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China Change, November 13, 2017
Today in Tianjin, lawyer Wang Yu’s 18-year-old son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩) was again blocked from leaving China. He was due to fly to Tokyo. The border control in Tianjing told him and his parents that he is “a national security threat,” and mutilated his passport on spot (see photo above).
According to Wang Yu, her son has passed IELTS and is awaiting admission from the University of Melbourne.
On July 9, 2015, Bao Zhuoxuan, on route to Australia to study, was stopped and detained in Beijing Capital Airport along with his father who accompanied him. That same night, his mother was abducted from home, marking the beginning of the 709 Crackdown.
The community of Chinese human rights lawyers responded to Bao Zhuoxuan’s situation with anger. Wang Yu says she is not going to be silent anymore on the future of her son.
Over the past two years, this young man has endured detention, beating, harassment, house arrest, and disruption of schooling, all because he is Wang Yu’s son. When he was allowed to resume high school hundreds miles away from home, his classroom was surveilled with three cameras, according to Wang Yu.
Wang Yu’s account of her 709 ordeal is included in a book that just came out on Amazon. China Change will be publishing an excerpt momentarily.
China Change calls on the diplomatic community in Beijing to respond, helping Bao Zhuoxuan realize his plans to study abroad. Such barbaric, inhumane behaviors against an innocent child should not be tolerated.
Teen bound for Melbourne school stranded after Chinese authorities arrest parents, The Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2015.
Bao Zhuoxuan, Son of Detained Rights Lawyer, Is Said to Disappear in Myanmar, The New York Times, October 9, 2015.
Bao Zhuoxuan, teenage son of Chinese rights lawyer, back under surveillance in China, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 12, 2015.
No way out for Bao: US chides China detention of lawyer’s son, The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2015.
China’s long and punishing arm, Washington Post editorial, October 18, 2015.
The City of Weimar in Germany Saw Its Website Attacked for Giving Human Rights Prize to Uighur Professor Ilham Tohti
China Change, November 8, 2017
The city of Weimar announced on June 30 that, in compliance with the Weimar City Council’s recommendation, they were awarding this year’s Weimar Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti in recognition of his work upholding the rights of the Uighur people and promoting understanding between Uighurs and Han Chinese. In accordance with tradition, the Prize is awarded every year on December 10—International Human Rights Day.
The Weimar City Council, in announcing the award, said: “As a professor of economics and sociology at the Central University for Nationalities (Minzu), for decades Ilham Tohti spared no effort in publicizing the economic and social difficulties faced by Uighurs in Xinjiang. At the same time he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Uighurs, Hans and all other ethnic minority groups. He urged the Chinese government to respect its Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law.”
In September 2014, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison for “separatist activities,” and his real “crimes” though were his efforts to build bridges between different ethnic minorities and his speaking out bluntly about China’s draconian, unproductive policies in Xinjiang. The Weimar City Council hopes that by awarding the Human Rights Prize to Ilham Tohti, “his advocacy for peace and dialogue will not be forgotten, and support for his release will be strengthened.”
Mr. Oehme is in charge of the Weimar Human Rights Prize. He told Radio Free Asia that, starting in early July and shortly after the prize was announced, the city’s official website was attacked and continues to be until now. All news about the award and the December 10 prize ceremony has been removed. Mr. Oehme said that the Weimar government deeply regrets that hackers have deleted the content from the webpage that has been three years in the making.
Mr. Oehme also revealed that the City Council’s Human Rights Prize Committee received a telephone call in July from a self-identified “Ms. Li” from the Chinese Embassy in Berlin, alleging that Ilham Tohti’s work had nothing to do with human rights and freedom of speech. She protested Weimar giving the human rights prize to a “Chinese criminal.”
The Weimar municipal government also learned that, after the announcement of the prize, Beijing had protested to Berlin through diplomatic channels.
The Weimar government asked the police to conduct a criminal investigation into the hacking. It’s not yet clear where the cyberattacks originated. But Isa Dolkun, current General Secretary of the World Uyghur Congress based in Munich, believes that this attack is undoubtedly being carried out by China.
Mr. Oehme said that no matter what happens, there will be no change in awarding this year’s human rights prize to Ilham Tohti.
In advocating with partners for Ilham Tohti’s case in Europe over the past two years, China Change has learned that ethnic minority issues are something the European countries face, and they take very well Ilham Tohti’s advocacy for ethnic minority autonomy, dignity and peaceful coexistence. This is undoubtedly the consensus among all civilized countries.
The Chinese government’s irrational attack on and interference with the Weimar Human Rights Prize shows how essential this award is, what a dire situation Ilham Tohti faces in China, and what an awful government there is in Beijing.
To be honest, it is fortuitous that the Chinese Communist Party is committing such foolish acts all over the world. This has a much more powerful effect than our earnest remonstrations.
Not to mention that the city of Weimar will be forever spared of a statue of Marx like the one that now stands at a corner of the city of Trier, Germany, a gift from China.
Before he was arrested, 48-year-old Ilham Tohti was a professor at the Central University of Nationalities (中央民族大学), teaching and researching Xinjiang issues and Central Asian sociology, economics, and geopolitics. In 2006, Ilham Tohti founded the UighurBiz website, a Mandarin website that brought news about the Uighurs to the Chinese population. In January 2014, Ilham Tohti was arrested, his house searched and bank account frozen. In September of the same year, Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Urumqi for the crime of secession. He is presently serving his sentence in Xinjiang’s Number One Prison. He is in solitary confinement, and his application for retrial has been rejected. Family visits have been limited. His family has been warned not to give interviews to foreign media. All of these practices are illegal under Chinese law, and aimed at eliminating all news of Ilham Tohti.
In 2016 Ilham Tohti was nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and he won the city of Geneva’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein gave the award to Ilham Tohti’s daughter. The Chinese government subsequently attacked the High Commissioner for “interfering with China’s internal affairs and judiciary sovereignty.”
Ilham Tohti: A Short Introduction, June 15, 2016.
My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, Ilham Tohti, April 6, 2014.
Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (downloadable), Ilham Tohti, May 19, 2015.
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
China Change, November 6, 2017
Wen Donghai (文东海) is a 43-year-old lawyer in Changsha, Hunan Province. He grew up in a mountainous village and became a policeman in the Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau. Bored and unfulfilled, he quit his job, went to graduate school and became a lawyer in 2009. He came into contact with human rights lawyers in 2014, and in 2015 was a defense lawyer in the case of three Guangzhou activists promoting non-violent resistance and civil disobedience. That was the first human rights case he took on.
When the July 9, 2015 (709) crackdown on human rights lawyers began, he became the defense lawyer for Wang Yu, the first of scores of lawyers arrested that day and afterward. But he was not allowed to meet his client despite making numerous trips to Tianjin and lodging several complaints.
He has taken on Falun Gong cases as well as many other cases across China. “After becoming Wang Yu’s lawyer, I wanted to understand what Wang Yu had done and what kind of group Falun Gong was, so I started taking Falun Gong cases,” Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times in a recent interview.
‘Investigated’ for ‘Disrupting Court Order’
On July 14, 2017 Wen Donghai received a notice from the Hunan Province Lawyers’ Association. The Superior Court of Yunnan Province complained that during a trial held in a lower court in E’shan County (云南玉溪市峨山县人民法院) defense lawyer Wen Donghai “seriously disrupted the court order,” and that the association was asked to investigate.
On August 4 the Changsha Municipal Justice Bureau, the government organ in charge of lawyers, notified Wen Donghai that he was under investigation for “disrupting court order and interfering in court hearings.”
Wen Donghai has since learned that there was another “complaint” against him by a court in Guangdong Province.
What Happened During the Two Trials
Li Qiongzhen (李琼珍) is a Falun Gong practitioner in E’shan county, Yuxi city, Yunnan province (云南玉溪市峨山县) and was arrested with four others in 2016 for distributing Falun Gong materials. Wen Donghai was her defense lawyer.
Meeting with his client on January 24, 2017, Wen Donghai learned that the presiding judge of the case Bai Weiliang (柏为良) showed up at the detention center with two unidentified women and interrogated his client for three days in a row from January 11-13. The judge asked her to admit guilt in exchange for bail or a suspended sentence. He warned her not to mention the term “Falun Gong” during the trial. The judge also told Wen’s client that her lawyer took up the case in order to “stir up trouble,” and that if she dismissed him, the judge would find local lawyers for her free of charge. The two women, who had not identified themselves, told Wen’s client that she was forbidden to practice Falun Gong in prison.
Wen Donghai recorded his meeting with his client in detailed transcripts.
On February 13, 2017 Wen filed a complaint with the procuratorate against the judge’s illegal behavior. During the trial on February 16, 2017, he requested the presiding judge and the collegial panel recuse themselves, but his request was promptly denied.
He went on confronting the judge on his illegally pressuring his client to admit guilt and to dismiss her lawyer. The angry presiding judge and Wen had heated arguments, causing the trial to be adjourned twice.
Defending his client, who was charged with “using a cult to obstruct the implementation of the law,” Wen Donghai pointed out that there is not a single law in China that says Falun Gong is illegal; that thought, expression, and faith cannot cause the implementation of the law to be obstructed; that the Supreme Court’s judicial explanation of this crime is unconstitutional and illegal and can’t be used as the basis for a ruling; and that freedom of belief is a universal value.
The court handed out a particularly harsh sentence to Wen’s client: four years in prison for spreading Falun Gong materials.
The other complaint against lawyer Wen Donghai came from Jinping District court, Shantou city, Guangzhou province. Wen was the defense lawyer for Peng Peishan (彭佩珊), the owner of a hair salon and Falun Gong practitioner. Police suspected that she and her husband sold calling cards to practitioners to be used for spreading Falun Gong content. She was tried along with her husband and two others on April 11, 2017.
Wen Donghai said the court didn’t allow the defense lawyers to speak. He said to the court, “If you don’t allow me to speak, you may as well expel me from the court.” The judge did just that. Wen went to the procuratorate to complain about the judge, but was blocked by a formation of police at the entrance. The procuratorate didn’t accept his complaint.
Method of Targeting
Wen Donghai said that once you are identified as a crackdown target, they take the following steps: they go to different provinces to examine the cases you represented and find the “problems” they are looking for. Then in Wen’s case, the Lawyers Association in Hunan worked with the Superior Court in Yunnan that filed a complaint against Wen.
In Wen’s case, the director of Office for Management of Lawyers of Changsha Municipal Bureau of Justice had spent days in both Yunnan and Guangdong to collect information about Wen Donghai. Wen said that nobody paid attention, let alone working so hard, to look into it when he submitted complaints about the judge.
All of them are doing the bidding of the Justice Bureau. Wen Donghai told the Falun Gong newspaper Epoch Times: “When lawyers’ rights are violated, for example, when facing abuses by prosecutors or judges, no one accepts our complaints. But when we fight for the rights of our clients, we are accused of violating the rules for a little bit of heat on our part.
China Change learned from a couple of other lawyers that their local Justice Bureau also had sent officials to locations to collect information about their actions in the courts, the purpose of which is clearly for possible punishment.
‘The Law, Not the Judge, Dictates the Court’
In August, lawyer Wen Donghai issued a response to the ill-intended “investigation” against him. He wrote, “In both cases, whether in the E’shan county court in Yunnan or the Jinping District Court in Shandong, Guangdong, the court flagrantly infringed on the rights of the defense counsel and the defendants.” He continued to give an account of what happened in each case:
“Such a court is no more than a slaughterhouse that creates injustice and produces wrongful convictions. To maintain the order of such an illegal court is akin to committing a crime. My only trespass was that I was unwilling to cooperate with the court and trample on the law. I argued with the court because I hoped for a more normal trial. If there were any other channel for us to defend our rights, we would not have confronted the judge. This case is by no means an isolated one. In representing clients persecuted for their faith, I have repeatedly found myself in a situation where I have no place to lodge a complaint. In dealing with such cases, the nation’s judiciary seems to have turned into a rusted machine beset with problems at any given moment that we cannot solve.”
He argued that:
“The legality of the court is based on the law, not the judge. Thus, even though the judge directs the court, not all questioning of and argument with the judge constitutes disrupting the court order. On the contrary, oftentimes, the defense counsel and the defendant fight hard not to disrupt the court order, but to seek a just court whose order has been disrupted, a court that submits to the law. In doing so they are maintaining the normal working of the court and resist illegal court proceeding, at least that’s what they believe they are doing.”
Tools to Restrict Human Rights Lawyers
In China, from the early 2000s onward, more and more lawyers have engaged in so-called sensitive cases involving political opposition, freedom of expression, religious freedom, and other situations where citizens seek to redress injustice in the hands of the government. The Chinese government has kept close tabs on this small but growing group. Of the 14 human rights lawyers selected as the Persons of the Year in 2005 by the Hong Kong-based Yazhou Weekly (《亚洲周刊》), 13 were kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, disbarred, or exiled, with the exception of lawyer Mo Shaoping (莫少平).
Even though its number has been growing, the number of China’s 300,000 lawyers who are willing to take on cases to defend human rights is only about 1/1000.
The crackdown on human rights lawyers reached an extreme in 2015 when in a national campaign that began on July 9 China detained scores of them and activists working with them, and questioned more than 300 across China. In recent years the hostility toward human rights lawyers has worsened. They have been regarded as the top threat to the security of the totalitarian regime along with dissidents and activists, faith groups, internet opinion leaders and petitioners.
Almost all of the 709 detainees have been subjected to severe torture. Some of these cases have been exposed, shocking the international community. Those who have been released on bail or given suspended sentences have been closely surveilled and limited in their ability to speak and move. At least three are still in custody (here, here, and here).
The 709 Incident was meant to be a paralyzing blow to human rights lawyers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. They are persisting under incredible pressure, making immense sacrifices both professionally and personally.
Two years after the 709 Crackdown, the Chinese government has not lessened its intent to further restrict the space for lawyers defending human rights cases. But since 709, the authorities have resorted to “softer” and more insipid methods to contain them that may not draw international attention. These methods include: “complaint” and “investigation,” such as lawyer Wen Donghai faces, motivated by intent to punish; law firms being audited; lawyers annual reviews being postponed and denied; suspension of practice; or outright disbarment. In a recent case, a lawyer in Shandong Province was disbarred for defending a freedom of expression case.
Many human rights lawyers are barred from traveling outside China, whether for business or for leisure. The reason given to them is that they are a “national security threat.”
On October 30 lawyer Wen Donghai received a notice from the Changsha Justice Bureau. The investigation has concluded and “the facts and evidence are clear that you have allegedly disrupted court order and interfered with the court hearing, and administrative sanctions should be levied against you according to the law. Given the serious nature of your case, we have submitted it to a higher level of judiciary organ for decision.”
Lawyer Wen Donghai’s situation is a cause for concern. One by one, China is disqualifying its most courageous human rights lawyers and is testing the waters to see what kind of response this gets. So we are calling on the international media, governments, institutions, and legal organizations to pay close attention to the worsening professional environment that China’s brave and die-hard human rights lawyers face.
A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on, Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017.
Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee, China Change, July 7, 2017.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, by Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
Yaxue Cao, November 1, 2017
Li Aijie (李爱杰) is from Henan province, China’s central plains. She married a man named Zhang Haitao (张海涛) in Urumqi, Xinjiang, who moved from Henan to the far northwestern region in the 1990s seeking job opportunities after being laid off from a state-owned enterprise. He made a living trading in electronics. The couple were very much in love.
Embittered by personal injustices in the hands of authorities, he was attracted from 2009 onward to the thriving rights defense activism around the country. He partook in online forums that discussed democratic ideas; he volunteered for the human rights website Human Rights Campaign (“权利运动”); he signed a petition urging the Chinese government to abolish the extra-legal Reeducation Through Labor detention system; he gave interviews to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on what he had observed on the streets of Urumqi. And so on.
He was arrested in 2014, and on January 15, 2016, he was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “prying into and illegally supplying intelligence abroad” (为境外刺探、非法提供情报罪) and sentenced to 19 years in prison by the Urumqi Intermediate Court. The judgment cited 69 WeChat posts and 205 Twitter posts, including retweets of others’ tweet, as evidence of inciting subversion, and named Voice of America and Radio Free Asia as “hostile foreign websites.”
Li Aijie was pregnant when her husband was arrested. She gave birth to a little boy whom the father named “Little Mandela” (小曼德拉). She has since moved back to Henan to seek refuge in her hometown among relatives.
On April 19, 2017, with the help of activists, Li Aijie embarked on a journey of over 2,000 miles to visit her husband, who had been serving his sentence in Shaya Prison in the heart of Xinjiang on the edge of the Taklimakan Desert. She visited him again in late July after many calls asking permission from the prison, even though by Chinese law, prisoners are allowed only one family visit each month.
Her requests for visits since September have not come to fruition.
Zhang Haitao was jailed in solitary confinement to receive “education.” He described to his wife that the cell has a window that can let in air and a bit of sunlight. He stays in there all day and all night, and is not allowed yard time.
The first time she visited, the prison didn’t allow her to show and give him photos of his son. The second time they let her.
For the thousands of miles she traveled, they were allowed 30 minutes only at each of the two meetings.
Over the summer, she traveled to Beijing. She wanted to ask the Central Leadership to transfer Zhang Haitao to a prison in Urumqi for humanitarian reasons: to make her journeys to the prison one third shorter and easier to travel. At the Ministry of Justice, she said she never got past the gate. A person came out telling her to go to the Bureau of Calls and Letters (国家信访局). She went there and didn’t succeed in getting past the gate either.
On October 8 when Li Aijie visited her parents’ home, she was assaulted by her eldest brother and an older sister. They punched her on the face and the head. “Do you know how many times the police have talked to me?” the brother shouted at her according to her account. “What good is it to wait for Zhang Haitao? What does the future hold for you? Cut your relations with him! Stop going to Xinjiang!” “Look at the man you married!” The sister let out her anger. “You ruined yourself, now the whole family suffers from it, and you refuse to listen!”
They pushed her on the floor and kicked her. The elder brother was about to throw a chair at her when another brother stopped him.
Local authorities threatened the jobs of Li’s siblings if they don’t “rein her in.”
She wrote: “Am I wrong to love someone and wait for him? Visiting Haitao is my legal right. My son and I are the hope that Haitao lives for togets out of prison alive. I can’t leave him at a moment like this. I really can’t.” She said she’s never going to leave her husband, and asked those who interfered with her relationship to cease.
China Change has made considerable effort to bring Zhang Haitao’s case to the attention of our readers and the State Department. Among other things, we translated the entirety of the court decision to facilitate the evaluation of Zhang’s case. We argued that the U. S. government is obliged to defend its institutions when VOA and RFA—both funded by Congress— interviews are used as criminal evidence to imprison Chinese citizens.
A Call for Help
I spoke to a human rights lawyer in Henan, and Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁)—the founder and board director of Humanitarian China—spoke to Li Aijie herself for permission, which she gave, to raise money for her and her child to help cover her travels to Xinjiang.
If you want to help, you may make a donation to Humanitarian China stating the purpose of your contribution. Humanitarian China is a 501(c)(3) based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Humanitarian China has been providing financial support to political prisoners, their family members, and civil society activists in China since 2007. In the last few years it raised money for Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, independent journalist Gao Yu, the wife and children of Zhao Changqing, and the 709 human rights lawyers.
If you are a human rights organization with relief fund, please extend a helping hand to Li Aijie and her baby son.
Disclaimer: Yaxue Cao, editor of this website, is a board member of Humanitarian China.
Activist in Xinjiang Sentenced to 19 Years for Online Writings and Rights Activities, Yaqiu Wang, January 21, 2016
Appeal Begins of Harsh 19-Year Prison Term Given Xinjiang-based Activist Zhang Haitao, Yaxue Cao, February 21, 2016
U.S. Government Must Intervene in Zhang Haitao’s Case, China Change, November 21, 2016
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Li Aijie, April 23, 2017
A Long Journey to Visit My Husband Zhang Haitao in Shaya Prison, Part Two, Li Aijie, April 29, 2017
Zhang Haitao Court Decision, a Full Translation by China Change
Zhang Haitao’s Appeal, a Translation by China Change
China Change, October 31, 2017
On the afternoon of October 31, lawyer Li Yuhan’s (李昱函) family revealed that she had been criminally detained by Shenyang Public Security Bureau. The charges against her are unclear.
She was last heard from on October 9 when she texted her younger brother that she had been taken away by police from Shenyang PSB Heping District.
Over the past three weeks, her relatives called the municipal government offices for her whereabouts.
She is one of the two lawyers who have represented lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), the first human rights lawyer detained during the massive 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers. During Wang Yu’s detention, lawyer Li made numerous trips to Tianjin to try to meet her client but to no avail as with other 709 detainees. Her children, even her in-laws, were harassed as a result of her doing her job as a lawyer.
In late June, she and lawyer Wen Donghai visited Wang Yu in Inner Mongolia where she had been under house arrest since her released from detention in Tianjin around mid-year.
The news of her criminal detention caused a stir among 709 wives whom lawyer Li Yuhan has befriended.
In 2014 she represented a former policewoman and a petitioner from southern Anhui province who was detained for giving an interview to the Washington Post about China’s petitioning system and whether it helps solve social problems.
She also represented Falun Gong practitioners charged with “using [a] cult to sabotage the enforcement of the law.”
Heilongjiang-based lawyer Wang Qiushi (王秋实) will go to Shenyang to try to meet with Li Yuhan.
In 2006, while practicing in Shenyang, she complained to the authorities about a man who possessed guns and evaded taxes and who harassed her clients. The wealthy man was well connected with local government officials, including the police, and her whistleblowing resulted in herself being beaten and harassed by Shenyang police over the years. More than once, she was treated as a petitioner, locked up in the petitioner camp in Beijing, and forcibly taken back by Shenyang police.
Li Yuhan has heart disease, and in March of this year, she underwent major surgery.
Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017
Early in September the Justice Department of Shandong province notified Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), a 36-year-old lawyer in Jinan, the provincial capital, that his “anti-Communist Party, anti-socialism” expressions online had “threatened national security,” and he was disbarred. Mr. Zhu requested a public hearing.
Zhu Shengwu heads the Shandong Xinchang Law Firm (山东信常律师事务所) which he founded about a year ago. He has been practicing for only five years, specializing in intellectual property rights, particularly online copyright disputes. Beginning this year, however, he began taking on so-called “sensitive cases” – i.e., involving human rights. Among others, he represented Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), a man from Shandong who was found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and sentenced to two years in prison last April for calling the current Chinese leader Xi Jinping “Steamed Bun Xi,” and the late Mao Zedong “Demon Mao” in online chat rooms. Zhu believes that his defense of Wang — in which he made a “systematic, thorough and determined defense of freedom of expression” — is the real motive for his punishment.
Apart from defending his clients, Zhu began exercising his own freedom of expression on Weibo, which he began using in March. The account, with around 2,000 followers, was shut down in August. On it, Zhu had described China’s judicial system as “a meat grinder that churns out wrongful convictions,” and said that “China is ruled through terror and lies.” He also mocked the talks he had been summoned to with Justice Bureau officials.
In the Chinese system, Justice Departments or bureaus at different levels of the governments have an office whose job it is to “regulate lawyers,” and it uses annual reviews — in which licenses can be suspended or revoked — as a way to rein them in. For human rights lawyers, the annual review is a Damoclean sword hanging over their heads, and some of China’s bravest and best known human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked over the years.
One of the Justice Department officials in Shandong asked Zhu Shengwu repeatedly whether he’d like to keep his license. Zhu replied: “All I’ve done is represent a sensitive case, write a defense systematically arguing for freedom of speech, and voice a bit of political criticism. For that you are going to revoke my license. Who’d dare keep a license like that?”
While the Lawyers’ Associations across the China are supposedly professional organizations looking out for the interests of their members, in reality they are designed to ensure that lawyers fall in line with the government and the Communist Party (indeed a large number of China’s 300,000 lawyers are Party members). The Lawyers’ Association functions like other mass organizations for what would otherwise be independent individuals or groups, including the Writers’ Associations for writers, or the Three-Self Patriotic Movement for Protestant Christians. So it is no surprise that, on September 8, the chairman of the Lawyers’ Association of Shandong Province, a man named Su Bo (苏波), issued an angry statement on China’s popular social media WeChat denouncing Zhu Shengwu, and voicing support for the actions taken by the Party “after Zhu refused to repent and correct his wrongdoings.”
“I don’t know about lawyer Zhu Shengwu,” one of China’s most famous human rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) wrote, who was himself sentenced to three years in prison with a three-year reprieve for his activities and expressions, and whose license was revoked by Beijing Justice Bureau last year. “But Su Bo was a schoolmate of mine at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law. On the morning of April 27, 1989, we students gathered at the university gate, undecided as to whether we should to go out and protest.” The President and department chairs tried to stop the students. “I remember the sky was shaking and the air seemed to be on fire. Su Bo, shouldering a large sign with China’s Constitution written all over it, was at the forefront of the student procession. I heard him roaring, his voice hoarse: ‘If not today, when? Are we going to tolerate it forever?’ He was all sound and fury then. Twenty-eight years later, I appreciate this statement for giving me information about his whereabouts and achievements.”
Another well-known human rights lawyer, Sui Muqing (隋牧青), also recognized the chairman of the Shandong Lawyers’ Association, his classmate twenty-eight years ago. “He gave an inspiring speech in front of us all before the big protest procession on April 27, 1989. And I was so impressed, because I too wanted to speak to the crowd but when I got the mic, I was overcome by shyness and passed it on.”
Sui Muqing, who was held in secret detention from July 11, 2015, to January 6, 2016 as part of the 709 crackdown, offered to represent Zhu Shengwu at the hearing.
The hearing to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license “for allegedly making expressions that threatened national security” was held on September 21. Even though a hearing is a public event, it was filled with people sent by the Shandong Justice Department….to fill the spots. Zhu’s friends were stopped outside.
The hearing went on for three hours. Zhu and his two lawyers were allowed to speak, and they mounted a vigorous defense, questioning the authority of the Justice Department and the Lawyers’ Association to censor a lawyer for his private expressions. They disputed the preposterous notion of speech being a “national security threat,” and gave a rousing defense of freedom of expression.
The next day, on September 22, the Justice Department of Shandong province issued a decision to revoke Zhu Shengwu’s license to practice law. “Upon investigation: Since March 2017, lawyer Zhu Shengwu frequently posted on his Sina Weibo account ‘祝圣武律师18668936828’ expressions that negate the fundamental political system and principles established by our country’s Constitution, made insinuations against the socialist system, and used the internet to instigate dissatisfaction with the Party and government, resulting in egregious social effects. [His behaviors] seriously damaged the image of the legal profession.”
Zhu Shengwu and his lawyers will appeal the decision through administrative review, and if necessary, bring administrative litigation against the Justice Department of Shandong province. But it will likely to be a resistance in the court of public opinion, because the law does not rule in China.
In a self-introduction, Zhu said he grew up in a faraway mountainous village in Hunan; he was the first in his village to go to college and the first to gain a graduate degree. He studied law at Shandong University and has never been the subject of complaints by clients or peers.
I was asked the other day whether, after the 709 Crackdown, the pressure on human rights lawyers will abate. First of all, the 709 Crackdown isn’t over. Wu Gan (吴淦), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) are still in custody. Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for over 800 days. It is possible that Wang has been tortured to the point of disability — this is one of the few explanations as to why he still hasn’t been allowed to see his lawyers. Those who have been relieved on bail or on reprieve have been under surveillance and regularly threatened to keep silent about their experiences while they were in secret detention. National TV stations had human rights lawyers on camera confessing that their defense of human rights was illegal, and that they had been brainwashed by “Western concepts of human rights and the rule of law.” Probably because the government really didn’t benefit from the 709 crackdown, in recent months and weeks, it has been employing softer but still insidious tactics to corner human rights lawyers: denying their annual renewals, reviewing the accounts of law firms, forcing some lawyers out of their jobs, and in Zhu Shengwu’s case revoking his license altogether.
“Did you see Su Bo at the hearing?” I asked lawyer Sui Muqing.
“No, he was not in the room,” he said. “But I ran into him during the break. He praised my defense. I asked how he knew. He said someone told him. I think high-level officials of the Justice Department, and Su Bo himself, were in an adjacent room watching the video feed.”
“What else did you say to him?”
Lawyer Sui Muqing made no response.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao