China Change, May 14, 2018
Following the ‘709 crackdown’ — a large-scale attack against human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015 — China has continued to target this small group (about 0.1% of China’s 300,000 lawyers) who have taken on cases to defend basic human rights and other forms of social injustice. While torture and imprisonment have failed to cowe them, the government is now resorting to simple disbarment, or more subtle techniques, like preventing them from getting work so as to force their licenses to lapse, in order to take human rights lawyers off the field. The government regards this group of lawyers and those they defend a threat to communist rule; their determination to eliminate them is meeting with success, and the onslaught appears likely to continue and deepen.
China Change has reported several recent cases of disbarment, such as that of Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Yu Wensheng (余文生) and Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武). The following is an overview of 16 more cases of lawyers who are facing imminent disbarment or forms of harassment that prevent them from practicing law.
This campaign to remove lawyers who defend human rights, or any lawyer who is outspoken or rejects governmental control through the Lawyers’ Associations, appears to be deliberate, coordinated and sweeping. As we prepare the following list, more cases of threatened disbarment have continued to emerge; we will keep our readers updated.
Meanwhile, we are reminded by lawyers we correspond with that many human rights lawyers who face neither disbarment nor inability to practice also face increasing obstacles to doing their jobs: the justice bureaus have demanded that lawyers must report to the bureaus the cases they take on; recent news says that judicial bureaus want to implement a ‘grid-style’ control system over lawyers; Party cells are being set up in law firms; and lawyers are required to disclose to the judicial bureaus their religious beliefs, social media accounts, and other personal information.
As the authorities set about their rectification campaign against rights lawyers and strip them of their right to practice law, plaintiffs in human rights-related cases are having a difficult time finding defense attorneys, a circumstance that is likely to get worse as time goes on.
Lawyers Who Have Been Arrested During the 709 Crackdown
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)
In April 2018, lawyer Xie Yanyi found that his license to practice law had been marked ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice — though he had personally received no such notice. On May 4, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association informed him that a hearing would be held on May 16 regarding his alleged violation of regulations. The notice said that Xie was being investigated for suspicion of violating regulations during his representation of a client in Yinchuan, Ningxia, who was being charged with ‘using an evil religious organization to undermine the rule of law’ (the legal terminology used by the courts in Falun Gong cases).
The authorities have been using the excuse of ‘conducting an investigation into violating regulations’ on a past case simply to provide some pretext for cancelling a lawyer’s license to practice. Xie is the latest victim of this method.
In January 2017, not long after Xie was released on bail, he continued taking on cases at his original law firm, including the well-known case of the Canadian citizen of Chinese heritage and Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian (孙茜).
On Sunday, Xie Yanyi requested postponement of the hearing, stating that his oral and written requests for copying materials that support the so-called ‘violations’ have gone unanswered, and that he is thus unable to defend himself during the hearing.
After being released from prison, Xie penned a “Record of 709” in which he described being tortured while in custody, as well as the authorities’ threats against his wife as a form of psychological torture.
Li Heping (李和平)
During a detention of nearly two years, Li Heping was subjected to an inconceivable degree of torture, including hands and ankles being chained together for over a month. He got through by silently reciting passages from the Bible and thinking how much his six-year-old daughter needed a father. On April 25, 2017, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court held a secret trial on Li Heping’s alleged subversion of state power. Three days later he received the sentence to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, as well as the deprivation of political rights for four years. Li declined to appeal. On May 9 the same year, after the appeal period had expired, Li was released and allowed to return to his family.
Li Heping is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers, having been harassed and beaten by police for his work since 2007. Before the 709 crackdown he worked with a foreign NGO documenting cases of torture in custody and conducting anti-torture training classes.
On April 25, 2018, Li received notice from the Beijing Bureau of Justice that his law license was to be revoked — they said that according to Chinese law and regulations, lawyers who have deliberately committed crimes and been sentenced must have their professional licenses cancelled. Li rejected this explanation and demanded that a hearing be held about his case. On May 7, a man came to Li’s house to sever the notice, and Li scrawled the following on the receipt: “This is a great injustice. This is a false case, a case of political persecution. The truth will ultimately see its day!”
The hearing about Li’s law license will be held at 3:00 p.m. on May 17 at the Sunshine Halfway House (阳光中途之家), a community corrections center in Chaoyang District, Beijing.
Claiming that the case of Li Heping involves state secrets, the authorities announced that the hearing will be held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, we encourage the public, including foreign journalists and diplomats, to attend and observe in solidarity.
Li Chunfu (李春富)
In April 2018, Li Chunfu’s law license, like Xie Yanyi’s, was marked as ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice. However, Li has revealed that his law firm is currently handling his social security and medical insurance paperwork. This means he remains an employee of the firm, and the government has no reason to annul his law license.
On August 1, 2015, Li Chunfu was arrested after speaking out on behalf of his brother, Li Heping, who had also been detained during the 709 crackdown. In January 2017 after Li Chunfu was released on bail, it quickly became clear that he had been terribly abused in custody and was suffering a mental breakdown.
Wang Yu (王宇)
In April 2018, Wang Yu found in a search of the records held by the Beijing Bureau of Justice that her professional status was marked as ‘unregistered.’ Her previous employer, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所), had been disbanded as a result of the 709 crackdown, and Wang Yu had been unable to find a subsequent law office with which to associate herself.
Wang Yu has had difficulties finding a firm to accept her — some law firms have received warnings not to employ her, while others tactfully decline to employ her. In China, a lawyer without a firm is unable to practice; and if they have not found a firm within six months, their license is automatically annulled.
In Wang Yu’s case, as in that of several others, this is a method to disbar a human rights lawyer.
Zhang Kai (张凯)
On March 27, 2018, Zhang Kai of the Beijing Xinqiao Law Firm published the news that his firm had been forced by the authorities to fire him. “If nothing unexpected happens, once I’m laid off there will be no other law firm who accepts me, and in a matter of a few months my law license will be annulled.”
He added: “I will continue to proactively communicate with my peers and the judicial bureaus and do my best not to make trouble for anyone, but if communication truly breaks down, I will be left with no choice but defend my own rights.”
Zhang Kai represented a number of churches in the Wenzhou area during the campaign to tear down crosses from 2014 to 2015. On August 25, 2015, Zhang and two assistants were taken away by police while at the Xialing Church (下岭教堂) in Wenzhou, and two days later placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所监视居住) on suspicion of ‘organizing a crowd to disturb public order,’ and ‘stealing, spying, buying, and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to foreigners.’ Zhang was released on probationary bail in March 2016, upon which he was forcibly taken back to his hometown in Inner Mongolia. In March 2017 his probationary bail was extended another year.
Huang Liqun (黄力群)
Huang Liqun, a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, was arrested during the 709 crackdown and released in early 2016. In May 2018 on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice, his professional status was shown as ‘practicing,’ while his employer remained the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm which had already been shut down by the authorities.
In March 2017, the lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that after Huang Liqun’s probation was finished, he requested a transfer of employer but was rejected. The authorities said that he was a party to an ongoing case, and that only after the entire case was finished would his status be modified.
Bao Longjun (包龙军)
Bao Longjun is the husband of Wang Yu and only passed the bar exam and received his law license a few months prior to July 9, 2015, when he too was taken into custody on the same day as his wife. In August 2016, he and Wang Yu were released on probationary bail. He was still technically a legal intern at the time, and is currently unable to find a new law firm to employ him so that he can finish his internship and become a formally credentialled lawyer.
The Defense Lawyers of the 709 Detainees
Wen Donghai (文东海)
Wen Donghai, a lawyer from Changsha, Hunan, was the first lawyer to brave the atmosphere of terror after the 709 crackdown began and act as defense counsel for Wang Yu. He then began taking one sensitive case after another. On October 30, 2017, the Changsha Judicial Bureau dispatched a ‘Notification’ (《告知书》) to Wen, informing him that he had been investigated for “suspicion of disrupting court order and disrupting the normal operations of lawsuit activities,” found guilty, and would be subjected to administrative punishment.
On April 29, Wen made a freedom of information request to the Hunan Department of Justice, demanding that they disclose the work instructions received from Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua related to the 709 crackdown, as well as information about the meetings held by Hunan judicial authorities about disciplining lawyers. The freedom of information request that Wen crafted included “the specific circumstances of meetings held by your department prior to the Chinese New Year that invited the participation and coordination of individuals in the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate, the courts, and the politico-legal commission, regarding the suppression of human rights lawyers.”
On May 10, Wen received notice that the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice was planning to annul his law license, and informing him that he had a right to request a hearing. However, hearings of this nature are merely a formality, have no substantive content, and are designed primarily to provide cover for what is in essence a political punishment.
Li Yuhan (李昱函)
Li Yuhan was arrested in October 2017 in Shenyang, Liaoning province. She was charged with provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and fraud. This April Li Yuhan was brought before the court and faces the prospect of a prison sentence and the loss of law license. Li Yuhan has represented Wang Yu during the 709 crackdown and secretly traveled to Inner Mongolia to visit the family with another of Wang Yu’s defense lawyers, Wen Donghai.
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆)
On January 4, 2016, Liu Shuqing, simultaneously a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, had his law license cancelled in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive, like that of Henan petitioner Gong Jianjun (巩建军) accused of killing a private security contractor; the case of Zhejiang dissident Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) accused of ‘subverting state power’; as well as Wang Yu and others. Liu believes that it’s his involvement in these cases that led to the annulment of his law license. In April 2018 the Qilu University of Technology announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.
Cheng Hai (程海)
Beijing-based Cheng Hai is the defense attorney for Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), another 709 lawyer who is still in detention. Cheng also took part, unsuccessfully, in the people’s deputy elections in Beijing in 2016 as an independent candidate. On February 5, 2018, the Beijing Bureau of Justice cancelled the license of Cheng Hai’s law firm, the Beijing Wutian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), on the grounds that it had “refused to participate in the 2017 annual assessment.” Thus, if Cheng Hai does not find another law firm to employ him by August 5, his law license will be automatically annulled.
Huang Simin (黄思敏)
Huang Simin, a lawyer from Wuhan, Hubei, took on the case of Li Tingyu (李婷玉) among others; most recently the authorities have cancelled her license on the basis that she had failed to complete her transfer from one law firm to another. The truth is, Huang had been forced to leave her firm in Wuhan. Her plans to enter a firm in Guangdong didn’t materialize because orders were sent to firms not to accept her. She was then accepted by a firm in Changsha, Hunan. The local authorities there forced that firm to fire her. Currently Huang is currently seeking a solution to keep her license.
Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)
Liu Xiaoyuan is a partner at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown in 2015, though the Beijing Bureau of Justice stated on its website that Liu was ‘practicing’ law, in fact he had been unable to do so for the last three years, and nor was he able to transfer his employment from Fengrui, because, as the authorities say, they’re still investigating Fengrui, and until their investigation is over, no one will be allowed to move onto another employer. This means that Fengrui’s lawyers who have not been otherwise detained during the 709 crackdown will need to wait at least until the case against Wang Quanzhang is finalized.
Wang Quanzhang has been in detention for over 1,000 days now. His wife in February 2017 was informed that he had been formally charged by the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate with incitement to subvert state power, but his lawyers have not been allowed to see him, and no trial has been conducted. Sources say that Wang has been tortured so badly that he can’t be “shown,” and that this is the real reason the case has yet to be tried, judged, and that Wang is denied access to his lawyers.
Zhou Lixin (周立新)
Zhou Lixin is another partner with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown, he’s been listed by the Beijing Bureau of Justice as ‘practicing,’ but is in the same situation as Liu Xiaoyuan: unable to work for the last three years, and no indication of when this situation may change.
Peng Yonghe (彭永和)
Peng Yonghe is a Shanghai-based lawyer. On May 2, 2017, he publicly announced that he was quitting the officially-run Shanghai Lawyer’s Association. After that, he was forced to change law firms, but was prevented from getting new employment, and thus unable to work. The authorities told him on several occasions that as long as he took back his resignation from the Shanghai Lawyer’s Association, he’d be able to go back to practicing law.
In early May 2018, Peng announced that his wife applied for three jobs within the space of around a month, but that ‘relevant departments’ interfered and no one would hire her. Most recently, they’ve been unable to rent in Shanghai, also due to political interference.
Yu Pinjian (玉品健)
Yu Pinjian, based in Guangzhou, has a PhD in law. In September 2017 the authorities demanded that his law firm force him to find another employer. But, in a similar pattern to the other cases, once he left his first employer to transfer to another, the process was interfered with and he was unable to complete the procedures, and it now appears that his law license could be revoked as a result.
“I didn’t do anything,” Yu Pinjian has said on the record, “except for posting a few articles. I didn’t delete them as was told to, and the authorities then wanted to teach me a lesson.” (Yu Pinjian’s article on his public WeChat account, ‘Righteous Person of the Law’ [正义法律人] has already been deleted by censors anyway.)
Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱)
On May 14, the Changsha-based lawyer Yang Jinzhu received a four page Notification from the Hunan Provincial Justice Department of his planned disbarment for “alleged expressions that threaten the national security, using inappropriate methods to influence the handling of cases, disrupting court order, and using malicious language to defame others.”
The first accusation refers to Yang’s article posted in a WeChat group, titled “Lawyer Yang Jinzhu Angrily Fucks the 18 Generations of Ancestors of the Chinese Judicial System,” in which he vented his frustration. “This government ignores the law. The judiciary ignores the law. And when they see lawyers who defend personal rights, they put you in stocks, tie you up, fetter your hands and feet — this, right now, is China’s judicial system!”
A Record of 709， Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer’, Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.