Expressing concern over the critical health condition of a prominent Chinese activist who has been on a hunger strike in a prison to protest against censorship of a newspaper in China, a group of UN human rights experts have asked the country to urgently provide him with medical care. Prominent Chinese human rights defender Yang Maodong, known by his pen-name ‘Guo Feixiong’, was arrested in August 2013 for taking part in a public protest against official censorship of a Guangzhou newspaper, and has been sentenced to six years in prison on charges of “gathering crowds to disturb public order” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.
“We are concerned about repeated incidents of degrading and humiliating treatment suffered by Guo in detention, both at the hands of other inmates and prison guards at Yangchun Prison in Guangdong province,” an independent group of experts appointed by the UN have said.
Guo has been on a hunger strike for almost three months, demanding to be transferred to another prison where he would be free from ill-treatment.
The experts said that his public profile as a human rights defender seems to have been the cause and aggravating factor for the denial of appropriate medical care and ill-treatment, which included sleep deprivation, harassment, and humiliating medical procedure filmed by prison officials for public release.
“Guo’s six-year imprisonment is connected to his peaceful and legitimate human rights activities,” the experts said.
“His only wrong-doing was to have exercised his rights to peaceful assembly and expression concerning censorship in China” they said.
The experts reiterated that the criminalisation of legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly that has formed the legal basis for the arrest, conviction and detention of Guo, is incompatible with China’s obligations under international human rights law.
They recalled that in 2015, the UN Committee against Torture recommended the Government of China, “to refrain from prosecuting human rights defenders, lawyers, petitioners and others for their legitimate activities for broadly defined offences”.
The experts asked Chinese authorities to release Guo and recognize the important contribution of human rights defenders in upholding constitutional values in China.
The experts are UN Special Rapporteurs, Michel Forst, on the situation of human rights defenders; Maina Kiai, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; David Kaye, on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Juan E Mendez, on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Dainius Puras, on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Setondji R
Adjovi, current Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.