Home » Rule of Law
Category Archives: Rule of Law
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 After the hearing, his license was indeed rescinded.
On the heels of Sui Muqing’s disbarment, the news arrived that Beijing’s judicial bureau had rescinded the registration of Beijing Wu Tian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), a boutique law firm run by lawyer Cheng Hai (程海).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.
China Change, February 12, 2018
On February 9, lawyer Chen Wuquan (陈武权) was criminally detained with five villagers on an island off the coast of Zhanjiang (湛江), on the southwest peninsular of Guangdong Province. He was not a lawyer representing clients in a land rights defense case, as one may assume. Instead, he was a disbarred lawyer living at home in his village, leading an effort against forced demolition, illegal land reclamation, and the logging of redwoods along the beach. The group of six had petitioned on behalf of the village, and the police responded by detaining them for “obstructing the start of construction.”
On February 11, Chen Wuquan’s family received notice of his criminal detention.
Before he led villagers to protest illegal reclamation, he had anticipated what might befall him and authorized the China Human Rights Lawyers Group, of which he is a member, to defend him. He briefly told his story as follows:
I was born on China’s fifth largest island, Donghai Island, in the village of Diaoluocun (东海岛调逻村).
Our village is in the northeast of the island, and features an expanse of beautiful beaches, mudflats, and mangroves. It’s a popular tourist destination. Donghai’s tidal flats are not only beautiful, but also highly fertile, producing an abundance of sea snails, oysters, shrimps, lingula [a kind of mussel], and more. This natural abundance has provided for Diaoluocun villagers for over 700 years. When I was four or five, I remember my mother taking me to the seaside to catch fish and shrimp and dig up sea snails and mussels. Only after beginning senior high school and moving to the city did I start to drift away from the ocean.
In 1998 after graduating from police college, I worked as a police officer in Zhanjiang. In 2004, I was given an internal Communist Party warning over the “4.25 Incident.”*
On April 25, 2005, I decided to leave my government job and become a lawyer. I focused my energies on preparing for the bar exam, and in September of that year scored 360 on the test. In March 2006 I became a lawyer.
It’s a wide world we live in, and I wanted to see it. At the end of 2011, full of dreams of distant adventures, I traveled to Switzerland to participate in a training on the United Nations human rights mechanism held by an NGO.
In early 2012 I joined Beijing lawyer Dong Qianyong (董前勇) representing a religious freedom case in Shantou, Guangdong. As part of that process, I penned and posted two articles — “Where is the Path to the Rule of Law in China?” and “The Ugly Privileged” — for which I was disciplined in April 2012.
On May 6, 2012, while in Beijing I agreed to represent Chen Kegui, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew. Due to this, I was subjected to an immense amount of pressure. I overcame the pressure of being disbarred and continued to proceed with the case. I thought that I still had some land and the ocean to live on back home if the worst came. On May 18, 2012, my license to practice law was rescinded.
In November 2012, under pressure from all directions, I returned to Zhanjiang. It was only when I got back, however, that I realized that the tidal flats that saw me through my childhood were no more. They’d been turned into dry land and a dumping ground for construction trash. The sea snails, oysters, shrimps and mussels were all gone. It pained my heart.
The difficulty of actually making a living after being disbarred also began to pinch, and I wanted to get back my license to practice law. I was born and grew up in Zhanjiang after all, had been a police officer there for seven years, and had friends and acquaintances throughout local government departments. For all these reasons, I refrained from publicizing any criticisms of the Zhanjiang government.
In May 2017, after lying low for five years, I entered the election for village chief. Yet the authorities still treated me with hostility, a potential threat, going around to undercut my support, even spreading propaganda that I was a criminal. Even after that, I received 1943 votes.
In October 2017 I made requests for information under the government’s open information regulations, whereupon I found that the tidal flats around our village had not even been lawfully acquired. Without any legal process, developers had simply filled in and destroyed the natural habitat. These were the tidal flats that had sustained our village for 700 years! I could not longer bear to do nothing, and at this point it was clear that my license to practice law would not be reinstated either. So I decided to put up a fight to protect the seaside, so my village — and even more, myself and my grandchildren — would still have blue skies and a healthy ocean for generations to come.
It was only at this point that villagers became aware of the fact that their legal rights had been infringed upon. They joined the push to defend the seaside in droves. They even pulled their boats on to the beach.
On December 25, 2017, the government mobilized armed police, public security forces, riot police, and urban enforcers — numbering into their hundreds, arrayed with guns and shields — against villagers defending the sea. They ripped out the vegetation that locals had planted as a tide break, and detained two villagers. Under the protection of other villagers, I was able to escape unharmed.
The authorities began slandering me, saying that as a lawyer I’d once defended an ‘evil religion,’ and what I did at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I don’t understand: even if it was an ‘evil religion,’ why could one not offer a legal defense? I’ve defended individuals accused of robbery — does that make me an accomplice to robbers too? At the Chinese University of Hong Kong I’d once protested on behalf of human rights lawyers in China with foreign women present — is there anything wrong with that?
Once the arrow is shot, there’s no getting it back. At this point, honor does not permit me to retreat.
And no matter how scurrilous the means used to attack me, I will face it all calmly. I sincerely ask my colleagues to defend me.
* The “4.25 Incident” likely refers to the Falun Gong mass petition in Beijing that occurred on April 25, 1999. It’s unclear what Chen Wuquan’s involvement was when he was still a young student, and why the internal discipline occurred in 2004.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January, 2018.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown
China Change, January 24, 2018
On Monday evening the Guangzhou-based lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was notified by his law firm that government officials from the provincial Justice Department would inspect the firm the following morning and that Sui, in particular, must be present. He felt a nervous chill and began to suspect that his communications on a series of human rights cases he has represented had upset high-level officials.
On Tuesday morning (January 23), two officials from the Justice Department arrived, announcing on the spot that Sui’s law license had been revoked. The written announcement cited two incidents as cause of the punishment: that he disrupted court order while defending New Citizen Movement activists on April 8, 2014, by quitting the court in protest; and that he took photos of client Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) against regulations during a meeting.
Sui Muqing himself is one of the lawyers who has been detained and placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” during the 709 Crackdown in 2015. He and his peers believe the government abruptly revoked his license because he has continued to represent rights lawyers since his release from secret detention in early 2016.
Over the past five years or so, lawyer Sui has defended freedom of expression, religious freedom, and other civil rights in scores of prominent political trials across China, including that of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Wang Qingying (王清营), Wang Zang (王藏), Huang Wenxun (黄文勋), Chen Yunfei (陈云飞), Huang Qi (黄琦), and others.
Sui is known for his hard work and prolific communication about cases he takes on, and he rarely refrains from expressing his views on politics and the law. He’s also known for his hard-charging style in court. These, we believe, are the real reasons the government is disbarring him.
Sui said he would request a hearing to express his objections against the decision, though he knows it’s unlikely the government will reverse it.
The sudden disbarment marks a new development in a series of detentions and disbarments in recent months, and it appears to be part of a deliberate and determined campaign to remove and deter human rights lawyers.
Last week, on January 15, Beijing-based rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) was stripped of his license. He believes the decision was retaliation for an open letter he published last October calling the Party’s 19th Congress to impeach Xi Jinping. Yu was detained early Friday morning outside his apartment by a dozen police. Two days prior, he had published an open letter calling for the democratic election of Chinese leaders. In July 2017 he was forced out of his law firm, and attempts to open his own firm have been blocked.
In the same week, Shanghai-based lawyer Peng Yonghe (彭永和) lost his law license for demanding financial transparency from the Shanghai Lawyers Association and for a letter he was involved in calling for the crime of subversion of state power to be abolished.
In December, 2017, the Yunnan provincial Justice Department revoked the licenses of lawyers Wang Liqian (王理乾) and Wang Longde (王龙得). For years the two had fought hard for their right to meet clients under judicially-stipulated conditions. They also challenged the legitimacy of the local Lawyers Association, which amasses large fees from members but seldom defends their rights.
On October 31, 2017, lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函), who represented 709 lawyer Wang Yu, was detained in Shenyang on unclear charges.
Also in October, another lawyer in Changsha, Wen Donghai (文东海) was placed “under investigation” for “seriously disrupting court order.” He also faces disbarment. Wen Donghai also represented Wang Yu, and Li and Wen visited Wang Yu in July 2017, providing the first update to the outside world on the first 709 detainee.
In September 2017, Shandong lawyer Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武)’s license was revoked for defending a man who made disparaging comments about Xi Jinping on WeChat.
Also in December 2017, by the recommendation of the Hangzhou Lawyers Association, lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水) was given a nine month administrative penalty for online expressions that “belittle and attack the Communist Party and the socialist system, and negate the political, judicial and management mechanisms of lawyers stipulated by the constitution…”
In September, 2016, lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星) was suspended for one year for defending political prisoner Guo Feixiong.
Human rights lawyers across China are regularly summoned by provincial and local Justice Departments, who issue receive warnings and threats. The regime’s Justice Departments at all levels have an office that “manages” lawyers. Lawyers go through a mandatory annual review by the departments, which renew their licenses — a mechanism designed to keep lawyers on a short leash and ensure they submit to the state, lest they lose their livelihoods.
Lawyers associations are another tool that maintains tight control over lawyers: they are run by lawyers trusted by the government, and frequently recommend punishment for their colleagues who take on human rights cases.
In China two years after the 709 Crackdown, the legal climate has severely deteriorated; the government is determined to either root out human rights lawyers or force them into submission.
Chinese Minister of Justice Zhang Jun (张军) spoke at a national forum on lawyers in early January. He didn’t use the term “human rights lawyers,” but when he spoke of the “few bad ones,” they were who he meant: “punishment and criticism must be further carried out. We must proactively take measures against the few bad ones in the legal profession, using it as an example for others and maintaining the overall interest and image of the profession. In this regard, some of our lawyers associations and Justice Departments have not done a good job.”
He emphasized that lawyers must be subject to the leadership of the Party, and support “the socialist system.”
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.
Yaxue Cao, January 15, 2018
As of January 15, 2018, human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) had been held incommunicado for 920 days. This makes him the only 709 detainee who hasn’t been heard from since the notorious 709 Crackdown began in July 2015.
Last Friday, two lawyers, a former client, and three wives of 709 victims travelled from Beijing to arrive early morning at the First Detention Center in Tianjin, a half hour ride by high-speed train. The sun had risen, and a rich orange hue cloaked everything. A large-character slogan ran the length of the walls of the Detention Center: “Be Loyal to the Party, Serve the People, Enforce the Law with Fairness.” They were the first visitors waiting for the reception room to open. The three women were unable to deposit “meal charges” for Wang after calling a number thirty or so times and arguing with a female officer. The two lawyers, requesting a meeting with their client, were shown a piece of A4 paper that read “lawyers are not allowed to see Wu Gan and Wang Quanzhang.” Over the 30 months since Wang was arrested, his lawyers have made so many trips to Tianjin that they’ve lost count.
In August 2016, two 709 detainees were given heavy sentences and two others were given suspended sentences. By May 2017, more 709 lawyers and activists were released on bail or given suspended sentences after the government succeeded in forcing them to admit guilt in one form or another. By December 26, 2017, three of the last four 709 detainees received sentences or, as in Xie Yang’s case, were exempted from punishment.
The fate of Wang Quanzhang has been weighing on the minds of many, particularly as those who have been released reveal details of horrific torture. These include electric shocks so strong that they knock the victim unconscious on the spot; the “water cage” torture, where at least one detainee was locked in a submerged cage, with only the head above water; force feeding with unknown drugs; extreme sleep deprivation; beatings; and verbal and psychological abuses.
That Wang Quanzhang must have suffered the worst for refusing to yield is the consensus shared by the human rights community. Some fear that he may have been so physically debilitated that the authorities are now hiding him. Some worry that he’s already dead.
The latter fear was lifted last July after Chen Youxi (陈有西), a well-known state-connected lawyer, met with Wang (against the wishes of his wife) and tried to make him sign a Power of Attorney authorizing Chen to represent him. Wang refused. Chen later came under heavy criticism after describing the meeting on social media. “Chen Youxi was sent to help the government frame my husband,” said Wang’s wife Li Wenzu (李文足).
Indeed, in all the 709 trials, the government-assigned lawyers imposed on the detainees were part of the admit-guilt-for-leniency deal, acting as intermediaries between the government and the 709 detainees, and helping the government get what it wanted.
Wang Quanzhang’s Work
Wang Quanzhang, 42, was a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when he was swept up along with scores of other lawyers and activists in July 2015. Wang was born and raised in rural Shandong, and graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. He was one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong: while still in college, he provided legal assistance to practitioners not long after the brutal, nationwide suppression against it began in 1999. As a result, he was threatened and his home raided by police. A judge, it was said, wrote a letter to the university advising them not to issue his diploma. (He still received it).
After college, while working at the provincial library in 2005, Wang took up volunteer work for an NGO that had set up an experimental community school in a village near Jinan, the provincial capital. For the next three years, he gave free lessons about Chinese law to villagers on Saturdays for three years, paying his own travel costs. He taught them cases concerning land rights and other legal issues common in rural areas, and debated with them about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme. The peasants believed that in China, power rules — not the law.
They were right then, and they’re right now.
In Jinan, Wang was subject to constant threats for his legal aid work. He was chased on the street, and at one time had to hide in the home of his friend, a professor, for days on end as plainclothes agents milled around outside the apartment building. He would later recount these episodes to friends as if they were someone else’s adventures.
In 2008 he moved to Beijing in part to escape the dangers of Jinan. A colleague thus called him “a lawyer on the run.”
In Beijing, Wang worked for an NGO called the “Empowerment and Rights Institute” (仁之泉工作室), one of the many small rights NGOs, like the school for villagers in Shandong, that sprung up in China around that time. He also did a stint at a think tank called the “World and China Institute” (世界与中国研究所). In 2009 he co-founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group NGO (China Action, 中国维权紧急援助组) with Peter Dahlin and Michael Caster, young Swedish and American activists respectively whom he had met at the “Empowerment and Rights Institute.” Peter and Michael came to China at a time when the country seemed eager to “integrate” with the world.
Through China Action from 2009 to 2013, Wang worked to expand access to legal assistance for victims, organize more structured trainings for fellow lawyers, and train victims to become citizen lawyers capable of dealing with the judiciary. After 2013, he stopped work at China Action and focused on defending individual cases in court.
In addition to Falun Gong cases, Wang also took on cases of illegal and unfair land expropriation, labor camp victims, prison abuses, and political prisoners such as journalist Qi Chonghuai (齐崇怀) and New Citizen Movement activists.
In the midst of all of the above, he found time to write articles commenting on current events using the pen name “Gao Feng” (高峰) — though samples of his writings are hard to come by.
The Repeatedly Beaten Lawyer
Lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军), who has known Wang Quanzhang since 2010, described him as shy and unknown to his peers. That changed in April 2013, when Wang was given a 10-day “judicial detention” by a court in Jingjiang, Jiangsu (江苏靖江), towards the end of the trial of a Falun Gong case, for supposedly “violating court order.” From the account of his assistant, he defended his client ferociously despite frequent interruptions by the judge, whom he vowed to file a complaint against. His “not guilty” defense made the judge furious — merely practicing Falun Gong is a crime, according to the Party.
No lawyer had ever previously been detained inside the court during proceedings. Scores of human rights lawyers and citizen activists from all over the country descended on Jingjiang and protested in front of the courthouse. Having never witnessed such a scene before, the court relented and released Wang Quanzhang two days later.
In recent years Wang dealt almost exclusively with Falun Gong cases. For that, he took a lot more beatings inside and outside the court, as brutality against Falun Gong defendants, and sometimes their lawyers, occurs frequently. Many human rights lawyers such as Wang Yu (王宇), and more recently lawyer Lu Tingge (卢廷阁), can attest to this travesty unthinkable in a country with the rule of law.
In April 2014, Wang Quanzhang was among a number of lawyers and activists who went to Jiansanjiang (建三江) in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang to rescue four other lawyers who had been detained after they themselves sought to rescue Falun Gong practitioners illegally detained in a black jail called “Legal Education Base.” In the middle of the night he was hauled out of his sleeping bag, he wrote in the Chinese’ edition of The New York Times. “Two men quickly tied me up with ropes, with my arms behind me, pulling a black hood over my head.” He was put on a bus to a police station, where after some wrangling, two policemen hit his head against the wall. More violence was threatened until he agreed to sign a statement promising that he would not to take part in “illegal gatherings in Jiansanjiang.”
In June, 2015, in Liaocheng, Shandong (山东聊城), about a month before the 709 crackdown began, Wang Quanzhang was co-counsel with two other lawyers in the trial of several Falun Gong practitioners. At the end of the trial, which was marked by a fierce defense, the judge, Wang wrote: “Suddenly ordered the bailiffs to remove me from the courtroom for disrupting court order. A dozen or so bailiffs rushed into the courtroom. Some gripped me by the arm, one clenched me by the throat, and they hauled me out. At this point, someone had started fiercely punching me in the head; others were hurling abuse… I was dragged into a room on the first floor of the courthouse, and was ordered by one of the police to kneel. I refused. They started beating me again.”
The Chinese Government’s Fictitious Case Against Wang Quanzhang
Like all other 709 detainees, Wang Quanzhang was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated place” for six months. He was likely held in the same building as other Beijing lawyers, such as Wang Yu and Xie Yanyi, who have since been released and written about their ordeals.
For example, in A Record of 709, 709 lawyer Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) described the sounds emanating from the room above between October 1 and 8 in 2015: “At about 9 a.m. on October 1, I distinctly heard someone above me fall hard onto the floor. There was a soft groan, then no more sound. It seemed like someone had just been given an electric shock. From October 1 to 10, nearly every day I heard interrogations and howling and moaning in the middle of the night in the room above me.” He wondered whether it was Wang Quanzhang or Hu Shigen. “The fact that there has been no information whatsoever about Wang Quanzhang for more than two years is an act of terrorism,” he wrote.
On January 8, 2016, after the six months of secret detention were over, Wang Quanzhang was formally arrested for alleged “subversion of state power.” Over the twelve months that followed, the police used extended custody and a prosecutorial time delay technique, known as “returning case to police for further investigation” (退回补充侦查), to hold Wang without indictment or trial. This is a common practice used against political prisoners.
Into the later part of the 709 crackdown, the government has dispensed with such pretenses altogether, holding Wang Quanzhang indefinitely without any legal basis, real or otherwise.
On January 3, 2016, the Swedish national Peter Dahlin was detained in Beijing. In an interview with China Change, Dahlin said that lawyer Wang Quanzhang was at the center of the police interrogations. “The focus was to try to find an angle to smear Wang Quanzhang. Considerable time had been spent on calling Wang a criminal, despite me pointing out almost daily that his case had not even been transferred to prosecutor, let alone having resulted in a conviction. Similarly, they refused to point out any activity by Wang that was actually a crime, except saying his work threatened national security, and that he has defended ‘evil cult’ practitioners and used his social media to highlight his work as a lawyer.”
Back in his hometown in Shandong, toward the end of April 2016, local police, admitting that they were under orders from Tianjin, visited Wang Quanzhang’s aging parents and siblings. They talked Wang’s father into speaking on camera, advising his son to admit guilt in exchange for leniency. His sister, an average village woman who had never questioned the government until the crash course she went through with the disappearance of her younger brother, asked the police: “What crime has my brother committed?” The police told her that Wang defended Falun Gong practitioners, and doing so is opposing the Communist Party because Falun Gong was an “evil cult.”
In mid-February, 2017, Wang Quanzhang was indicted for “subversion of state power.” But neither his lawyers nor his wife were given a copy of the indictment despite their persistent demands for it. We don’t know how the Communist Party has built its case against him. We do know that they have been eager to have him admit guilt, without success: the hometown police told his family that “Wang Quanzhang has been very uncooperative.”
A human rights lawyer who represented another 709 detainee and made many trips to Tianjin, and who wishes to remain anonymous, shared an interesting observation: he believed that the government didn’t have a plan when it rounded up the lawyers and activists in July 2015. Instead, they devised it as they went along, using torture to subdue them and have them admit guilt. “The government could find no evidence of crimes against them in the existing laws; but they felt they must muzzle the lawyers, and used illegal methods to do so. That is, they arrested the lawyers and activists first, then looked for or fabricated ‘evidence’ against them. The purpose is to terrorize and deter the rights defense community through criminal punishment.”
The propaganda machine has worked in sync to disseminate the Party’s evolving narrative and belittle some of China’s most courageous citizens: when the 709 lawyers and activists were first detained, Party mouthpieces churned out articles and TV segments describing them as “the bad horses that hurt the entire herd.” By the time Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民) and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国) were tried in August, 2016, the activities of human rights lawyers and activists was recast into a conspiratorial “color revolution” with “anti-China foreign forces” behind the scenes. In the more recent TV confessions, lawyers Xie Yang (谢阳) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) were made to say that they were “exploited by Western anti-China forces” and brainwashed by “Western constitutionalism and other erroneous ideas.”
Free Wang Quanzhang
In the two and a half years of his disappearance, Wang Quanzhang’s toddler son has grown bigger. His wife Li Wenzu (李文足), who had never taken much interest in her husband’s professional work, has become his most vocal and effective advocate, enduring unceasing harassment from the police. She was recently awarded the inaugural Outstanding Citizen Award by a network of activists inside China for her courage and perseverance.
No statements from foreign governments, no inquiries from United Nations committees, no amount of media scrutiny, seems sufficient to unseat the Communist Party’s determination to use an iron fist to subdue any citizen it deems “dangerous” in its increasingly paranoid outlook on the world.
By all indications, it seems that Wang Quanzhang is not yielding either. Foreseeing what was to come, Wang left a letter for his parents in July 2015:
No matter how despicable and ridiculous we appear to be in the portrayal by the manipulated media, Mother, Father, please believe your son, and please believe your son’s friends.
I have never abandoned the qualities Father and Mother instilled in me: honesty, kindheartedness, integrity. In all these years, I have used these principles to guide my life. Even though I’ve often been steeped in despair, I have never given up thoughts for a better future.
My taking up the work—and walking down the path—of defending human rights wasn’t just a sudden impulse. Instead, it came from a hidden part of my nature, a calling that has intensified over the years—and has always been slowly reaching up like the ivy.
This kind of path is doomed to be thorny, tortuous, rocky.
But when I think of the difficult road we have gone through together, this path seems commonplace.
Dear Father and Mother, please feel proud of me. Also, no matter how horrible the environment is, you must hang on and live, and wait for the day when the clouds will disperse and the sun will come out.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
After Four Detainees of the ‘709 Incident’ Are Indicted, Chinese State Media Name Foreign News Organizations, a US Congressman, & Three Embassies in Beijing as ‘Foreign Anti-China Forces’, China Change, July 15, 2016.
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu explains why Chinese government is out to get them, China Change, July 23, 2015.
January 10, 2018
Since 2009 Wu Gan has arguably been the best known, and certainly the most recognizable, activist in China for his bold and innovative tactics. Wu Gan was arrested on May 19, 2015, and looking back, he was in fact the first detainee of what became the 709 Crackdown. As with all other 709 detainees, he was held in secret detention for months, where he was tortured. He was tried behind closed doors on August 15, 2017, without a verdict. On December 26, the court sentenced him to eight years in prison for “subverting state power.” The evidence against him were 12 occasions where he had campaigned, in his colorful style, to correct injustice in one form or another. According to his lawyer, Wu Gan rejected a deal with the authorities which would have given him a suspended sentence if he were to admit guilt. Following Wu Gan’s sentence, his defending counsel filed the following appeal. — The Editors
Appellant: Wu Gan (吴淦). Male. Han ethnicity. DOB: February 14, 1972. Place of birth: Fuqing city, Fujian Province. Citizen ID: 3502061972XXXX2033. Senior high school education. Administrative officer at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所). Currently being held at the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center (天津市第二看守所).
Defending counsel: Ge Yongxi (葛永喜), Guangdong Anguo Law Firm (广东安国律师事务所); Yan Xin (燕薪), Beijing Laishuo Law Firm (北京来硕律师事务所)
The appellant lodges this appeal to overturn the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court’s (2016) Criminal Judgement No. 146
Appeal request: Vacate the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court’s (2016) Criminal Judgement No. 146 and render a judgement of not guilty.
Facts and Grounds:
i. Subjective Factors
Although the appellant “in court acknowledged his thoughts of subverting state power,” and expressed a wish to endeavour toward this end, thought does not constitute criminal conduct. If the verbal expressions of the appellant are sufficient to constitute a crime, it should also be considered that the appellant in court also said: “subverting state power is the legitimate right of the citizen; subversion of state power shouldn’t even be a crime in the first place.” In the mind of the appellant, he is simply exercising his right to subvert state power — and so what crime has he committed?
ii. Objective Factors
When rendering judgement on whether an individual’s conduct is criminal, it is vital to examine the character of their actions. The actions of the appellant — whether speech made via Weibo, WeChat, Twitter, his three “Guides,” interviews given to foreign media, or audio lectures — all fall under the rubric of legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. Similarly, the appellant’s participation in 12 noted cases — which involved ‘stand-and-watch’ protests, appealing in support of a cause, raising funds, or expressing himself via performance art — are also all exercises in freedom of expression, provided for in his civil rights of: the right to criticize and make suggestions; the right to lodge appeals and complaints; the right to report and expose malfeasance, and so on. These rights are innate, and are provided for in the constitution and law of the People’s Republic of China. The exercise of these rights has nothing at all to do with so-called subversion of state power. Even less are the appellant’s actions implicated in any form of attack on the state regime or the national system of government established in the constitution.
iii. The Object of the Crime
The concept of the “state power” is a macro structure, and refers specifically to the actual rule of the central authority. Local political authorities, local judicial organs, and individual administrative or judicial officials, are not identical with the “state power.” Questioning, criticizing, reporting misconduct, and bringing complaints against local political and judicial organs or individual officials does not constitute an attempt to harm the state power.
iv. Considerations of Harm to Society
All speech acts by the appellant, as well as his participation in the 12 cases, did not cause the harm to society that is required in criminal law for the acts to constitute crimes. Not only did the speech acts not cause any harm at all to society, but they inspired a sense of citizenship and rights consciousness in members of the public, as well as effectively exercising supervision over the work of local governmental and judicial organs, thus causing injustices to be righted. What greater contribution to the public welfare could there be?
v. Regarding the Crime of ‘Subverting State Power’ Itself
a. What Is the State Power in Question?
“State power” can be defined in both narrow and broad senses. The broader definition would refer to the manner in which state power is expressed in political sovereignty at the level of a nation with defined geographical boundaries. This encompasses all of the authority of a state, including the tripartite legislative, administrative, and judicial powers. The meaning of “state power” under this definition is simply a concrete manifestation of political sovereignty.
The narrow definition of state power refers to the central or federal administrative branch of government within the framework of a national polity.
b. Who Can Subvert the Sovereignty of the People?
In the current era, nation states are countries under the sovereignty of the people. The second article in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China stipulates: “All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people.” This sentence sufficiently demonstrates that state power in China has to be established on the basis of popular sovereignty. Given that sovereignty belongs to the people, then of course the people have the right to subvert the regime. It is simply a matter of the methods used: whether peaceful elections, non-violent revolution, violent revolution, or other means. Looking to political experience and practice around the world, it’s only the dictatorships that grasp onto power for decades on end who in actual fact subvert the sovereignty of the people. This is why no one has heard of ordinary citizens in a civilized country being charged with the crime of subverting state power. If sovereignty does not belong to the people, then the people’s subversion of state power in order to return sovereignty to the people is right and proper.
c. State Power is Not Equal to a Political Party’s Regime
In electoral democracies, state power in its narrow definition is typically held at any one time by one or a few political parties — thus the idea of a ‘ruling party’ or a coalition of parties that govern. The matter of which political party power is to reside in should be determined in competitive and free elections. It ought not be that a particular party seizes power for itself exclusively, not allowing any other person or political party comment on the matter. Even if particular citizens offer dissent to the regime of a particular party, or work in concert with one another to subvert it, these are all rights within the ambit of popular sovereignty and have nothing to do with subverting the power of the state.
d. The Socialist System and State Power
The social system to be adopted is a question of the ideological and political platform of a party. No political party has the right to inextricably bind its own ideology and system and theory of governance to state power writ large, as though it were the unchanging and eternal standard. Whether a political program is accepted and supported by the public ought to be a matter decided by the public at large. Thus, whether one opposes or even attempts to overthrow the socialist system should not be a constitutive element in the determination of subversion of state power. Language referring to the ‘socialist system’ should not appear in the statute addressing this crime.
e. Only Violent Subversion Can Constitute a Crime
Surveying the legal practices of every constitutional democracy in the world today, it is clear that only when an individual resorts to violence in an attempt to subvert the regime or government does the act constitute a crime. The use of peaceful measures — even when intended to subvert a regime or government — are simply not crimes. Even in the basic theories of political science, the people possess the natural and legitimate right to use violence to overthrow a tyrannical dictatorship. Is not the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party’s government itself just such an example from history?
Given all of the above, the appellant believes that — whether on the basis of the natural rights each individual is endowed with, or the common sense of jurisprudence and political science — the Tianjin Intermediate No. 2 Court should revise its decision against the appellant to not guilty. The appellant also suggests that the National People’s Congress revise the Criminal Law to limit the applicable scope of Article 105, relating to subversion of state power — or simply repeal the criminal category in its entirety.
Tianjin Higher People’s Court
Appellant: Wu Gan
Defending counsel: Ge Yongxi, Yan Xin
January 4, 2018
The Twelve ‘Crimes’ of Wu Gan the Butcher, China Change, August 13, 2017.
Why Is Wu Gan ‘The Butcher’ So Important? Mo Zhixu, August 16, 2017
Wu Gan’s Statement After Being Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison for ‘Subversion,’ China Change, December 26, 2017.
My Pretrial Statement, Wu Gan, August 9, 2017.
Wu Gan the Butcher, a profile by Yaqiu Wang, July, 2015.
Bill of Indictment Against Rights Activist Wu Gan, January 12, 2017.
Wu Gan’s “three Guides” in Chinese:
Guide to Butchering Pigs (《杀猪宝典》)
Guide to Drinking Tea (《喝茶宝典》)
Huang Yu, January 5, 2017
Zhen Jianghua has been placed under secrect detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated place,” his lawyer Ren Quanniu was told over the phone on December 13, 2017. Zhen continues to be denied access to his lawyers. — The Editors
Zhen Jianghua (甄江华) hadn’t yet gone to bed at midnight on September 1, 2017, when police burst into his apartment and put him in handcuffs. As he was being led out, he was unperturbed, and simply told his roommate: “Make sure you tell Xiao Li (小丽) to check Taobao and pick up my packages.” Xiao Li is Zhen Jianghua’s ex-wife. The phrase was code to say that she should spread the news of his arrest. Within a day the police had ransacked his house twice and confiscated his computer and all his documents. Not long after, his family received a notice of criminal detention for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power.”
Zhen Jianghua, 32 this year, is the key organizer behind an NGO known as Human Rights Campaign in China Service Center, or HRC China. It was formed in October 2008. Zhen took over it in October 2015, registering it in Hong Kong. His daily work involved aggregating and publishing updated news about human rights events in China, engaging with foreign media, and coordinating aid efforts — and sometimes protests — for human rights defenders who had been sent to prison.
The number of people in mainland China engaged in human rights relief work is vanishingly small — but even among this tight-knit group, Zhen Jianghua was one of an even smaller number who insisted on using his real name in the work. Openly engaging in these activities inside China brought Zhen an extraordinary array of difficulties in getting through daily life, and ended with the tragedy of prison.
He knew what was to come and made preparations for it. For several years, he only wore black: two sets of black t-shirts, two pairs of black shoes. Every night before bed, he did 50 push-ups, 50 squats, and 50 chin-ups. He ate vegetarian, or sometimes subsisted on meal replacement powder. He lived as plainly as possible. He also signed multiple blank copies of Power of Attorney, and gave them to friends. His Google account was set to automatically purge everything if he didn’t log in for two days. And he had a strict schedule for periodically wiping all data from his computer and phone.
From the moment he made the choice to engage in this work, he cut himself off from nearly all his friends, gradually becoming an island unto himself. “There’s nowhere safe in China,” he said. “You never know who’ll sell you out.” For both his own safety and that of others, he also rarely interacted with anyone in the same, small, rights defense community in China. Thus, if he was ever brought in and interrogated, he could indeed simply say: “I don’t know.”
“We can each see what the other’s doing,” he’d often say. “There’s no need to be in contact.”
The name he gave himself online was “Zhen Jianghua, you big fool.” His Facebook signature was: “In my own way, helping those who’ve already paid so great a price for their dreams — those who really need help.” After he was arrested, friends set up a Facebook page called “Southern Fool Concern Group” to post information about him.
This ‘southern fool’ was born in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province (广东江门). He graduated high-school through the vocational track, specializing in computing. Then he went straight to work. His first job, in 2005, was at an internet data center in Zhuhai (珠海). He worked hard and was eventually promoted to a managerial position. But the simple life of a computer programmer that he had led would be stirred up by the growing emergence of China’s censorship state.
One day at work, an elderly man came with his daughter. The man painted pictures for a living, and had set up his own online bulletin board on the side. He made a few posts about Mao Zedong, with titles like “An Overview of Mao,” and so on. He was using the servers of Zhen Jianghua’s company at the time, and suddenly his BBS had been shut down. Zhen thought at the time: this is very sensitive, we can’t talk about it, and it’s entirely normal that he was shut down. At the same time, he felt sorry for the old fellow and wanted to help him out. Later, when the company bought servers in Hong Kong, Zhen Jianghua moved this and other similar BBSs over, so they’d stay alive for a bit longer. But eventually none would survive the fate of being shut down.
As time went on, the government’s internet censors began calling Zhen’s company more and more, instructing they shut down particular websites. Nanjing University’s vibrant BBS, Little Lily, as well as Tsinghua University’s Shuimu BBS, were both blocked for non-campus access. Those were the changes that made Chinese netizens finally aware of the control and supervision that was taking place. Meanwhile, Zhen Jianghua’s company began engaging in top-down self-censorship, developing a program that examined the content of the servers and automatically shut it down for “bad traffic.” More recently, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology published “Order 43” prohibiting websites and data companies to provide services without registering with the government.
In his spare time, Zhen Jianghua was involved in Wikipedia Chinese, and started joining technical events for Google developers. Through community activities, he made connections with grassroots people and taught them how to use the internet to advocate for their own interests. The world, for the young man, was diverging in two opposite directions.
For a while, he had to travel to Hong Kong frequently for business, and learned about the annual June 4 commemoration in Victoria Park. He admired the “Tiananmen Mothers.” “Those people emit radiance,” he said. He began making the annual trip to the Victoria Park commemoration. One year he brought a friend from China along and they helped hand out fliers. When the friend returned he was questioned by state security police (国保), got in trouble at his job, and was banned from leaving China for five years.
At this point Zhen Jianghua realized that if he was going to resist state power, his life would be changed fundamentally. He also realized that those, like his friend, who paid the price for doing so wouldn’t be remembered.
Yet he wasn’t quite ready for outright resistance. Instead, he tried his hand at a number of safe endeavors after his job as a programmer. For instance, he became a full time social worker for the Zhuhai Municipal Red Cross, where he primarily called in on the “hard-pressed masses,” delivering rice, oil, noodles, and later washing detergent to poor families. As a government affiliated social worker, his job was to maintain contact with the targets of the services and “keep their emotions stable.” He wasn’t able to keep this position for very long, because after adding his signature to an online call of support for Ai Weiwei in 2011, he was taken away by police for an inquiry, in front of his colleagues at work. Zhen quit of his own accord “to protect the Red Cross from any negative impact.” He was also the head social worker at Nanqingcun (南青村), where he dealt with female victims of domestic violence. The most he could do was advise that they file for divorce.
His brief period as a social worker inside the official system made him fed up. “Being a social worker in China is a debilitating job,” he said. “You have to sing the praises of the Communist Party morning to night, put on events, studiously avoid sensitive topics — such as why villagers are poor in the first place, and you can’t teach them their rights and how to empower themselves.” Zhen knew that delivering rice and cooking oil wasn’t addressing the fundamental issues, and that working inside the system made it impossible to think about the structural problems.
Zhen thought that if social work was forced to avoid sensitive issues and sensitive social groups, then it was not what he wanted. He quit and was on his own. He began participating in activities to help prisoners of conscience, in a personal capacity. He helped collect signatures and spread information about tainted milk formula with Zhao Lianhai (赵连海), a father in Beijing whose son had been poisoned by melamine-tainted milk; he paid the phone bill for feminist activist Ye Haiyan (叶海燕) — neither of whom he had met. Later, when he met rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) for the first time, Zhen said by way of introduction that “My online name is ‘guest Zhen,’” to which Jiang replied that he remembered him as “the one who sent all those messages encouraging us years ago.” (Jiang Tianyong was sentenced to two years imprisonment on November 21, 2017, for “subversion of state power.”)
In late 2010 after Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) won the Nobel Peace Prize, a group of likeminded Chinese internet users wanted to get together and celebrate. Everyone was supposed to communicate via Twitter, but one activist who was often monitored by the authorities made the mistake of calling Zhen Jianghua and inviting him to the gathering. For the authorities, this was the first time that the online “guest” persona and the real life Zhen Jianghua were connected. After that, the police began calling in on him regularly, and whenever a politically sensitive date or activity arrived, they would take him on forced “travel.” He could also no longer attend the June 4th commemoration at the Victoria Park in Hong Kong.
But once his real identity was exposed, rather than backing off, he went all in.
Zhen began to launch projects on his own, mostly having to do with recording events or providing technical support. For instance, he launched a project called “Big Brother” to keep tabs on citizens who had been monitored by the state; he maintained a website called “Drink Tea Net” (喝茶网) which collected ordinary citizens’ testimonies of being questioned by police for their activism under the euphemism of “drinking tea.” He also established the site “Climb the Wall Net” (翻墙网) which provided technical assistance to netizens on how to circumvent Beijing’s Great Fire Wall.
In 2013 a student group at the Zhuhai campus of Beijing Institute of Technology (北京理工大学珠海学院) invited him to give a talk about circumventing Beijing’s internet blockade. The students put up posters around campus for an event that taught “how to use Internet scientifically.” The event was shut down and the Party leadership at the university called the students in for questioning. “Do you have any idea what kind of person this Zhen Jianghua is?” they asked the students.
Zhen wasn’t too concerned with the state security police coming to harass him, nor did he mind being told to stay off campus. But when the security division at the university threatened to deny the graduation of students who’d invited him, Zhen Jianghua was furious. He tracked down the state security officers in charge of the case and said: “I can leave the area if that’s what’s required; if there’s an issue, come to me, don’t bother the students. They’re about to graduate, and if that’s denied it will have a huge impact on their lives.” The state security officers acquiesced to his proposal, and ordered him not to step foot on campus again.
“But actually, later I went to the school quite a lot. After all, a lot of people at the Beijing Institute of Technology are into internet technologies,” Zhen said. He felt that he had a way to negotiate with the state security police: he can always quit what he’s doing to let them save face.
Meanwhile, he was still involved in providing assistance to prisoners of conscience. “They’re the ones who’ve come out in the open and borne the brunt. The least we can do is offer them support.”
From Behind the Scenes to the Front Lines
Beginning in 2010, Zhen Jianghua was constantly being kicked out of his rental apartments in Zhuhai. Every time he moved, not long after he’d settled in, state security officers would call the landlord, and the fearful landlord would ask him to move away.
Being jolted around with him was Zhen’s wife at the time, Xiao Li. Xiao Li and Zhen Jianghua met due to their shared joy in taking in stray dogs and cats. Their life together was never stable but for a while very romantic: every year on December 31 they’d travel to the seaside and watch the sun go down atop of a lighthouse; after passing the night there, they’d watch the sun come up on January 1. On Christmas day they’d walk around handing out candy and encouraging people to donate blood. They themselves had donated blood over 100 times. They’d also taken in over 20 stray cats; and because they couldn’t afford a vet, they learned to do sterilization surgery themselves.
The harassment they were suffering in Zhuhai eventually led the couple to move to Macau and work at the non-profit Fu Hong Society (扶康會), where they served people with autism. This precious, temporary peace lasted until July 9, 2015.
On that day and in the following days, over 300 human rights lawyers and activists in 23 provinces and cities across China were detained, summoned, or disappeared. This is known as the “709 Crackdown.” On January 12, 2016, after six months of secret detention, director of the Fengrui Law Firm Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), legal intern Li Shuyun (李姝云), legal assistant Zhao Wei (赵威), were formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.”
In early June 2016, Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭) and Li Wenzu (李文足), the wives of disappeared rights lawyers Li Heping (李和平) and Wang Quanzhang respectively, were taken into custody and brought to the Guajiasi police station in Tianjin. Before they were brought in, Wang Qiaoling sent out a message saying that she had been detained; soon thereafter, Zhen Jianghua’s HRC China verified the news and published it. At the police station, an officer pulled out his phone, turned on his VPN, clicked on the HRC China website, and held it up to Wang Qiaoling: “Look. You’ve been here for less than an hour, and the news is everywhere.”
Such is the extreme efficiency of Zhen Jianghua’s operation. From the beginning of the 709 arrests, he sprang into action and didn’t stop, doing three things simultaneously:
- Responding rapidly to instances of human rights abuse. As a social worker, he got in touch with and visited family members, and in every case tried to ensure that a support network was established for everyone who had been taken into custody;
- Educating family members and others that people who are arrested for political reasons are not guilty of anything;
- Based on previous experience, he would publicize news about arrests, mobilize social media, and contact foreign human rights officials so they would exert pressure on the Chinese authorities.
This sort of work was nothing like helping people scale the Great Fire Wall or organizing events. The pressure and stress Zhen was under rose dramatically, and it didn’t come with the earlier sense of satisfaction, when there was still the hope for an actual civil society in China. A friend described how he worked: every day he’d follow two or three cases, verify what had been initially reported, write a report, publish it, and then contact people about it. He sat down and powered through the work without rest, “like his life depended on it.”
He often worked through the night. He wouldn’t get much sleep during the daytime, either. If someone was suddenly arrested and the family needed support, he’d buy a train ticket right away and go. For their own safety he couldn’t tell his friends and family where he was going or what he was doing. His wife Xiao Li eventually got used to it, and they began to see less and less of each other. The year before last, on Zhen Jianghua’s birthday, Xiao Li baked him a cake. Zhen came over, quickly blew out the candles, ate a few mouthfuls, and got back to work.
Initially he gave himself a deadline of two years to set up HRC China, and once it was up and running, his plan was to hand the daily operations off to someone else. “I can’t get rid of it right now; no one is willing to take it on,” he joked to a friend in August of this year.
Xiao Li grew more and more uncomfortable with his work. She described Zhen’s work as walking a tightrope. There’s no way out. He must press forward — yet the further he goes, the narrower and thinner the rope becomes.
It’s from about this period that Zhen began preparing for prison. Friends asked him whether living like he did was worth it. He responded: “There are things that someone just has to do.”
Li Xuewen (黎学文), a Chinese writer who often comments on public affairs, says that what Zhen Jianghua has been through over the last decade is typical of the trajectory of Chinese human rights activists, where they go from doing behind-the-scenes work to ending up on the front lines themselves. When Zhen started, he was quietly involved in support work and broadcasting what was going on; but later, as the repression increased and the environment for human rights quickly deteriorated, he ended up stepping forward. He began arriving on the scene at rights defense protests, first holding placards, then spending time with the families of prisoners of conscience to help them through. Now he faces jail time himself. This transformation reflects the broader change in the human rights environment in China: After all the frontline activists were arrested, it’s the turn of those behind the scenes. Li Xuewen remarked: “Zhen Jianghua’s arrest is his coronation by the authorities for the years he has put into tenacious and courageous human rights work.”
The Chinese government has been tightening the net around NGOs since 2013, when Xu Zhiyong (许志永), the founder of the Open Constitution Initiative (公盟), was arrested and sentenced to prison; following this, Transition Institute (传知行) founded by Guo Yushan (郭玉闪) was shut down. The repression culminated in the 709 Crackdown in 2015.
Zhen Jianghua didn’t spend the 2017 Chinese New Year with Xiao Li, but instead went to Beijing alone to spend it with families of 709 families. Lawyer Wang Quanzhang’s wife Li Wenzu described Zhen as a lonely person as he departed on the third day of the new year.
A Stepping Stone
A month before Zhen Jianghua was arrested, NGO worker Xiao Ming asked him to film an interview with a daughter whose father died of occupational disease. As the interviewee became upset and unable to express herself, Zhen Jianghua picked up a pen and paper and began taking notes, kneeling next to and comforting her. Xiao Ming was surprised. “His professionalism, kindness, attention to detail, and empathy left me with a deep impression,” Xiao Ming said.
Zhen’s patience in going about his work was legendary. Over a few year period, he submitted over 100 requests for government data under freedom of information laws, and also submitted a number of enquiries about administrative conduct that violated the rights of individual citizens. In July of 2016 the Cyberspace Administration of China ordered Sina, Sohu, NetEase, Phoenix, and other commercial web portals to cease their columns of original news content. Zhen Jianghua mailed seven requests for open government information about the details of its demand on these web portals. After repeated follow-ups, three months later he finally got an answer from the Cyberspace Administration, which provided a detailed explanation. In response to his question about how much content had been deleted, they responded that the agency “did not preserve any record of it.” Zhen published the full text of the correspondence online.
He knew the sort of danger his activities would bring. He also knew that he probably couldn’t really change anything. But he thought he could at least show people that civil society in China still has a little room to breathe. He once wrote: “We are like a signpost. People will walk by. They will see the pits we’ve fallen into, a pit with corpses stacked up in it. If I am just that, maybe that’s not too bad.”
An Island Unto Himself
In early September 2016, Zhen Jianghua traveled to Wukan to interview villagers. He was arrested. His wife Xiao Li broadcast the news, and it began to circulate among friends in the rights defense community. After his release, he and Xiao Li began divorce proceedings. A seven year marriage had reached its end.
Despite the fact that they had drifted apart, Xiao Li didn’t want to divorce at first.
But Zhen didn’t like to further complicate life for Xiao Li. What did he have to offer her? All his energy was thrown into his work. He had no time to think about house chores they used to share. He would forget to put the dirty clothes in the laundry as he had been told to. He would often be gone for days without telling her where he was and what he was doing. This, after a long while, began to wear on his wife. “What’s the big deal if you tell me? I can also keep a secret!” she once said.
Xiao Li suffered depression. At its worst, she’d walk the seven kilometers home from work rather than take the bus, because she didn’t want to end up at sitting at home all alone. So she took her time ambling along the route, leaving work at 8:00 p.m. and getting to the door at around 11:00 p.m.
Both Li and Zhen’s relatives had been harassed by state security agents. They hadn’t lived in the same place for more than two years. Every time they moved, they ended up with fewer and fewer suitcases, to the point when they could put everything into a single suitcase. Zhen became more and more dejected in spirits: months after he began running HRC CHina full time, Xiao Li found that he was suffering insomnia, depression, and constant fatigue. Nor did exercise help. Zhen didn’t want to visit a counsellor, or let out to people around him.
Zhen had a progressive outlook toward gender relations. He often said that in a patriarchal society like China, marriage is an imposition on the woman; because of him, Xiao Li’s life had been turned upside down — he said that she should be able to discover her own self.
The last time they were in touch was August, 2017. Zhen called and asked whether she had time to look after his cats; she declined. In fact, she’d deleted Zhen’s contact information, because not long after their divorce, Zhen had called and told her that he’d already begun dating a female friend.
Late in the night on September 29, nearly a month after Zhen had been taken away, Xiao Li found herself outside the walls of the Zhuhai No. 1 Detention Center in a daze. She wrote in her diary: “We were separated by a mere wall. I thought I had mentally prepared myself well enough, but the reality crushed me all the same.”
Zhen had become estranged not only from his wife, but his parents too. Every time he went back to his hometown, state security police weren’t far behind. They’d sit his parents down and ask them to tell their son to abandon his activism and “turn over a new leaf.” As the time wore on, Zhen couldn’t stand the harassment and simply stopped going back home. Due to security concerns, he also drifted apart from others in the human rights defense community.
He who put so much effort into supporting others so they wouldn’t be cut off from the world, became an island unto himself.
Among those he had helped are the Feminist Five, the Yirenping Center’s Guo Bin (郭彬) and Yang Zhanqing (杨占青), families of the 709 crackdown, labor rights defender Meng Han (孟晗), and participants in a seaside memorial for Liu Xiaobo. He was also involved in assisting countless political prisoners who were given both heavy and light sentences. He believed that “We need to step out to do it in order to mobilize more people to join us.”
Yet as the crackdown has grown harsher, the number of his fellow travellers has grown steadily fewer.
After Zhen was arrested, the authorities told his parents that if they insist on using the lawyers that he had previously commissioned, he would be given a life sentence. If they used a lawyer provided by the government, however, he might get off with a light verdict.
His sister wrote about her fond memories of growing up with him. Her article was quickly deleted from the internet, and state security police went to her house to threaten her.
Xiao Li regrets the fact that now she’s simply an “ex wife.” Otherwise, she would be able to do so many things: write articles, mobilize support, meet with attorneys, remonstrate with officials, and speak to the media. But so what? “Before, posts and photos survived online for about two days; now it’s less than two hours.” Activist A Bai (阿白) says that in the age of Big Data, the surveillance system has grown so strong and smart that activists have no room to act.
In the 12 years Zhen Jianghua lived in Zhuhai, his favorite spot was the lighthouse. To get there, you had to jump a railing at the harbor, then scramble across the rocks — positioned high and low, at sharp, obtrusive angles — for about a kilometer.
The lighthouse seems to lead a solitary existence, but it knows there are others like it out there. Zhen Jianghua too lived like a lighthouse, persisting in his human rights work, in the dark, seemingly all alone.
The last time I saw him I asked: If you’re arrested, what should I do? He responded: “Don’t worry about me. Whether you mobilize people on the outside or not, it won’t make any difference. Just tell my parents and everyone else that I’ve been arrested. That’ll do.”
I still remember our parting words:
“So, what is the meaning of the work you’ve been doing?”
“Simply that, in China, there are still people who are doing it.”
(The names of certain individuals in the article have been changed for their security.)
Drinking Tea with the State Security Police, Yaxue Cao, March 1, 2012.
Drinking Tea with the State Security Police – Components of a He Cha Session, Yaxue Cao, March 1, 2012.
Transated from Chinese by China Change: 端傳媒《「南方傻瓜」甄江華：黑暗中行走的抗爭者》
Visit The Initium membership page: https://membership.theinitium.com