pretty hard a couple of times, and my ribs are still hurting," she said.

Xu said she suspects the restrictions will end after Human Rights Day on Friday, but that the people outside her home had declined to confirm this.

She said police had come out after she dialed the emergency number, taken one look at the guards outside her home, and left again.

"It feels pretty helpless to have your freedom restricted like this, as well as being a violation of human rights and the law," Xu told RFA. "It's also very harmful to kids to let them see things like this; I feel horrible about that."

Rights lawyer Xie Yanyi said he and his wife Yuan Shanshan are under surveillance, adding that he was followed by unidentified personnel on Dec. 9 when he took his daughter to the supermarket.

'It's like this every year'

"It's like this every year," independent journalist Gao Yu said in a tweet on Dec. 9. "I wonder if the people doing this are deliberately trying to destroy the image of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP)."

"Tomorrow is Human Rights Day, so today the police will come in their police cars and tell me that they'll be there until Dec. 11," Gao wrote.

Gao tried to answer a call from RFA on Friday, but apparently was unable to hear the caller, repeating "Hello? Hello?"

Rights activist Wang Qiaoling said she and her rights lawyer husband Li Heping were also being told to stay home.

"When my husband tried to take the dog out this morning, a state security police officer guarding our home told him to stay home today," Wang said, expressing surprise that she'd been able to receive a call from overseas at all.

"It's a particularly sensitive day," she said, adding that the same thing happens every year at this time.

The restrictions on activists come as U.S. President Joe Biden holds a Summit for Democracy online running Dec. 9-10, in a move that has been slammed by Beijing.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the U.S. of trying to “weaponize democracy, by openly convening this so-called Summit for Democracy to incite division and confrontation for geopolitical gains."

Veteran democracy activist Wei Jingsheng said the summit makes Beijing uneasy, because it will likely form the basis for an alliance to resist authoritarian rule.

"This democracy summit being held by the administration is actually a bid to form an alliance against authoritarian countries ... who naturally haven't been invited," Wei told RFA. "It will be a democratic alliance, so it's a very important thing."

"Naturally the Chinese government is very upset."

Authoritarian resurgence

Wei warned of a "resurgence" of authoritarian styles of governance around the world.

"Global authoritarianism and coercive governance are seeing a resurgence," Wei said. "After trending higher and higher since World War II, democracy seems to have been on the wane lately, which is harmful to humanity everywhere."

"This summit at this juncture should be helpful to help it bounce back," he said.

New York-based political commentator Wang Juntao agreed, saying the summit wasn't just about sending messages.

"It's not just a propaganda war; there will also be some practical measures taken to combat authoritarian regimes," Wang told RFA.

"They will promote Magnitsky-type legislation, asking democratic countries to collaborate, so as to sanction and block corrupt and rights-abusing officials everywhere."

"They will freeze their accounts and not let them into democratic countries," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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