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Protesters chant slogans to mourn the death of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, outside China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China on July 15, 2017.  © 2017 Bobby Yip/Reuters

(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release from detention rights activist Huang Qi and bookseller Yiu Mantin, who are seriously ill, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should also allow the two, who have been held in violation of their basic rights, to seek proper treatment wherever they wish, in China or abroad.

In recent years, a number of prominent dissidents have become seriously ill in detention, been denied adequate care, and died either in detention or shortly after being released. On November 7, 2017, dissident writer Yang Tongyan died less than three months after being released on medical parole, and on July 13, Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo died three weeks after he was transferred to a hospital.

“Neither of these peaceful advocates should have been detained in the first place, and to continue to do so even when they are gravely ill is cruel and inhumane,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Authorities should immediately release Huang Qi and Yiu Mantin and allow them to seek medical care freely.” 

The considerable reputational damage brought by the death of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in state custody just months ago has not deterred Chinese authorities from keeping seriously ill dissidents in prison.
Sophie Richardson

China Director

Huang, 54, a veteran activist and founder of the human rights website 64 Tianwang, has been detained since November 2016 for “illegally leaking state secrets abroad.” Huang suffers from several health conditions for which he was not given adequate treatment, including possible imminent kidney failure, signs of emphysema and inflammation in the lungs, Huang’s mother said in a public letter appealing for Huang’s release. Huang’s lawyer has applied for bail on his behalf three times, but authorities denied each application without giving a reason. In November, Huang told his lawyer that he had been repeatedly beaten by fellow detainees at the Mianyang City Detention Center. At least one officer at the center was aware of the violence but failed to intervene to stop it. Huang was also denied basic necessities such as toothpaste and toilet paper. Huang was previously imprisoned from 2000-2005 on subversion charges and from 2008-2011 for “illegally holding state secrets.”

Yiu, 76, a Hong Kong publisher and chief editor of Morning Bell Press, has been serving a 10-year sentence on smuggling charges in a Guangdong jail since October 2013. Yiu was preparing to publish a book critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping shortly before he was arrested. Yiu suffers from heart disease, liver disease, asthma, and other health issues. He has fainted several times since being detained. Prison authorities transferred Yiu to a prison-affiliated hospital about two years ago due to his poor health. Yiu’s wife said prison authorities had not given her any medical examination records about Yin since 2015 and she is uncertain about his condition. Yiu’s lawyer has repeatedly sought medical parole for him but it has not been granted.

Conditions in China’s detention facilities and prisons are poor and usually marked by minimal nutrition and rudimentary health care. Human Rights Watch has also long documented police torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police-run facilities. There have been repeated instances where seriously ill detainees were not sent to hospitals until their conditions had deteriorated significantly.

Failure to provide prisoners access to adequate medical care violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health found in international human rights law. The UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners provides that “[s]ick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals.” China’s Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that medical parole can be granted to criminal offenders who are “seriously ill,” but in practice, authorities have rarely granted it to political dissidents.

Since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2013, several dissidents and activists have been denied adequate medical treatment and died in detention or shortly after being released. They include:

  • Cao Shunli: In March 2014, Cao Shunli, 52, an activist who had tried to participate in China’s Universal Periodic Review, a process run by the United Nations Human Rights Council, died in a Beijing hospital after being arbitrarily detained in September 2013. Her family members had repeatedly warned that she was becoming gravely ill and had fought to have her released on medical parole, but authorities only transferred her when she fell into a coma. She died days later.
  • Goshul Lobsang: Tibetan activist Goshul Lobsang, 42, died in March 2014, five months after being released on medical parole. After his arrest in June 2010, Goshul Lobsang was sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges relating to the 2008 protests in Tibet. During his three years in detention, Goshul Lobsang was reportedly subjected to severe torture and deprived of sleep and food.
  • Tenzin Choedak: In December 2014, Tibetan environmental activist Tenzin Choedak, 33, died in a Lhasa hospital, three days after he was released in extremely weak condition. Tenzin Choedak had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2008 on the charge of acting as a ringleader during the unrest in Tibet earlier that year. While in prison, Tenzin Choedak reportedly suffered chronic diseases and brain injury because of severe torture.
  • Tenzin Delek Rinpoche: In July 2015, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, 65, a revered Tibetan lama who was serving a life sentence for “inciting separation of the state” following a trial that fell far short of international standards, died in detention after months of increasingly serious allegations that his health was deteriorating. Throughout his 13 years in detention, credible reports repeatedly emerged that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was being tortured.
  • Zhang Liumao: In November 2015, activist Zhang Liumao, 43, died at the Guangzhou No. 3 Detention Center after he was arrested three months earlier on suspicion of “picking quarrels and proving trouble,” a catch-all charge frequently leveled against activists. The state media reported that Zhang died of complications from cancer, but Zhang’s family lawyer, who examined Zhang’s body, said that it was bruised and bloody with apparent signs of torture.
  • Liu Xiaobo: In July 2017, after serving nearly nine years of his 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion,” Nobel Peace laureate and public intellectual Liu Xiaobo died from liver cancer in a Shenyang hospital. Less than a month before his death, the authorities said they had “released” him on medical parole, but they heavily guarded him and his wife, Liu Xia, isolating them from family and supporters, and denied Liu’s request to seek treatment outside the country. Very little is known about the conditions of Liu’s imprisonment. Although the authorities allowed his closest family, including Liu Xia, some visits, they silenced the family by holding Liu Xia under house arrest.
  • Yang Tongyan (pen name: Yang Tianshui): Dissident writer Yang Tongyan, 56, was released on medical parole after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2017, four months short of serving the full term of a 12-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” After being denied permission to travel abroad for treatment, Yang died on November 7, less than three months after his release. During Yang’s imprisonment, his lawyers had applied for his medical parole several times, but they were all denied.

“The considerable reputational damage brought by the death of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo in state custody just months ago has not deterred Chinese authorities from keeping seriously ill dissidents in prison,” Richardson said. “The ruthlessness and arrogance of the Chinese government should be met with international condemnation.”

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