The Chinese authorities must immediately release two Falun Gong practitioners jailed for their beliefs in Hebei province, Amnesty International said today, as petitions by local residents calling for an end to their imprisonment reportedly reached almost 3,000 signatures.
Zhou Xiangyang, 38, was released in 2009 after serving six years of a nine year prison sentence. He was detained again in March this year and is currently being held in Gangbei Prison in the northern city of Tianjin where he has reportedly been repeatedly tortured. After his wife issued an open letter detailing the couple’s hardships, she was detained on 29 October.
"In a gesture that’s rarely seen in China, thousands of ordinary people have dared to publicly show their support for individuals unfairly imprisoned and tortured in detention. This shows that the Chinese public is aware of and condemns persecution of people for their spiritual beliefs. It’s high time that the Chinese authorities heed this call and end their brutal suppression of the Falun Gong group," said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Asia.
"Zhou Xiangyang and his wife Li Shanshan must be released immediately. Given the pattern of retribution that is almost always seen against people who show any kind support for Falun Gong practitioners, we are urging the authorities not to target people who have peacefully petitioned for the release of Zhou Xiangyang," she added.
The Chinese authorities have refused to inform Li Shanshan’s family or lawyer of her whereabouts. However, the Tangshan City Public Security Bureau told Li Shanshan’s mother and lawyer on 9 November that she had been sentenced to two years re-education through labour, and had been sent away.
She was last seen on 4 November by her family at the Tangshan Legal Education Center, a type of detention center set up especially to force Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their beliefs,.
Zhou Xiangyang has been on a hunger strike since his detention in March. His family were repeatedly interrogated and intimidated by local police over the petition earlier this month.
Gangbei Prison is notorious for its ill-treatment of Falun Gong practitioners. In July this year, one practitioner, Li Xiwang, is reported to have died in the prison after being subjected to torture.
Falun Gong is a spiritual movement which gained large numbers of supporters in China during the 1990s. After it staged a peaceful gathering in Tiananmen Square in July 1999, the government outlawed the group as a "threat to social and political stability" .
Tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been arbitrarily detained as part of a campaign of intimidation and persection targeting the group.
Practitioners have been held in psychiatric hospitals, re-education through Labour (RTL) facilities - a form of administrative detention imposed without charge, trial or judicial review - or sentenced to long prison terms.