© Zhang Chunxiao. The photo shows Lu Siwei on a road at an undisclosed location around 300 km north of Vientiane, Laos, on 27 July 2023.

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Lu Siwei nominated for human rights prize, risks ill treatment after forced repatriation to China

Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei has been nominated for the South Korean Gwangju Prize for Human Rights for his steadfast defence of activists targeted by the Chinese authorities. Arrested in July this year while transiting through Laos, he was returned back to China in late September, in a blunt violation of basic principles of international law.

In recognition of his fearless activism, carried out at great personal risk and amid a renewed wave of repression in China, ISHR, jointly with Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) and The 29 Principles, have nominated human rights lawyer Lu Siwei for the 2024 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights

A longstanding advocate for high-profile dissidents in China, Lu was arbitrarily detained in Laos on 28 July 2023, seized on his way to Thailand, where he planned to fly to the United States to rejoin his wife and daughter, in exile since 2022.

On 1 October, Lu’s family in China found out that he had been forcibly returned as early as 26 September when they were informed by Chinese authorities that Lu was being held in the Xindu Detention Center, in the southwestern city of Chengdu. Family-appointed lawyers were prevented from meeting him on 7 October, and were informed that Lu already had two lawyers arbitrarily appointed by the authorities.

Lu’s forced repatriation violates Laos’ non-refoulement obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture and other international norms, whereby a State must not return an individual to a country where they would face torture or ill-treatment. 

This is the result of 65 days of waiting, suffering and grief. Yet, the most unacceptable thing is the attitude of the Lao government: for 65 days, despite enormous international pressure, the Lao government lied to United Nations experts, foreign diplomats and journalists.
Zhang Chunxiao, Lu Siwei’s wife

Throughout his career, Lu Siwei defended fellow persecuted human rights lawyers, including Yu Wensheng, Chen Jiahong, Qin Yongpei, and Wang Quanzhang.  He denounced the infamous mass raids on hundreds of human rights lawyers in July 2015, known as the ‘709 crackdown’. He also took up the defence of one of 12 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists intercepted while attempting to flee to Taiwan in August 2020. This led to the arbitrary deprivation of his legal licence in 2021.

Following the announcement of his arrest, 85 civil society organisations, including ISHR, CHRD and The 29 Principles, had called on Laos to release him and ensure he was not deported to China under any circumstances. Seven United Nations experts issued a public call for Laos to immediately release Lu Siwei, at risk of ‘irreparable harm’ should he be deported back to China, and to allow him to reunite with his family in the US.

Lu Siwei is the embodiment of the values embraced by the Gwangju Prize. China's obstinate pursuit of him, even beyond its borders, is a testament to Lu’s dedication to defending the same rights Beijing wants to deny its citizens. It is also proof of the growing danger weighing on activists at all times, even when seeking a safe harbour abroad.
Raphaël Viana David, China Programme Manager, ISHR

UN experts have made public a letter they sent to Laotian authorities on 3 August, in which they urged Laos to refrain from refouling Lu, ignored by Vientiane. Experts also expressed concerns that returning him to China would put him at risk of ‘being subjected to human rights violations, including enforced disappearance,’ and going as far as ‘irreparable harm to the life and personal integrity’ of Lu Siwei.

Lu Siwei took on cases that very few lawyers in China are willing to touch for fear of official retaliation, and indeed Lu has faced intrusive surveillance, physical beatings, revocation of his lawyer’s licence, and now detention. He was willing to face these consequences to stand with his clients because he believed that people should not face an unjust system alone. We must let the Chinese government know that we are standing with Lu Siwei, and the world is watching how the Chinese justice system will treat him.
Ramona Li, UN Programme Coordinator, Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders
We are deeply concerned that Lu Siwei might now be in direct, serious and imminent personal danger, following his illegal refoulement from Laos to China. This move is an egregious violation of international law and a direct threat against all Chinese citizens that would want to step up for their rights at home or abroad.
Chakra Ip, Executive Director, The 29 Principles

Beijing’s pursuit of Lu Siwei is the latest manifestation of a renewed effort over the past five months aimed at suppressing any form of domestic dissent, with a particular emphasis on human rights lawyers. In July, 60 human rights groups, bar associations, activists and scholars denounced what has been dubbed the ‘709 Crackdown 2.0’ for its severity and its similarity to the repressive push that occurred in 2015. 

Lu’s case also falls within China’s documented policy of transnational repression, as Beijing seeks to silence criticism by Chinese citizens or even dual nationals abroad through repressive tactics carried out in the territory of other countries.

The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is an eminent South Korean award granted by the May 18 Foundation to recognise individuals that ‘contributed to promoting and advancing human rights, democracy and peace through their work’. Earlier this year, the May 18 Foundation denounced intimidation by China’s government as it granted the 2023 award to detained Hong Kong barrister Chow Hang-tung.

Lu Siwei’s nomination to the 2024 edition of the Prize was formalised on 30 September.

Our organisations call on the international community to:

  • Pressure China to unconditionally release Lu Siwei, and, in the meantime, provide him unimpeded access to lawyers appointed by his family, medical care, and contact with his family in line with Chinese and international law; 
  • Ensure Laos is held accountable for contravening its non-refoulement obligations under international law by agreeing to hand Lu over to Beijing;
  • Take meaningful steps to contain Beijing’s repressive acts against human rights defenders, dissidents, and their relatives, carried out outside its sovereign borders, often with the acquiescence of national authorities.

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