(New York, NY) — Today the Raoul Wallenberg Centre and PEN America filed a complaint before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of detained Chinese couple Wang Zang and Wang Liqin. Wang Zang is a civil rights writer and activist being detained for his activism. He is the husband of Wang Liqin, who is being detained for raising awareness about his detention. Both have been in a Chinese detention center awaiting trial since last summer.

On May 30, 2020, over 50 armed police officers came to Wang Zang and Wang Liqin’s family home. They detained Wang Zang and later charged him with “inciting subversion” of state power. The bases of this charge are the artistic works and advocacy he has done covering a number of rights-violating acts by the Chinese state, including the Hong Kong extradition bill. Since his detention, his family home, where his four children and elderly mother also reside, was also placed under state surveillance.

After Wang Zang’s detention, Wang Liqin wrote social media posts releasing information about her husband’s detention and detailing the circumstances of police surveillance of the home. This included the interception of packages to the home, harassment of any visitors, and threats by police officers to put their four young children in an orphanage.

As a result of her attempts to raise awareness, on June 17, 2020, Wang Liqin was also detained and later charged with “inviting subversion” against the state. “It’s clear that Wang Zang’s dissenting political opinions have made him a target of criminal persecution, and it is just as obvious that Wang Liqin has been targeted for refusing to bear her husband’s unjust detention in silence,” said James Tager, director of research at PEN America. “Even further, police have used Wang’s poetry, essays, and performance art as evidence, criminalizing his writing and other forms of creative expression in clear violation of the universal right to free expression.”

Both Wang Liqin and Wang Zang continue to be detained and are still awaiting trial. No trial date has been set and their access to legal counsel is limited. Just last week, Wang Zang’s lawyer, Lu Siwei, had his license suspended for his work defending civil rights activists in China. Wang Zang has also been pressured to fire his legal counsel and has been unable to meet them in person since October 2020. “Wang Liqin and Wang Zang’s detention is emblematic of how Chinese authorities are assaulting free expression and association within the country,” said Judith Abitan, executive director at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.  “The systematic state harassment and threats against those who associate with the couple are also condemnable.”

The charges the couple face are unjust. The “inciting subversion” statute is a notoriously vague statute. It fails to define what constitutes subversion. In effect, the couple has been detained simply for exercising their right to free expression and association.