‘If Anything Happens…:’ Meeting the Now-detained Human Rights Lawyers

By Eva Pils, published: January 10, 2016


Meeting people who could be disappeared anytime is a bit unnerving. You keep wondering if this is the last time you’ll see them. You want to ask what you should do in case something bad happens, but you don’t want to distress them by asking too directly.

As part of my research on human rights in China, I’ve spent the past several years interviewing Chinese lawyers. I meet with them in coffee-shops, parks, or in their homes, to discuss their work and their experience of repression. I’ve seen them disbarred, watched them being followed and harassed by the police, spoken to them when they were under house-arrest, and met some of them after spells of imprisonment or forced disappearance to ask them about their experience ‘inside’: What were the prison conditions? What was the mentality of guards and interrogators — and torturers? Six months ago, things started happening to many of them at once. They were taken away under various forms of custodial measures for investigation, or simply disappeared. As of this writing, several have still not come back, as detailed in this open letter. They have been held for six months without access to counsel, and there is good reason to believe that they have been tortured.

When I last met lawyer Wang Yu, she seemed most concerned about her sixteen-year-old son, Mengmeng. She worried that his passion for human rights put him at risk, especially with two human rights lawyer parents already in trouble. After an official news report denounced Wang Yu as a criminal and a fraud, she expected to be detained, or at least disbarred, but was not going to worry about herself as long as her son could leave to study in Australia. ‘I am really afraid they might detain him too. For myself, I no longer care if I am detained, I am not afraid,’ she said. As I looked at her sensitive and tired face and wondered how she could cope with being locked up again, she must have sensed my concern, and added, ‘I’ve been to prison. If I have to go to prison again, that’s fine, no problem.’ She also said, ‘[If I leave now] people will think that I have done something wrong, won’t they? But I haven’t done anything wrong, let alone anything illegal or criminal.’ And: ‘If anything happens, I hope that international society can pay attention and that someone will be taking care of our child.’

The next and last time I saw Wang Yu was on television. She had been taken away the same night that her son and husband were, on their way to the airport. Mengmeng, their son, was released after two or three days and sent to live with relatives. When some friends later tried to help smuggle him out of the country, the authorities caught up with him in Myanmar and returned him to stay with his grandmother, where he’s been kept strictly monitored. Perhaps they needed Mengmeng to control his parents. Perhaps they were afraid he would expose details of their crimes against him. Wang Yu and her husband have still not been released, but I saw them both, devastated – she was in tears – on national television when they were told that their son had been returned to China.

Some seven months after our last meeting, I wonder if Wang Yu now regrets her choice to stay. She will be asking herself if she could have somehow saved her son; and I wonder if I should have urged her more to leave while there may still have been a chance to do so. Yet I know that allowing these thoughts means falling prey to a particularly effective form of repression. Repressive systems exploit the guilt we feel towards friends in trouble, and our fear of feeling that guilt (infinitely worse, of course, in the case of a close relation, a child). They benefit from making us believe that we, not they, are in control; that we are responsible for the harm they do to others.

My other friends knew as well as Wang Yu how likely they were to ‘go in.’ They understand as well as anyone what systems for control and punishment the Chinese state has at its disposal. They also know that, as rights lawyers, they are constantly at risk of becoming their own clients. The shadow of state terror hangs over them all the time, and some, like serious, courageous lawyer Wang Quanzhang, have seen so much and been through so much that it has produced a kind of hardened numbness. In one of our exchanges, speaking of an experience of being beaten by a judge, he said this sort of thing had happened so often that ‘I no longer feel hate or humiliation.’ Most insist that fear, even fear of terrible things like torture, can be overcome. They prepare for it – for instance, by appointing each other as legal counsel just in case, and by learning to meditate to detach themselves from their physical environment. And instead of their fear, they try to focus on their victories.

In our last chat in June 2015, for example, veteran rights lawyer Li Heping, another friend of many years, took comfort from the fact that so many lawyers had met each other and bonded through joint advocacy efforts. He thought, and I think he was right, that this was of great importance to China’s human rights movement:  ‘Society still keeps changing, but there is more pressure now. Citizens’ rights consciousness has risen and so has government repression.’ He also observed that repression was in some ways a great testimony to the rights movement’s successes. ‘Regarding us lawyers, more lawyers have gone to prison, but more lawyers are also supporting [the ones who have been taken away].’

Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Wang Yu are among the ones who have not come back yet, as have Zhou Shifeng, the head of the law firm where three of them used to work, and several other Fengrui employees. Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights movement; and I know that unfortunately, some part of a person who ‘went in’ may never be back. It is not their moral convictions, but the ability to be happy, perhaps, or some sort of basic trust in others. Still, for the reasons Li Heping gave, these absences also have effects the authorities cannot have intended; they trigger concern and support. The authorities can disappear him and others, but not the movement these lawyers represent.


Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).


— 中译如下 —






过去几年间,我在对中国人权进行研究时访问了许多中国律师。我们在咖啡馆、公园、或他们的家中会面,谈论他们的工作和受打压的经历。我见证了他们被吊照,目睹他们被警察跟踪和骚扰,在他们被软禁时与他们交谈,也在他们中的一些人入狱或被强迫失踪一段时间后和他们见面,询问其“在里面”的经历:监狱中的情况如何?那些看守、讯问人员以及酷刑者有着怎样的心理?六个月前,对于他们中的许多人,事情转瞬发生。他们被带走,遭到各种方式的羁押以受调查,或干脆被失踪。截至本文写作之时,一些人仍未回来: (详情参见此公开信)。他们在无法获得律师帮助的情况下被关押了六个月,亦有足够的理由相信他们已经遭受酷刑。

我上一次见到王宇律师时,她似乎非常担心她16岁的儿子,蒙蒙。她担心他对人权的热情置其于危险境地,尤其是他有两位已处于麻烦之中的人权律师父母。在一份官方新闻报道谴责王宇是罪犯和骗子后,她预料自己会被拘留,或至少是被吊照,但只要她的儿子能离开去澳大利亚学习,她便不会担心自己。她说:“我特别担心他(蒙蒙)也被抓…我抓不抓我都不在乎了,我不怕。” 当我看着她敏感而疲惫的面庞并问自己她要如何应付再次被关押时,她应该是感受到了我的担忧,便又说道:“我反正以前坐过牢…如果要坐牢的话,那也好, 没有问题。” 她又说:“[现在出国] 不太好, 这样会不会让人觉得我真有错。我一点错误都没有,不用说违法犯罪了。”“要是将来有什么事的话我希望国际社会也能够关注,对我们孩子有所照顾。”

之后一次,亦是我最后一次见到王宇是在电视上。她的儿子和丈夫在去往机场途中被带走的当晚,她也被带走了。他们的儿子,蒙蒙在两三天后被放了出来并送去亲戚家中。当一些朋友稍后试图帮忙将他偷偷带离这个国家时,政府当局在缅甸抓住了他,将他带回国送去姥姥家,并对他实施了严密监视。或许他们需要用蒙蒙来控制他的父母。或许他们害怕他会揭露他们对其犯下种种罪行的细节。王宇和她的丈夫尚未归来,但我在电视上看见他们两位,当被告知他们的儿子已被遣返回国时,悲痛欲绝 — 她满眼泪光。


我的其他朋友如王宇一样知道他们自己多有可能会“进去”。他们十分熟悉中国政府用于控制和惩罚的制度。他们也知道,作为维权律师,他们一直面临着成为自己所代理之人的风险。国家恐怖主义的阴影始终笼罩着他们;他们中的一些,比如认真而勇敢的律师王全璋,已经目睹和遭受了太多以至于产生了一种坚硬的麻木。在我们曾经的一次交流中,谈及被一名法官殴打的经历时,他说这类事情已经过于寻常以至于“我已经没有愤怒感和羞辱感。”他们大多数坚称恐惧,甚至是对于像酷刑那般可怕之事的恐惧,都是可以克服的。他们尽量对此作出准备 – 例如,相互聘请为代理人以防万一,以及通过学习冥想来使自身从所处的物理环境中脱离。同时,他们试着专注于他们的胜利,而非恐惧。

例如,2015年6月,在我们最近的一次交谈中,我的另一位多年的朋友,李和平律师从如此多的律师通过联合倡导得以见面并联系起来这一现状中获得慰藉。他(跟我一样)认为这对中国的人权运动非常重要。“社会还是在变,就是压力大了。公民的权利意识高了一点儿,政府的打压也严酷一些 …” 他还说到打压在某种意义上是对权利运动成功的伟大见证:“ 我们律师的话… 从律师进监狱人数来说还是多了,但是律师参与声援活动也多了。”

包龙军、李和平、王全璋、王宇在尚未归来的人之中,尚未归来的人还有其中三位曾经工作过的锋锐律师事务所的主任,周世锋以及其他几位锋锐所的同事。大家感受到他们暂时不在造成的影响; 而且这的确削减了中国人权运动的活力。我也非常遗憾地明白,对于一个曾“进去过”的人,他的某些部分可能再也回不来了。不是他们的道德信念,而也许是他们感到快乐的能力,或某种对他人的根本的信任。尽管如此,基于李和平所谈及的理由,他们被带走也产生了官方意欲之外的效果;他们激发了关注和支持。政府可以使他和其他人消失,但不会消失的是这些律师所代表的运动。


艾华 (Eva Pils)是伦敦国王学院潘迪生法学院的副教授,纽约大学亚美法研究所的客座研究员,China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014) 一书的作者。本文由 Cathy Xin 翻译成中文。



6 responses to “‘If Anything Happens…:’ Meeting the Now-detained Human Rights Lawyers”

  1. gy200504 says:

    Hello all lovers and respecters of human rights and dignity. This was a beautifully written letter by Eva Pils, and the way she summed it up was so extremely well put.. “these absences also have effects the authorities cannot have intended; they trigger concern and support. The authorities can disappear him and others, but not the movement these lawyers represent.”
    I am a Christian, living in China with my Chinese wife, and as you all well know, Christians around the world are being persecuted, jailed, tortured and killed brutally. But, as with these admirable human rights lawyers in China, the ideas and beliefs can’t ever be completely smashed, wiped out. This is something the current regime in China simply can not comprehend. But all they really have to do, is to look at worldwide history, and they could see that these core values of human worth and dignity can not and will not ever be wiped out by a brutal and evil dictatorship. In the end, Good will always win out over evil.

  2. […] the disappearances, King’s College London scholar Eva Pils, who knew many of the missing lawyers, wrote: “Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights movement; […]

  3. […] King’s College London scholar Eva Pils, who knew most of the lacking legal professionals, wrote: “Their absence is keenly felt. It does diminish the vibrancy of China’s human rights motion; […]

  4. […] London-based author of “China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance,” discussed the rights defense movement and the campaign against it at ChinaChange. Pils’ account of her interactions with Wang Yu conflicts with the official portrait of an […]

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