Several dozen prominent rights lawyers and activists have canceled a conference on the prevention of torture in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi after police intervention and surveillance, participants told RFA on Friday.
More than 30 would-be participants had gathered at the Dongfang Haiwaii Hotel in Guangxi's Beihai city for a symposium on torture prevention, organizer Tan Chentao said.
"Now they won't let us hold the conference there," Tan said.
"The police here ... think that organizing such a conference here is too sensitive, and that it's at an especially sensitive time," Tan said, in an apparent reference to the recent criticism of Beijing's record by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT).
"As for how it's inappropriate or sensitive, they said that the topic is too political, although they didn't say anything specific about that," he said.
Tan said the symposium had been called to discuss UNCAT's damning report following its review of China's record in Geneva last month.
"Another topic was deaths in detention, including the rights and responsibilities of the relatives in such cases," he said.
"We wanted to look at specific examples, including that of Zhang Liumao," Tan said, referring to the Nov. 4 death of a rights activist in the police-run Guangzhou No. 3 Detention Center, which his family said was likely caused by torture.
Summoned by police
Tan said the majority of those invited to the symposium had already been called in for "chats" by police.
"I was called for a 'chat' as well, where they told me not to travel to Beihai," Tan said. "So I took the decision to cancel the conference."
Guangxi-based rights activist Duan Qixian said the conference would have opened in Beihai on Saturday.
"Ever since it was called off ... they have sent a lot of government officials there to check out some of the guests," Duan said.
"I think they are worried that some of the lawyers may have already arrived."
Repeated calls to the Dongfang Hawaii Hotel in Beijing rang unanswered on Friday.
Zhang's sister Zhang Weichu, who has been a vocal critic of claims that her brother died of "natural causes," said she had originally planned to attend the conference, and then canceled, for fear of police harassment.
"I never thought that so many professional lawyers could be forced into canceling it," Zhang Weichu said.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Ge Yongxi said police are increasingly harassing defense attorneys who defend political detainees or those standing up for their rights.
"This harassment of lawyers is illegal, and lacks awareness of human rights," Ge said. "It is out of keeping with the promise by the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party to use the rule of law to protect the professional rights of lawyers."
"What problem could they possibly have with lawyers attending a conference to discuss defending clients? The government should be encouraging and protecting ... lawyers."
Torture and other human rights violations are deeply entrenched in China's justice system, and Beijing should abolish inhuman treatment of detainees, free lawyers detained in a recent crackdown, and close down its "black jails," according to the United Nations.
The U.N. Committee Against Torture, which reviewed Beijing's record on torture and inhuman and degrading treatment last month, found that "the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system" in China.
It said Chinese police "wield excessive power during the criminal investigation without effective control," and are also involved in the running of detention centers, creating an incentive for torture in the pursuit of confessions to take place in detention.
Beijing on Thursday rejected the report, calling it biased and "incorrect."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.