SHANGHAI – Several human rights defenders have been detained in China following the close of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of the country, the NGO coalition Chinese Human Rights Defenders said on Tuesday.
“The timing of the detentions indicates that authorities waited until after the end of the highly public scrutiny of China’s rights records at the United Nations to kick off a likely severe crackdown,” CHRD said in a statement.
Among the detainees is land and housing rights activist Chen Jianfang, who on March 19 was “seized” from her home by Shanghai police and put “under enforced disappearance,” CHRD said. Her current whereabouts and any charges against her are unknown.
Days before, the activist had paid tribute to her former colleague Cao Shunli to commemorate the fifth anniversary of her death in custody on March 14, 2014, months after Cao was taken by police while trying to travel to Geneva to attend a Human Rights Council session and training, which Chen was also stopped from attending, CHRD added.
Chen started defending land and housing rights after her family lost property to government-backed developers, and from 2008 she worked closely with Cao in collecting information, documenting abuses and attempting to provide the government with their reports.
The NGO coalition said three editors of the online magazine “New Generation” are also in police custody.
Shenzhen police seized editor and activist Wei Zhili on March 20, journalist Ke Chengbing has been missing since the same day and believed to be in police custody, and editor-in-chief Yang Zhengjun has been in custody since Jan. 8, CHRD said.
The whereabouts of the three are unknown as are the criminal charges against them.
“The three detentions may be related to the publication’s reporting on migrant workers demanding compensation after being sickened with the occupational disease pneumoconiosis,” the NGO said.
It also added that He Fangmei, a Henan mother of a baby sickened by a faulty vaccine, has been in detention since March 20.
He “and her husband have been part of a group of victims and their families protesting government mishandling of scandals over faulty vaccines after the couple’s daughter got very sick,” CHRD said.
“They have faced reprisals since September 2018 for calling for accountability and protection for victims, including brief detention, denial of passports, and eviction from their home.”
Chinese law provides for incommunicado detention of up to 40 days prior to a formal presentation of charges, something that in practice legalizes enforced disappearances and increases the risk that those arrested may suffer torture, mistreatment or lack of access to medical care, according to the NGOs.
This year marks many politically sensitive anniversaries, such as three decades since the Tiananmen Square massacre.