Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong have formally arrested prominent rights activist Li Qiaochu, and are holding her in a psychiatric hospital in Linyi city, RFA has learned.
Li, who was recently given the Cao Shunli Memorial Award for her rights activism, was initially detained on Feb. 6 on suspicion of “subversion of state power,” and held at the Linyi Detention Center.
Her detention came after she posted details of torture allegations by her partner, the detained rights activist Xu Zhiyong, and rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, to social media.
Ding’s wife, Luo Shengchun, said Li’s family had received the news from her lawyer.
“[The lawyer] told her family that she has been arrested and locked up in the East District People’s Hospital,” Luo told RFA.
“The residential compound where her family lives is under heavy guard, with plainclothes officers hanging around their home,” she said. “Her parents are pretty timid, and won’t let anyone come and visit.”
Luo said the authorities had much to gain from keeping Li behind bars.
“Part of it is stepping up the pressure on Xu Zhiyong, but the most important thing is that they want to silence her,” she said.
The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which gave the Cao Shunli award to Li, said she was likely also being targeted in retaliation for her engagement with United Nations human rights mechanisms.
Li, who was diagnosed with depression two years ago, needs long-term medication, prompting concerns about her physical and mental health in detention, Luo said.
“She had stopped taking her medication because she thought she could fight it through her strength of character and psychological counseling,” Luo said. “Just before she was detained, we were trying to persuade her to go back to the doctor and start taking it again.”
“She was in a really bad state just before she was detained,” she said.
A form of leverage
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, who knows Li, said the authorities could use her need for medication against her.
“Li Qiaochu told me … that she needs those meds, because she gets into a terrible psychological state without them,” Hu said. “The people interrogating her have used her need for medication as a form of leverage before.”
Hu said Li had managed to find energy to carry on the struggle in spite of the depression and the authorities’ mistreatment of her.
“I felt that Li Qiaochu was pretty scarred, but kept fighting,” Hu said. “She may have experienced fear, and she had her psychological challenges, but she always seemed to stay in touch with her own life force, enough to keep speaking out for justice.”
Hu said Li was the key to the CCP’s ability to keep its nationwide operation targeting political dissidents who attended a Dec. 13, 2019 gathering in Xiamen under wraps.
Li, 30, is also a long-term campaigner against gender-based violence and for labor rights.
In 2017, Li Qiaochu volunteered to provide information and resources to affected migrant workers when Beijing authorities forcibly removed them from the city, CHRD said.
She also boosted the visibility of China’s #MeToo movement by compiling data on sexual harassment, and campaigned against a culture of long hours in the workplace.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.