Police in China’s Sichuan Formally Arrest Veteran Rights Activist

Authorities in the southwestern province of Sichuan have formally arrested a prominent rights activist on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge often used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), RFA has learned.

Xie Junfeng was detained last month after allegedly leaving his place of residence in violation of bail restrictions, his ex-wife Zou Haixia told RFA.

Police had recently told her the case against him was also based on comments he had made online, however.

"The police hinted when they called [before] that the 'picking quarrels, stirring up trouble' charge wasn't just based on his daily activities, but also on some of the comments he made online," Zou told RFA on Thursday.

"According to my understanding, the authorities have been questioning a lot of petitioners since Xie Junbiao was detained, trying to find out stuff about him," she said.

Xie, who has campaigned for the rights of the most vulnerable in society, as well as being a vocal public supporter of jailed Sichuan dissident Huang Qi, is currently being held in the police-run Shuangliu District Detention Center in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.

His frequent interviews with foreign media organizations, including RFA, have also made him a thorn in the authorities' side, observers have said.

The authorities approved his formal arrest on July 14, and sent a formal notification to his father's home, Zou said.

"They warned me before that they were keeping track [of everything Zou did] and that the bill would be presented when the time came," she said. "They also warned me that I could be charged with the same crime for my comments online."

Second dissident prosecuted

Meanwhile, authorities in Chengdu's Pidu district have moved ahead with the prosecution of veteran dissident Chen Yunfei, who was detained by police four months ago on the same charge as Xie.

Chen is currently being held at the Pidu District Detention Center, awaiting trial for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble" after he wrote an online article based on visits to Sichuan schools during the past two years.

He was detained on March 25, 2021, and formally arrested on April 30, 2021.

Chen has already served a four-year jail term on the same charge beginning in March 2015, after he organized and took part in a memorial service calling for justice for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre during the grave-sweeping festival of Qing Ming.

He was held incommunicado with no access to family or lawyers for six months, according to the overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network.

He complained to his lawyer in January 2017 of having been held in restraints on two separate occasions for "refusing to properly greet officers at the detention center," the group said on its website.

Chen's close friend Zeng Rongkang said the allegations relating to Chen's research about schools in the province were simply a pretext to justify a political prosecution.

"This is all just for show, because [his actions] in no way constitute provocation in law, and no harm has come to the country," Zeng said. "This charge is being used up and down the country for pinning on people."

"I expect he will be sentenced again, but maybe not very harshly," he said.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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