Third Anniversary of the lawyers crackdown in China: Where are the human rights lawyers?

It’s already been three years since China launched a crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists across the country. Starting on 9 July 2015, nearly 250 targeted individuals were questioned or detained by state security agents.

Overall, nine were convicted of “subverting state power”, “inciting subversion of state power” or “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Three people were given suspended sentences and one “exempted from criminal punishment” while remaining under surveillance. To date, four remain imprisoned.

Wang Yu

Lawyer Wang Yu
Lawyer Wang Yu

Wang Yu was the first lawyer taken away in the lawyers crackdown. She recently told Amnesty International:

“It’s been exactly three years since the 709 crackdown. The crackdown has revealed the arrogant and arbitrary way that power is exercised and lifted the veil on the [authorities’] false claims to ‘govern the state in accordance with the law’. It has shown people the true nature of their authoritarian rule. This is just the kind of arbitrary and unreasonable behaviour you get in a system where there are no limits on power and the authorities can simply do whatever they please, no matter how stupid or arrogant. Law is merely a tool they use to control and dominate people and is of no use in safeguarding social justice.”

“In these three years, lawyer Wang Quanzhang has gone missing for more than 1,070 days with no news whatsoever. And lawyers who tried to provide defence and support for others during the 709 crackdown – like Jiang Tianyong, Yu Wensheng and Li Yuhan – have all ended up behind bars. Other lawyers, like Sui Muqing, Xie Yanyi, Li Heping or my own defence lawyer, Wen Donghai, have all had their licences revoked or suspended.”  

“China’s lawyers have paid a heavy price for the rule of law! But I believe that China will inevitably move toward democracy and rule of law, no matter how bumpy the road ahead may be! I send blessings to the suffering lawyers of China and the nation as a whole!”

The 709 crackdown has revealed the arrogant and arbitrary way that power is exercised. China’s lawyers have paid a heavy price for the rule of law! But I believe that China will inevitably move toward democracy and rule of law, no matter how bumpy the road ahead may be!

Wang Yu

Wang Quanzhang

Lawyer Wang Quanzhang with wife and son
Lawyer Wang Quanzhang with wife and son

Among all the lawyers and activists involved in the crackdown, Wang Quanzhang’s situation is the most worrying. He has worked on issues considered sensitive by the Chinese government, such as defending practitioners of Falun Gong and members of the New Citizens’ Movement. Since being taken away in August 2015, Wang has been denied any access to his family and family-hired lawyers. His physical and mental conditions remain unknown. His wife, Li Wenzu, has been monitored and harassed by the national security agents. She’s desperate to find out her husband’s fate.

It will soon be three years since we lost all contact with Wang Quanzhang. There’s still no news whatsoever and they aren’t allowing his lawyers to meet with him. We can’t even meet with the officials who are handling the case. We’re extremely worried about what might have happened to him!

Wang Quanzhang’s wife Li Wenzu

Jiang Tianyong

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong with wife and daughter
Lawyer Jiang Tianyong with wife and daughter

Human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” by the Changsha City Intermediate People’s Court on 21 November 2017 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for three years. From the beginning of Jiang’s detention in November 2016, the Changsha City Public Security Bureau rejected all meeting requests made by the family-hired lawyers on the grounds of “obstructing the investigation” and “endangering national security”. Although Jiang Tianyong has been able to meet with his family since his sentencing, his wife, Jin Bianling, remains concerned that he is at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

Jiang Tianyong was force-fed unknown medication and his memory is deteriorating. He doesn’t even remember how old his kid is.

Jin Bianling, wife of Jiang Tianyong

Li Yuhan

Lawyer Li Yuhan
Lawyer Li Yuhan

Li Yuhan was one of two lawyers who represented Wang Yu, the first lawyer detained during the 709 crackdown. Li was formally arrested for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in November 2017. She has suffered physical abuse while in detention and is at risk of further torture and other ill-treatment. She reported to her lawyer that she was left unconscious and unattended for hours after detention officers poured cold water on her during a bath in freezing weather.

Yu Wensheng 

Yu Wensheng
Yu Wensheng

Beijing human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was formally arrested by the Xuzhou City Public Security Bureau on 19 April 2018 on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” and “obstructing the duties of public officers”. Later on, the police officers provided a statement, allegedly written by Yu, dismissing the services of his family-appointed lawyers and asking his wife not to hire any other lawyers. However, in a video recorded prior to his detention, Yu Wensheng stated that he would never give up the right to choose his own lawyer unless he was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. This video contradicted the alleged dismissal of Yu Wensheng’s family-appointed lawyers and has raised grave fears about his wellbeing.

Some of the 709 lawyers still haven’t returned home, three years later. Some of the defence lawyers have also lost their freedom. I pray that all of the lawyers striving for rule of law and their family members will soon be free of the difficulties they’ve been facing. May they soon be reunited and allowed to work in peace and live happy lives!

Xu Yan, wife of Yu Wensheng

Li Heping, Sui Muqing, Wen Donghai and Xie Yanyi 

On the other side, those human rights lawyers who were released later on in the 709 crackdown are facing other difficulties. Li Heping, Sui Muqing, Wen Donghai and Xie Yanyi have all been disbarred. They are no longer able to use their legal expertise to seek justice for victims of human rights abuse. But that doesn’t mean these human rights lawyers in China have lost their hope.

Lawyer Xie Yanyi told Amnesty International:

“Many thanks to all of those who have shown support and kindness to the victims of the 709 crackdown and to those friends who have been closely following China’s human rights and rule of law for so many years!”

“The 709 crackdown was essentially a debate over two different commitments – the commitment to peace, democracy, freedom and citizenship, on the one hand, and the commitment to violence, dictatorship, enslavement and privilege on the other. The 709 crackdown and the popular resistance to it have led to a further awakening among all.”

Even though the stability system has intensified over the three years since the crackdown began and there is more widespread human suffering, we remain full of confidence in the future of our country and believe that peace, democracy, justice and human reason will prevail!

Xie Yanyi

Three years after the lawyers crackdown, Amnesty International continues to call on the Chinese government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong and other human rights lawyers and activists who are detained or imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their human rights to freedom of expression or peaceful assembly;
  • Ensure that, while in custody, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong and other human rights lawyers and activists are not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, and that they are allowed prompt, regular and effective access to their family, lawyers of their choice and medical care as necessary or requested;
  • Stop its persecution, intimidation and harassment of human rights lawyers, activists and their families;
  • Create an enabling environment for lawyers to help victims of human rights abuses seek justice.