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Fears for female activist held incommunicado

AI-Index: ASA 17/1963/2020

Li Qiaochu, an active defender of the rights of women and workers, was taken away by police in Beijing on 16 February 2020. Detained in an unknown location, her arrest is suspected to be related to her activism against gender violence and the fact that her partner, Xu Zhiyong, attended an informal gathering of lawyers and activists in Xiamen in December 2019. Without access to her family and a lawyer of her choice, there are grave concerns that Li Qiaochu is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.


Li Qiaochu (李翘楚), born in 1991, is a feminist and researcher on labour issues. Li graduated from the School of Labour and Human Resources at Renmin University of China.

Li has long been involved in issues concerning the equal rights for workers, women and other members of Chinese society. Her research has covered topics such as policies on social protection for retired workers. When Beijing authorities cleared and evicted the «low income population» in 2017, Li worked with volunteers to compile and disseminate information about the most affected communities in order to help the expelled migrant workers find new jobs and affordable alternative accommodation. Li also actively took part in various national #MeToo campaigns. She compiled data, drafted reports and posted online messages of her support for the movement.

In June 2019, Li was diagnosed with depression and had to be on regular medication. However, this did not stop her from her activism. With the outbreak of COVID-19, Li again volunteered to help both online and offline with epidemic prevention in the small communities. She distributed face masks to sanitation workers and guided pregnant women of the affected communities to help each other out. Having observed the lack of gender perspective, especially with respect to prevention of gender-based violence in the practices of some hospitals, she immediately worked with a group of volunteers to set out recommendations.

As the result of Li’s activism, she was often harassed by the police. Beginning in early December 2019, public security officers were stationed outside her house and monitored her on her way to and from work, which seriously contravened her privacy and civil rights.

Since 26 December 2019, police across the country have been summoning or detaining participants in an informal gathering of lawyers and activists held in Xiamen earlier that month. Dai Zhenya, Ding Jiaxi and Zhang Zhongshun are just three of the many participants detained and are currently being held under residential surveillance at a designated location unknown to their families.

«Residential surveillance in a designated location» is a measure that, under certain circumstances, enables criminal investigators to hold individuals for up to six months outside the formal detention system in what can amount to a form of secret incommunicado detention. When held without access to legal counsel of their choice, their families or others, suspects placed under this form of «residential surveillance» are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. This form of detention has been used to curb the activities of human rights defenders, including lawyers, activists and religious practitioners. Activists and human rights defenders continue to be systematically subjected to monitoring, harassment, intimidation, arrest and detention.

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