Human Rights Watch today strongly condemned the Chinese government's treatment of three pro-democracy activists, Xu Wenli in Beijing, Wang Youcai in Hangzhou, and Qin Yongmin in Wuhan.

Xu Wenli is expected to go on trial on Monday at 9 a.m. local time, and Human Rights Watch urges the international community to insist that the proceedings be open to the international press and diplomatic corps. Wang and Qin were tried Thursday, December 17 before only a small number of ticketed observers. All three men were charged with subversion in connection with their efforts to form a political opposition group called the Chinese Democracy Party (CDP).

"To arrest and try these men as subversives, when their only offense has been to advocate peaceful political change in China, flies in the face of all the commitments on human rights that the Chinese government has made to the world over the last two years," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "The government is systematically violating the right to freedom of expression and association not only of these three, but of hundreds of others detained for related activities." She urged China's trading partners to immediately implement the following steps:

  • Governments engaged in bilateral dialogues with the Chinese government should suspend meetings planned for the immediate future as a protest against the crackdown on the CDP. Those meetings include the U.S.-China dialogue scheduled for early January and the official China-E.U. dialogue in February.
  • Governments currently engaged in conducting legal seminars should inform the Chinese government that its disregard of international legal norms in the arrest and trial of these activists threatens the future of these seminars.
  • Governments should summon the Chinese ambassador to their respective countries to protest China's defiance of international law.
  • Governments should call on Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to intervene at the highest levels to call for the men's releases.

The treatment of the CDP activists has violated numerous articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which China signed in October 1998 and has yet to ratify. Among the most important are:

Freedom of association (Article 22)

Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai, and Qin Yongmin were all accused in connection with their peaceful efforts to establish the China Democracy Party. Those efforts should have been fully protected by the right to freedom of association. Freedom of expression (Article 19), including "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or any other media..."

The charges against Wang Youcai include using e-mail to send abroad materials of the China Democracy Party.

Right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal (Article 14), including the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense and to communicate with counsel of one's own choosing. The courts that tried the two men are not independent, and the trials of Wang and Qin, although billed as open, clearly were not. Only three family members were permitted at each trial. Advance tickets were required for all others. No international observers were present despite their requests to attend. Xu Wenli's wife has been given one ticket for her husband's trial on Monday.

In terms of access to counsel, police had advised attorneys for both Wang and Qin that it would not be in their best interests to represent the activists. Wang's lawyer finally resigned from the case after he was briefly detained four times in four days and told he would only be allowed to plead for leniency. Wang's wife was denied permission to act as her husband's representative, on the grounds that she had a conflict of interest in representing him. Both defendants entered "not guilty" pleas and represented themselves, but were denied permission to coherently present their cases.

Even if legal counsel had been obtained, there was no time for defense preparation. Wang was indicted on November 30; Qin, who was not even detained until December 1, was notified of his trial date only three days before it began, instead of the ten days in advance required by Chinese law. A request by Qin's family for postponement of the trial until a lawyer could be hired was denied. Xu Wenli's lawyer had his first meeting with his client on Thursday, December 17, for a trial which is to start on Monday.

Right to protection from arbitrary detention (Article 9)

The laws under which Qin Yongmin and Wang Youcai were detained, "conspiring to subvert the government" and "endangering state security" are so broadly worded as to make their use inherently arbitrary.

In addition to these violations of the ICCPR, the Chinese government violated a set of principles passed by the UN in 1988 called the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. Those principles include (Principle 15), "communication of the detained or imprisoned person with the outside world, and in particular his family or counsel, shall not be denied for more than a matter of days" and (Principle 16), "Promptly after arrest and after each transfer from one place of detention or imprisonment to another, a detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to notify or to require the competent authority to notify members of his family or other appropriate persons of his choice of his arrest, detention, or imprisonment or of the transfer and of the place where he is kept in custody." Xu Wenli's wife, He Qintong, had not been informed of the charges against him or his place of detention until more than two weeks after he was detained.