China: Free Anti-Censorship Activist

The Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release human rights activist Zhen Jianghua, who has been held incommunicado since September 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 30, 2018, Chinese police formally arrested Zhen on charges of inciting subversion, but continue to deny Zhen access to legal counsel and family members, citing “national security” concerns.

Zhen, 32, is the executive director of the Human Rights Campaign in China, or Quanli Yundong (权利运动), an online platform that publishes information related to detentions of activists, police abuses, and other human rights violations. Zhen is also the founder of, a website that provides information and services to help people scale China’s Great Firewall to access the uncensored global internet. 

“By formally arresting Zhen, Chinese authorities are demonstrating their intent to eradicate human rights monitoring in China,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “The case against Zhen is an attack on all rights reporting.”

On September 1, 2017, police in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, took Zhen from his home, accusing him of “inciting subversion of state power.” Zhen was later placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of secret incommunicado detention that enables the police to hold individuals outside of the formal detention system for up to six months without access to legal counsel or family members. There have been numerous reports of detainees being tortured while under “residential surveillance.”

Zhen is a former computer programmer who has been involved in human rights activism since the mid-2000s. As a social worker, he assisted women who suffered domestic violence in Zhuhai and people with autism in Macau. He helped victims of human rights abuses use the internet to promote their cases and taught university students about methods of circumventing internet censorship.

After becoming executive director of Human Rights Campaign in China in 2015, Zhen focused on helping spread news about government crackdowns on human rights activists, and building a support network to advocate for their releases. During the “709 crackdown,” in which authorities rounded up hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists, Zhen mobilized support for the detained lawyers and activists and their families.  Over the past decade, authorities have harassed, intimidated, forcibly evicted, and briefly detained Zhen.

Since 2016, the Chinese government has tried to eliminate the country’s few independent human rights news platforms by jailing their founders and key members. In November 2016, authorities detained Liu Feiyue, founder of the Hubei-based grassroots rights monitoring organization Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, or Minsheng Guancha (民生观察). Liu, charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” is awaiting trial. Huang Qi, a veteran activist and founder of the human rights website 64 Tianwang (64天网) has also been detained since November 2016 for “illegally leaking state secrets abroad.” Huang suffers from several health conditions including kidney disease and has been denied adequate medical care since his detention.

Both Liu and Huang’s colleagues at Minsheng Guancha and 64 Tianwang have also been detained. In August 2017, a Yunnan court sentenced citizen journalist and protest chronicler Lu Yuyu, who had been detained since June 2016, to four years in prison on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

“For more than seven months Zhen Jianghua has been detained for exercising his right to free speech and put at grave risk of torture,” Richardson said. “The Chinese authorities need to right these wrongs and release Zhen immediately.”