Date: January 26, 2016
By BosNewsLife Asia Service
BEIJING, CHINA (BosNewsLife)-- At least fifteen Chinese human rights lawyers and activists, including Christians, have been detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power” or “inciting subversion of state power” as part of an ongoing crackdown on people deemed dangerous to China's Communist leadership, well-informed Christians said.
The 15 individuals accused of these charges are among over 300 lawyers and activists, as well as relatives and associates, who were interrogated, detained, imprisoned and disappeared between July and December 2015, BosNewsLife learned.
Christian activists Liu Yongping and Gou Hongguo, who are members of an unregistered Protestant church in Beijing, the capital, are among those detained, Christians said. Hu Shigen, an elder at the same church, was reportedly formally arrested on suspicion of “subversion of state power” on January 8.
Others include prominent human rights lawyers Wang Yu and Li Heping, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Wang Yu, the first rights lawyer to be detained in what has been dubbed the “709 Crackdown” beginning in July last year and the other Christians are reportedly accused of “subversion of state power”.
As a member of Fengrui law firm in Beijing Wang has worked on numerous cases involving religious freedom, land rights and discrimination, Christians said.
Li Heping, a prominent human rights lawyer who has defended Christians, Falun Gong sect practitioners and other rights defence lawyers, has also been formally detained on suspicion of “subversion of state power”, according to CSW investigators.
Hu, Liu and Gou were reportedly detained while they were preparing to attend a church gathering. "All three have been held incommunicado for six months and have not been allowed meetings with their lawyers since their detention," CSW said.
They all face harsh sentences: Under Chinese legislation “subversion of state power” and "inciting subversion of state power" fall under the category of "crimes of endangering national security" carrying maximum penalties of life imprisonment and 15 years in prison respectively, experts say.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group is "deeply concerned about the formal arrest of lawyers and activists in China." He said that lawyers and activists "have been instrumental in defending the rights of religious communities and in calling for further improvement of the protection of freedom of religion or belief."
Critics say the reported crackdown comes at a time when the space for civil society is shrinking.
A statement issued on the six month anniversary of the beginning of the crackdown signed by 108 civil society organisations, including CSW, called 2015 a year of “exceptional challenges” for civil society in China. They said members of religious and socially disadvantaged groups, were “seized and/or detained in unprecedented scale”..
Thomas said CSW had joined an international call "to release those held without legal basis, to protect and uphold the rights of all those detained, and to guarantee the personal rights of lawyers when they perform their duties". He suggested that authorities had pledged more freedom in the government's first ever National Human Rights Action Plan of China, which promises Chinese citizens more legal protection, better livelihoods and greater political rights.
Chinese authorities have in the past rejected reports of human rights abuses, but they have come under mounting international pressure to extend economic reforms to other areas of society where Christianity is spreading.