Calls Grow For an End to Force-Feeding of Hunger-Striking Chinese Dissident

china-activist-guo-feixiong-undated-photo.jpg Guangdong rights activist Guo Feixiong in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of activists

Prominent jailed rights activist Yang Maodong, widely known as Guo Feixiong, is being subjected to forced feeding as his hunger strike enters its third month, amid growing calls for his release and access to medical treatment.

Guo, 49, has refused to end the hunger strike he began in early May, despite shedding significant weight, his lawyers and relatives have said.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to order an end to the force feeding of Guo by guards at Yangchun Prison in the southern province of Guangdong.

"Chinese authorities should immediately end their abusive treatment of Guo Feixiong," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement on the group's website.

"Guo’s case highlights China’s poor treatment of detainees, made even worse by denying them access to adequate medical care," Richardson said.

Prison authorities began in mid-May to force-feed Guo once a day, then twice every other day since mid-June, in a painful procedure that involves forcing a feeding tube into his nostrils and down his throat into his stomach, delivering a liquid nutritional supplement, HRW said.

Force-feeding widely condemned

It said the procedure is risky, and can lead to major infections, pneumonia, collapsed lungs, heart failure, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological trauma.

Force-feeding prisoners who are on a voluntary and informed hunger strike – a form of peaceful expression – goes against internationally agreed standards on the treatment of prisoners that China has agreed to, it said.

It said the World Medical Association has repeatedly condemned force-feeding of competent prisoners.

Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia called on the international community to protest Guo's treatment.

"The authorities can't be allowed to do as they please behind closed doors," Hu told RFA on Thursday. "The Communist Party [is fine] with him refusing food, because that way, they don't need to execute him by lethal injection or with a bullet."

"But things have reached a crisis point ... and it looks as if Guo may wind up paying the price with his life," he said.

Hu, who has himself refused food while in detention, said every day can easily seem like a year, as the prolonged hunger starts to take its toll on the body.

"I really don't want to see Guo turn into a martyr for the cause," he said.

Health deteriorating

Guo looked as if he had lost around one-third of his former body the last time his lawyer visited him on June 20, while his sister Yang Maoping has been denied permission to see him since June 7, HRW said.

Yang told RFA in a recent interview: "His health is getting worse and worse. He's no longer on hunger strike because they are force-feeding him, but he's still not getting enough nutrition, and he is losing weight."

"I really hope that he will stop refusing food, and that they will give him a proper medical check-up," she said.

Guo has vowed to continue his hunger strike until the authorities implement democratic reforms, end the use of electric shocks in prison, improve the treatment of political prisoners, and ratify a United Nations covenant on civil and political rights.

During pretrial detention, Guo was held in a cell for two-and-a-half years without being allowed out for exercise, contrary to prison regulations.

Over the past year, he has suffered intermittent bloody or watery stools, as well as occasional bleeding in the mouth and throat, according to his sister.

According to HRW, Yangchun Prison twice admitted him to hospitals – once to Yangchun Prison Hospital and another time to Yangjiang City People’s Hospital in Guangdong Province – between April and May.

"He was given medical checks, he was not treated or diagnosed," HRW said, adding that Guo is currently in a crowded cell where the prison guards frequently insult him.

Guo began his hunger strike after being subjected to a forced rectal cavity search at the instigation of state security police, as well as forced head shaving and verbal abuse from prison guards, rights groups have said.

Guo was sentenced last November for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" and "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order" after a prolonged period in pretrial detention.

During his sentencing hearing, Guo shouted in protest at his treatment while in police custody, where he was held in solitary confinement in a small, dark cell and denied permission to exercise outdoors since August 2013.

According to a June report from the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of respondents in 14 democratic countries across North America, Europe, and Asia believe that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people.

In the United States, around 80 percent of people polled think that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people.

Attitudes have become more negative since President Xi Jinping came to power, launching nationwide crackdowns on freedom of speech, non-government rights activism and civil society, the U.S.-based Dui Hui Foundation cited the report as saying.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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