On 22 July, 2019, three NGO workers for Changsha Funeng, a public interest law NGO, were detained. Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze and Xiao Wu are being held on suspicion of “subverting state power” in a detention centre run by state security in Changsha, Hunan. Their friends, family and lawyers have still not been granted access to see them.

Cheng Yuan, head of the NGO, was taken away after his home was searched by state security police. Cheng Yuan’s wife, Shi Minglei, described in a post titled “The Terrifying 22nd July” how several police officers, uniformed and plain-clothed, stormed into her home. Six to seven female officers escorted her and their three-year-old daughter to their daughter’s kindergarten to drop her off.

Their home was searched before Cheng Yuan was handcuffed and taken away. His wife was cuffed, hooded and taken for questioning. During the interrogation the state security officers accused her of subverting state power, questioned her about Cheng Yuan’s work and threatened to interrogate her daughter. She was released on 23 July but her cell phone, laptop, ID card, passport, driver’s licence, social insurance card, public housing funds card and bank cards were all seized. So she is now unable to travel or work.

Cheng Yuan has over ten years’ experience defending the rights of individuals, especially with Hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS. In 2014, he visited the UK along with a group of other Chinese NGO workers, to learn more about public participation. The group wanted to learn about public participation in practice in a country with strong participatory institutions. They heard how British NGOs use research, strategic litigation and freedom of information requests, and how they conduct relations with government and the media. They met with a wide range of organisations and individuals including Baroness Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrat Peer. Baroness Brinton hosted the group in Portcullis House and described the work of various APPGs working in this field including Education, Health and Employment.