China should investigate and account for the disappearance of leading human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong without delay, ISHR said today.
The call came as a group of independent UN human rights experts also urged the Chinese Government to immediately investigate the whereabouts and fate of the prominent human rights defender who has been disappeared since 21 November 2016.
ISHR is particularly concerned that Mr Jiang may have been disappeared, at least in part, as a reprisal for meeting with and giving information to the UN's Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, during his recent mission to China.
'Reprisals against human rights defenders for engaging with the UN are strictly prohibited by international law. China has an obligation, both under international law and as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, to take immediate steps to investigate, account for and remedy the disappearance of Jiang,' said ISHR's Asia Programme Manager Sarah M Brooks.
According to Ms Brooks, other Chinese human rights activists believe that Jiang's disappearance was orchestrated by the state security apparatus itself in retribution for his ongoing human rights activities.
'This wouldn't be the first time Jiang was targeted by the state,' said Ms Brooks. 'In 2011 he was detained incommunicado for two months, while in 2014 he suffered eight broken ribs from a police beating. If, as we believe, Chinese authorities are responsible for his disappearance, the case suggests that as international attention on the human rights situation in the country has waned, the Chinese government once more feels able to target human rights defenders with impunity. For Jiang, that could mean torture, or worse.'
'China must take immediate steps to investigate and account for Jiang's disappearance. China must also guarantee to safeguard Jiang's health, security and ability to undertake his vital human rights work, without restriction or attack,' Ms Brooks said.
'If China is unable or unwilling to do this, ISHR calls on the UN Human Rights Council and its President, together with high-level officials from other UN Member States, to step in to demand and ensure an effective investigation and accountability for the perpetrators. The global community needs to send a powerful and unequivocal message to China: respect for human rights and the rule of law, together with guarantees as to the liberty and security of those who work to defend human rights, is essential if China is to have a peaceful and prosperous future.'
The full statement of the UN's independent human rights experts in relation to the case follows:
GENEVA (6 December 2016) – A group of United Nations human rights experts has urged the Chinese Government to immediately investigate the whereabouts and fate of a prominent human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, who has disappeared since 21 November 2016.
Mr. Jiang Tianyong has represented clients in a number of high-profile cases in China, including clients that carried HIV, Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan protesters and victims of the 2008 milk scandal, as well as well-known rights defenders.
'We cannot rule out the possibility that Mr Jiang may have been disappeared by the State agents because of his human rights work,' the UN experts noted. 'Over the past years, we have received information that Mr Jiang has been arrested, detained, and beaten by the police and state security officers on multiple occasions as a result of his human rights work.'
'Combined with the reports of hundreds of human rights defenders in China that have been harassed, arrested, criminally charged, detained, or gone missing since the ‘709 crackdown’ in July 2015, we fear that Mr Jiang’s disappearance may be directly linked to his advocacy and he may be at risk of torture, they said.
Mr Jiang’s whereabouts are unknown after he visited Changsha, Hunan Province, to meet with a family member of a human rights lawyer who had been arrested in last year’s crackdown, and who is detained at the Changsha Detention Centre. While in Changsha, he accompanied the family member and three other lawyers to the detention centre to inquire about the detainee’s situation.
The last communication from Jiang was a message to a friend in the evening of 21 November, informing that he would board the train to return to Beijing the next morning. Authorities in Beijing, Changsha and Zhengzhou, where Mr Jiang is a registered resident, have reportedly refused to investigate his disappearance.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, who met with Mr. Jiang in August during his visit to China, said he was deeply concerned that Mr Jiang’s disappearance may have occurred, at least in part, in reprisal for his cooperation with the UN during his visit to China.
'The international standards are clear: States must refrain from and protect all persons from acts of reprisal,' Mr Alston said, noting that that other individuals he met during his visit to China have also been harassed and subjected to what appears to be reprisals.
'As an essential condition to all country visits of the Special Procedures mandate holders, Governments must provide assurance that no persons will suffer intimidation, threats, harassment or punishment, be subjected to judicial proceedings or to any other kind of reprisals by any means whatsoever, for their cooperation with the UN experts,' he stressed.
The UN human rights experts, who are in contact with the Chinese authorities to clarify the issues in question, have urged them to investigate Mr. Jiang’s whereabouts and guarantee him access to a lawyer and his family, as well as the medical care he requires, given his poor health.
(*) The experts: Mr Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.