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Chinese rights activist who opposed Hong Kong security law ‘tortured’

Chinese police. (Beijing Patrol/Flickr)
November 29, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Guangzhou-based rights activist Zhang Wuzhou has been subjected to torture in detention after she opposed Beijing’s imposition of a draconian national security law on Hong Kong, according to her son.

Zhang was held after she posed for photos at Guangdong’s Baiyunshan scenic area on the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, holding up a slogan that read “Withdraw the draconian law!”

She then uploaded the photos to her account on the tightly censored Chinese social media platform WeChat.

She stood trial at the Qingyuan Municipal People’s Court on Nov. 24 for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” charges that are frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zhang’s son Xu Hongbo said police had thrown a security cordon around the court buildings on the day of the trial, turning away large numbers of her supporters.

Zhang, however, wasn’t permitted to appear in court, but appeared via a video link, with the authorities citing coronavirus concerns, Xu said.

He said Zhang was visibly in poor physical shape.

“She had clearly been injured, and she was kind of hunched over,” Xu said. “She had been tortured by [police] to extract a confession.”

“They wanted my mother to confess to having colluded with foreign powers,” he said. “She was restrained with six shackles and handcuffs, and left that way next to the toilets for six days and six nights, with them kicking her in the back the whole time.”

Xu, who was the only relative allowed to attend the trial, said the prosecution had based its case on “a large number of inappropriate remarks, expressing her dissatisfaction,” as well as Zhang’s “posing for photos that were posted on overseas platforms including Twitter and Facebook.”

They also accused her of fighting back when police came to detain her, slapping a policeman who sustained “soft tissue injuries to his face.”

Xu said Zhang had been allowed to retain Huang Simin, a lawyer hired by the family to represent her, who had argued against some of the evidence submitted by the prosecution, including pointing out the lack of audio on some of the interrogation videos, as well as the lack of Zhang’s signature on some of her alleged statements.

“Several of the interrogation videos did not have audio, while some statements didn’t bear my mother’s signature,” Xu said. “Tencent also said it couldn’t provide evidence of posts she was alleged to have made to WeChat Moments.”

“With some of the points he made, even the judge was nodding,” he said.

Huang had told the family that the case against Zhang was entirely political, after meeting with her in the Qingyuan Detention Center, Xu said, adding that he would want to appeal if his mother was sentenced.

The judge adjourned following the one-day trial, with sentencing to be passed at a later date, usually within six weeks of trial.

Zhang also ran afoul of the authorities in September 2018, when she spoke about publicly after witnessing a police assault on rights lawyer Sun Shihua, who was forced into a strip search while representing a client at Hualin police station in Guangzhou’s Liwan district.

According to the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, she had also publicly commemorated the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

“Zhang Wuzhou [publicly] commemorated the 31st anniversary of June 4th, 1989, as well as protesting against China’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong,” group spokesperson Wang Jianhong said. “She is particularly brave — a true hero.”

Fellow rights activist Liang Songji, who was detained around the same time as Zhang after he gathered evidence relating to the strip-search of Sun, is currently being held in Guangzhou No. 3 Detention Center.

His sister Liang Yiming said the authorities had denied him access to a lawyer appointed by his family.