China decries US sanctions on former Beijing top cop, but omission of bigger names disappoints rights groups

Cao Shunli, human rights activist. (Photo courtesy: AP)
Cao Shunli, human rights activist. (Photo courtesy: AP)

(, Dec25, 2017) – China has expressed anger over the fact that the United States had on Dec 21 imposed sanctions on a former Beijing police chief, along with 51 other people and entities around the world for serious human rights violations and corruption. Human rights groups have welcomed the decision but also expressed disappointment that more equally responsible, higher level, Chinese officials have not been named in the inaugural sanctions list under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said at a regular press briefing that the sanctions against Gao Yan amounted to interference in China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty. She wanted the US to “stop serving as a so-called judge of human rights,” and to “correct erroneous acts” to avoid damaging bilateral exchanges.

Gao headed Beijing’s Chaoyang District police branch in 2014 which held lawyer and human rights activist Cao Shunli. Cao was denied medical care while in detention and died after six months in captivity, aged 52. She had suffered from tuberculosis in both her lungs, cirrhosis of the liver, and uterine fibroids. Her requests for treatment were repeatedly denied until several days before she fell into a coma. Her subsequent death sparked an outcry.

Cao’s death came just five days before the United Nations Human Rights Council was scheduled to consider the report of China’s second human rights review under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, to which Cao submitted a civil society report detailing the plight of petitioners in China.

Gao, 54, is reported to be currently the president of the Beijing Police College.

Hong Kong-based group Chinese Human Rights Defenders has expressed disappointment that the US had stopped short of naming more officials. “Other higher-level police officials, who had ‘command responsibility’ for Cao Shunli’s death in custody and for other incidents of torture and human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, continue to enjoy impunity,” Reuters quoted the group as saying.

Also, US-based legal scholar Teng Biao said it was a shame that there were no high-ranking officials on the most recent list, reported the Mandarin Service of Radio Free Asia (Washington) Dec 22. He has vowed to research and submit cases for the sanctioning of officials involved in the July 2015 crackdown on lawyers, in the death of late Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and in the jailing of Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti for life.

The sanctions mean that those listed under the Global Magnitsky Act will not be able to enter the United States where their assets will be frozen and they will be banned from doing business with US banks.

The original Magnitsky Act (sans “Global”) was used by the Obama administration to targeted Russian officials in 2012.

The inaugural sanctions list under the 2016 Act was announced by the US Treasury Department. The law is designed to punish human rights violations and corruption around the world. It enables the US president to sanction anyone by executive order who is “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek … to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections.”


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