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China Change, April 15, 2018
A WeChat group dedicated to raising money for Chinese prisoners of conscience and their families has recently been shut down by Chinese police, and its administrators targeted. One of the administrators of the ‘National Tourism Chat Group’ (全国旅游群), Guo Qingjun (郭庆军), was arrested by domestic security police in Changchun, Jilin Province, at his workplace on April 11. Guo’s wife, Zhang Yuying (张宇英), sent out a message that the couple’s house had been raided and Guo’s computer confiscated. At least seven other individuals associated with the group from around China have also been targeted, including Bao Luo (保罗), Lu Bi (卢比), Liu Chunlin (刘春林), Dai Xiangnan (戴湘南), Sun Wenke (孙文科), Li Xiaohong (李小红), and an individual known as Meizi Qingxuan (梅子轻旋).
Guo’s family is aware that though he was arrested in Changchun, it is in fact police from his hometown in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, that are handling his case. On April 12 Guo’s wife received the official notification of criminal detention, which stated that he was suspected of “provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble.”
An individual familiar with the circumstances of the case said that apart from the eight people arrested, over 100 members of the chat group have been summoned and questioned by domestic security police. Guo, under pressure from the authorities, had already announced the disbanding of the National Tourism Chat Group several days prior to his arrest.
According to Radio Free Asia, citing an individual familiar with the case, the chatgroup was focused on prisoners of conscience, petitioners, and rights defenders in difficult circumstances. Guo’s National Tourism Chat Group kept books on donations, and sent money to individuals that donors wanted to help. This is known as ‘food delivery.’ The Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website explained that, for instance, the National Tourism Chat Group sent money to cover basic living expenses for the families of political prisoners Chen Jianxiong (陈剑雄), Yuan Bing (袁兵), Huang Wenxun (黄文勋) and others, to enable them to get through trying periods.
The locations at which the other seven targeted individuals are being detained is as yet unknown.
In China, providing relief to prisoners of conscience and their families is an act fraught with peril. As a way of not tipping off the authorities to the purpose of the group, and thus have it immediately shut down, the group managers took the name of ‘National Tourism,’ so they’d be able to help the families over the long term.
An activist who did not reveal his identity for safety reasons told Radio Free Asia that Guo Qingjun was one of the founders of the recently targeted ‘Rose chatgroups,’ as well as an important member of China Human Rights Observer (中国人权观察).
Guo lives in Changchun with his family; his day job is at a foreign-invested enterprise, and for years he has been involved in rights defense and citizen activism. He has largely tried to keep a low profile, though has been repeatedly warned to stop his activism by Chinese secret police.
Below is the limited information currently available on the individuals targeted:
Dai Xiangnan (phone number 13410097523) was a graduate of Peking University. In recent years he has been involved in NGO work in Shenzhen. In late 2015 when Guangdong-based labor NGOs were rolled up in a crackdown, he signed an open letter to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, the National People’s Congress, and the State Council, demanding that the authorities rationally and legally respond to the efforts of workers to collectively defend their rights, as well as labor rights NGOs.
Lu Bi (phone number 13316556166) is an activist in Shenzhen. He was taken away from his residence on April 11.
Liu Chunlin (phone number 13725526191) is an architect.
One of the detained is a civil servant in Shenzhen. The identity of the others has not yet been verified.
A member of the chatgroup, Zhou Xiaolin (周筱霖), the owner of the Guyang Teahouse (古养茶馆) in Shenzhen, was summoned by police for questioning on April 13.
The Ganzhou public security bureau refused to answer a reporter’s questions about the case.
The ‘food delivery’ charity work that these individuals were engaged in is one of the many forms of activism that human rights defenders in China have developed to help the families of individuals who have been arrested and punished for political reasons. Yet, as the authorities suppression of rights defenders intensifies, even this modest act has come under the purview of the official crackdown. In 2013 the authorities forcibly disbanded a ‘Food Delivery Party’ (送饭党) led by Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) in Beijing. Guo was later himself arrested, tortured, and had his Transition Institute (传知行研究所) dismembered and banned.
The crackdown against the ‘National Tourism Chat Group’, as well as the attack on the ‘Rose chatgroups,’ is ongoing, and it’s likely that more members of these loose online networks will be summoned, interrogated, and in some cases formally arrested and charged with crimes.
Crushing a Rose Under Foot: Chinese Authorities Target Internet Chat Groups, China Change, April 4, 2018.
Buffett-Style Dinner Bids Woo Chinese for Just Society, Bloomberg News, August 20, 2013.
Li Wenzu, April 12, 2018
Li Wenzu (李文足) is the wife of 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋). On April 4, the 1000th day of her husband’s disappearance on July 10, 2015, she and a group of 709 lawyers’ wives began a march from Beijing to Tianjin, about 130 kilometers, where Wang Quanzhang is supposedly being detained. Along the way, other activists joined them on and off. On the sixth day of their march, their march were broken up by scores of plainclothes police officers, and Li Wenzu was taken back home to Beijing by force. Human Rights in China translated Li Wenzu’s account of her first day back. We offer you a translation of her account of the second day. However, as we prepare this piece, this morning Beijing time, outside Li Wenzu’s apartment building in Shijingshan District, the dozens of plainclothes officers and their helpers are nowhere to be seen. Li Wenzu has taken her son out for a train ride…. — The Editors
This is the 1006th day of [my husband] Wang Quanzhang’s disappearance, and the second day of my home detention. Even Auntie (the nanny) and my toddler son are blocked from leaving home. The plainclothes police at the door told us that if we go out the door, they will kill us. It was only after I called 110 [China’s 911] that Auntie and my son were let out of the house. As they walked out, a group of old women from the neighborhood committee yelled at them, “traitors!” and Auntie and my son both burst into tears.
This is the 1006th day of Wang Quanzhang’s disappearance, and the second day of my home detention.
In the morning, Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), Fan Lili (樊丽丽), Big Brother Zhang Shangen (张善根), Big Sister Guo Shumei (郭树梅), Big Sister Wang Xiuzhen (王秀珍), and sister Zhu Ling (朱玲) came to visit me. But they were stopped by 40 or 50 people who were in the courtyard; the group included the neighborhood committee director and personnel, as well as plainclothes police officers. Not only were they swearing at [my friends], but they also grabbed their phones, and even broke Wang Qiaoling’s glasses from the side.
I opened the door and wanted to go downstairs to greet them, but the door wouldn’t push open; several people were pushing it shut from the other side. My friends couldn’t come up, and I couldn’t get out. All I could do was climb up the window to talk with my friends who had come to see me. From the 5th floor window, I also spoke angrily about “709” and Wang Quanzhang, which led to onlookers gathering downstairs to watch the commotion.
Another thing happened that I didn’t expect: a little after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Auntie wanted to take the boy out for a stroll, and a man standing in the doorway turned to us and shouted: “If you dare to come out, we’ll kill you, do you not believe it?” I said, “I believe it, I very much believe it, because you’re all hooligans and scoundrels, I know that you’re capable of anything.”
With my 110 call in which I made a strong demand, my son and Auntie were able to go out. However, a group of women from the neighborhood committee who were at the entrance to the building hurled all kinds of abuse at Auntie and the child, saying that Auntie was a turncoat and traitor. “Go back!” They shouted at them. Auntie took the child back home; both of them were crying. These people not only blocked us, but also claimed constantly that they would kill us. Now that my son and I are in their hands, killing us is easy. If my son and I are disappeared, if we are killed, please, my many friends, help write this tragedy in history. Thank you my friends for visiting me today! Thank you, netizens, for your constant attention and concern!
Wang Quanzhang: The 709 Lawyer Not Heard From Since July 2015, Yaxue Cao, January 15, 2018.
China Change, April 4, 2018
Between February and March this year, rights activists from provinces around China were summoned, questioned, and threatened by secret police who demanded that they withdraw from the ‘Rose chatgroups,’ also known as the ‘Rose team.’ These chatgroups have attracted relatively large numbers of internet users on different portals such as QQ, Skype, WeChat, Telegram, and WhatsApp. The intervention by Chinese police took place following the criminal detention of Xu Qin (徐秦), a leading activist and a spokesperson among these online groups, on February 9. She was accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble.’ Prior to this, the initiator of the Rose chatgroups and Wuhan dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) was detained on January 9, 2015.
Between March 2013 and December 2014, Qin published a series of 12 open letters demanding that the government open a dialogue with the citizenry, that it safeguard human rights, and that it initiate a peaceful transition towards democracy in China. By the end of 2014, nearly 2,000 people had signed this appeal, the vast majority of them petitioners who had for years been suppressed and denied access to justice. Naming his movement after the rose, Qin set up chat groups on QQ, Skype, and WeChat, eventually resulting in a series of Rose groups online. Each group elected its own chat administrator through competitive elections and voting; altogether the initiative became a virtual gathering ground for like-minded petitioner-activists.
On June 4, 2014, Qin and his group set up the ‘Rose China’ website. It had 13 sections, including ‘Rights Observer,’ ‘Focus News,’ ‘Major Issues of Public Welfare,’ ‘Learning Center’ and more. The site also began holding online lecture series and meetings. Qin Yongmin tried to set up an organization called ‘China Human Rights Observer,’ though the authorities refused to register it as an official civil group.
Rose China’s website, hosted on servers outside the country, went offline for a short period recently, but is back up and running now.
In June 2016, the Wuhan Municipal Procuratorate indicted Qin Yongmin with “organization, scheming, and carrying out [a plot to] subvert the state regime.” It wasn’t until August 2017 that Qin saw his lawyer for the first time. His trial has been postponed again and again, and is now set for May this year. The indictment cited his organizing the Rose Group, among other things, as evidence of crime.
Qin, 64, is one of China’s most veteran political prisoners. The earliest years of his activism go back to the 1970s. In 1981 he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for participating in the ‘China Democracy Party,’ and was freed in 1989. He spent 1993 to 1995 in a forced labor camp after initiating the ‘Peace Charter’ (《和平宪章》). In 1998 Qin established the website China Rights Observer in Wuhan, as well as the Hubei branch of the China Democracy Party, for which he was charged with subversion of state power and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He completed the sentence in November 2010.
Xu Qin, 55, got into activism by the need to defend her own rights — but she soon began defending the rights of others, and became an active participant in the Rose chatgroups. After Qin Yongmin was arrested in 2015, Xu took up the mantle of leadership of the Rose groups, and began to speak publicly about China’s human rights situation, in particular to foreign journalists, making her one of the few active voices in the now largely dormant China human rights scene. On February 9, 2018, before the Chinese New Year, Xu Qin disappeared while visiting her hometown of Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province. It was soon confirmed that she had been arrested. In March she was placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ and the initial charge of ‘provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble’ was upgraded to ‘inciting subversion of state power.’ She has not been allowed access to a lawyer.
Since February, a number of activists have been summoned and questioned by state security officers, including Ding Yu’e (丁玉娥) in Shandong, Guo Chunping (郭春平) in Henan, Wang Jiao (汪蛟) in Anhui, Huang Genbao (黄根宝) in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, and Fan Yiping (范一平) in Guangzhou. State security agents demanded that they leave the Rose chatgroups and threatened “If you don’t listen, you’ll bear the consequences yourself.” Guo Chunping was beaten by police while in custody.
Even human rights lawyers have been questioned about their possible connections with the Rose chatgroups. On March 30, Friday, the recently disbarred lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was visited by two police who wanted to ask questions “about WeChat Rose chatgroups.” Lawyer Sui wondered why the Rose groups have become the target of such widespread action and concluded that the interrogations and arrests had to have been ordered and coordinated by a central organ in Beijing. He declined police’s request for questioning.
Separately, the whereabouts of at least two activists (Yang Tingjian [杨霆剑] in Jiangxi and Xu Kun [徐昆] in Yunnan) are currently unknown. But their disappearance is believed to be connected to crackdown on Rose chatgroups.
The Rose activists that were interrogated by police were told that these chatgroups have been designated an ‘illegal organization.’ Police said that 51 people have been arrested so far in connection with the groups, though there is currently no way of independently corroborating the figure.
Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch (民生观察网), a Chinese human rights website, on March 29 published a statement that said: “From the limited information revealed by the media, it is clear that the Chinese communist authorities have launched a national, large-scale suppression of the Rose chatgroups, in order to, 1) crush the chatgroups by conducting mass summonses, threats, and arrests of participants, and 2) gather ammunition for bringing false charges against Rose chatgroup leaders Qin Yongmin, Xu Qin, and
China Change understands from activists in China that many people have already quit the Rose chat groups, and that some chat rooms were long ago suspended, shut down, or had no administrators. Some activists say, however, that a few groups are still active. The chief editor of the Rose China website quit the Whatsapp Rose chat group for activists in Hubei.
The targeting and attempted obliteration of the Rose chatgroups indicates that the government in Beijing is methodically dismantling activist groups, including even loose or casual connections between activists. In the past five years, it has first taken out the leading activists across the country and imprisoned them, including with the now infamous 709 incident against human rights lawyers. Having done that, it is now engaged in a second and third round, to purge any continuing human rights activities.
Members of Petitioners Group ‘Rose China’ Detained, Yaqiu Wang, January 18, 2016.
Five Lawyers Write to Minister of Justice: Cease the Campaign-style Political Crackdown Against China’s Lawyers
March 2, 2018
Minister Zhang Jun:
We are among the lawyers who have been disbarred or prevented from practicing as a result of coordinated suppression by the Ministry of Justice in the year 2017.
We are well aware that open letters are regularly received by ministries, commissions, and high officials in the Party, state, and military — some angry, some polite, some beseeching… letters of every kind imaginable. There are simply too many people who, unable to find redress anywhere else, will put their hopes in making direct appeal to officials. Whereas local officials may occasionally respond to letters, writing to high-ranking officials in Party Central is like tossing a rock into the ocean.
There are also many, in particular human rights lawyers, who act with goodwill, out of a concern for the people and the country, and write to high officials of various ranks. In the end they often meet with trouble of various sorts — the loss of licences to practice law, or even the loss of their personal freedom and retribution of all kinds. A recent example is lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) who wrote to the National People’s Congress with suggestions about appointments, dismissals, and constitutional amendments. Subsequently his license was revoked, and he was detained on the baseless charge of “obstructing official business” (妨碍公务罪), and in the end was formally arrested and charged with “incitement to subvert state power.” He was then placed under residential surveillance at a designated location.
For another example, veteran lawyers Cheng Hai (程海) and Zhou Lihui (邹丽惠), among others, wrote you an open letter in October 2017 — a sincere, respectful, evidenced, and thoroughly rational address. Yet merely days after the new year, Cheng Hai’s law firm was forcibly shut down, and a lawyer who had heretofore proudly called himself a “rule-of-law lawyer” faced the threat of losing the right to practice, as many before him.
We, like many other lawyers, once hoped that you, as the newly-appointed Minister of Justice, would treat lawyers well. After all, you previously served as the vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, and prior to that you were a proud justice on the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China. Though judges in China are often subject to political interference, we nonetheless placed in you some hope given that we, as you, all honor and trust the same legal system.
At the same time, we are fully aware that you have never been a friend to the lawyers of China, nor do you have reverence for the law of the land, whether as vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, or Minister of Justice today. You have also demonstrated poor judgment on political events. It’s a far cry for you to claim that you treat lawyers with “deep love and strict discipline.”
When the well-known “Xiaohe case” occurred in 2008, you were vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, and you disapproved of the brave lawyers who mounted vigorous defense in the court and belittled them as “trouble-maker lawyers.”
In 2009, when the case against lawyer Li Zhuang (李庄) for perjury emerged, despite the fact that the entire episode was clearly farcical from beginning to end, which any lawyer or judge could see was full of holes, as the vice president of the SPC you not only ignored that legal black hole, but even went about singing the praises of the “strike the black” campaign led by Bo Xilai in Chongqing. According to a May 10, 2011 report in NetEase, you once made the trip to Chongqing to hold a national criminal trial seminar and presented an “important speech”:
Under the leadership of Secretary Bo Xilai, Chongqing has launched a ‘sing red, strike black’ campaign, and has begun building ‘five Chongqings.’ The masses have obtained numerous tangible benefits… In criminal trials associated with ‘striking the black and purging the malefactors’ (打黑除恶) the Chongqing Judicial Bureau has persevered in the spirit of the rule of law. Severe crimes receive severe sentences, petty crimes are sentenced lightly, and the policy of ‘leniency and severity existing together’ is implemented in earnest. The Supreme People’s Court attaches a high level of importance to Chongqing’s campaign of ‘striking the black and purging the malefactors,’ giving it vigorous support, and seeing to it that trial and review work proceeds in an orderly and smooth manner. The municipal high court integrates Chongqing’s actual situation while also pursuing procedural justice and fairness, and guaranteeing real justice. Much of their work is at the forefront of the national court system. Many of the experiences in Chongqing’s ‘striking the black and purging the malefactors’ work is worthy of being digested and promulgated.
Yet within a year of your saying those words, a series of events took place, making your remarks at Chongqing particularly myopic and laughable.
On February 6, 2012, Wang Lijun (王立军), the leader of Chongqing’s ‘striking the black and purging the malefactors’ campaign and chief of the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu.
On March 14, 2012, after the closing of the 5th meeting of the 11th National People’s Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao held a press conference with journalists in the Great Hall of the People. During his remarks, he addressed political system reform, and said: “After the smashing of the ‘Gang of Four’, though our Party made resolutions on a number of historical questions and implemented reform and opening up, yet the error of the Cultural Revolution, and the impact of feudalism, have not been completely eliminated.”
On April 10, 2012, it was announced that Bo Xilai had been put under investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, for grave violations of Party discipline.
On September 22, 2013, the Jinan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court declared Bo Xilai guilty of bribery, corruption, and abuse of power, and sentenced him to life imprisonment and the lifelong deprivation of political rights.
As Minister of Justice, you declared that “lawyers are the friends of the public security bureau, the procuratorate, and the court.” You said that although it’s the job of lawyers to present opposing opinions in court that fall beyond what judges expect, thus bringing a certain degree of pressure upon the hearing of cases, “it’s precisely these lawyers exerting such impact that promotes justice in the judicial system.”
You said that in the early years, China was in a fix for having a lack of lawyers, but now you are concerned with how to provide better services for lawyers and how to create better conditions for lawyers to conduct their profession. This, you said, itself shows how rapidly the project of the rule of law in China has developed.
And again, for example, you made the new proposal that “lawyers associations should be at the forefront,” and you said that the treatment of lawyers should combine “strict discipline” with “deep love.” Thus, lawyers associations should establish two “centers” — one for defending lawyers’ rights, the other for issuing reprimands. You said that in order for lawyers associations to amply play the role of defending the rights of lawyers, the current system — whereby law firms and individual lawyers suffer professional harm for their activities, and are only able to be their own advocates, with limited results — should be changed.
Yet the fact is that merely a few days after you uttered these warm words, you put out a hit on lawyers: all across China, public security bureaus, procuratorates, courts, and judicial bureaus at every level began lodging cases and issuing complaints against lawyers. Upon your orders, judicial bureaus at every level have worked hand-in-glove with lawyers associations to wield a big stick: calling lawyers in for chats, issuing warnings, conducting secret investigations, filing cases against them, and dealing out punishments. The controls levied against lawyers are becoming more severe by the day, and they are faulted for whatever they do. Meanwhile, there has been no substantial change whatsoever in protecting their rights.
Judicial bureaus and lawyers associations at every level have been investigating the normal speech of lawyers, even subjecting them, at will, to administrative punishment on the slightest pretext. The Shandong lawyer Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), or Zhejiang lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水), for instance, posted remarks on Weibo that had nothing to do with their vocation as lawyers, and which were clearly within the scope of normal comments authorized in the constitution for public supervision of state organs and employees — yet Zhu was disbarred and Wu was suspended.
When Shandong lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星), Guangdong lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青), and Hunan lawyer Wen Donghai (文东海) took on so-called “sensitive” cases, and in court put up a stiff resistance to the judges’ flagrantly illegal behavior, by your standard they ought to have been helping the judges administer justice according to the law, and safeguarding the true prestige of the court and impartiality of the justice system. Yet all the same, they were slandered as having disrupted court order, punished, and investigated.
The Yunnan lawyers Wang Liqian (王理乾) and Wang Longde (王龙德), as well as the Shanghai lawyer Peng Yonghe (彭永和), publicly withdrew their membership from their respective lawyers associations because those organizations could not truly protect their rights, and instead assisted in their repression. Judicial bureaus later sought out the lawyers for retaliation: Wang Liqian and Wang Longde were disbarred, and Peng Yonghe was sacked from his firm. The new firm he had been admitted into didn’t dare hire him after being intimidated by the local judicial bureau. To this day he still cannot practice.
Within the last six months, over 10 honest, reputable rights defense lawyers who dared to speak out were punished, harassed, or prevented from practicing, on completely unreasonable grounds. Numerous law firms and other lawyers have also been harassed, punished, “rectified,” or had their licenses cancelled.
We have seen the “strict discipline” part. Where is the “great love”? Before we were punished, our rights were seriously violated by the public security organs, the procuratorate, and the court. Our attempts to defend our rights via lawyers associations and judicial bureaus went nowhere. Hunan lawyer Wen Donghai, while handling a religious freedom case in Xinfu district, Xinzhou, Shanxi Province (山西忻州市忻府区), was never given a copy of the case files. This persisted from police investigation, to indictment by the prosecutors, even to the day of trial where lawyer Wen and his client were not allowed to look at the case file to verify facts. In response to this flagrant violation of the Criminal Procedure Law, Wen Donghai hoped for the intervention of the Hunan Provincial Lawyers Association, and wrote to them demanding that they report the situation to the relevant judicial bureau, and also asked them to inform the All China Lawyers Association. Yet to this day Wen has not received a response from the Hunan Lawyers Association.
There has been an explosion of cases of lawyers having their rights trampled on by judicial organs. The “strict discipline” of lawyers has resulted in their being too intimidated to resist, while the abuses on the part of the judicial organs are only becoming more wanton and reckless. For example, lawyer Chi Susheng (迟夙生) was expelled from a court in Shenyang, while lawyers Lu Tingge (卢廷阁) and Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), among others, were beaten at the Huili Municipal Court in Sichuan Province. There have been numerous instances of lawyers being illegally prevented from meeting clients, such as in the case of Yu Wensheng, or prevented from accessing case files, and so on.
Over the course of the ongoing 709 Crackdown directly against human rights lawyers, numerous parties and their defense lawyers have had their rights ignored. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) has been detained for nearly 1,000 days and to this day has not seen a lawyer.
The “rectification” of lawyers today is similarly being conducted in the Party’s campaign mode, a continued illegal suppression following the 709 Crackdown. As vice president of the Supreme People’s Court, your inability or unwillingness to correct the lawless crackdown of Bo Xilai in Chongqing presaged the current movement-style rectification campaign currently roiling China.
The Scope and Character of the Current Campaign
A number of points are relevant for considering the scope and character of the present campaign.
Firstly, the campaign was a manipulated outcome after secretly investigating and establishing cases against, primarily, human rights lawyers. Lawyers are a product of the modern rule of law. In a market economy, those most suited to rendering judgement on lawyers are their own clients. Yet, of all the instances of human rights lawyers being accused of violating regulations since the second half of 2017, not a single one is a result of a client filing a complaint. To the contrary, the majority of these lawyers are of excellent repute in the legal community and they’re appreciated by their clients. Some of the investigations against them were launched by judicial bureaus, and the matters under investigation were not within the remit of their vocations, but related to their speech acts in other contexts. These include the cases of Zhu Shengwu in Shandong, Wu Youshui in Zhejiang, and Cheng Hai in Beijing. Some of the investigations were launched due to complaints or the so-called “judicial opinions” by police, prosecutors, or the courts, such as the case of Li Jinxing in Shandong or Wen Donghai and Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) in Hunan. Some were about settling old scores, such as the cases of Wang Liqian and Wang Longde in Yunnan, or Sui Muqing in Guangdong.
Secondly, public security bureaus, procuratorates, courts, and judicial bureaus have acted in a highly coordinated manner to suppress and degrade rights lawyers. Many lawyers, prior to cases being filed against them, were secretly investigated for a long period. But as soon as the investigation was officially registered, they were required to answer questions in a formal hearing. Particularly preposterous was the fact that in many cases, the authorities simply ignored all reasonable and lawful explanations by lawyers or their representatives, issuing punishments merely a few days after the hearings. In some cases the penalty notice had been prepared for the very next day. For instance, after Yu Wensheng was disbarred by the Beijing judicial bureau, he made a recommendation for an amendment to the constitution, for which he was promptly taken into custody by Beijing police and charged with a fictitious crime. Beijing lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) was similarly taken into custody because she took on a 709 case and had been in an old dispute with Shenyang police. Some law firms, under immense pressure from local judicial bureaus, forced lawyers to transfer to other firms — and while this was in progress, the judicial bureaus then sought out the new firms and stopped them from taking them on. If a lawyer can’t find a place of work for six months, his license is cancelled. This is what happened in lawyer Yu Wensheng, among others.
Thirdly, the signs that these punishments were retaliatory in nature is everywhere in evidence. Lawyers conducting their profession according to the law should be accorded legal protection, but in the punishments and investigations currently known of, a number of rights lawyers were representing relatively “sensitive” cases and had aroused the ire of the public security organs. The reason they’re being punished is often because, in their earnest pursuit of the law, they’ve violated some of the internal “hidden rules” (潜规则) of the public security authorities. The manner in which they’re punished is also extremely crude and brutish, and is often paired with slanderous propaganda widely disseminated in state media. The same lawyers are then denied legal or administrative relief. Some of the lawyers decided to lodge legal complaints against the judicial organs themselves. In such cases the court either refuses to receive their materials, or after receiving them quickly rules against accepting the case.
This was exemplified after Wen Donghai sued the Yunnan Lawyers Association for defamation. The trial date had already been set, but one day before trial the court informed Wen that the “superiors” have given an order that the case must not proceed to trial, and so they simply ruled that they would not accept his complaint. When lawyer Wen later sued for defamation the judge Bai Weiliang (柏为良) of Yunnan’s Eshan Yizu autonomous county court, the court first received the materials, and then sent them back. To this day Wen has yet to receive any kind of formal response. Recently, after Zhu Shengwu was disbarred by the Shandong judicial bureau, he lodged a suit with the court but the court refused to accept his filing.
The Difference Between Campaign-style Crackdowns and Normal Regulation
- Campaign-style suppression involves opening investigations and handing down administrative punishments against a large number of lawyers within a short period of time. According to preliminary statistics from the Ministry of Justice, in the latter half of 2017, over 40 lawyers were penalized under all manner of pretexts. Putting aside the question of whether there was substantive basis for the punishments — given that so many lawyers were penalized in such a short piece of time, in the vast majority of cases related to things that had happened long ago — what was the Ministry of Justice doing before? Did they deliberately indulge in the rule violations previously? And if so should they not be held responsible for dereliction of duty?
- The reasons provided for investigating some of the lawyers are simply baseless, and would count for nothing if not for this anti-lawyer campaign. Because of the illegitimacy of the reasons for the penalties, they wouldn’t be able to stand the test of time or due process, and if the penalties were not levied in rapid succession, their shock and intimidation value would be lost. Indeed, in that case the illegitimacy of the claims would be continually laid bare. That’s why the campaign-style suppression must be executed within a short period: the disbarments and firm closures in the cases of Zhu Shengwu, Wu Youshui, Wang Liqian, Wang Longde and Sui Muqing exemplify this. Moreover, the authorities were sure to mix together these political punishments with a number of penalties against lawyers who indeed should have been penalized, a deliberate attempt to conceal the fact that this was a targeted political action against a specific group.
- Police and judicial organs have worked fist-in-glove with neighborhood committees to effect 360° control over human rights lawyers. Their close cooperation is shown by:
Firstly, the concentration of complaints against lawyers by public security bureaus, procuratorates, and courts;
Secondly, their close cooperation in secret investigations, where in some cases they even fabricate or exaggerate facts, and refuse at any point to provide the lawyers so targeted with the evidence being levied against them;
Thirdly, the manner in which they have severed the targeted lawyers’ access to legal support. This is particularly harmful given that as lawyers, the only thing they have to rely on is the law. But in this campaign-style attack, legal relief has been denied. In most cases this takes the form of rejecting lawyers’ appeals for reconsideration (复议) within a fixed period of time, regardless of the strength of the argument. In some particularly egregious cases the court refuses to even receive the appeal documents, denying lawyers he opportunity to present their views, and granting them no trial;
Fourthly, the fact that a number of the law firms that have employed human rights lawyers have been forced to participate in the rectification campaign against them. Most commonly this takes the form of threatening to sack the lawyers, or actually sacking them, and then ensuring that they cannot find new work. Also, neighborhood committees and police stations, among other work units, closely surveil every step a lawyer takes, ensuring that everything they do is within the control of the authorities.
An example of how these policies play out can be found in the case of Shi Ping (施平), a trainee lawyer who was on an internship in Guangzhou. During that period, simply because he had been placed under criminal detention (and later released) — despite there being no grounds for the detention — both the Henan and Guangdong provincial ministries of justice refused to process his internship paperwork. To this day he has not been able to secure work. According to the judicial interpretation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on State Compensation, Shi Ping bears no criminal responsibility — yet the Guangzhou Lawyers Association still uses the pretext that he was once under investigation to indefinitely hold his legal credentials in a state of “postponed registration.”
The most important element of modernity is the rule of law. Putting the rule of law into practice requires, firstly, ending the use of political campaigns as a tool and instead integrating social management into everyday legal procedures. Regulating lawyers’ practice is legitimate and necessary, but it must proceed on the basis of the law itself. If political movement-style methods are used instead, the rule of law will be undermined and Chinese society will be dragged into chaos.
Perhaps you, Minister Zhang, believe that high-handed tactics against lawyers will enable overall social control. This may be how you dress it up when reporting to officials up the chain of command. The claim may fool people for a while, but it will be impossible to fool thinking people over the long term. It is obvious that, as a wielder of power, you can force lawyers to shut up, but you can’t force everyone in China to shut up and stop thinking. Citizens, ordinary or otherwise, can indeed be deprived of lawyers — but how will their rights be upheld when repressed? Absent the guidance of modern rule of law, the law of the jungle will take over. How many more cases of extreme travesty of justice do you think will occur, in that case?
The fact is that it’s precisely those responsible, law-abiding rights lawyers who have become your target of suppression and elimination. You don a mask and claim to the world that you’re about justice, while you quietly take up the butcher’s knife and slash at the sacred scales of the law — a repeat of your performance in Chongqing years ago.
If lawyers can bring anything to China’s modernization program, it’s their rational and pragmatic spirit, and their respect for the norms of modern civilization. Without the determined and widespread engagement of lawyers, everyone will face uncertainty, without exception. With the scales of law destroyed, all of us — including you, Minister — will lose control of our fates.
Perhaps the suppression of lawyers brings momentary satisfaction to your ego, Minister, and helps pave the path for your promotion through the Communist Party ranks. We’re merely the child who dares to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Even though we’ve already been disbarred or had our law licenses cancelled by the judicial bureaus you control, it’s us who are the real lawyers of China, because we act with the courage of conviction that being a lawyer demands.
We hereby cry out in earnest: The political campaign against lawyers in China must stop!
This is an important test as to whether our nation can conform to the norms of modern civilization, and it is the most important criterion for whether our country can truly establish freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, and other core values. Please think twice about your choices.
Shi Ping (施平)
Wang Liqian (王理乾)
Peng Yonghe (彭永和)
Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿)
Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武)
February 28, 2018
Safeguarding the Right to Practice: A Statement by 58 Chinese Lawyers, February 19, 2018.
Wang Quanzhang: The 709 Lawyer Not Heard From Since July 2015, January 15, 2018.
Another Human Rights Lawyer Targeted in Continuous Crackdown, November, 2017.
61-Year Old Human Rights Lawyer Criminally Detained in Shenyang, October, 2017.
Chinese original: 致司法部部长张军的一封公开信: 请终止对律师的运动式打压
China Change, February 28, 2018
We don’t know what Xi Jinping was expecting when the proposed removal of the term limit for state chairman was announced on February 25 — but he was wrong if he was expecting that the news would be received like a beam of light from the sky, eliciting awe and relief, as depicted in a recent CCTV propaganda video glorifying Xi as the father figure of the people and the country.
Xi and his loyalists seem to have been stung by the shock and ridicule — and sometimes the pointed silence — coming from Chinese social media. The censors clamped down fast and heavily. An explainer in People’s Daily a few hours after the announcement summarized ten “major changes” proposed by the Party, except for the one change that everyone was talking about: the removal of term limits. It was tucked away in a long succession of empty rhetoric towards the end of the piece.
From Monday to Wednesday, the CCP held the Third Plenum of the 19th Party Congress. Its communique, approved and published on Wednesday, made no mention of the proposed constitutional amendments.
Meanwhile, several sources reported that Xi was angered that Xinhua first broke the news about the proposed constitutional changes in English and highlighted the abolition of term limits. Reports said that an editor was fired, and leaders at Xinhua were forced to make self-criticisms.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyers received warnings from lawyers associations, Justice Bureaus, as well as police that they should not talk about the removal of term limits, and by all indications they have been silent.
Chen Xiaoping, a journalist with a legal background who hosts a show at Mingjing Media, reported that he belongs to a WeChat group of constitutional scholars from two of China’s most prominent universities — Peking and Tsinghua — and “the chat group has fallen into a dead silence since the proposed constitutional amendments were announced.” He reminisced how, in 1982, the last time China’s constitution was amended, People’s Daily called for a public discussion four months before the law was passed. Well, that was then, and the amendment was to limit the chairman’s term, a corrective after Mao Zedong’s brutal lifetime rule.
In the internet age in 2018, however, China is unable to have an open and candid debate about a change that will have monumental consequences for everyone in China, and indeed the world. Some, however, have spoken out, and a sampling of their reactions is featured below.
Li Datong (李大同) is a 66-year-old, well known journalist and editor in Beijing. A reporter with the official newspaper China Youth Daily (《中青报》) during the student democracy protest in 1989, he collected over 1,000 signatures of journalists calling for a dialogue with the authorities. In 1995 he founded “Freezing Point” (《冰点》), a cutting-edge current affairs and investigative reporting section in China Youth Daily. The publication of “Freezing Point” was cancelled in 2005 by the Central Propaganda Department for “commenting recklessly on current politics.”
Li responded to the proposed abolition of term limits by urging the 55 People’s Representatives from Beijing municipality in the National People’s Congress to vote no to the proposed abolition of term limits:
Addressed to: Xu Tao (徐韬), Ren Ming (任鸣), Yang Yuanqing (杨元庆), Chen Jining (陈吉宁) and the other 55 Beijing delegates to the National People’s Congress,
Greetings! I am a Chinese citizen and a voter in Beijing. You are the delegates that we elected; you represent us in the political sphere, engaging in politics and representing our right to vote.
After discussion with numerous like-minded constituents, we reached a consensus to send you this urgent appeal: in the upcoming First Plenum of the Thirteenth National People’s Congress, please cast a dissenting vote — veto the Central Committee’s proposal to amend the 14th Article of the PRC Constitution, which abolishes the term limit for the post of state chairman.
It is widely known that the 1982 constitutional amendment that limited the tenure of the post of state chairman to two terms was an epoch-marking political reform for the Chinese Communist Party and the people of China, after the enormous suffering of the Cultural Revolution. This amendment was a precaution against personal dictatorship, and the most effective legal restraint of one individual placing themselves above the Party and the nation. It accorded with the tide of history, and marked a significant step forward in China’s political civilization, as well as being one of the most important legacies of Deng Xiaoping’s leadership. Only on this basis can China make progress, and there is absolutely no reason to reverse from it. The abolition of the term limit for the state leadership will be ridiculed by civilized countries around the world; it will reverse the wheels of history, planting the seeds of another period of chaos in China, and bring about untold harm.
We ask that in the highest interest of the Chinese people, for the long-term peace and stability of China, and in order to uplift and truly safeguard China’s political civilization, you earnestly consider our request and cast a vote against the proposal!
Citizen Li Datong
February 28, 2018
He Weifang (贺卫方), law professor at Peking University:
“The standard for procedural justice is that once a game starts, participants should abide by the pre-established rules to the maximum extent. Unilaterally changing the rules is unacceptable. In order to prevent the strong from changing the rules for their own benefit — for instance, breaking the rule on tenure limits — those who change the rules should abide by the pre-established rules, while new participants can use the new rules.”
Li Yinhe (李银河), a sociologist known for her study of sex, wrote, in response to the question “Professor Li, what do you think?”
“Perhaps you’re afraid that because the topic is sensitive, you don’t want to directly say it — so I’ll guess that your question must be about the Central Committee’s proposal. I think that bringing back the system of lifetime rule is not going to work. It’s a reversal of history and takes China back to the Mao era. Yet the National People’s Congress will very likely pass it unanimously. Because they’re not truly elected representatives of the people, they won’t represent the people in casting votes, and they’ll vote as the leader wants them to.”
Wang Ying (王瑛), a former private equity fund manager who has spoken out on political topics in recent years:
“I am citizen of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Ying. I hold that China’s realization of a republic is an ideal reached after 100 years of blood and struggle, and that it is also the commitment of the governing party. The February 25, 2018 announcement of the Chinese Communist Party regarding an amendment to the 14th Article of the Constitution — that is, the proposal to abolish the term limit on the position of state chairman — is a thoroughgoing betrayal, a departure, and a reversal. I know that there’s nothing you people won’t dare do, and that you can pass it with a unanimous vote, and can guarantee that the votes will be unanimous, and that the words of a regular person are of no use. Yet, I am a citizen of China, I don’t plan to emigrate, and this is my ancestral land! If I didn’t even register my objection to this, I would have no human dignity. I have no control over what happens to this proposal, but I need to give myself a reason to live on. I publicly protest this retrograde ‘proposal,’ and I protest turning the will of the so-called party into the will of the nation, flagrantly writing it directly into the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.
Zhang Qianfan, professor of constitutional law at Peking University, penned a commentary for the Financial Times’ Chinese edition:
“Currently, China does not have a politically neutral institution of power, like a court, to tell us what can and cannot be amended [in the Constitution]. Nevertheless, everyone has a set of scales of justice in their own hearts, and the people are the ultimate interpreters and deciders on the Constitution. Whether it’s amending the Constitution, writing a Constitution, or establishing laws, the most important thing is to win the hearts of the people. The four previous constitutional amendments had different emphases, but they were ultimately about constantly improving it, thus they comported with the tide of history and won the widespread support of the people. On the other hand, Chinese history amply demonstrates that violating a long-held consensus on the Constitution held by the Chinese people, as well as the overall trend of constitutional government in global civilization — even if it appears to be supported by the people, but does not enjoy genuine social support — will in the end not stand the test of time.”
The June 4 student leaders Wang Dan (王丹) and Wuer Kaixi (吾尔开希), along with those involved in the political reforms of the 1980s, including Yan Jiaqi (严家祺), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Su Xiaokang (苏晓康), the widow of Fang Lizhi (方励之), Li Shuxian (李淑贤), published a statement. It says, in part:
“The whole of human history, including the 5,000 years of China’s history, shows that lifetime rule of a nation’s top leader cannot be separated from tyrannical government. It will with certainty bring calamity to the people. In the arduous process of attempting to avoid this disaster, humanity gradually began to form the ideal of democratic, constitutional governance, with different countries establishing actual constitutional democracies. The Chinese people have already struggled for over 100 years to implement a constitutional democracy, in order to avoid the disaster of tyranny and dictatorship. […]
“We call upon overseas Chinese to use any variety of means to oppose Xi Jinping setting himself up as a dictator-for-life as China’s head of state. This is an opportunity to mark a turning point in the growth and establishment of Chinese civil society. Let us work together for the future of a rule-of-law constitutional democracy in China, for the freedom, equality, rights, and happiness of the Chinese people, and for fairness and justice in Chinese society!”
Xi Jinping’s Abolition of the Term Limit Ruptures Assumptions of Party’s Adaptability and Stability, Mo Zhixu, February 27, 2018.
February 19, 2018
On July 9, 2015, in the mass arrest of Chinese human rights lawyers and defenders known as the “709 Crackdown,” the security authorities used “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定居所监视居住), a disguised form of secret detention, to detain lawyers. They denied family the ability to hire their own counsel, conducted secret trials, and violated the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” by forcing prisoners to plead guilt in video recordings for state media before trial. This campaign-style (运动式) suppression has engendered panic and backlash domestically, and led to widespread censure from the international community.
The lessons of the 709 mass arrests are deep. The rising prominence of human rights lawyers was, in the first place, a wonderful opportunity for the government to reflect on the value of lawyers for the rule of law and their role in improving social governance. But now, lawyers are arrested or disbarred on the slightest pretext, and their rights to practice and have a job are increasingly infringed upon.
On January 15, 2018, Yu Wensheng (余文生), defense counsel for 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), was disbarred from practicing law by the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau. On the morning of January 19, Yu, while taking his child to school, was criminally detained by public security agents from Shijingshan district, Beijing, on charges of “obstructing an officer in discharge of duties.” On January 27, Yu Wensheng was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” by the Xuzhou municipal public security bureau in Jiangsu province, on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”
On January 22, 2018, 709 crackdown target Sui Muqing (隋牧青) received an “Advance Notice of Administrative Punishment” (《行政处罚预先告知书》) from Guangdong provincial judicial authorities, informing him that he was going to lose his law license. After he lodged the appropriate application, Sui was granted a hearing with the provincial judicial bureau on February 3. After the hearing, his license was indeed rescinded.
On the heels of Sui Muqing’s disbarment, the news arrived that Beijing’s judicial bureau had rescinded the registration of Beijing Wu Tian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), a boutique law firm run by lawyer Cheng Hai (程海).
A series of similar disbarments has taken place recently, including:
- In December 2017, Wang Liqian (王理乾) and Wang Longde (王龙德) in Yunnan having their law licenses revoked.
- Also in December 2017, Zhejiang lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水) being suspended from legal practice for nine months based on public statements he made that the authorities didn’t like.
- In October 2017, 709 defense lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函) being charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and detained in the Shenyang detention center.
- In September 2017 Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), the lawyer defending Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), who was charged with making political statements on Weibo, had his law license revoked.
- Also during 2017, the Shanghai lawyer Peng Yonghe (彭永和) resigned from the Shanghai Municipal Lawyer’s Association, because the Association refused to defend the rights of lawyers. Currently Peng faces the revocation of his own legal license.
Lawyers are an important component of the rule of law in China. Punishing lawyers for defending human rights is punishing the rule of law, rights, and order. The construction of an orderly, rational, and stable modern state requires the proactive involvement of lawyers. A society that sees lawyers as its enemy will inevitably fall into chaos and social unrest. Tragedies like the Cultural Revolution could easily recur.
For these reasons, we strongly call upon the judicial organs to be civilized and reasonable — immediately release the detained lawyers, respect and protect the professional rights of lawyers and the basic rights of other citizens, re-examine the recent spate of disbarments of lawyers and law firm licenses, and resolve in a proper manner the new problems that have arisen in social management. Don’t deliberately create conflict and opposition; instead, cooperate in advancing and nurturing the rule of law in China.
Contact address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Liu Wei (刘巍), Beijing
- Wu Kuiming (吴魁明), Guangdong
- Liu Shihui (刘士辉), Guangdong
- Tang Jitian (唐吉田), Beijing
- Chang Boyang (常伯阳), Henan
- Wang Qiushi (王秋实), Heilongjiang
- Liang Xiaojun (梁小军), Beijing
- Wang Qingpeng (王清鹏), Hebei
- Wang Lei (王磊)
- Liu Shuqing (刘书庆), Shandong
- Shu Xiangxin (舒向新), Shandong
- Lu Fangzhi (吕方芝), Hunan
- Qin Chenshou (覃臣寿), Guangxi
- Chen Jinxue (陈进学), Guangdong
- Huang Hanzhong (黄汉中), Beijing
- Wen Donghai (文东海), Hunan
- Li Weida (李威达), Hebei
- Zhong Jinhua (钟锦化), Shanghai
- Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), Beijing
- Qu Yuan (瞿远), Sichuan
- He Wei (何伟), Chongqing
- Li Fangping (李方平), Beijing
- Tong Zhaoping (童朝平), Beijing
- Chen Yixuan (陈以轩), Hunan
- Yu Quan (于全), Sichuan
- Li Yongheng (李永恒), Shandong
- Ma Lianshun (马连顺), Henan
- Zhang Chongshi (张重实), Hunan
- Zou Lihui (邹丽惠), Fujian
- Lu Tinge (卢廷阁), Hebei
- Chen Jinhua (陈金华), Hunan
- Ren Quanniu (任全牛), Henan
- Luo Qian (罗茜), Hunan
- Li Jinxing (李金星), Shandong
- Wang Yu (王宇), Beijing
- Zeng Yi (曾义), Yunnan
- Meng Meng (孟猛), Henan
- Xu Hongwei (徐红卫), Shandong
- Ji Zhongjiu (纪中久), Zhejiang
- Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), Guangdong
- Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀), Guangdong
- Tan Yongpei (覃永沛), Guangxi
- Wang Zhenjiang (王振江), Shandong
- Wen Haibo (温海波), Beijing
- Teng Biao (滕彪), Beijing
- Jin Guanghong (金光鸿), Beijing
- Jiang Yuanmin (蒋援民), Guangdong
- Bao Longjun (包龙军), Beijing
- Xu Guijuan (许桂娟), Shandong
- Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), Shanghai
- Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿), Guangxi
- Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍), Beijing
- Peng Yongfeng (彭永锋), Hebei
- Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), Shandong
- Cheng Hai (程海), Beijing
- Cheng Weishan (程为善), Jiangsu
- Lu Siwei (卢思位), Sichuan
- Huang Zhiqiang (黄志强), Zhejiang
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January, 2018.
Wang Quanzhang: The 709 Lawyer Not Heard From Since July 2015, January 15, 2018.
61-Year Old Human Rights Lawyer Criminally Detained in Shenyang, China Change, October 31, 2017.
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, October 3, 2017.