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Mass Crackdown on Chinese Lawyers, Defenders and International Reactions: A Brief Chronology

2015

Jun 11

Xinhua News Agency publishes an article attacking rights defense lawyer Wang Yu (王宇)—who previously defended Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti, the “Feminist Five,” and Falun Gong practitioners—claiming she beat a young woman to death and masqueraded as a lawyer under the banner of “rights defense” and “so-called” justice. Source.

Jun 15

Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), democracy activist, is criminally detained on suspicion of gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place and picking quarrels and provoking trouble. Source

Jul 9

Chinese authorities launch a nationwide crackdown on lawyers and defenders that is unprecedented in scale, and begin disappearing, detaining, or questioning lawyers and activists throughout China. In less than one week, at least 159 individuals are targeted, including lawyers Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng (周世鋒), and Sui Muqing (隋牧青)—all known for their rights defense work. Source.

Wang Yu’s husband, Bao Longjun (包龙军), and their 16-year old son, Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩) also known as Bao Mengmeng (包蒙蒙), are also detained while en route to Australia. Bao Zhuoxuan is released two days later, on July 11. Source.

Jul 10

Lawyer Li Heping’s (李和平) house is searched and he is taken away by police from Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau. His firm, Globe-Law Law Firm (高文律师事务所) is also searched and his legal assistant Zhao Wei (赵威), also known as Kao La (考拉), is disappeared. Ten days later, on July 20, his other assistant, Gao Yue (高月), goes missing. Source.

Hu Shigen (胡石根), a longtime democracy and religious freedom activist, is taken away and criminally detained the following day. Source.

Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Beijing-based activist, is taken away from his home. Source

Jul 11

Lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) is taken away on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power and disturbing courtroom order. He is placed under residential surveillance “at a designated location.” Source.

Jul 12

The People’s Daily publishes an article accusing rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng, director of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律所) in Tianjin, and other lawyers, of being members of a criminal syndicate aimed at smearing the CPC and “creating social chaos” through litigation. Source.

July 16

Five UN human rights experts issue a strong statement condemning the crackdown on lawyers and their associates.  Source.

Jul 18

Xinhua News Agency  publishes article, “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm,” which reports that Zhou Shifeng has “confessed” and that he, along with eight other lawyers, including Wang Yu, Li Heping, and Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), and three activists, have been subjected to “criminal compulsory measures” for being members of a suspected “major crime syndicate.” Source.

Jul 30

Zhao Wei is found being held at a detention center in Tianjin after her disappearance 18 days prior. Source.

Aug 1

Li Chunfu (李春富), younger brother of Li Heping, is taken away by police from the Hexi District Branch of the Tianjin Municipal Security Bureau. Source.

Aug 3

Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), wife of Li Heping, files a civil complaint against Xinhua News Agency and eight other media organizations for defaming her husband in the July 18 article. After looking for her husband at numerous public security bureaus, she still has no information about his whereabouts. Source.

Aug 6

Wang Qiaoling is forcibly taken from her home by police; she is questioned about essays she published online regarding her husband, Li Heping’s, disappearance. Source.

Aug 7

Wang Yu's lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) receives notice from the Hexi District branch of the Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau that Wang Yu is being detained on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power, and meeting with her is not allowed. Source.

Almost one month into the crackdown on lawyers and defenders, at least 267 have been targeted—with criminal detention, house arrest, and residential surveillance—and 32 are still missing. Source.

Oct 6

Bao Zhuoxuan, son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, is taken away, along with activists Tang Zhishun (唐志顺) and Xing Qingxian (幸清贤), from a guesthouse in a Burmese border town, reportedly by uniformed Thai police, after attempting to flee China for the U.S. The Burmese government denies any involvement in the incident. Source. Bao reappears a few days later at his grandmother’s home in Inner Mongolia, reportedly being kept under house arrest. Source.

Oct 17

Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, not seen since being taken into custody on July 9, are shown separately on a CCTV program condemning what is portrayed in the program as a failed attempt to smuggle son, Bao Zhuoxuan, out of China. There is speculation that these statements were coerced. Source.

2016

Jan 8-9 

Six months into the crackdown on lawyers and defenders, at least 316 have been targeted—with criminal detention, house arrest, and residential surveillance—and 36 are still missing. Source.

According to China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), a Hong Kong-based NGO, a number of lawyers and other individuals have been formally arrested. Lawyer Xie Yang is held at Changsha No.2 Detention Center while the others are held at detention centers in Tianjin. Source.

The individuals arrested and the charges against them are:

Subversion of state power

  1. Zhou Shifeng
  2. Wang Yu
  3. Li Heping
  4. Zhao Wei
  5. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)
  6. Li Chunfu (李春富)
  7. Liu Sixin (刘四新)
  8. Li Shuyun (李姝云)

Inciting subversion of state power

  1. Bao Longjun
  2. Xie Yanyi
  3. Xie Yang

Aiding destruction of evidence

  1. Gao Yue (高月)

Jan 19

Following a January 3 Xinhua article reporting his detention on suspicion of having engaged in activities harmful to China’s national security, Peter Dahlin, a Swedish NGO worker in China, appears on CCTV admitting that his NGO, Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, collaborated with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, including with detained lawyer Wang Quangzhang, and provided financial support to other lawyers for their work. Source.

Mar 1

Wang Yu’s defense counsel, Li Yuhan (李昱函), is informed during a visit to the Tianjin Municipal Detention Center to request a meeting with Wang that she has already pleaded guilty and has also terminated Li’s legal representation. Source.

Mar 10

At the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to HRC, delivers a joint statement on behalf of 12 HRC member states expressing concern about “China’s deteriorating human rights record, notably the arrests and ongoing detention of rights activists, civil society leaders, and lawyers.” Source

May 24

The European Union issues a statement expressing concern about the crackdown on lawyers and defenders, and urges China to fulfill its international human rights obligations by respecting freedom of expression and rule of law. Source

Jun 6

Wives of three lawyers targeted in the crackdown—Li Wenzu (李文足), wife of Wang Quanzhang; Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping; and Liu Ermin (刘二敏), wife of Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民)—along with four defense lawyers and a photographer, are taken to the Guajiasi police substation of the Hexi District branch of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, after protesting their husbands’ detentions. Source. All of them are released on June 7. Source.

Jun 10

Liu Ermin, wife of Zhai Yanmin, reports being beaten while in detention on June 6. Source.

Jul 4

According to CHRLCG, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the crackdown, at least 319 individuals have been targeted, with 24 officially arrested, 13 released on bail, one under house arrest, 39 forbidden to leave the country, and 267 who were temporarily detained, forcibly questioned, or summonsed and later released. Source.

The individuals arrested and the charges against them are:

Subversion of state power

  1. Zhou Shifeng
  2. Wang Yu
  3. Wang Quanzhang
  4. Li Heping
  5. Li Chunfu
  6. Liu Sixin
  7. Zhao Wei
  8. Zhai Yanmin
  9. Gou Hongguo (勾洪国)
  10. Liu Yongping (刘永平)
  11. Hu Shigen (胡石根)

Gathering a crowd to disturb public order

  1. Liu Xing (刘星 ) (aka Laodao (老道))
  2. Li Yanjun (李燕军)
  3. Yao Jianqing (姚建清)

Inciting subversion of state power

  1. Xie Yanyi
  2. Xie Yang
  3. Bao Longjun
  4. Wu Gan (吴淦) (aka Tufu屠夫)
  5. Lin Bin (林斌) (aka Monk Wang Yun (望云和尚))

Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

  1. Yin Xu’an (尹旭安)
  2. Wang Fang (王芳 )
  3. Zhang Weihong (张卫红 (aka Zhang Wanhe (张皖荷))

Organizing people to secretly cross national borders

  1. Xing Qingxian (幸清贤)
  2. Tang Zhishun (唐志顺)

 

None of the detained lawyers or their assistants have been allowed meetings with their defense counsel or family. Source.

Jul 7

Tianjin Public Security Bureau reports on its official Weibo account that legal assistant Zhao Wei has been released from detention. Source. She apologizes for her actions in a Weibo post. Source.

Jul 8

Ren Quanniu (任全牛), Zhao Wei’s defense lawyer, is criminally detained for making up and spreading false information after he investigated reports that Zhao was sexually assaulted while in detention. Source.

July 9

The American Bar Association announces it has selected Wang Yu to receive its first ABA International Human Rights Award. Source.

Jul 11

Around the one-year anniversary of the mass crackdown on lawyers and defenders, many governments, professional associations, and NGOs—including the U.S. Department of State; the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute; and CHRLCG along with 18 bar associations and lawyers organizations, legal academics, practitioners, and students—issue statements urging China to end the crackdown and uphold the rule of law. Source.

 Zhao Wei is not seen publicly since her reported release on bail; her social media posts appear to be controlled by authorities. Source.

Jul 15

No. 2 branch of the Tianjin Municipal People's Procuratorate announces on its official Weibo that it has indicted Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen, Zhai Yanmin, and Gou Hongguo on charges of subversion of state power. The People’s Daily and The Legal Daily publish articles attacking these lawyers, as well as criticizing “foreign subversive forces,” including foreign ministries and legal groups, for speaking out about the crackdown.  Source.

Jul 19

Ren Quanniu publishes “letter of apology” for comments he made about Zhao Wei during her detention. Source.

Jul 29

According to bowenpress.com, an overseas Chinese language news website, sources indicate that the trial of Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen, Zhai Yanmin, and Gou Hongguo for “subversion of state power” is scheduled to begin on August 1. Radio Free Asia reports the following:

  • Zhai’s wife Liu Ermin said the family has never received even a notice on his official arrest.
  • Hu’s brother Hu Shuigen (胡水根) said the family only received a notice of official arrest; the authorities appointed a defense lawyer who never contacted the family.
  • Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan learned from Zhou’s family that they never received any notice about the trial.

Several family members of the detained, including Liu Ermin and Fan Lili (樊丽丽), wife of Gou Hongguo, went to Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court to verify the August 1 trial date, but instead were forcibly taken away by police and detained. Source.

Jul 31-Aug 1

Human Rights Campaign in China reports the following:

  • Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping, Liu Ermin, wife of Zhai Yanmin, and Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang are returned home following their brief detention, but are being monitored by police and cannot leave their homes.
  • Fan Lili (樊丽丽), wife of Gou Hongguo, is being forcibly returned to Shanxi after her brief detention. Source
Aug 1

In an article based on an “interview” with detained lawyer Wang Yu, The Paper, a Chinese language digital newspaper, says that Wang has been released on bail, and does not “acknowledge, approve, or accept” American Bar Association’s human rights award. In the video “interview” embedded in the article, Wang praises China’s judicial system as being “civilized” and “concerned about humanity,” and criticizes lawyer Zhou Shifeng for not being a “proper” lawyer. Wang also says she is in good health. Source.

Reactions include the following:

  • In statement, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) says that the claim by Wang Yu, a veteran rights lawyer, that “my various lawful rights have been very well protected” during her 389-day detention in which she has been denied access to counsel and any communication with family members is “not believable.” The group also expresses “extreme worry” about Wang’s current situation and mental and physical state. Source.
  • In a statement, eight relatives of the detained lawyers express strong concern about Wang Yu being threatened and pressured into saying what she did in the video interview. Source.
  • In a video tweet, artist Ai Weiwei urges public to “not acknowledge, approve, or accept” [Wang Yu’s “interview”] Source.

Aug 2

Xinhua News Agency reports that Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court has sentenced Zhai Yanmin to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for four years, and four years of deprivation of political rights for subversion of state power. The report mentions Zhai’s involvement with Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng, and Li Heping, and that the latter’s cases are being handled separately, but does not indicate their trial dates.  Source.

Heavy security surrounded Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court—police had cordoned off the area and required journalists to register. Hu Shuigen and Li Shujin, brothers of Hu Shigen, were taken away from court’s gate by police and are being returned to Jiangxi. Source.

Aug 3

Xinhua News Agency reports that Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court has sentenced Hu Shigen to seven and a half years’ imprisonment and five years of deprivation of political rights for subversion of state power. According to the report, Hu pled guilty and will not appeal. In his final statement he said, “I recognize the severity of my crimes, and the huge damage I've brought to the country,” and resolved not to participate in any anti-Party or -government activities in the future. Source.

Aug 4

Xinhua News Agency reports that Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court has sentenced Zhou Shifeng to seven years’ imprisonment and five years of deprivation of political rights for subversion of state power.

According to the same report:

  • Over 40 people observed the trial but none of Zhou's relatives, at his request.
  • Zhou pled guilty and will not appeal.
  • He said in his final statement: “My actions have brought instability and risks to society.”
  • Zhou hired two attorneys, whom he met with multiple times before the trial. (Contrary to information previously published by Hong Kong-based NGO, CHRLCG.)
Aug 5

Xinhua News Agency reports that Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People's Court has sentenced Gou Hongguo to three years’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, and three years’ deprivation of political rights for subversion of state power. According to the report, Gou pled guilty and will not appeal. In his final statement at trial, he said that he had been used by "foreign forces and those with ulterior motives" and resolved to “make a clean break with all those anti-government forces.”

According to CHRLCG, Ren Quanniu is released on bail after his July 19 “letter of apology.”

Aug 8

According to Hong Kong Alliance, a Hong Kong-based NGO, the wives of Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yanyi, and Li Heping went to the No. 2 branch of the Tianjin Municipal People's Procuratorate to seek updates on their husbands’ cases. They were told  that Wang and Xie’s cases have been received by the Procuratorate (for indictment), and Li’s case has been sent back to the Public Security Bureau for further investigation. The women were insulted by a Procuratorate official during their visit. Source.

The United States, European Union, and a group of NGOs issue statements on the convictions of Zhai Yanmin, Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifang, and Gou Hongguo on subversion charges, calling on the Chinese government to drop all charges against the four. Source

Aug 11

Charge against Wu Gan (aka Tufu) is changed from inciting subversion to subversion; defense lawyer Yan Xin (燕薪) receives a notice from the Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau denying him the right to meet with Wu. Source.

Wu Gan (web name “Super Vulgar Butcher”) is an activist and citizen reporter from Fujian, and former employee of Fengrui Law Firm. In May 2015, Wu helped to publicize internationally the case of a young man’s fatal shooting by railway police in Qing’an County, Heilongjiang. The case was later used as evidence against Zhou Shifeng during his August 4, 2016 trial, at which he was convicted of subversion of state power.

Aug 12

16 family members of Xie Yang issue a joint statement about the reported torture he suffered at Changsha No. 2 Detention Center: in August 2015, Xie was beaten so badly that he was sent to 163 Hospital for an emergency rescue; in July 2016, he was also badly beaten—by death row inmates whom the authorities had moved into his cell. The family urges investigation into those responsible for the abuse and to “safeguard the reputation of China as a great country subject to the rule of law.”  Source: CH, EN (translation by China Change.)

Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), wife of Xie Yang, issues a statement regarding her husband’s reported torture in detention, and says that Xie had told his lawyers: he would not admit guilt because he never committed the offenses charged, and he would definitely not dismiss his lawyer. Source: CH, EN (translation by China Change.)

Aug 13

Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang, says in a written statement that when Wang’s lawyer, Yu Wensheng (余文生), went to the No. 2 branch of the Tianjin Municipal People's Procuratorate on August 9, he was told that Wang Quanzhang does not want a lawyer and has given up his right to a defense. Li believes the statement was coerced. 

Li also says that the authorities’ harassment of her family has intensified: Domestic Security officers attempt to prevent her from going out, even to register her child at a daycare center earlier in the day—and follow her everywhere. Source.

Aug 16

According to CHRLCG, Wang Fang will be tried on the charge of picking quarrels and provoking trouble on August 18, 9:00am at Wuchang District Court in Wuhan City. Some reports say that Yin Xu’an will also be tried on the same charge at the same time. Source.

Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang—who has been experiencing intensified harassment by the authorities in recent days—was briefly detained at Xinyuanli Police Station in Beijing, and later released. Source.

Aug 17

According to CHRLCG, Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) lawyer for Wang Fang, is informed by Wuchang District Court that Wang Fang’s trial has been cancelled, pending further notification. Source. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) reports that Yin Xu’an’s trial is also postponed. Source

Aug 19

Wang Qiaoling, wife of detained lawyer Li Heping, tells Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (民生观察工作室) that just one day after the family moved into a new residence, her landlord requests to break the lease. She also says that she was forced out of her former residence by her former landlord who had been pressured by the authorities to end her lease. Source.

Aug 21

RFA reports that the Tianjin Municipal Nankai District court accepted a complaint filed by Wang Qiaoling, wife of detained lawyer Li Heping, requesting the court to invalidate the state’s appointment of two lawyers to represent Li. Source.

Sept 13

According to CHRD, Daye Municipal People’s Court tried Yin Xu’an on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” in a hearing that was not announced in advance, and that Yin’s family was not allowed to attend. No verdict was announced at the trial’s close. Source.

Radio Free Asia also reported that Yin’s defense lawyer, Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), met with him at Daye Municipal Detention Center on September 12, during which time Yin said that he will not plead guilty as his actions did not constitute a crime. Lin says that Yin’s health is very poor—with high blood pressure and blindness in one eye—but the authorities have not allowed him to seek medical treatment. 

2017

Jan 3

Wu Gan (aka Tufu) formally indicted for subversion of state power and picking quarrels and provoking troubles and will stand trial at Tianjin Municipal No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, according to an online statement made by his defense lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜).

At the Tianjin’s No 2 Detention Center this afternoon, Ge Yongxi was told that he would not be allowed to meet with his client until his representation of Wu Gan was confirmed by the court. Source.

Jan 5

Yuan Shanshan says that her husband, Xie Yanyi, has been released from detention but remains under surveillance in a hotel in Tianjin. Source.

RFA reports that Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian have been released from detention: Tang Zhishun has returned to his home in Beijing, but Xing Qingxian’s whereabouts remain unknown, according to his wife, He Juan. Source.

  

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