Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned that Yao Lifa (姚立法), a teacher in Hubei province and prominent proponent of direct elections, disappeared on October 31, 2008, on the eve of the election of the Qianjiang Municipal People's Congress in Hubei. Local authorities admitted that they were responsible. In 1987, Yao competed in the municipal election and became one of China’s first independent candidates in local elections.
Yao's wife, Feng Ling, said that Yao left home to go to his school, the Qianjiang City Experimental Primary School, around noon on October 31. That evening, Feng received a two-word text message from Yao: "Take Care." Feng called Yao's cell phone many times, but Yao did not pick up.
On November 1, a director at the school, Chen Zhenfu, told Feng Ling on the phone that "Yao Lifa has gone out of town to study. Don't worry." But Chen refused to put Feng in touch with her husband. The school principal also hung up on Feng many times that day. When HRIC called the school to inquire about Yao, Chen finally said, "It was our unit's decision to send Yao Lifa away to study."
"The kidnapping of Yao Lifa clearly shows that the local authorities are willing to go to any measures to prevent the people from having a say in their government," said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights In China. "HRIC urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Yao Lifa and respect citizens' right to vote that is guaranteed by China’s constitution."
On October 12, a little more than two weeks before Yao Lifa's disappearance, the Qianjiang municipal government prevented Yao from attending a conference on "Election Law Reform and the Construction of China's Rule-of-Law" organized by the law school of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan and other institutions. The authorities sent more than 20 people to keep him under round-the-clock surveillance.
Informed sources told HRIC that, as Qianjiang prepares to hold its municipal election on November 12, Yao Lifa has angered the local authorities by offering legal advice to the local people and exposing evidence of local government manipulation of the election. Yao Lifa was previously put under house arrest during the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 and the 17th National Party Congress in October 2007.
On November 3, Yao Lifa's son, Yao Yao, used the Open Government Information (OGI) regulation that went into effect in May 2008 to ask the Qianjiang municipal government to make public information on his father’s disappearance.
Since 1987, Yao Lifa has been competing in the elections of the Qianjiang Municipal People’s Congress as a "self-nominate" citizen candidate. In 1999, when he won a seat in the 4th Qianjiang Municipal People's Congress, he was among China's first successful group of "self-nominated" candidates elected to local congresses. As a deputy for five years, he was active in protecting the basic rights of the people, and offered constructive criticism of the government. Yao Lifa has for many years helped villagers elect their deputies, and has become the symbol of the people’s push for democratic local elections.