The prolonged detention of three members of a non-governmental organization in the central Chinese province of Hunan has sparked calls for San Francisco to end its twinning arrangement with Changsha, Hunan’s provincial capital.
San Francisco district supervisor Gordon Mar called in a letter to the city’s mayor for the city administration to rethink its ties to Changsha following the treatment meted out to rights advocates Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wuge Jianxiong, who have been held incommunicado for 17 months and tried in secret.
In a Dec. 24 letter to San Francisco may London Breed, Mar called on the city authorities to reconsider the twinning arrangement with Changsha, and for a letter to be sent to her Chinese counterpart Zheng Jianxin calling for the trio’s release.
Cheng, Liu and Wuge were indicted in secret for “subversion of state power” by prosecutors in Hunan’s provincial capital, Changsha, on June 24.
They were tried behind closed doors at the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court in September. Their families weren’t informed of the trial until afterwards, they told RFA at the time.
Cheng’s wife Shi Minglei said she had only discovered that the trial had already happened when she called the court on Sept. 11 for an update on her husband’s case.
An official said the trial had taken place, and had been “open to the public,” but a second official who attempted a search of court records for the trial said it had returned no results.
Changsha Funeng co-founder Yang Zhanqing said Mar’s letter could prompt a shift in attitudes towards Changsha.
“It won’t just prompt politicians in San Francisco to re-examine the [twinning] relationship; it will also increase the cost to Changsha officials of persecuting people who work in social welfare organizations,” Yang said.
“I hope that Changsha officials can rectify this situation as soon as possible,” he said. “Otherwise, it could set a precedent for the loss of twinning arrangements because of human rights violations.”
Lu Jun, co-founder of the anti-discrimination NGO Beijing Yirenping Center, said San Francisco has a good track record when it comes to campaigning for civil rights.
“This thoughtful action on the part of Gordon Mar once again demonstrates that the city cherishes its values,” Lu said.
“Twinning arrangements should enable the mutual pursuit of social progress and civilization, and include mutual support for human rights protections,” he said. “They shouldn’t only be about economic interests.”
He said the move by Gordon Mar could trigger a chain reaction across many cities in the United States and other countries.
The three defendants have been denied meetings with attorneys hired by their families since being detained on July 22, 2019.
The lawyers were told in March 2020 that the defenders had “dismissed” them and that the government had assigned them government-funded lawyers.
But the families said they believe that the lawyers were fired under duress, and said they have had no contact with the government-appointed lawyers.
Yang has previously said that the main reason the authorities had targeted the three men was the fact that their rights work had received overseas funding, which the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regards as “collusion with foreign powers,” and a threat to its national security.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.