On July 10, 2015, rights defense lawyer Li Heping was forcibly taken from his home by a number of unidentified individuals who did not provide any official documents or a notice of detention. Wang Qiaoling, his wife, has been inquiring with many public security bureaus regarding his whereabouts but given no information. On July 18, Xinhua News Agency published an article titled “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm,” which named Li Heping and eight other lawyers as members of a suspected major crime syndicate. The article was then reposted by multiple media organizations. In this complaint, Wang argues that in a situation when the case is under police investigation, when family members like herself have not even been informed by any authorities about her husband’s detention, publishing such an article amounts to defamation, violates journalistic principles of independence, objectivity, and rigor, and constitutes interference with the forthcoming procuratorial review of the case. Wang demands the deletion by the defendants of the parts of the article pertaining to Li Heping and their apologies in print.
Civil Complaint by Wang Qiaoling, Wife of Lawyer Li Heping, against Xinhua News Agency
and Eight other Media Organizations for Defaming Her Husband
[Translation by Human Rights in China]
To: Beijing Municipal Haidian District People's Court
Plaintiff: Wang Qiaoling
August 3, 2015
Civil complaint plaintiff Wang Qiaoling, female, 43 years old, ethnic Han, from Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, residing in Flat 301, Unit 2, Block 2, Yue Ting Ming Yuan, Yizhuang Economic and Technology Development Zone, Daxing District.
Defendant 1: Xinhua News Agency
Address: 57 Xuanwumen West Road, Beijing City
Postal code: 100803
Responsible person: Cai Mingzhao (Title: Director)
Defendant 2: Xinhua Holdings Limited
Address: Unit 101, 1/F-5/F, Building 12, Phase 2 Beixing Road East, Daxing District
Correspondence address: Jinyu Mansion, 129 Xuanwumen West Street
Postal code: 100031
Telephone: 010-63070919, 010-63070919
Legal representative: Tian Shubin (Title: Chairman of the Board)
Defendant 3: People’s Daily
Address: 2 Jintai West Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing City
Postal code: 100020
Telephone: 010-65368742, 010-65368743
Responsible person: Yang Zhenwu (Title: Director)
Defendant 4: People.cn Co., Ltd.
Address: Unit 234, Block B, 28 Xinjiekou Outer Street, Xicheng District, Beijing City
Correspondence address: 2 Jintai West Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing City
Postal code: 100733
Telephone: 4008 100300
Fax: 4008 100300-9
Legal representative: Ma Li (Title: Chairman of the Board)
Defendant 5: China International Publishing Group
Address: 24 Baiwanzhuang Street, Xicheng District, Beijing City
Correspondence address: 6/F, Block B China Foreign Language Mansion, 89 West 3rd Ring Road North, Haidian District, Beijing City
China Internet Information Center (China.com.cn) telephone: 010-8882 8000
Fax: 010-8882 8231
Responsible person: Zhou Mingwei (Title: Director)
Defendant 6: Procuratorial Daily
Address: 5 Lugu West Road, Shijingshan District, Beijing City
Correspondence address: 111 Xiangshan South Road, , Shijingshan District, Beijing City
Procuratorial Daily Internet Information Center (JCRB.com)
Postal code: 100144
Telephone: 010-68630313, 68630314, 68630315, 88696889
Responsible person: Li Xuehui (Title: Director)
Defendant 7: Beijing SINA Internet Information Service Co., Ltd.
Address: Unit 1611, 58 North 4th Ring Road West, Ideal International Plaza, Beijing City
Correspondence address: 20/F, 58 North 4th Ring Road West, Ideal International Plaza, Beijing City
Postal code: 100080
Telephone: 010-8262 8888
Fax: 010-8260 7166
Legal representative: Wang Yan (Title: Director)
Defendant 8: Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co., Ltd.
Address: Unit 01-02, 10/F, Souhu.com Internet Plaza, Building 9, Phase 1 Zhongguancun East Road, Haidian District, Beijing City
Correspondence address: Building 3, Phase 2 Kexueyuan South Road, Souhu Media, Haidian District, Beijing City
Postal code: 100190
Telephone: 010-6272 6666
Legal representative: Zhang Zhaoyang (Title: Chairman of the Board)
Defendant 9: Zhengzhou Daily
Address: 80 Longhai West Road, News Mansion, Zhengzhou City, Henan Province
Postal code: 450006
Telephone: 0371-765 5598, 0371-765 5555
Legal representative: Song Jianguo (Title: Director)
Cause of action: Harm to Reputation
1. Order defendants Xinhua News Agency and Xinhua Holdings Limited to immediately delete the parts pertaining to Li Heping in the news article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm,” published July 18, 2015 on Xinhuanet.com; defendants People’s Daily and People.cn Co., Ltd to immediately delete the parts pertaining to Li Heping in the news article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm,” published July 19, 2015 on People.cn.
2. Order defendants Xinhua News Agency, Xinhua Holdings Limited, People’s Daily, and People.cn Co., Ltd to publically apologize to the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s spouse, lawyer Li Heping, on People.cn, and to publish corrections and apologies for ten consecutive days.
3. Defendants China International Publishing Group, Procuratorial Daily, Beijing SINA Internet Information Service Co., Ltd, and Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co., Ltd to delete all repostings of the article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm” from all of their websites.
4. Defendants People’s Daily, Procuratorial Daily, and Zhengzhou Daily to publish corrections and clarify the facts on the front page of the print editions of their newspapers.
5. Defendants Xinhua News Agency, Xinhua Holdings Limited, People’s Daily, and People.cn Co., Ltd to jointly provide the plaintiff with reasonable compensation for the costs of this litigation.
Facts and Reasons
On July 10, 2015, the plaintiff’s husband, lawyer Li Heping, was forcibly taken away by a number of persons of unknown identity. Afterwards, more than ten people who claimed to be police officers but weren’t wearing police uniforms pushed into the plaintiff’s home to conduct a search, and confiscated a great number of items. During this process, no legal documents were given to the plaintiff, and there was no way to determine the nature of the [intruders’] actions. Because of this, the plaintiff has been looking everywhere for Li Heping, but up until now could find no information on his whereabouts.
On July 18, 2015 at 20:52, the article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm”—first published by Xinhuanet.com, which is owned by defendant Xinhua Holdings Limited, and written jointly by Xinhua News Agency reporter Zou Wei and by reporter Huang Qingchang of the defendant People’s Daily—detailed: "In recent days, the Ministry of Public Security directed public security bureaus of different locations to destroy a suspected major criminal syndicate consisting of a small number of lawyers, helping hands, and ‘petitioners’ who colluded and used the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm as a platform to cause trouble and disturb order. And nine lawyers, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu, Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Sui Muqing, Huang Liqun, Xie Yuandong, Xie Yang, Liu Jianjun, as well as Liu Sixin, Wu Gan, Di Yanming, and others have been brought under criminal compulsory measures in accordance with the law." Immediately afterwards, defendant People.cn Co., Ltd’s People.cn published an article with the same contents at 02:04 on July 19, 2015. That day’s People’s Daily, which is published by defendant People.cn Co., Ltd, listed the article as the key recommended article on the front page, with the full text printed on Page 4 of the paper.
Based on my investigation, from July 18, 2015 onwards, the article entitled “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm” was reposted in a frenzy by online media. On July 18, 2015 at 21:06:24, the defendant China International Publishing Group published the article in entirety on its website, China.com.cn. On July 18, 2015 at 21:42:00, the defendant Procuratorial Daily was the first to repost the full text on its website, JCRB.com. At the same time, the defendant Beijing Sina Internet Information Services Limited’s website, Sina.com.cn, Beijing Sohu Internet Information Services Limited’s website, Sohu.com," and other large-scale comprehensive websites all participated in transmitting it. There are numerous other websites that reposted it. In addition, on July 19, 2015 the defendant the Procuratorial Daily reposted it in the “Important News” section on the front page of its Procuratorial Daily. On July 19, 2015, the defendant Zhengzhou Daily reposted the full text of the article on the front page of its Zhengzhou Daily. It is difficult to count the other print newspapers that published the story.
On that day, the plaintiff was absolutely stunned to learn that the name of her husband, Li Heping, appeared in the news article, “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm”! Soon afterwards, facing this explosive news that blanketed online and offline media, the plaintiff’s close family and friends, one after another, asked about Li Heping’s being part of a “suspected major criminal syndicate.” At this time, the plaintiff still did not know the whereabouts of Li Heping, but had to respond to inquiries coming from everywhere, answer close relatives and friends, and care for a young daughter. For days, she was constantly on the move, mentally and physically exhausted, and miserable beyond words. The untrue reporting by the defendants brought the plaintiff and the family great emotional harm.
First, over several days, the plaintiff continuously went to numerous public security organs to inquire, and file for Open Government Information and administrative review, but was unable to obtain any information on Li Heping’s whereabouts. To date, as Li Heping’s legal spouse, the plaintiff has not received any type of legal documents from public security organs notifying her of criminal compulsory measures taken against Li Heping. In accordance with Articles 73, 83, and 91 of the Criminal Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, public security organs taking criminal compulsory measures have a statutory duty to notify the families of the suspect. The article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm” depicted Li Heping as a suspected part of a criminal syndicate committing the crimes of “provoking trouble and disturbing order.” Since July 10, 2015, for 20 some days (and continuing), the plaintiff, as Li Heping’s spouse, has been actively going to numerous public security organs to request information about where Li Heping is detained, to no avail. Yet, journalists, despite the fact that public security organs never held a press conference, could obtain specific information about, and report, by name, Li Heping’s crimes of “provoking trouble and disturbing order,” and that “criminal compulsory measures have been taken” against him. Where is the basis of this in the Criminal Procedure Law? From where did this news source derive its lawfulness?
Second, an Open Government Information request to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice website has shown that Li Heping is a practicing lawyer at the Beijing Global-Law Law Firm. In naming lawyers, the article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm” placed Li Heping right after Fengrui Law Firm’s lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Wang Yu, and right before two other Fengrui lawyers, Huang Liqun and Xie Yuandong, deliberately misleading people to think that he was a lawyer at the Fengrui Law Firm.
Also, the article “Pursuing the Case of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm,” except for placing Li Heping third place in a list of nine lawyers, does not again describe any of Li Heping’s actions, explain whether Li Heping participated in the many actions recounted in the article, or how Li Heping was connected to the crimes of “provoking trouble and disturbing order.” The attempt by the article to deliberately highlight Li Heping and defame him is completely obvious.
Last, whether Li Heping was involved in the Fengrui Law Firm incident has not been determined. Even if the public security organs have initiated a criminal case against Fengrui Law firm, the case is only at the beginning—the period of investigation and evidence collection. Whether all of the suspects are guilty, whether they jointly committed crimes, and whether they were accomplices—all these require a final judicial determination. This case has just begun to be investigated, and the evidence currently held by public security organs is still not sufficient to demonstrate that “the criminal facts are clear, and the evidence is reliable and sufficient” in order to conclude the investigation and transfer the case to the procuratorate for review and indictment. However, the many defendants, as news media outlets, directly published the names of all nine suspected lawyers, called them a “suspected major criminal syndicate,” and quoted heavily from the suspects’ confessions obtained by public security through its investigation, which have not yet been examined in court. This conduct violates journalistic professional ethics of subjective bias evaluation, and seriously undermines journalistic independence, objectivity, and rigor. It interferes with the forthcoming review by the procuratorate to determine whether or not to indict, and the independent judgment by the court on whether crimes have been committed. These circumstances are absolutely appalling!