By Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, published: July 27, 2015
On the heels of a nationally coordinated campaign of arrests and disappearances of rights lawyers in China, Party-run media have aggressively attacked, framed, and sought to defame the same lawyers in articles and news reports (here, here, and here).
In one CCTV segment in particular, Wang Yu (王宇), one of China’s most prominent rights defenders, was portrayed as a menace to court order as she loudly remonstrated with bailiffs.
Wang was, along with four other lawyers, attempting to defend three practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that is heavily persecuted in China, in a court in Shenyang, Liaoning Province last April.
On July 19, nine days after Wang Yu had been taken away by police, CCTV broadcast the tail end of an altercation in the Shenhe District Court, which made Wang Yu out to be the aggressor as she yelled out that the court was a “pack of scoundrels.” She can be seen pointing her finger, enraged, and at one point demands that the court transcriptionist record her words: “You are a pack of scoundrels!” She is then dragged away by bailiffs.
A young female court secretary is interviewed by CCTV, giving every impression of being upset and offended at this conduct. “The law is sacred. I feel that she did not exhibit this in the least. She abused the judge, calling him a dirty scoundrel. She said we’re beasts in human clothing.”
It is an unflattering representation, and one clearly meant to undermine and attack Wang Yu’s reputation and that of right lawyers in general. The state media further alleged that the kind of behavior Wang exhibited in the Shenyang court broke the law, and that rights lawyers who confront the court are “pests.”
But CCTV did not tell the real story of what happened in the courtroom on April 22. Not surprisingly, a fuller understanding of what took place reveals a rather different picture to the state portrayal of Wang Yu.
The April hearing in which Wang was defense counsel was the fourth time that judicial authorities in Shenyang had attempted to try the three defendants, all practitioners of Falun Gong. They were being tried under Article 300 of the criminal code, “Using a heterodox religion to undermine implementation of the law,” custom-made for persecuting Falun Gong.
First, defendant Li Dongxu (李东旭) objected to appearing by herself, rather than with her co-defendants Yu Ming (于溟) and Gao Jingqun (高敬群) per court procedure. She was silenced by the judge, but persisted. So the bailiffs rushed at her, shoving her back into her seat. She cried out, struggling through tears to speak, still being gripped fiercely by the bailiffs, before one of them kicked her chair over. Injured and in tears, she was removed from the room.
Lawyer Dong Qianyong (董前勇) then stood up and objected to the treatment, Dong describing the torture that Li had suffered in custody. He was pounced on by four bailiffs, pulled out of the room, pushed down, and put into a chokehold until he lost consciousness.
And this is when the CCTV footage began: Wang Yu shouting at the bailiffs for openly beating her client and colleague and removing them from the courtroom.
Prior to the irregularities in April, the previous hearings saw similar problematic conduct by judicial officials. For example, in January Li Dongxu’s mother, 82, was dragged out of a courtroom by bailiffs, some pulling her by the hair; Yu Ming’s older brother was strangled by the judge Huang Gang (黄刚) and also thrown out of court, and his 67-year-old mother was knocked unconscious; all complaints about this conduct were referred to the 610 Office, the extralegal agency set up to oversee the Falun Gong persecution.
In custody, the treatment was worse. Li Dongxu reported that she was stripped naked, slapped repeatedly in the face, and was threatened that she would be shocked in the vagina with an electric baton if she refused to cooperate. A number investigation transcripts and confessions that prosecutors sought to use in court had been elicited from the defendants under this intense duress and torture. Wang Yu and her colleagues had sought to bring these facts to light in court.
‘Mere Words’ as State Violence
Given that this attack takes place as the security forces threaten, detain, and disappear lawyers around the country, the CCTV portrayal of lawyer Wang Yu cannot be understood in the same manner as the sort of negative or even misleading news reporting one might find in other countries and contexts.
The news story vilifying Wang Yu is a speech act that takes the form of news, but fundamentally, it is an orchestrated act that works in lockstep with the physical means of persecution of these lawyers, and the groups they defend. Because the Communist Party has a monopoly on the media, it is just another one of the Party’s tools, in addition to the police forces and the judiciary, to be used freely against those who challenge them or whom they deem enemies.
Both are required: one to physically repress the victims, and the other to smear their names and accuse them of base motives, of themselves acting as the “hoodlums.” At the same time, this attempts to deprive the lawyers of one of their most precious assets, intangible though it is: their honor, and their moral integrity for standing up to the Communist Party.
The attack on Wang Yu and other lawyers have a specific context in Chinese communist history and propaganda. Ryan Mitchell and Can Sun put the matter eloquently in a 2012 letter to the Connecticut Law Tribune, when discussing the attempt to prosecute Zhao Zhizhen (赵致真), who produced incendiary propaganda against Falun Gong during the height of the Party’s campaign against the practice:
“Although it can be difficult for those of us in the West to understand how propaganda — ‘mere language’ — might substantially assist such violations, it is the unfortunate truth that, in the People’s Republic of China, not all language is created equal. The defendant’s own statements about his propaganda work are perhaps one of the best indications of its efficacy. In one widely-disseminated statement, he described his work as effecting douzheng [鬥爭] against Falun Gong, and in another, as having a crucial role in the jiepi [揭批] of the religion and its adherents: both terms, the first meaning ‘ideological persecution campaign’ and the latter ‘public degradation and vilification,’ are at the heart of Cultural Revolution-era practices of political persecution, easily recognizable to any Chinese citizen.”
It is this ethos of hateful political persecution that CCTV has brought to bear against Wang Yu and the rights defense profession as a whole.
Clearly, it is not enough that the Communist Party disappear and torture lawyers across the country, in doing so depriving China’s citizenry of the one remaining outlet they had to attempt to seek justice. It must also use the Party’s sweeping control of the mass media to destroy their reputations, and stamp out all hope for China’s rights lawyers that the legal system will ever be an avenue of redress. In other words, the violence against them is total.
 Ryan Mitchell is a Mellon Foundation Humanities Fellow and a Ph.D. Candidate at Yale University. Can Sun, Ph.D., is a lawyer in New York with expertise in technology and Chinese implementation of high-tech systems.
Matthew Robertson is a reporter and editor at the Epoch Times, and Yaxue Cao edits this website.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post profile of lawyer Wang Yu, July 18, 2015.
China’s irrepressible lawyers, by Teng Biao, Washington Post, July 19, 2015.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu explains why Chinese government is out to get them, China Change, July 23, 2015.