China must protect the rights of detained human rights defenders Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing

Today, 19 September 2022, marks one year in detention for two young Chinese human rights defenders: Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist and key actor in China’s #MeToo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labour rights advocate.[1]

CIVICUS and other civil society groups, call on Chinese authorities to respect and protect their rights in detention, including access to legal counsel, unfettered communication with family members, their right to health and their right to bodily autonomy. We emphasise that their detention is arbitrary, and we call for their release and for authorities to allow them to carry out their work and make important contributions to social justice.

Who are they ?

In the 2010s, Huang Xueqin worked as a journalist for mainstream media in China. During that time, she covered stories on public interest matters, women’s rights, corruption scandals, industrial pollution, and issues faced by socially-marginalized groups. She later supported victims and survivors of sexual harassment and gender-based violence who spoke out as part of the #MeToo movement in China. On 17 October 2019, she was stopped by police in Guangzhou and criminally detained in RSDL for three months – for posting online an article about Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement.

Wang Jianbing followed a different path, but his story – like Huang’s – demonstrates the commitment of young people in China to giving back to their communities. He worked in the non-profit sector for more than 16 years, on issues ranging from education to disability to youth to labour. Since 2018, he has supported victims of occupational disease to increase their visibility and to access social services and legal aid.

Arbitrary and incommunicado detention

On 19 September 2021, the two human rights defenders were taken by Guangzhou police; after 37 days, they were formally arrested on charges of ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Using COVID-19 prevention measures as an excuse, they were held for five months in solitary confinement, and subject to secret interrogation, in conditions similar to those of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. After months of delays and no due process guarantees, their case was transferred to court for the first time in early August 2022.

We strongly condemn the lengthy detentions of Huang and Wang. In a Communication sent to the Chinese government in February 2022, six UN independent experts – including the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Working Group on arbitrary detention (WGAD) – raised serious concerns about Wang’s disappearance and deprivation of liberty. They asserted that Wang’s activities were protected and legal, and that Chinese authorities used a broad definition of ‘endangering national security’ that runs counter to international human rights law.

In May 2022, the WGAD went one step further, formally declaring Wang’s detention to be ‘arbitrary’ and urging authorities to ensure his immediate release and access to remedy. Noting other, similar Chinese cases, the WGAD also requested Chinese authorities to undertake a comprehensive independent investigation into the case, taking measures to hold those responsible for rights violations accountable.

We echo their call: Chinese authorities should respect this UN finding, and immediately release Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing. 

[1] As their cases are deeply connected, their friends and supporters refer to them as a single case called the ‘Xuebing case’, using a portmanteau of their first names.