Chinese activists Wang Heying and Zhang Jianping have won a prestigious human rights award in memory of a human rights campaigner who died in police detention after being denied access to adequate medical care.
The award, which comes amid an ever-widening crackdown on human rights advocates by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, is named for late human rights activist Cao Shunli, who died in police detention on March 14, 2014.
The award "recognizes their long-standing grassroots activism to promote protection of human rights in China," the organizers said in a statement on Friday.
Wang is a veteran activist who has worked alongside detained New Citizens' Movement founder Xu Zhiyong and rights lawyer Teng Biao to expose the ruling Chinese Communist Party's use of illegal "black jails," extralegal detention centers frequently linked to complaints of arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment.
Now based in Jiangsu, Wang began a life of activism after being forcibly evicted and her land taken by local officials with no compensation.
"She then began participating in human rights advocacy campaigns and helping other victims of rights abuses," the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which makes the Cao Shunli Award, said in a statement on its website.
She has also helped petitioners to bring their grievances against government officials to court, or to use administrative means to try to hold the government accountable for violations of the law and human rights.
She has campaigned on behalf of Dong Yaoqiong, forcibly incarcerated in a psychiatric institution after splattering ink on a poster of President Xi Jinping on Twitter.
She has also spoken out in support of families affected by tainted vaccines.
"Starting in late 2019, Wang tried to visit detention centers and prisons where activists and dissidents are locked up," CHRD said.
"In the past dozen years, government authorities repeatedly harassed, intimidated, and detained Wang to penalize her for her human rights activities," CHRD said.
Black jails and administrative detention
Wang has been held in administrative detention six times, as well as spending 34 days in criminal detention and serving a year-long stint in a labor camp run by police.
She has also been held in "black jails" on nearly 100 occasions, totalling some 700 days, the group said.
Zhang, a former citizen journalist with Sichuan-based activist Huang Qi's Tianwang rights website, has carried out reporting and monitoring activities for a number of rights monitors.
"He has worked with members of disadvantaged social groups, representing victims of rights abuses and acting as their citizen-lawyer in administrative lawsuits cases against corrupt and abusive officials, seeking government information disclosure, and speaking out in support of prosecuted human rights defenders," CHRD said.
"Zhang ... has energetically defended human rights and helped many victims despite the considerable personal and social obstacles and political risk," it said.
In a recent interview with RFA on March 1, Zhang said the authorities are engaged in an ever-widening campaign to ensure no dissenting voices are heard in China, which contributed to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic even while officials were covering up the seriousness of the new disease.
"The authorities are engaged in a political movement," he said. "We wouldn't be in this mess if [officials] hadn't misrepresented the facts."
"If silencing everybody could solve problems and make this country a better place, then of course we would be willing to go along with it," he said. "But that is clearly not the case."
The Cao Shunli Memorial Award acknowledges the efforts of human rights defenders in China who have demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting human rights, typically in the face of great personal risk.
The award is announced annually on March 14, the anniversary of Cao’s death after being denied medical care in a police-run detention center.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.