Chinese women's rights activist Su Changlan smiles into the camera with arms crossed

China must release supporters of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests

The Chinese authorities must immediately release eight mainland human rights activists detained for supporting last year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Amnesty International said, on the first anniversary of people taking to the streets in the city.

Five of the activists, Su Changlan, Chen Qitang, Wang Mo, Xie Wenfei and Zhang Shengyu, have since been formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. A sixth person, Sun Feng, has been indicted with the same crime. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

Two others, Ji Sizun and Ye Xiaozheng, could face up to five years in prison on the charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Ji Sizun faces an additional charge of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”, which also carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Contempt for freedom of expression

“The shameful prosecution of these activists demonstrates the Chinese authorities’ contempt for freedom of expression, which does not bode well for Hong Kong,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.

The activists’ support for the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests, the so-called the Umbrella Movement, included posting messages and pictures online and holding banners in public with messages such as “support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom”. Sun Feng had tried to travel to Beijing to present his own proposal on Hong Kong’s electoral reform to the central government.

Seven of the activists are from southern China. Their ongoing detention appears to be a deliberate attempt by the Chinese authorities to stifle activism on democracy in regions of mainland China close to Hong Kong.

“These activists are being persecuted simply for posting pictures of themselves with messages saying ‘Support Hong Kong’ and ‘Freedom is Priceless’.

Charges must be dropped

The Chinese authorities should immediately drop these charges against them as they have been detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression,” said William Nee.

In detention, Zhang Shengyu has told his lawyer he was beaten and once tied to a bed with heavy chains on his wrists and ankles for 15 days.

There are also concerns for the health of Su Changlan, who has been denied adequate medical treatment according to her lawyer. None of the eight activists has been allowed visits from their families.

Nationwide crackdown

The activists were targeted as part of a nationwide crackdown in mainland China between September and November 2014, which saw at least 100 people detained for expressing support for the Umbrella Movement.

The activists’ detention is part of an unprecedented attack on civil society by the Chinese authorities since President Xi came to power in November 2012.

Background: China’s ‘Umbrella Eight’:

Su Changlan (苏昌兰), a women’s rights activist who was taken away by police on 27 October 2014, after she shared photos of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests on social media. She was formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. Prosecutors have now transferred her case back to the police for further investigation.

Her health has deteriorated in detention and she was denied adequate medical treatment, according to her lawyer, who she was only allowed to see for the first time in May 2015. The authorities have also prevented her family from visiting her in detention.

Chen Qitang (陳启棠), a friend of Su Changlan, who was trying to find Su and raise awareness of her plight. He was detained in November 2014, and later formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. His lawyer says Chen Qitang was being detained for posting articles in support of human rights and the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

Ji Sizun (纪斯尊), a legal activist who openly supported Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. He was taken away by police on 14 October 2014 and was later indicted with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “gathering a crowd to disrupt order in a public place”. He is currently being held at the Fuzhou City No. 1 Detention Centre in south-eastern China.

Sun Feng (孙峰), a democracy activist from Shandong, eastern China, was taken away on 16 November 2014, and charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. His first court hearing was held on 11 August 2015, at Zibo City Immediate People’s Court. He was attempting to travel to Beijing, where he had planned to submit his own proposal to the central government on Hong Kong electoral reform. Previously, he had been detained several times for campaigning for democracy.

Wang Mo (王默) and Xie Wenfei(谢文飞), together with three other activists, held up a banner saying “Freedom is priceless; support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom” in a street in Zengcheng, Guangzhou, southern China on 3 October 2014. They were taken away by police later that day. While the three other activists were later released, Wang Mo and Xie Wenfei have been formally arrested on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”.

Zhang Shengyu(张圣雨), and several of his friends held placards in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests on the streets in Guangzhou City, southern China. Zhang Shengyu was criminally detained on 3 October 2014, and was later charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. He has told his lawyer that he was frequently beaten while in detention, and was once tied to a bed with heavy chains on his wrists and ankles for 15 days.

Ye Xiaozheng (叶晓铮) was detained on 12 December 2014, after he posted pictures online of himself wearing a T-shirt with the quote “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny” in support of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest. He was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and his first court hearing took place on 23 July 2015 at Hucheng District Court at Huizhou City, southern China. He is awaiting the verdict.