Prominent Chinese rights attorney incommunicado, believed detained

Tang Jitian is detained en route to a funeral as the teenaged son of another lawyer is treated for an overdose.
By Gu Ting for RFA Mandarin
2023.11.21
Prominent Chinese rights attorney incommunicado, believed detained Chinese rights lawyer Tang Jitian was released in January after two years of incommunicado detention.
Provided by Xiang Li

Rights lawyer Tang Jitian is incommunicado, believed detained in a hotel in the northeastern province of Jilin following his release from two years of incommunicado detention in January, people familiar with his case told Radio Free Asia.

"He sent a message on WeChat Moments around Nov. 4 that his daughter's grandmother had passed away," U.S.-based rights activist Xiang Li told RFA Mandarin. "This was the last public message he sent [and it] showed that he was in Jilin at the time."

"Shortly after he posted the message, he was incommunicado and I haven't managed to get in touch with him in more than two weeks," Xiang said.

A person familiar with the case who declined to be named for fear of reprisals said Tang had been detained en route to his mother-in-law's funeral on Nov. 6, and is currently being held by state security police at a hotel in Yanbian city.

Tang has a round-the-clock detail of state security police sleeping in the same room and eating all meals with him, they said.

He was taken into custody again because someone "disclosed information about Tang" on social media, the person said.

Xiang said the daring flight of ethnic Korean dissident Kwon Pyong by jet ski from the eastern province of Shandong might have heightened tensions around Tang, too, although the two men aren’t associated with each other.

"Maybe state security police in Jilin were made nervous by that escape, which caused an international sensation," Xiang said. "Tang Jitian is a human rights lawyer and dissident whom they regard as very important."

"Tang Jitian is a human rights lawyer and dissident whom [Chinese authorities] regard as very important," says U.S.-based rights activist Xiang Li [pictured]. Credit: Provided by Xiang Li
"Tang Jitian is a human rights lawyer and dissident whom [Chinese authorities] regard as very important," says U.S.-based rights activist Xiang Li [pictured]. Credit: Provided by Xiang Li

When he was released after more than a year of police detention on Jan. 14, 2023, Tang showed up in his birthplace in Jilin instead of his home in Beijing, an increasingly common practice for recently released political prisoners.

"I'll try to keep doing what I can keep doing, but ... I can't say any more right now," Tang told RFA at the time, saying it was "inconvenient" to speak, a phrase often employed by people targeted for official surveillance.

Tang's license to practice as a lawyer was revoked in 2010 after he campaigned for direct elections within the state-run Lawyers' Association, and represented practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

He has been barred from leaving China to visit his daughter in Japan, who is on life support in a Tokyo hospital after contracting meningitis.

"If he is incommunicado, that must mean he has been forcibly disappeared, and that the state security police must have detained him," Xiang said.

Sedatives overdose

Meanwhile the teenaged son of detained rights lawyer Yu Wensheng has been sent to hospital after being left alone in the family home following his parents' detention in April.

Yu Zhenyang was taken to hospital after taking an overdose of sedative medication, fellow lawyer Liang Xiaojun told RFA Mandarin.

"When I got there, he didn't say anything to me, just sat there on the hospital bed," Liang said. "There were nurses and policemen there beside him."

"The policeman told me he had taken some sedatives and then started to feel unwell while on a bus in Mentougou," he said. "He told the driver he felt unwell and the driver called the police, and they sent him to the hospital."

Yu Zhenyang was treated and was recovering, Liang said.

"His mental state was quite good – he was drinking water, and he was on a drop – he looked okay," he said. "Maybe it was sleeping pills and he took a little too many."

The teenage son of Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng [right] and his wife Xu Yan [left] was recently taken to a hospital after an overdose of sedative medication. Credit: Weiquanwang
The teenage son of Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng [right] and his wife Xu Yan [left] was recently taken to a hospital after an overdose of sedative medication. Credit: Weiquanwang

Fellow rights attorney Wang Yu, who has been keeping an eye on Yu Zhenyang since he was left alone, said the overdose took place on the young man's 19th birthday, which he spent alone. 

"They said he turned 19 on [Nov. 18]," Wang said. "He was alone and in a very sad mood."

"He went out to eat alone and took nine tablets in one go," she said. "He started to feel unwell on the bus home."

She called on the Chinese authorities to release Yu Wensheng and his wife on bail pending trial to allow them to take care of Yu Zhenyang.

Canada-based family friend Zhao Zhongyuan said Yu Zhenyang has had a tough time since both parents – father Yu Wensheng and mother Xu Yan – were detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" in April, en route to meet with European Union diplomats in Beijing.

Xu has reportedly been charged with "incitement to subvert state power."

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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