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Human Rights Watch: No Light Three Years After Chinese Activist’s Death

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Sophie Richardson  |  Human Rights Watch

After Cao Shunli Died, Beijing’s Crackdown Intensified

“Our impact may be large, may be small, and may be nothing. But we must try. It is our duty to the dispossessed and it is the right of civil society.” Cao Shunli (nchrd)

Cao Shunli died three years ago today in a Beijing hospital. The veteran human rights activist, best known for pressing the Chinese Communist Party to include input from independent civil society into China’s report for its human rights review at the United Nations, died after being held in a detention facility for several months without needed medical treatment.

To this day, little explanation has been given for her detention and death, no one has been held accountable, and there is no sign of an investigation.

Instead, in the three years since Cao’s death at age 53, authorities have only intensified their crackdown on human rights defenders. In many reported cases of detention in recent months, there has been a steady stream of torture allegations.

In January 2017, Li Chunfu, one of more than 300 lawyers and advocates rounded up amid a national crackdown on human rights lawyers in July 2015, showed signs of severe mental trauma upon his release. Detained lawyer Xie Yang, in interviews transcribed by his lawyers in January 2017, gave detailed accounts of the torture he endured: interrogated day and night by security agents who punched and kicked him, blew smoke in his face, and forced him to sit in a fixed position for more than 20 hours. In March, lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who has been in custody since November 2016, appeared on Chinese TV “admitting” that he fabricated the account of Xie’s torture.

Before being detained, Jiang, who himself had previously been tortured, said, “If I say things I don’t mean to when I am in jail, please must forgive me…[being tortured] was so painful.”

But Chinese authorities apparently aren’t at all bothered by the torment the criminal justice system inflicts on the activists caught in its grip. In fact, in the annual work reports released by China’s supreme court and the top prosecutor’s office on March 12, 2017, the prosecutions of human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng and others are extolled as examples of their success in “safeguarding national security.”

If the Chinese government wishes to “comprehensively govern the country according to the law,” as it claims in its new work report, it should start it by opening an investigation into Cao’s death and the alleged torture of the many other human rights defenders by the police since then.

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