Officials in the United States have sanctioned a Chinese police officer under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act for his role in the death by neglect of human rights activist Cao Shunli while she was in police custody.
Gao Yan was chief of police in Beijing’s Chaoyang district from January 2014 to October 2016, and bears “command responsibility” for the denial of medical care and other human rights abuses during his tenure.
He is the first Chinese national to be targeted under the Act, which allows the U.S. to target overseas officials in connection with human rights violations committed in other countries.
Cao Shunli died in March 2014 at the age of 52 after being denied medical care while in a police-run detention center overseen by Gao.
She was only taken to hospital on Feb. 20 when her situation was already critical, doctors said at the time. Lawyers say they had urged officials holding her to allow her medical treatment but no action was taken until she was seriously ill.
She had suffered from tuberculosis in both her lungs, cirrhosis of the liver, and uterine fibroids.
Cao's death came just five days before the United Nations Human Rights Council was scheduled to consider the report of China's second human rights review under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, to which Cao submitted a civil society report detailing the plight of petitioners in China.
U.S.-based Chinese activist Zhou Fengsuo, who heads the China Human Rights Accountability Center, welcomed the sanctioning of Gao, saying that the administration of President Donald Trump had "delivered on its promises."
"Actually the Magnitsky Act isn't only aimed at high-ranking officials; it also makes ordinary officials afraid, so Gao Yan's sanctioning is extremely appropriate here," Zhou said.
"He was in charge of Cao Shunli's case, and he has blood on his hands. This should send out a strong warning to all the cogs in an evil state machine," he said.
But U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said it was a shame that there were no high-ranking officials on the most recent list.
"This has left the victims of China's human rights violations feeling stunned," he said, adding that he would be preparing cases for the sanctioning of officials involved in the July 2015 crackdown on lawyers, in the death of late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and in the jailing of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti for life.
"Next, we will be preparing materials to support the key points [in these cases]," he said.
Broader scope urged
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which compiles reports from rights groups inside China, said it welcomed Gao’s designation under the Magnitsky Act, but called on Washington to add some higher-ranking officers to the list of those sanctioned.
It also called for Gao’s predecessor Tao Jing to be sanctioned under the act, saying Tao and Gao were responsible for a series of human rights violations in Chaoyang, including the 2011 “disappearance and torture” of outspoken artist Ai Weiwei.
“Police disappeared Ai Weiwei for 81 days; tortured him; detained his wife Lu Qing for questioning; and detained four of his associates,” CHRD said in a statement.
It cited the 2012 arbitrary detention and torture of foreign ministry official Chen Youbang, a member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, as well as similar treatment meted out to petitioner-activist Xu Nailai, and rights activists Wang Lihong and Li Hai during the crackdown on a largely theoretical “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011.
“We regret that the US Administration only named a low-level Chinese official on the inaugural sanctions list,” CHRD said. “Other higher-level police officials, who had “command responsibility” for Cao Shunli’s death in custody and for other incidents of torture and human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, continue to enjoy impunity.”
It called on U.S. officials to further sanction deputy police minister Fu Zhenghua and Tao Jing, now deputy police chief for Beijing.
The Magnitsky Act enables the U.S. president to sanction anyone by executive order who is “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek … to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections.”
The Act allows officials to freeze any U.S. assets held by those sanctioned, and to ban them from entry into the United States.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.