China l Live up to commitments, release anti-discrimination activists


China's recent election to the Human Rights Council doesn't mean the end of international scrutiny. It means the beginning of holding the government to higher standards - and to their own commitments. China should show it takes this seriously, and release Changsha Funeng workers and human rights lawyer Chang Weiping.

China trial gavel

China's leaders seem to take seriously the common phrase, 'Do as I say, not as I do'.

In their remarks upon being elected to the Human Rights Council for the period 2021-2023, the Chinese delegation made clear that they will 'oppose the politicisation of human rights issues and wrong practices of double standards'. Yet China's national security authorities continually cast those engaged in the defence of human rights as 'criminals', and charge them with political crimes. China assails certain countries for their discriminatory policies, but has locked up three NGO workers who fought to ensure that all members of Chinese society - including those living with HIV/AIDS - could escape deeply-entrenched discrimination in the workplace and participate equally in society.

ISHR is dismayed that, mere days after being elected to the Human Rights Council, China proceeded to disappear a key voice in the human rights movement, lawyer Chang Weiping. After a short period in 'residential surveillance in a designated location' - a euphemism for legalised enforced disappearance - in January 2020, lawyer Chang refused to stay quiet. He released detailed information about his mistreatment and torture in detention in mid-October of this year. On 22 October, he was taken away by authorities and his wife was informed he was being held on charges of 'endangering national security'. He is once again in 'residential surveillance in a designated location', and at risk of torture.

Nearly six months have passed since the Changsha 3 - Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Genjianxiong, who were taken away from their families in the city of Changsha in July 2019 - were deemed by UN experts to be held in detention arbitrarily. The authorities ignored the UN's recommendations; their trial, which was held in secret, was announced to their family members in early September.

All four men have dedicated their work to promoting human rights and dignity of those facing injustice. 'These are the kind of people that should be welcomed by a government, for their contributions to making rule of law a reality - using the law to protect rights that have been violated,' says Sarah M Brooks, Asia advocate at ISHR. 'Instead, they have been denied access to their lawyers; their families have no information about their well-being'.

In a joint letter to the Chinese authorities (also available in Chinese), ISHR joins the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders; Front Line Defenders; and The Rights Practice in calling for the release of the 'Changsha 3', and in the interim, provision of access to legal counsel of their choosing; the ability to meet with their loved ones; and decent conditions of detention. Their lawyers, all of who were informed without evidence that they had been dismissed by their clients, have been unable to mount a defence. The government-appointed lawyers have neglected to respond to any requests for information from family members.

A second joint statement regarding lawyer Chang Weiping's detention calls for similar measures. It was signed by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the German Bar Association and the Council of Lawyers and Bar Societies of Europe (CCBE).

'The Chinese government gambled on its election to the Council,' Brooks adds. 'They're hoping this will give them cover to continue to violate rights - and indeed, to try to shift Council practices to preclude critical discussion of its or any other country's rights record.'

'But the determination of brave defenders and their families and colleagues to see justice done, and to reunite with one another, means that official responsibility for rights violations will never be swept under the rug,' Brooks says.

Contact: Sarah M Brooks at s.brooks[at] or @sarahmcneer

Image credit: @yettesu


  • Human rights defenders
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • China