China’s lawyers crackdown: two years on the torment continues

It’s been two years since China began its unprecedented assault on human rights lawyers and activists across the country. Nearly 250 lawyers and activists have been caught up in the dragnet since and for many the torment goes on.

Jin Bianling has not heard from her husband since November last year. Jiang Tianyong, a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, called his wife in the USA, after traveling to Changsha, Hunan province to visit the wife of a detained human rights lawyer. He never boarded the train back to Beijing, instead he was taken away by police.

Jiang Tianyong He now languishes in a jail in Changsha, his family or lawyers prevented from visiting him. He is waiting to hear if he is to stand trial for “subverting state power”, a charge which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

I have been crying every night and losing sleep. But I know I have to take care of my health and take good care of our daughter so that when he is released, we can welcome him.
Jiang Tianyong, who is campaigning for the release of her husband, lawyer Jiang Tianyong.


This is not the first time Jiang Tianyong’s activism has got him into trouble. In 2009 he was suspended from practicing law after defending cases that included high profile defendants and Falun Gong practitioners, considered “sensitive” in China. Yet despite continued harassment and detentions, he kept going with his human rights work. We spoke to his wife to get a glimpse into the man:

“Sir, where is my husband?”

Photo posted by Jiang Tianyong's wife on Twitter asking about her husband's whereabouts © Jin Bianling


On the 44th day after my husband went missing, I posted a photo on Twitter addressing the Changsha City Public Security Bureau and asking where Jiang Tianyong was.. Our lawyer representing him had filed an application to meet him but was turned down because my husband was suspected of “endangering national security”. We do not know if he has been tortured, whether he has been able to take his hypertension medications, or whether he is physically well.

I've tried to do what I can to express how much I miss him. For example I posted a photo online and wrote, "Jiang Tianyong, you must hold on no matter what difficulties you encounter. Your child, your parents and I are waiting for you to come back!" I have also launched an online petition in the hope that there will be more attention to his case.

When I think about how he had his ribs broken the last time he went missing [in 2014], and how he had been tortured several times, I worry that this time round he would be subjected to even more. I also worry a lot about his health. I have been crying every night and losing sleep. But I know I have to take care of my health and take good care of our daughter so that when he is released, we can welcome him best.

Photo posted online with words saying "We love you, Jiang Tianyong." © Jin Bianling


A trial by media

The Chinese government did not follow proper legal procedures. It took Jiang Tianyong away before looking for evidence. Then it used state media to discredit him. This is not law. Jiang Tianyong is a lawyer. A lawyer exercising his right to use the legal framework established by China to defend vulnerable groups – what is illegal about this?

Yet on 16 December, more than a dozen state media published articles online smearing Jiang Tianyong. They reported that he has been placed under custody by public security organs on suspicion of “illegal possession of state secrets, colluding with foreign institutions, organizations and individuals, and illegally providing state secrets abroad". Four days later, the Communist Youth League posted a video on its Weibo [a Chinese microblogging channel] claiming that Jiang Tianyong is a “sham lawyer”. I found this completely inconceivable. Our family had not yet received any notification of the case yet this had been reported by the media.

Instead of going through legal channels, Jiang Tianyong was tried in the state media.I was so angry I filed a series of lawsuits against the media that had sullied Jiang Tianyong’s reputation.


Always helping those in need

After my husband took on a series of sensitive cases including Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng, our family was constantly harassed. Whenever we went out, we had to look around to see if anyone was following us. We often came home to find the keyhole on our door blocked. My bike got locked up frequently and even our daughter was affected in school.

I tried to persuade my husband not to take on such cases anymore. He said, if I see an injustice and I am not allowed to help, then I won’t be able to sleep or eat. Finally, there was no other way. Because he wasn’t allowed to leave the country, I had no alternative but to leave the country with our child. We went to the USA in 2013.

Jiang Tianyong had always adhered to one principle, that as a lawyer, it is his duty to help victims of miscarriages of justice in accordance to the Chinese law. My greatest wish now is for him and those lawyers affected in the 2015 crackdown to be acquitted and be reunited with their families and loved ones as soon as possible.