The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 9, 2017
In the early hours of the morning on July 9, 2015, the Beijing-based lawyer Wang Yu and her husband and son, Bao Longjun (包龙军) and Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), were suddenly illegally arrested by the police. Before long, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Xie Yang (谢阳), Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Li Chunfu (李春富), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Gao Yue (高月), Zhao Wei (赵威), Li Shuyun (李姝云) and dozens of other lawyers and their assistants were also arrested. At around the same time, Wu Gan (吴淦 known online as “The Butcher”), an activist who was in Nanchang protesting the Jiangxi High Court’s refusal to allow a lawyer to examine the case files surrounding the “Leping Wrongful Imprisonment” case, was arrested, along with Li Yanjun (李燕军), Liu Xing (刘星), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Wang Su’e (王素娥), and others, a total of 17 citizen activists in Weifang, Shandong Province. This was a prelude to the mass arrests of the July 9 sweep. Later, there were also the arrests, one after another, of Hu Shigen (胡石根), Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Wang Fang (王芳), Yin Xu’an (尹旭安) and other rights defenders. After July 9, over 360 lawyers and citizens around the country were summoned and subjected to coercive, high-pressure interrogations. The family members of lawyers and rights activists were also implicated and subjected to constant threats and intimidation. About 40 lawyers were prevented from leaving China.
This campaign of mass arrests of lawyers began on July 9, 2015, and so is known as the “709 Incident.” After it began, those detained have for the most part been disappeared — held in secret detention (officially known as “residential surveillance at a designated place”). In January 2016, when the term of “residential surveillance at a designated place” expired, the majority of the lawyers were then formally arrested on the criminal charge of subverting, or inciting subversion of, state power. The authorities attempted to forcibly sever the legal contracts between those arrested and their own lawyers and then, entirely exceeding any legitimate power they held, assigned lawyers they controlled to the cases. In early August 2016, the Tianjin Second Intermediate Court began rapidly prosecuting and pronouncing pro forma sentences against Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng, Gou Hongguo, and Zhai Yanmin on charges of “subversion of state power.” The four were given prison sentences of between three and seven years. In November 2016 lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), who had been working indefatigably to try to rescue the 709 detainees, was himself put under secret detention in the Changsha 1st Detention Center.
Separately, beginning in September 2016, but particularly from February to May 2017, mass arrests of citizens in Shenzhen began. Those targeted included Gu Yimin (顾义民), Ge Jueping (戈觉平), Lu Guoying (陆国英), Hu Cheng (胡诚), Wang Jun (王军), Ding Yan (丁岩), Ma Zhiquan (马志权), Li Nanhai (李南海) and others. Their arrests was said to have been connected with their advocacy on behalf of 709 victims — a continuation and escalation of the campaign.
In January 2017, lawyer Li Chunfu (李春富) was released on probation. The long-term torture and abuse he was subjected to in custody, however, left him mentally broken. Only through the care, company, and guidance of his family did he gradually begin returning to health. Xie Yang’s lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), after visiting him in custody, published the inside details of the extreme torture that Xie Yang was subjected to. In April 2017, Li Heping (李和平) was given a suspended sentence for “subversion of state power”; when he returned home, his face was thin and pallid. He explained that he had suffered systematic, long-term psychological and physical torture in custody. The Chinese phrase “nine deaths and still alive” (九死一生) would describe it. In May 2017, Xie Yang was released on probation. When in the detention center, Wu Gan wrote a letter of complaint against the authorities, describing the torture he was put through. Nothing at all has been heard from Wang Quanzhang since his arrest two years ago; the lawyers hired by his family have yet to see him, and no one knows whether he’s even dead or alive.
In the post 709 Crackdown period, some people believe that the community of human rights lawyers had been dealt with a destructive blow. Some have been delighted at that prospect, some withdrew, and others have changed course. The 709 incident itself, however, has become the occasion for a number of human rights lawyers to shine through. Those who stuck through when besieged with crisis and danger on all sides are benchmarks for legal professionals in China — they’re the group who most care, most pursue, and are most willing to exert themselves for freedom, democracy, rule of law, fairness, and justice in China.
The 709 incident has also revealed a number of legal scholars and professionals, both embedded in the state system and outside it, who wear the garb of “men of the law” but who in fact trample the rule of law, helping to suppress democracy activists, and who hamper China’s democratization. Doing so, they’ve now become obstacles, trying to block up the wheels of history’s progress. Among them are some “experts,” “professors,” and “scholars” who, in their ivory tower, act like kept propagandists for those in power, defending the Party’s anti-democratic, anti-liberty, and anti-rule of law behavior. They sell out their consciences for money; they’ve abandoned the basic ethics of human beings, and they’re simply washing up after the evildoers. There are also a group of official lawyers who work at the command of the security apparatus. They too cloak themselves as “men of the law,” but the role they play is that of the stability maintenance agent, defending those trampling on the rule of law. History will testify the truth about them, and their names will put to shame in the course of China’s democratization.
History will also remember another group of people from the 709 incident: the family members of 709 victims. Especially the wives of Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yang, Xie Yanyi, Gou Hongguo, Zhai Yanmin and others. Their images of carrying bright red buckets with names of their husbands impressed all of us. The work of these wives on behalf of their husbands persisted throughout the 709 crackdown.
The 709 incident was a premeditated, large-scale, coordinated attack by the authorities on the human rights defense movement, the most severe over the last several years. The daily withering of civil society in China under such repression is a fact — but as long as there are abuses of human rights, human rights lawyers will not be absent. We believe that those who’ve been through the 709 test won’t give up on defending human rights. Instead, they will more tenaciously, wisely, and fearlessly assume the mission that the era demands of them.
The 709 incident shows that when the ignorant and powerful come to confront human rights defenders, they act without mercy or feeling or any restraint. The forced confessions they extract simply reflect their apprehension and guilty conscience in the face of the law, and in the face of a citizenry that is waking up every day. They desperately need human rights lawyers to acknowledge allegiance and openly confess guilt so they can then use that to further repress the rest of the citizenry.
The international community, lawyers, the family members of victims, citizens, and people of conscience throughout society, have always been supporters of 709 victims. Those ensnared by the 709 crackdown have borne witness to the false promise of the rule of law in China with their suffering. The awakening of citizen consciousness and the development of civil society are inevitable parts of the road to a modern democratic civilization; lawyers are a crucial force on this path toward the rule of law. They should not become the targets of attack, elimination, and persecution.
The human rights lawyers who have been arrested are not the troublemakers in Chinese society, but instead the people who seek out solutions. They assume it upon themselves, and they summon up their own courage, to put the questions that plague Chinese society on the table and hope for a lawful path to their resolution. History makes clear that liberty, democracy, and the rule of law don’t fall from the sky; those in power won’t limit it of their own accord, nor will they proactively let go of their own vested interests. Using the law to resist, to strive for freedom, promote democracy, and realize the rule of law is an effective path. In this process, the sacrifices and exertions of the resistors are worth it.
Upon the second anniversary of the 709 incident, we thank the attention of everyone on the 709 incident, and we thank everyone who has worked to free the persecuted. We won’t be discouraged; we’ll continue striving to defend human rights. We hope that everyone continues to pay attention to the cases of Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, and Wu Gan, among others. We also express our concern over the condition of Liu Xiaobo. Constitutional democracy has not yet been realized, and citizens must continue to strive. Before the arrival of dawn, there will be harsher suppression and worse persecution, but they will not stop the sun from rising, and the light of constitutional democracy will radiate everywhere in China and heal this wounded land.
July 9, 2017
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Chang Boyang (常伯阳) 18837183338
Liu Shihui (刘士辉) 18516638964
Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) 18639228639
Tang Ji Tian (唐吉田) 13161302848
Yu Wensheng (余文生) 13910033651