Statement from Lantos Foundation Senior Advisor on internet freedom and human rights for people with disabilities, Chen Guangcheng:
"I am writing on behalf of Chen Guangcheng, who wishes to make known the death of human rights activist and lawyer Cao Shunli. She died while in government custody, after taking part in peaceful protests in Beijing, related to the drafting of the Human Rights Report in which the government prepares and delivers a report to the UN on its human rights situation. UN requirements dictate that the process be open to the public for comment and participation, but in China the work went on behind closed doors.
Cao Shunli was detained in September of 2013 when she was preparing to board a flight to Switzerland to take part "in human rights training on UN mechanisms," as Front Line Defenders reports. Only much later did her family learn about her whereabouts, at which point many human rights defenders and lawyers urged her to hire a lawyer and sign the proper paperwork. Unfortunately, she and her family were told by the security police that she shouldn't hire a lawyer, that they were just holding her until after the UN human rights conference regarding China's participation in the UNHRC last October was over. Soon after the conference, however, her family was given an official notice of arrest, at which point she was placed in a detention center.
For some time there had been news of her illness in custody, but her family's pleas to allow her to receive proper medical attention were ignored.
Then, around February 20th 2014, she was suddenly taken to hospital, but as a last and desperate measure. At that point, she was put on a ventilator in the ICU, where no one beside hospital staff was allowed to enter. Many supporters came to the hospital to protest outside, but were taken into custody.
As of today, Chen Guangcheng reports that her family and her lawyer was notified just this morning of her serious condition, but by the time they got to the hospital they found she had already died. They reported her body was covered with bruises, leading them to believe that she had been the victim of torture before her death. They were prevented from changing her clothes, as is Chinese custom, by guards in and outside her room. The family suspects that the authorities were worried that they would see yet more evidence of torture on her body. Later, her body was taken away, and no one is sure of the whereabouts.
This tragedy at the hands of the Chinese authorities is emblematic of the cruel and arbitrary measures that are used against innocent, law-abiding citizens in China. In fighting to bring clarity and transparency to the Chinese human rights situation through the UN, Cao Shunli was working on behalf of all people. The community of nations on whose behalf she was working should take pause to remember her, and should stand together to bring her case to justice. Those who murder with impunity should be held accountable."