No response yet from China or UNAIDS to the letter signed by 200 individuals and organizations nearly 3 weeks ago about Chinese anti-discrimination activist Cheng Yuan and his two colleagues, the Changsha Three.
Here’s an overview to his impressive career and an update on retaliation against his wife and brother, who have raised public concerns about his detention. I’ve met Cheng Yuan in China, and know him personally as a quiet, sober civil rights activist; not someone who goes to international meetings or works with international organizations much, just a local rights lawyer who put his head down, tirelessly filing case after case on behalf of China’s most marginalized people. [A huge thank you to fellow volunteers Gisa Dang, Lu Jun, and Yang Zhanqing, who contributed research and links.]
Cheng Yuan is a longstanding health rights activist, a “barefoot lawyer” who used his self-acquired mastery of Chinese law to lead ground-breaking impact litigation. He was one of the earliest hepatitis B rights activists in China, and has participated in a dozen hepatitis B discrimination lawsuits, contributing significantly to breaking down systematic hepatitis B discrimination employment in China.
Later, Cheng Yuan was head of the legal department, and then deputy director of Nanjing-based Tianxiagong (Justice for All), a sister organization of renowned Chinese civil rights organization Yirenping.
- Justice for All has been closed down, but an overview to its work is online here.
- News Express reported on advocacy he helped to coordinate on disability discrimination in the government’s physical standards for civil servant recruitment here (Chinese)
Cheng Yuan also led landmark HIV employment discrimination lawsuits. Out of nine important national lawsuits on HIV-related employment discrimination, Cheng Yuan organized three of the suits. In 2013, a landmark HIV employment lawsuit in Jiangxi Province which he led in partnership with a lawyer, was the first in China to win compensation for a person living with HIV. Another HIV discrimination case in which Cheng Yuan played an important role won compensation for a teacher fired by a Guizhou Province middle school after testing positive for HIV.
- The Jiangxi HIV discrimination case was written up by the Guardian, and in Chinese by Zhongqing Report
- The Guizhou HIV discrimination lawsuit was reported by the South China Morning Post in English here.
Cheng Yuan has helped several disabled youth to file lawsuits for their employment rights and right to education.
- His lawsuit asking for accommodations to enable a disabled student to take her examination was widely reported in China, including this article in Legal Daily (in Chinese)
Since 2013, Cheng Yuan has also worked to end China’s “one child” policy and for reform of its household registration laws.Among the many cases in which he was involved, three stand out for their particular influence: a case of a teacher’s dismissal due to violation of a family planning policy in Guangzhou; a case to attain an ID card for a person without household registration in Shenzhen; and a case involving mass migration for the China National College Entrance Examination in Inner Mongolia.
- The lawsuit against the Guangdong Health and Family Planning Commission was named one of the 2013 Top 10 Influential Lawsuits by the China Case Law Association and Southern Weekly, as reported in China Law Daily (in Chinese)
Cheng Yuan was detained with two other staff of their organization, Changsha Funeng, on July 22nd, and according to his wife, he is currently held at the Hunan Province National Security Bureau detention center. More in this English-language news report from Radio Free Asia.
Since the detention of the three activists on July 22nd, Cheng Yuan’s family has faced reprisals. Cheng Yuan’s wife, Ms. SHI Minglei, had no relationship to his work as a public interest and health rights advocate. She has publicly reported that on July 22nd, Changsha Municipal state security agents forced their way into her home in Shenzhen, breaking down the door, arresting her husband and physically threatening her. She reports that the agents put a black hood over her head, and forcibly took her for interrogation overnight. They have now placed her under residential surveillance, seizing her ID card, passport, cell phone, computer and bank cards. She reported that the agents detaining her threatened that noncompliance could lead her three-year old child to also be taken into custody, and that they threatened to also detain a coworker of Cheng Yuan who is in her ninth month of pregnancy. Shi Minglei has filed a complaint with the Changsha Municipal Procuratorate, the Procuratorate of Hunan Province, and the Hunan Provincial Department of State Security.
- An English-language version of her complaint has been published by Human Rights in China.
- Her own reports about the case have been posted by family and friends on Twitter, here and here.
In retaliation for her complaint, Ms. Shi was threatened by state security agents that they would“chat” with her overnight on 12 August.
On July 26th, Cheng Yuan’s older brother, Mr. CHENG Hao, learning of his brother’s detention, traveled to the family’s home in Shenzhen to learn about the case and posted messages on Twitter sharing his support and his belief in his brother’s innocence, as well as his own phone number, +86-18168003044.
According to information published by Human Rights in China, Cheng Hao was told over the phone by someone, who identified themselves as police, to stop posting online messages and to not speak to the media. This call followed an early tweet on July 25 by Cheng Hao that described his brother’s work as supporting vulnerable communities, arguing that Cheng Yuan’s work had been conducted according to Chinese law, in which expressed the family’s shock at the allegations of undermining state security. On August 8, Cheng Hao was questioned for several hours at the Zhonghuamen police station in Nanjing. Human Rights in China reported this here in English.
The police are clearly intimidating Cheng Yuan’s wife and brother in an effort to prevent them for advocating against his detention.