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7 China Activists Honoured 2006 Housing Rights Defender Award

Posted by Author on January 14, 2007

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Dec. 2006-

Seven Chinese housing rights activists have been named joint recipients of the 2006COHRE Housing Rights Defender Award, for their commitment to and struggle for housing rights in China.

The Housing Rights Defender Award is presented annually by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) to an individual who has shown outstanding commitment to the realisation of housing rights for all people.

For the first time since the inception of COHRE’s Housing Rights Defender Award in 2003, the award will be presented to a number of housing rights activists instead of to a single person. The joint recipients of the 2006 Housing Rights Defender Award are: Fu Xiancai; Ma Yalian; Liu Zhengyou; Huang Weizhong; Chen Xiaoming; Xu Zhengqing; and Zheng Enchong.

COHRE’s Executive Director (a.i.), Jean du Plessis, said, “These seven Chinese activists have displayed exemplary commitment, courage and perseverance in their struggles for the land and housing rights of hundreds of farmers, workers and residents in China. They are inspirational examples to every person, community and organisation working for the cause of human rights around the world.

“The Chinese Government is notoriously oppressive towards human rights activists. Land and housing rights violations including mass forced evictions are common, while legal remedies are scarce for those seeking to assert their rights.

“The work of these activists – undertaken at grave personal risk to them, their families and fellow activists – has played a catalytic role in bringing to light the unjust practices of the Chinese Government. COHRE is therefore honoured to present the 2006 Housing Rights Defender Award to: Fu Xiancai; Ma Yalin; Liu Zhengyou; Huang Weizhong; Chen Xiaoming; Zu Zhengqing; and Zheng Enchong for their fearless commitment to housing rights in an environment that is hostile to such ideals.”

A newly released COHRE report, Forced Evictions: Violations of Human Rights – Global Survey No. 10, reveals that over 647,000 people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in China since 2003.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security recently reported that the Chinese Government had requisitioned land from 40 million farmers in the past decade, at the same time admitting a 20 per cent increase in cases of illegal land seizures in the first five months of 2006.

The number of public protests has increased from 74 000 in 2004 to 87 000 in 2005, in spite of ongoing cases of police intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and torture of activists.

All seven activists have been subjected to ongoing intimidation, harassment and even beatings for their housing and land rights activities.

For example, Fu Xiancai, who has worked for a decade to obtain appropriate compensation for 1.3 million people forced to relocate from their land and houses due to the Three Gorges Dam Project, has been severely injured and nearly lost his life, as a result of his work. Fu was struck from behind with a heavy object by an unknown person on his way home from an interrogation by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in June 2006. The assault destroyed three vertebrae in his neck and has left him paralysed from shoulders down. He lost control of all bodily functions except his ability to speak. Just weeks previously, Fu had given an interview to German public broadcaster ARD about the Three Gorges Dam Project and the plight of the affected communities.

Equally disturbing is the fact that the whereabouts of another of the Award recipients, Chen Xiaoming, is not known since he was arrested in February 2006 by police officers from Shanghai’s Luwan District PSB. Chen, who taught himself law in order to contest the government’s actions against the housing rights of the poor, was arrested for meeting with an American diplomat to discuss problems faced by evictees.

Zheng Enchong, a lawyer who advised victims of forced evictions in Shanghai, had his license to practice law revoked by Shanghai City authorities in 2001, after he had argued for amendments to Article 10 of the People’s Republic of China’s Constitution in order to offer better protection to the land and housing rights of inhabitants. Despite losing his formal license, Zheng continued to assist nearly 500 people who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and/or had failed to receive adequate compensation for their evictions. Zheng was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2003 for advising a group of evicted Shanghai residents who were trying to bring a case alleging corruption against Zhou Zhengyi, a prominent Shanghai property developer. Upon Zheng’s release in June 2006, he was placed under de facto house arrest and continues to be subject to harassment.

Meanwhile, both Huang Weizhong and Xu Zhengqing are currently serving three-year prison sentences for their activism. Ma Yalian was sentenced to 18 months in a ‘Re-Education Through Labour’ (RETL) camp for publishing an article on the Internet titled “A True Record of Being Turned Away from the National Petitioners and Letters Office and the Petitioners Bureau of the National People’s Congress,” and was released in August 2005 after serving her full term. Liu Zhengyou, who was arrested in June 2006 when he tried to board a flight to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend a human rights training session, and has been subjected to repeated beatings, threats and harassment by the police.

COHRE’s Du Plessis said, “The situation with respect to housing rights in China is desperate, with many millions of people having lost their homes and land over the past decade, in both cities and the rural areas. In spite of a highly oppressive environment, the seven recipients of the 2006 Housing Rights Defender Award have stood up for the rights of those affected, at great personal cost. In presenting this award to these seven people, COHRE recognises and honours their extraordinary courage, determination and dedication to the cause of housing rights.”

– more details about the Seven Chinese housing rights activists’ personal information can be found from COHRE’s report here.

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