A veteran human rights defender and house church leader was released from prison in Tianjin, China on 26 March after completing his prison sentence.
Elder Hu Shigen was arrested as part of the government’s infamous 709 crackdown in 2015. In August 2016, he was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison, with five-year deprivation of political rights, for ‘subversion’.
A former university lecturer, Elder Hu led several house churches in Beijing prior to his arrest. The authorities quoted his religious activities and ties to foreign groups and human rights lawyers as basis for his harsh sentence, saying that he had used ‘illegal religious groups’ to ‘spread subversive thoughts and ideas’.
Like many other victims of the 709 crackdown, Elder Hu was initially held for about five months under Residential Surveillance in Designated Location (‘RSDL’, a form of enforced disappearance), where he was tortured. He suffered at least one heart attack because of sleep deprivation.
Elder Hu’s family revealed that he suffered from coronary heart disease in prison and was critically ill at times, but the authorities repeatedly refused to grant him medical parole. Although the Chinese authorities allow time already spent in detention before the sentencing to be accounted for and offset with the length of imprisonment, five months in RSDL detention is only recognised as two and a half months served in prison. As a result, Hu Shigen actually spent over seven years and eight months behind bars this time.
In 1994, Mr Hu was convicted of ‘organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group’ and ‘counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement’ for marking the Tiananmen Square Massacre in a public event. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he was subjected to torture, and was released after more than 16 years in 2008 on account of his poor health.
CSW’s CEO Scot Bower said: ‘While CSW welcomes the release of Elder Hu Shigen, we deplore the grave miscarriage of justice that separated him from his family and friends for 24 years, simply because of his peaceful activism for basic human rights, including the freedoms of assembly, association and religion or belief. He has made huge personal sacrifice for his courageous efforts for the dignity and welfare of the people of China over the last decades. We call on the Chinese authorities to ensure that Elder Hu can enjoy his freedom without further harassment, and insist that the government must end the practice of RSDL detentions and the targeting of independent religious groups including house churches.’
Note to Editors:
1. Deprivation of political rights is a process by which an individual is denied rights including ‘rights of speech, publication, assembly, association, procession and demonstration’. This violates the rights enshrined with China’s own constitution and has been used as a justification for placing some political prisoners under house arrest after they have been released from prison.