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Radio Free Asia: China Holds Activist Who Helped Lawyers' Son on 'Smuggling Charges'

Friday, May 20, 2016

Radio Free Asia

■ A Chinese activist who helped the son of two detained human rights lawyers leave the country to attend college in the United States is being held under criminal detention, police have confirmed after holding him incommunicado for seven months.

Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian escorted Bao Zhuoxuan, 16, across the border from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan into northern Myanmar posing as tourists after the boy was slapped with a travel ban in the wake of his parents' arrest.

Bao, who is also known by his nickname Bao Mengmeng, is the son of rights lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, who were detained on the night of July 9, 2015 at the start of a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession.

Tang Zhishun in an undated photo from lawyer Tan
Chenshou's social media account.
But Bao and his minders were taken away from the Huadu Guesthouse in the border town of Mongla by local police on Oct. 6, and handed over to the Chinese authorities, sources told RFA at the time.

Seven months later, Xing's family received official notification of his criminal detention on suspicion of "organizing the smuggling of persons across a national boundary."

While Xing and Tang had entered Myanmar legally, Bao's passport had been confiscated after his parents' detention.

Xing is currently being held in the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. It now looks likely that Tang is also being held in the city, which is coordinating the prosecutions of Wang, Bao Longjun and more than a dozen other rights attorneys on subversion and other charges.

226 days

"Two-hundred-and-twenty-six days after Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian were detained by Chinese police in Myanmar, I have finally received notification of Xing's criminal detention," Xing's wife He Juan said via Twitter on Thursday.

"This notification arrived as a registered letter," He told RFA . He is living in the U.S. where she fled after her husband's detention.

"It was originally addressed to the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party village committee [in my hometown]," she said. "My mother has just gotten home, so they just handed it to her."

He Juan hit out at the length of her husband's detention, and at the lack of information given to the family in the interim. The detention notice was signed and sealed by Tianjin police on May 7.

"I think that we had to wait far too long," she said. "The rule is that the family should be notified within 24 hours, and we didn't get this for 226 days."

"In that time, I have experienced terror, fear and despair, but at least my husband is still alive," she said.

Xing's birthday falls on June 4, the politically sensitive anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and He Juan called on supporters and fellow activists to send cards to the detention center to support him.

Meanwhile, Tang's lawyer Tan Chenshou told RFA that his client's family has yet to receive a similar notification.

"We haven't received anything here yet," Tan said. "But common sense says that they are probably being held in the same place."

Tough sentences

He said he expected both men to receive harsh jail terms for helping Bao Mengmeng.

"I think they'll give them tough sentences, because they use the word 'arranging'," Tan said, adding that the smuggling charge is usually used against human traffickers, not against those arranging for a single person's departure.

"As his lawyer, I don't think that what they did amounts to 'organizing the smuggling of persons across a national boundary," he said.

In an interview with RFA last October, Tang's wife Gao Shen, who also fled to the U.S. with the couple's daughter after his detention, said she feared the two men were at risk of torture.

"Secret detention is a terrifying thing," Gao said. "We are terribly afraid that the Chinese police may be torturing Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian, destroying them in order to get a forced confession."

China has detained, questioned or otherwise placed restrictions on at least 319 lawyers, law firm staff, human right activists and family members since the July 9 crackdown began, a Hong Kong-based rights group reported on its website.

Some have been criminally detained or formally arrested on subversion, state security or public order charges, while others have been banned from leaving the country or placed under house arrest or other forms of surveillance, the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said.

Rights lawyer Ran Tong said the practice of holding people incommunicado for long periods was "wrong."

"These enforced disappearances are all just plain wrong," Ran said."They are all illegal."

"Both Chinese law and international law is very clear about this, and this practice amounts to a criminal offense," he explained. "The families must be notified."

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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