Those who dare speak out in China face far-reaching consequences that can last a lifetime and even make life miserable for their relatives.
“Chinese say that they are living inside a prison. If you are detained, you are in a smaller prison. If you are released, you are in a bigger prison,” says one of China’s leading human rights lawyer and activist Li Heping.
Li dedicated his life to standing up for the weak and disenfranchised people of his nation. Years of legal activism transformed Li, a committed Christian and father of two, into an enemy of the state. In the eyes of Beijing Li had become “more dangerous than Bin Laden.”
He was one of 11 lawyers and legal assistants who have recently been charged with treason in retribution for their legal advocacy.
Li’s family endured months without information about his whereabouts and during his wife Wang Xiaoling’s quest to find about her husband’s fate, she repeatedly landed in detention.
Li Heping’s 6-year-old daughter was refused entry to an acclaimed primary school because police would not grant her the residency permit she needed to enroll. The authorities also denied her and her 15-year-old brother passports, which would allow them to leave the country, claiming they were “state security threats.”
Li is just one example. There are numerous journalists and activists behind bars or in detention facing unsure futures.
Yu Wensheng, another human rights lawyer, was tortured during his detention from October 2014 to January 2015 at Daxing Detention Center in Beijing. He was questioned for 15 to 16 hours every day while seated on a rigid restraint chair, handcuffed for long hours and deprived of sleep.
Yu spent three months in police custody and said he was not charged with any crime and the police warned him to keep quiet and threatened to detain him again at any time.
Various NGOs have been closed and their staff detained on bogus charges.
A demand for basic human rights is seen as a threat to the power and a “foreign infiltration.”
Wang Yu, a prominent lawyer, was only released from custody after a video confession renouncing her legal work and blaming “foreign forces” for her law firm’s activities.
"I won't be used by them anymore," Wang says in the video, which experts say may have been made under duress.
Not only do the families of “detained” activists have no idea where their relatives are, how they are being treated, when — and for what — they might be prosecuted or when, if ever, they will be released. They face tough surveillance and scrutiny as well.
They are also forced out of their homes and barred from traveling abroad.
China is an authoritarian state ruled by the Chinese Communist Party for more than six decades. Human rights, especially the freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion are usually curtailed in the country. The country, however, consistently rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law.