Chinese rights lawyer incommunicado after writing to Li Keqiang over travel ban

Tang Jitian hasn't been in contact since texting a warning about 'safety' on Human Rights Day.
By Xue Xiaoshan
2021.12.17
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Chinese rights lawyer incommunicado after writing to Li Keqiang over travel ban Chinese rights lawyer Tang Jitian is shown at the Fuzhou Changle International Airport, where he was prevented from boarding a flight to Japan, June 2, 2021.
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A prominent Chinese rights attorney is missing, believed detained, after he planned to attend an event linked to Human Rights Day at the EU representative office in Beijing on Dec. 10, RFA has learned.

Tang Jitian has been incommunicado since texting friends a couple of hours before the event was due to start that it was "not safe" to attend, U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said.

Repeated calls to Tang's phone rang unanswered on Dec. 16.

"I think it's definitely more serious," Teng said. "We have heard nothing from Tang Jitian since Dec. 10, so it looks like an enforced disappearance."

He said the situation of Chinese dissident and former legal advocate Guo Feixiong, also known as Yang Maodong, appeared to be similar.

Guo has been incommunicado since writing an open letter to Chinese premier Li Keqiang, asking him to lift a travel ban and allow him to visit his critically ill wife Zhang Qing in the United States, Teng said.

"They have both played a prominent role in rights activism in China, and they are almost certainly in the custody of certain departments," he said.

Tang's friend Zhao Zhongyuan said the lawyer was at the point of physical and mental collapse when he disappeared, after being prevented from traveling to Japan to visit his 24-year-old daughter Kiki, who was in a coma due to complications from tuberculosis.

"His health had reached the point of collapse, because he had been persecuted for a long time," Zhao said. "He couldn't work, couldn't leave the country and was homeless, forced to stay a couple of days with one friend, and a couple of days with another."

"He had no medical insurance to seek treatment even if he was sick," he said.

Tang's daughter Qiqi is currently in a state of brain death after developing meningitis as a complication of the tuberculosis, but remains on life support in hospital, Zhao said.

"If they switched off the life support, she would be gone," he said. "She worked hard at her language class in Japan and passed the N1 language exam."

"She lived very frugally, and when she got sick, she self-medicated, so treatment was delayed," Zhao said. "By the time she went to hospital she was already in a coma."

"It was extremely cruel of the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to not let him go to visit his daughter," he said.

Tang was stopped by border guards at Fuzhou Airport in May 2021 as he tried to board a flight to Japan, on the grounds that his leaving would "endanger national security and interests."

Tortured by police

Tang's travel ban began after he lost his lawyer's license in 2010 for defending practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

He was among a group of four Chinese rights lawyers tortured by police after being detained in March 2014 during a protest outside a detention center in Jiansanjiang in northeast China demanding information about Falun Gong members believed to be incarcerated there.

In 2017, he was turned back by border guards at the Lo Wu border crossing after he tried to travel to Hong Kong to seek medical treatment for leukemia diagnosed after his release from detention. He was told at the time that his leaving the country could pose a "threat to national security."

"He is a straightforward, low-key, down-to-earth person who does practical things to help without seeking credit or profit," Zhao told RFA. "He always said that everyone has the right to a legal defense."

"He was very angry about these social injustices, and would always fight for fairness as part of the rule of law."

Meanwhile, concerns are growing for Guo Feixiong's wife Zhang Qing, who is being treated for metastatic colon cancer at a hospital in Maryland.

"The disease has spread to the liver, lungs, lymph nodes and other organs," U.S.-based rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng told RFA. "The tumor at the junction of the transverse colon and the descending colon is blocking her bowel."

"She is in severe pain, and is being fed a liquid diet ... her biggest wish was to see Guo Feixiong again; it was what was keeping her going," Chen said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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