Up until March 20, 2022, #MeToo activist and independent journalist, Huang Xueqin and labor rights advocate, Wang Jianbing (“Huang & Wang”) have been arbitrarily detained for six months after disappearing. On September 19, 2021, the Guangzhou Police forcibly arrested Huang and Wang who were at a weekly gathering at Wang’s residence and placed them under residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL) on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”. It was not until early November 2021 that Huang and Wang’s family members received a “notice of arrest” issued by the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau. The notice showed that the pair were arrested with formal approval on October 27, and claimed that both of them were detained at the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.
1. Review of Huang & Wang’s half-year detention
The situation of the pair’s arrest and detainment remains in a black box. Since their disappearance on September 19, 2021, Huang and Wang’s family and friends had only indirectly learnt about the arrest through other friends who were summoned by police. Though required by law, a “notice of detention” was never sent to their family members after the arrest and it was not until the end of January 2021, four months after their disappearance, when their family members received the notice confirming that Huang and Wang were accused of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ and were placed in Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.
However, we later learned that Huang Xueqin is in fact in Guangzhou No. 2 Detention Center, and whether Wang Jianbing is detained in the No. 1 Detention Center remains unknown. Their families and friends have tried several times over the past six months to send money to them. All attempts have failed, suggesting that the place of their detention on paper may not match the actual location or that they were detained under pseudonyms. We have no way of knowing the actual detention location or health situations of the pair.
Since Huang and Wang’s arrest, the Guangzhou police, in conjunction with public security departments across the country, have continued local or cross-regional subpoenas or interrogations. Around 70 of Huang and Wang’s friends have been summoned by the police for interrogation. Without following legal procedure, the Guangzhou police interrogated their friends for up to 24 hours, some even several times, and forcibly searched and copied their electronic devices. The police also forced and threatened some of Huang & Wang’s friends to sign false statements fabricated by the police. This means they have intimidated Huang & Wang to the point of admitting that they had participated in training activities that had the intention of “subverting state power” and fabricated the gathering at Jianbing’s apartment as a political event criticizing the government. In the past six months, the police have been using this way to manufacture illegal evidence to accuse Huang & Wang.
Both Huang & Wang’s attorney visit requests were declined. Two of their families’ trusted attorneys currently represent Huang & Wang. Since October 2021, even though Wang’s attorney Xiao Yunyang has continuously submitted applications to the Guangzhou police requesting meetings with Wang and bail, all requests have been declined on the grounds of “involving national security”. The legitimacy of Xiao’s attorney qualification was also questioned. Huang Xueqin’s attorney’s meeting requests in March 2022 were also declined.
2. The Arrest of Huang & Wang Indicates a Profound Crackdown on Civil Society Networks in China
Since 2015, the Chinese government has been speeding up its effort to shrink and close its local civic space. Civil society organizations and activists concerned with women’s rights and labor rights have been subjected to crackdowns and criminal charges one after another. Following the mass political arrests such as the “Feminist Five’’, “709” Crackdown, and the “123” Labor Crackdown in 2015, as well as the Jasic Crackdown in 2018, the civil society networks in China have gradually become more and more fragmented, which has contributed to the looming fear over the activists. As a result of such dispiriting events, Huang & Wang organized the weekly social gatherings in their own apartment as an attempt to encourage depondent activists who cared about social issues. However, these perfectly normal weekly gatherings were deemed a major threat on “national security” by the Chinese government, and Huang & Wang were charged with the felony of “Inciting Subversion of State Power”.
The Guangzhou police have repeatedly used “national security” as a reason to suppress civil society activities in the Huang & Wang case.
- The authorities viewed the gatherings at Wang’s place as an “activity” that threatened national security. However, the crackdown taken by the local authorities were themselves a violation of citizens’ freedom of speech and assembly, not to mention the gatherings were not created for discussing political issues, but were an informal network for young activists to support and keep each other company.
- The arrest of Huang and Wang also indicates a further crackdown on the remaining civil society networks in China. This is especially true among feminist and labor activists, e.g. labor activists’ support for workers have been seen as a major threat to social stability by the authorities for years, and more recently gender issues have also been heavily politicized by the authorities in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Peng Shuai case.
- After Huang and Wang’s arrest, the police refused to disclose any information about the two on the grounds of “national security”. Furthermore, police revealed in private that Huang and Wang were detained incommunicado and isolated, which suggests that the police might have abused RSDL (a UN expert-identified form of incommunicado detention). “National security” was also used by the police as an excuse to deny any meetings between Huang, Wang and their respective lawyers, which denies the pair their basic legal rights and denies the public its right to know.
Huang and Wang’s experience encapsulates the Chinese government’s deepening crackdown on its domestic civil society networks. After the total and complete suppression and shutdown of the domestic civil organizations, the Chinese government has been attempting to further destroy the remaining networks, including those who are comparatively more low-profile and less well-known, which continues to create a looming fear among activists. This change in direction would be more fatal for the social justice and political freedom in China. Dr. Li Wenliang, the covid-19 whistleblower who died from the virus in Wuhan, once said, “A healthy society should not have only one voice”, and yet, the crackdown on Huang and Wang is exactly what diminishes and silences the different voices that call for social justice.
3. “Extension of Police Investigation” is About to Expire
According to the Law of Criminal Procedure, for cases with expected sentences of less than ten years, the police can extend the period of investigation and detention for up to five months, after which the case must be transferred to the public prosecution office with the indictment, case materials, and evidence (Articles 154, 156, 157). Huang and Wang were officially arrested on October 27, 2021. Their detention has been extended twice consecutively, and the “extension of police investigation” would officially expire on March 27, 2022 as it reaches its fifth month. We, friends of Huang & Wang, have no way of knowing whether the police will follow the legal procedure of completing the investigation of Huang and Wang’s case and handing the case over to the public prosecution office by March 27, or whether the police will continue deploying delay tactics and scrounging up whatever terms they can abuse to extend the period of investigation. We will continue to monitor this.
4. Support for Huang and Wang: Voices from the World
Although the government is continuing to suppress civil society, to silence more activists through subpoenas and coercion, and even to strengthen online censorship to prevent the dissemination of actions and information in support of Huang and Wang, many friends and organizations are continuing to pay attention and support them. In addition to the solidarity from international media and human rights organizations, we also received significant support from friends both domestically and internationally in the form of joint signatures, postcards, and mask photos in the past six months. Including:
Following Huang and Wang’s enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists, Front Line Defenders, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and the EU Delegation to China expressed their support and concern through statements. In March 2022, Human Rights Now and International Service for Human Rights spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to pay attention to the “Huang and Wang” case and demanding the Chinese government to release them.
In the UK, 55 feminist scholars and 83 members of the UK University and College Union (UCU) respectively initiated and participated in a joint signature, demanding that the Chinese government immediately release Huang and Wang; 112 Chevening scholars issued a joint statement expressing serious concern over the arbitrary detention and inability to visit the activists, and urged the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office and its Chevening Committee to speak out on the matter.
Nearly 100 friends from all over the world sent postcards to Huang and Wang, expressing their concern and blessings for them and protesting against the police illegality. In addition, supporters in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, the United Arab Emirates and other places wore masks of Huang and Wang to protest in various parts of the city, calling on the Chinese government to release the two.
These actions demonstrate the widespread anger and resentment that the Huang and Wang case has sparked. As friends of Huang and Wang, we always believe that all external solidarity actions will have a warning effect on the misbehavior of the police which will help improve the detention situations of Huang and Wang. In the long run, we continue to call on more domestic and international groups and individuals to join the action of solidarity with Huang and Wang and fight for their freedom.
5. Appeals from Friends of Huang and Wang
It has been six months since we lost contact with our beloved friends Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. We can’t imagine the torture and humiliation they are going through. Friends and family have been deeply worried about their physical and mental health. But we believe that Huang and Wang must still hold on to the belief that being a journalist is not a crime, participating in #MeToo is not a crime, supporting workers is not a crime, and fighting for social justice should never be a crime!
As friends of Huang & Wang:
We strongly condemn the arbitrary detention and criminal charges of Huang and Wang by the Guangzhou authorities. We demand that the authorities immediately disclose the whereabouts of Huang and Wang and their physical and mental health conditions. The authorities must allow the lawyers to visit Huang and Wang, and release them unconditionally!
We are deeply disappointed by the continuous silence from the UK Chevening Committee and the University of Sussex during the enforced disappearance and arbitrary arrest of their affiliated scholar and student, Huang Xueqin. We call on the Chevening Scholarship Committee and university officials to actively express their concern on this matter and condemn the Chinese government’s egregious repression of human rights defenders.
We are sincerely grateful to international NGOs, human rights organizations, media outlets and the global civil society community for their solidarity support to Huang and Wang. We believe, they would also very appreciate everyone’s continued concern on the situations of human rights abuse in China. We call on more international groups to continue to pay attention to and support the deeply suppressed Chinese human rights defenders.
We deeply wish all of Huang and Wang’s friends and comrades in civil society who have been affected by this case to remain strong. Political repression will make us severely fearful, but only the unity and company of each other can keep us strong and free. This is also what Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing have been working on in their struggle.
Release Xueqin and Jianbing!
Chinese version: https://free-xueq-jianb.github.io/2022/03/20/half_year/