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Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on China

28.12.2020 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (28 December) on the sentences handed down to lawyers, journalists and members of the opposition in China:

I am shocked by the many sentences handed down to lawyers, journalists and members of the opposition in China over the last few days. We are seeing once again that vague legal terms are being used to restrict freedoms.

The upholding of the conviction handed down to the civil rights lawyer Yu Wensheng for “inciting subversion of state power” is a serious setback for the rule of law in the People’s Republic of China.

The blogger, journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan showed great dedication in reporting on the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic in the sealed-off city of Wuhan. She has now been sentenced for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. There are major concerns about her state of health. Chinese proceedings against Ms Zhang and other citizen journalists (for example, Chen Qiushi, Fang Bin and Li Zehua) are in stark contrast to the transparency which China has for example pledged for the forthcoming fact-finding mission run by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

It is incomprehensible that the trial against ten of the twelve young members of Hong Kong’s opposition who wanted to leave for Taiwan started behind closed doors without any members of the public, independent journalists or diplomatic representatives being present. The fact that the accused, according to media reports, have still not been allowed any contact with the lawyers commissioned by their relatives runs contrary to central rule-of-law principles. 

I appeal to the Chinese party leadership to respect the human rights of its citizens and the relevant obligations under international law. Those subjected to political persecution and those wrongly convicted must be released. 

Background information:

As early as 23 December, a court of appeal in Jiangsu Province confirmed the sentence handed down to the civil rights lawyer Yu Wensheng in June 2020 (four years’ imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power”). Mr Yu’s relatives were not informed of the verdict until 26 December. Yu Wensheng has worked for many years and in many ways promoting the rule of law and human rights in China. In December 2018, he was awarded the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. 

On 28 December in Shanghai, the sentence was handed down to the journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan who had reported on the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. Now she has been found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and condemned to four years’ imprisonment. Ms Zhang is on hunger strike and it is reported she is being force-fed. 

Also on 28 December, court proceedings were launched in Shenzhen against ten of the twelve members of the Hong Kong opposition who wanted to escape to Taiwan by boat in August 2020.

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