Xinzheng

China: Authorities must immediately release imprisoned Changsha Funeng staff

Responding to the recent confirmation that Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong, the founder and two staff members of NGO Changsha Funeng, were each sentenced to between two and five years in prison in a secret trial, the head of Amnesty International’s China Team, Joshua Rosenzweig, said:

 “It is outrageous that people like Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong are being detained, subjected to secret trials and put in prison – all because they have chosen to spend their working lives advocating for the rights of marginalized groups and vulnerable people.”

The Chinese government remains unrelenting in its targeting of NGO workers in China, sentencing many to years of imprisonment in unfair trials. 

Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty International's China Team

“Such heavy-handed repression leaves little breathing space for any civil society organizations to comment meaningfully on government decision-making and policies, and makes it all but impossible to effect change.” 

“It is shocking that the government-appointed lawyers refused to even inform this trio’s relatives of their fates. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Cheng Yuan and Wu Geijianxiong, who remain in prison and were incarcerated only for peacefully defending human rights.”

“Authorities must also ensure that they have access to lawyers of their choice and are not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment while in prison.”

Background: 

Changsha Funeng (长沙富能) is an NGO advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and other marginalized groups and combats employment discrimination against people living with HIV and hepatitis B through litigation. 

Cheng Yuan, the head of the organization, is an experienced public interest and legal activist in China. By representing clients in about a dozen discrimination cases over the past decade, Cheng has contributed to the reduction of institutional discrimination against hepatitis B carriers in China.  

 In 2013, Chen Yuan led a landmark lawsuit in which a person living with HIV received compensation for employment discrimination for the first time ever in China. Apart from that, he has continually used litigation and advocacy to work towards the abolition of China’s “one child policy” and reform of the household registration (hukou) system. Liu Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong are both staff members of Changsha Funeng. 

 In July 2019, Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze and Wu Gejianxiong were detained by the Chinese authorities before eventually facing trial in secret under the charge of “subversion of state power” between 31 August and 4 September 2020. They only received their verdict and sentence in July 2021, 11 months later.

They were held incommunicado after their initial detention in 2019. No details of their sentencing were shared with their families at all until one relative ascertained news of their fate on 5 August 2021, discovering that Cheng Yuan had been handed a five-year sentence in prison, while Wu Gejianxiong had been sentenced to three years and Liu Yongze to two years. Liu Yongze was released on 22 July 2021 after time served.

 Immediately after the arrest of the three activists, their families had appointed lawyers for each of them. However, the family-appointed lawyers received notices from the authorities that they had been “dismissed”. The authorities claimed that the dismissal had been requested by the three detainees, even though none of the family-appointed lawyers had been allowed to meet their clients since they were detained. Consequently, the three were assigned government-appointed lawyers. The families believe that the three were coerced into dismissing the family-appointed lawyers.  

Since March 2020, the family members have continued to reiterate publicly that they wish the three to be represented by the lawyers that they appointed for them. However, the government-appointed lawyers refused to withdraw from their case.  

Amnesty International has documented instances in which the Chinese authorities have forced detained human rights defenders to dismiss lawyers of their choice and appointed pro-government lawyers to “defend” them against politically motivated charges.