It’s been one year since China began its assault on human rights lawyers and activists across the country on 9 July 2015.

In all, 248* lawyers and activists were questioned by police, detained or charged in the unprecedented sweep. We look back on the key events as they unfolded, from the height of the crackdown in July last year, to reactions from the international community as the extent of the sweep became clear, and to the subsequent release of some of those affected this year.

*All figures are correct to the best of Amnesty International’s knowledge, however as verification is difficult, not all information may be up to date. Click here for latest.

We can’t allow the truth to be covered up!

Wang Yu
Prominent human rights lawyer Wang Yu goes missing in the early hours of 9 July 2015 after sending panicked phone messages to friends that people are trying to break into her home. Her husband and their 16-year-old son are also missing.
Public security officers across the country begin detaining and questioning what would eventually be hundreds of lawyers and activists.
Well-known Guangzhou-based lawyer Sui Muqing is held at an undisclosed location on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power”, a serious offense that carries up to 15 years in jail.
© Badiucao
The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, describes the crackdown as an operation to destroy a “major criminal gang”.
Chinese authorities notify Wang Yu’s lawyers that she is being held at an unknown location on suspicion of state security charges.
© Badiucao
Activists Wang Fang and Yin Xu’an are arrested separately in September after they posted online photos of themselves wearing T-shirts with activist Wu Gan’s image to protest his detention.
Bao Zhuoxuan, the teenage son of Wang Yu, attempts to flee China to study abroad, but is taken away by uniformed officials in the border town of Mongla, Myanmar, along with two activists accompanying him.
The UN Committee against Torture (CAT) voices concern over China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, calling it “unprecedented”.
A total of 13 lawyers and activists, including some previously detained, are formally arrested over 8 and 9 January 2016 on state security charges.
© Badiucao
Prominent lawyer Sui Muqing is released, the first lawyer among those targeted to be granted bail.
© Badiucao
UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says he has raised concerns with China on the “worrying pattern” of arrests and intimidation of lawyers and critics.
12 countries release a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council expressing concern over the deteriorating human rights situation in China.
© Amnesty International
Paralegal Gao Yue and lawyer Li Shuyun are released on bail.
© Badiucao
Activists Xing Qingxian and Tang Zhishun are arrested for helping Wang Yu’s son Bao Zhuoxuan “illegally cross national borders”. They could face seven years in jail for the offense.
A total of 18 human rights lawyers and activists remain detained and under arrest.
© Badiucao

Map of crackdown

China’s sweep of human rights lawyers and activists has fanned across the country and, in one instance so far, beyond its border into the Myanmese border town of Mongla.

The human rights lawyers and activists caught up in China’s crackdown have been referred to in Chinese state media as part of a “major criminal gang”, troublemakers or otherwise had their characters assassinated. Many of them face charges of trying to subvert state power. To their friends and families however, they are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, brave enough to be involved in human rights cases stigmatized by authorities. We put a face to a few of them.

1. Wang Yu and husband Bao Longjun, married with a teenage son

She (Wang Yu) is the bravest and the most upright and selfless human right lawyer.

Wang Quanping, lawyer

Described as “courageous and fearless” by those who know her, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu’s activism was triggered by a personal experience of injustice.

In 2008, Wang Yu was assaulted in the northern city of Tianjin for demanding to board a train for which she held a valid ticket. She lodged a police report but was subsequently imprisoned for two-and-a-half years. While jailed, she witnessed the mistreatment and torture of prisoners. This sparked a tireless career defending key human rights cases the Chinese government considered “sensitive”, including defending high profile Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti and taking on the case of human rights activist Cao Shunli who died in detention after being denied adequate medical help.     

Also a human rights advocate, Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun kickstarted his activism during her imprisonment working to secure her release. After Wang Yu’s release in 2011, both became active representing some of the most sensitive legal cases in China.

Both are being detained on charges relating to state security and denied access to lawyers and family members.

Pictured: Wang Yu (top) and Bao Longjun (bottom)

2. Wang Quanzhang, married with a son

It’s so easy for you (Chinese authorities) to create an unjust case; for us to pursue this through legal channels is like trying to ascend to the heavens.

Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang

Like Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang is a lawyer at the Beijing Fengrui law firm and has defended human rights cases considered sensitive by the Chinese government, including practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement persecuted and outlawed in China. He has also taken up cases involving members of the New Citizens’ Movement, a loose network of grassroots activists that were persecuted beginning in 2014.

For representing such ‘pariah’ cases, he has seen his fair share of intimidation, including being expelled from a courtroom while representing Falun Gong clients and being beaten by police.

On 10 July last year, he was taken away by security officers during a roundup of Beijing Fengrui staff. He was placed under residential surveillance and subsequently formally arrested in January this year on the charge of “subverting state power”. Like Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, he has been denied access to lawyers and family members since being detained. 

3. Li Heping, married with a son and daughter

He’s no hero, he’s just an ordinary person. What exactly has he done? While the whole of China’s judicial system is dealing in the lives of ordinary citizens, he chose to say “no”.

Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping

A lawyer with Beijing Global Law Firm, Li Heping has, like many of those affected in China’s crackdown, accepted cases considered sensitive and which many would not touch in mainland China. This has included defending Christians, Falun Gong adherents, well-known dissident and human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng and blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

For his work in human rights, he has been recognized by the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. He too was caught up in last year’s widespread sweep. Placed under residential surveillance after being taken away on 10 July, he was formally arrested on 8 January this year. A month after his arrest, Li Heping’s attorneys were informed that he dismissed them, although they have been unable to verify this with him personally.

4. Zhao Wei, married

She has no army, neither is she calling for an insurrection. At most, she’d made some remarks about freedom of speech, how can this be subverting state power?

Ren Quanniu, Zhao Wei’s lawyer

Harbouring a desire to help the vulnerable, 25-year-old Zhao Wei got involved in campaigning on social issues while a journalism student in eastern China. Her blossoming interest in human rights issues in China spurred her to join Beijing Global Law Firm after graduation and she worked as a legal assistant to detained human rights lawyer Li Heping.

She was detained by Chinese authorities on 10 July last year, the same day Li Heping was taken away, and was formally arrested on 8 January on the charge of “subverting state power”. Since then, Chinese authorities have attempted to obstruct Zhao Wei’s lawyer from carrying out his work. Requests made by her lawyer and family to prison authorities to investigate reports that Zhao Wei could have been sexually harassed in detention have also gone unanswered.

Facts can’t be easily distorted; how can we allow the truth to be covered up!

Wang Yu, Chinese human rights lawyer

#FreeTheLawyers

#China must stop immediately the crackdown against lawyers and activists which began a year ago and #FreeTheLawyers