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Liu Shuqing, May 16, 2018
Beginning last year as the 709 crackdown gradually petered out, the government’s hands were freed up, and they decided to do something about the ‘unconventional lawyers’ (非常规律师) they kept seeing. They have since been targeting these lawyers using a combination of methods that aim at terminating their professional lives. These include straightforward revocation or annulment of legal licences; forcing lawyers to transfer law offices but then gumming up the process so they end up with no place of employment; delaying lawyer annual assessments and more. The community has felt the blow and the sting.
The reason I place these targeted lawyers under the term ‘unconventional’ is because the scope of targets in this round of assault is fairly broad: there are the human rights lawyers like Sui Muqing (隋穆青), Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武), Wen Donghai (文东海), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Chunfu (李春富), Huang Simin (黄思敏) and so on — the standard group on the receiving end of punishment from the government — and then there are those like Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), who has experimented with his own performative lawyering, and been called an unorthodox lawyer in the ‘diehard’ school (死磕派); and finally the orthodox diehard lawyers like Zhou Ze (周泽) and Wang Xing (王兴).
Of course, this taxonomy may itself be problematic. Many diehard lawyers have taken on human rights cases, and human rights lawyers are diehards when fighting in court for procedural justice. Moreover, rights defense lawyers and diehard lawyers have been constantly adaptive. Nevertheless, there is a difference in inclination between the two groups, and most importantly, in the political spectrum of lawyers as imagined by officialdom, the difference between these lawyers does exist.
These three groups have been simultaneously punished, but the degrees of punishment dealt differ. These moves against specific lawyers or certain tendencies are clear in their logic and precise in their degrees of severity, and they are entirely consistent with the general ‘stability maintenance’ ethos of the Chinese Communist Party. It is of a piece with the ongoing, gradual return to totalitarian orthodoxy.
In China’s current political climate, the demand of the authorities for ‘stability’ is rising — this means of course that the voices of political dissent, the voices of defense for freedom of speech, assembly, and belief, and the voices that criticize the torture of political offenders, are simply no longer permitted to exist. In particular when it comes to human rights lawyers, who have had the latent potential to form a social organization, the iron hammer must be brought down with even greater force to get rid of them. Thus, active human rights lawyers have come face to face with disaster.
The ‘diehard’ lawyers who constantly drag courts and judges through storms of public opinion also need to be appropriately attacked. The latter often have an extensive and deep network of contacts inside and outside the system; they share the same aspirations and enjoy mutual support from liberal journalists and scholars; and when they take on cases, whether it’s a corrupt official or an organized crime case, they’re able to portray their client as if they were as pure as the undriven snow. Yet for them, being of high repute is not enough — they want to be famous, make a lot more money, and conduct their defense cases without heed to China’s ‘national circumstances’ or established convention. They want to form a defiant style of defense different to models common among the vast majority of lawyers in China: cooperating with the government or even conspiring with the police, prosecution and the court. Their ‘diehard’ work has allowed them to frustrate the execution and image of even the Party’s shuanggui (双规) system [involving the extralegal detention and interrogation of Party cadres suspected of corruption] and anti-crime campaigns. Objectively, they’re also ‘deconstructing’ the Party’s system, so in the future they’ll also be disallowed. This is why lawyers like Zhou Ze (周泽) and Wang Xing (王兴) have been temporarily suspended from practicing, as a way of sending a warning to others like them.
As for the peculiar creature Yang Jinzhu, he’s a category in himself. He once had his day in the sun and had significant influence, but has become increasingly dramatic and vulgar, embarrassed courts and judges, and given lawyers a bad name by cursing and swearing. If the authorities wish to reconstitute the authority of the judicial system and enforce calm and order, those like Yang will also need to be thoroughly purged.
This is the logic behind the government’s actions.
As the authorities see it, this round of precision targeting is not only an intrinsic demand of stability maintenance, but a required house cleaning for future judicial reform that focuses on delivering ‘justice.’ Of course, this logic is self-serving — and the reality is that a sweeping out of lawyers that so departs from justice itself presages a result that will little resemble a just one.
As for whether or not the goal of stability maintenance can be achieved, it will depend on how things play out. The goal of stability maintenance is to preserve the political security of the Party, and all stability maintenance efforts are directed toward this end. Will the attack on lawyers serve to fracture the bonds between rights lawyers and their rights defense movement and thus lead to the decline of the latter, or will the rights defenders become more radical because they’re at the end of their rope? This is impossible to predict.
Now, back to the notion of Justice (正义) cherished by the legal profession. It is not just about the result of a case but also procedural justice. The process of achieving justice is itself a promotion of ideas and mindset, and it’s necessarily an awakening of civil rights awareness and enlightenment. Taken as a whole, the current campaign of purging and punishment deals damage to the cause of justice in numerous ways.
Firstly, this will never result in universal justice in individual cases. Punishing lawyers in this manner will result in court hearings being ‘harmonized’ once again, with no contention between the parties. What they pursue is order, but what they get will simply be ‘harmony.’ This is opposite to the judicial reform ideas pursued just a few years ago, named ‘the two sides contend, the court decides’ (两造对抗、法官居中裁断). In the current judicial system where the relative power of the two sides is not evenly matched, the work of diehard defense lawyers is able to mitigate the defects of the system by making the public security organs and the procuratorate more careful and pay more attention to protecting the legal rights of suspects. Giving more freedom to these lawyers also allows the judge to listen to both sides and thus see the full picture, rather than grow numb under a pile of bland documents. This will increase the chance that justice is obtained; the alternative will be justice randomly distributed, and the outcome, good or bad, will simply depend on chance.
Secondly, this purge campaign directly goes against Justice, because it seeks to stunt the natural growth of citizens’ consciousness of their own rights and the rule of law. Whether human rights lawyers or diehard lawyers, whether calling for protection of basic freedoms, or protecting and demonstrating the right to bring suit, it’s all a microcosm of social progress. When lawyers themselves modulate their participation in this enlightenment, things will progress gradually and with order, and over the long term it will have the effect of raising the general consciousness of the rule of law among the public, ultimately orienting it toward constitutional democracy.
Finally, if the authorities think that by first shocking and aweing lawyers, then rolling out some limited regulations protecting the lawyers’ professional rights and interests, they will be able to ‘bring things back to how they should be’ and re-establish the prestige of the judicial system, then they might as well climb a tree to catch a fish. The prestige of the judicial system does not arise from some sense of court ritual, or from a hypocritical authority that brooks no dissent. The prestige of the judicial system comes from the fair judgements rendered by independent judges, and this encompasses Justice of both procedure and outcome. Only by doing this will people feel that things are fair, and be satisfied and content, and respectful of the system.
Lawyers have played important roles in many countries’ transitions to democracy, and this has fueled the suspicion and vigilance of the Chinese authorities around the growth of human rights lawyers and diehard lawyers. Civil society has also put enormous hope in rights defense lawyers. During the suppression of political opponents in the ‘Kaohsiung incident’ in Taiwan, defense lawyers ultimately became a key part of the opposition movement. In Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, president from 2003-2008, also started as a defense lawyer before becoming an opposition political leader. In India, the leader of India’s movement for national self-determination, Mahatma Gandhi, was also a lawyer. And over 200 years ago when the United States was formed, nearly half of the participants in the Constitutional Convention were lawyers. The suppression of lawyers by the CCP is a preemptive attack against an imaginary threat.
The truth is, in a totalitarian society, there is simply no space for an independent sphere of power to grow. Although the spread of WeChat and QQ chat groups has led to a degree of fellowship among small groups in society, these are still communities centered around shared ideas or hobbies, and the difference between them and genuine civic organizations is night and day. Perhaps they will band together and offer comfort to one another in times of crisis, but they cannot truly grow into a political force. Thus, they are essentially still atomized. The community of human rights lawyers is no different.
In a state as massive as China, silence induced by political suppression comes with its own risks. Within the framework of Chinese law, the small number of rights defense and diehard lawyers have the effect of placing minor, appropriate restraints on the exercise of power. What the CCP could have done is respond flexibly to this group, and give them a small degree of latitude. But the Party is disproportionately obsessed with and terrified about its political security, with the result that its methods of rule become inescapably more and more rigid and brittle.
 A category of lawyers who “argue vehemently and uncompromisingly, but do not take on politically sensitive cases…” (as Eva Pils writes in ‘China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance’ (2015) p. 282 note 111)
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) is a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, His own law license was revoked in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive. In April 2018 the university announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January 24, 2018.
Human Rights Lawyer Wen Donghai Targeted in Continuous Crackdown, China Change, November 6, 2017
Little-Known Chinese Lawyer Disbarred for Defending Freedom of Speech, Yaxue Cao, October 3, 2017.
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.
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice
China Change, May 14, 2018
Following the ‘709 crackdown’ — a large-scale attack against human rights lawyers that began on July 9, 2015 — China has continued to target this small group (about 0.1% of China’s 300,000 lawyers) who have taken on cases to defend basic human rights and other forms of social injustice. While torture and imprisonment have failed to cowe them, the government is now resorting to simple disbarment, or more subtle techniques, like preventing them from getting work so as to force their licenses to lapse, in order to take human rights lawyers off the field. The government regards this group of lawyers and those they defend a threat to communist rule; their determination to eliminate them is meeting with success, and the onslaught appears likely to continue and deepen.
China Change has reported several recent cases of disbarment, such as that of Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Yu Wensheng (余文生) and Zhu Shengwu (祝圣武). The following is an overview of 16 more cases of lawyers who are facing imminent disbarment or forms of harassment that prevent them from practicing law.
This campaign to remove lawyers who defend human rights, or any lawyer who is outspoken or rejects governmental control through the Lawyers’ Associations, appears to be deliberate, coordinated and sweeping. As we prepare the following list, more cases of threatened disbarment have continued to emerge; we will keep our readers updated.
Meanwhile, we are reminded by lawyers we correspond with that many human rights lawyers who face neither disbarment nor inability to practice also face increasing obstacles to doing their jobs: the justice bureaus have demanded that lawyers must report to the bureaus the cases they take on; recent news says that judicial bureaus want to implement a ‘grid-style’ control system over lawyers; Party cells are being set up in law firms; and lawyers are required to disclose to the judicial bureaus their religious beliefs, social media accounts, and other personal information.
As the authorities set about their rectification campaign against rights lawyers and strip them of their right to practice law, plaintiffs in human rights-related cases are having a difficult time finding defense attorneys, a circumstance that is likely to get worse as time goes on.
Lawyers Who Have Been Arrested During the 709 Crackdown
Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)
In April 2018, lawyer Xie Yanyi found that his license to practice law had been marked ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice — though he had personally received no such notice. On May 4, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association informed him that a hearing would be held on May 16 regarding his alleged violation of regulations. The notice said that Xie was being investigated for suspicion of violating regulations during his representation of a client in Yinchuan, Ningxia, who was being charged with ‘using an evil religious organization to undermine the rule of law’ (the legal terminology used by the courts in Falun Gong cases).
The authorities have been using the excuse of ‘conducting an investigation into violating regulations’ on a past case simply to provide some pretext for cancelling a lawyer’s license to practice. Xie is the latest victim of this method.
In January 2017, not long after Xie was released on bail, he continued taking on cases at his original law firm, including the well-known case of the Canadian citizen of Chinese heritage and Falun Gong practitioner Sun Qian (孙茜).
On Sunday, Xie Yanyi requested postponement of the hearing, stating that his oral and written requests for copying materials that support the so-called ‘violations’ have gone unanswered, and that he is thus unable to defend himself during the hearing.
After being released from prison, Xie penned a “Record of 709” in which he described being tortured while in custody, as well as the authorities’ threats against his wife as a form of psychological torture.
Li Heping (李和平)
During a detention of nearly two years, Li Heping was subjected to an inconceivable degree of torture, including hands and ankles being chained together for over a month. He got through by silently reciting passages from the Bible and thinking how much his six-year-old daughter needed a father. On April 25, 2017, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court held a secret trial on Li Heping’s alleged subversion of state power. Three days later he received the sentence to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, as well as the deprivation of political rights for four years. Li declined to appeal. On May 9 the same year, after the appeal period had expired, Li was released and allowed to return to his family.
Li Heping is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers, having been harassed and beaten by police for his work since 2007. Before the 709 crackdown he worked with a foreign NGO documenting cases of torture in custody and conducting anti-torture training classes.
On April 25, 2018, Li received notice from the Beijing Bureau of Justice that his law license was to be revoked — they said that according to Chinese law and regulations, lawyers who have deliberately committed crimes and been sentenced must have their professional licenses cancelled. Li rejected this explanation and demanded that a hearing be held about his case. On May 7, a man came to Li’s house to sever the notice, and Li scrawled the following on the receipt: “This is a great injustice. This is a false case, a case of political persecution. The truth will ultimately see its day!”
The hearing about Li’s law license will be held at 3:00 p.m. on May 17 at the Sunshine Halfway House (阳光中途之家), a community corrections center in Chaoyang District, Beijing.
Claiming that the case of Li Heping involves state secrets, the authorities announced that the hearing will be held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, we encourage the public, including foreign journalists and diplomats, to attend and observe in solidarity.
Li Chunfu (李春富)
In April 2018, Li Chunfu’s law license, like Xie Yanyi’s, was marked as ‘void’ on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice. However, Li has revealed that his law firm is currently handling his social security and medical insurance paperwork. This means he remains an employee of the firm, and the government has no reason to annul his law license.
On August 1, 2015, Li Chunfu was arrested after speaking out on behalf of his brother, Li Heping, who had also been detained during the 709 crackdown. In January 2017 after Li Chunfu was released on bail, it quickly became clear that he had been terribly abused in custody and was suffering a mental breakdown.
Wang Yu (王宇)
In April 2018, Wang Yu found in a search of the records held by the Beijing Bureau of Justice that her professional status was marked as ‘unregistered.’ Her previous employer, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm (北京锋锐律师事务所), had been disbanded as a result of the 709 crackdown, and Wang Yu had been unable to find a subsequent law office with which to associate herself.
Wang Yu has had difficulties finding a firm to accept her — some law firms have received warnings not to employ her, while others tactfully decline to employ her. In China, a lawyer without a firm is unable to practice; and if they have not found a firm within six months, their license is automatically annulled.
In Wang Yu’s case, as in that of several others, this is a method to disbar a human rights lawyer.
Zhang Kai (张凯)
On March 27, 2018, Zhang Kai of the Beijing Xinqiao Law Firm published the news that his firm had been forced by the authorities to fire him. “If nothing unexpected happens, once I’m laid off there will be no other law firm who accepts me, and in a matter of a few months my law license will be annulled.”
He added: “I will continue to proactively communicate with my peers and the judicial bureaus and do my best not to make trouble for anyone, but if communication truly breaks down, I will be left with no choice but defend my own rights.”
Zhang Kai represented a number of churches in the Wenzhou area during the campaign to tear down crosses from 2014 to 2015. On August 25, 2015, Zhang and two assistants were taken away by police while at the Xialing Church (下岭教堂) in Wenzhou, and two days later placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所监视居住) on suspicion of ‘organizing a crowd to disturb public order,’ and ‘stealing, spying, buying, and illegally providing state secrets and intelligence to foreigners.’ Zhang was released on probationary bail in March 2016, upon which he was forcibly taken back to his hometown in Inner Mongolia. In March 2017 his probationary bail was extended another year.
Huang Liqun (黄力群)
Huang Liqun, a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, was arrested during the 709 crackdown and released in early 2016. In May 2018 on the website of the Beijing Bureau of Justice, his professional status was shown as ‘practicing,’ while his employer remained the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm which had already been shut down by the authorities.
In March 2017, the lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said that after Huang Liqun’s probation was finished, he requested a transfer of employer but was rejected. The authorities said that he was a party to an ongoing case, and that only after the entire case was finished would his status be modified.
Bao Longjun (包龙军)
Bao Longjun is the husband of Wang Yu and only passed the bar exam and received his law license a few months prior to July 9, 2015, when he too was taken into custody on the same day as his wife. In August 2016, he and Wang Yu were released on probationary bail. He was still technically a legal intern at the time, and is currently unable to find a new law firm to employ him so that he can finish his internship and become a formally credentialled lawyer.
The Defense Lawyers of the 709 Detainees
Wen Donghai (文东海)
Wen Donghai, a lawyer from Changsha, Hunan, was the first lawyer to brave the atmosphere of terror after the 709 crackdown began and act as defense counsel for Wang Yu. He then began taking one sensitive case after another. On October 30, 2017, the Changsha Judicial Bureau dispatched a ‘Notification’ (《告知书》) to Wen, informing him that he had been investigated for “suspicion of disrupting court order and disrupting the normal operations of lawsuit activities,” found guilty, and would be subjected to administrative punishment.
On April 29, Wen made a freedom of information request to the Hunan Department of Justice, demanding that they disclose the work instructions received from Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua related to the 709 crackdown, as well as information about the meetings held by Hunan judicial authorities about disciplining lawyers. The freedom of information request that Wen crafted included “the specific circumstances of meetings held by your department prior to the Chinese New Year that invited the participation and coordination of individuals in the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate, the courts, and the politico-legal commission, regarding the suppression of human rights lawyers.”
On May 10, Wen received notice that the Hunan Provincial Department of Justice was planning to annul his law license, and informing him that he had a right to request a hearing. However, hearings of this nature are merely a formality, have no substantive content, and are designed primarily to provide cover for what is in essence a political punishment.
Li Yuhan (李昱函)
Li Yuhan was arrested in October 2017 in Shenyang, Liaoning province. She was charged with provoking quarrels and stirring up trouble, and fraud. This April Li Yuhan was brought before the court and faces the prospect of a prison sentence and the loss of law license. Li Yuhan has represented Wang Yu during the 709 crackdown and secretly traveled to Inner Mongolia to visit the family with another of Wang Yu’s defense lawyers, Wen Donghai.
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆)
On January 4, 2016, Liu Shuqing, simultaneously a lawyer and a professor of chemistry at Qilu University of Technology (齐鲁工业大学) in Shandong, had his law license cancelled in the aftermath of the 709 arrests. Liu had been a lawyer for seven years, and had taken on cases the authorities consider sensitive, like that of Henan petitioner Gong Jianjun (巩建军) accused of killing a private security contractor; the case of Zhejiang dissident Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) accused of ‘subverting state power’; as well as Wang Yu and others. Liu believes that it’s his involvement in these cases that led to the annulment of his law license. In April 2018 the Qilu University of Technology announced that Liu had “repeatedly made inappropriate expressions,” and his teaching career of 16 years was put to an end.
Cheng Hai (程海)
Beijing-based Cheng Hai is the defense attorney for Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), another 709 lawyer who is still in detention. Cheng also took part, unsuccessfully, in the people’s deputy elections in Beijing in 2016 as an independent candidate. On February 5, 2018, the Beijing Bureau of Justice cancelled the license of Cheng Hai’s law firm, the Beijing Wutian Law Firm (北京悟天律师事务所), on the grounds that it had “refused to participate in the 2017 annual assessment.” Thus, if Cheng Hai does not find another law firm to employ him by August 5, his law license will be automatically annulled.
Huang Simin (黄思敏)
Huang Simin, a lawyer from Wuhan, Hubei, took on the case of Li Tingyu (李婷玉) among others; most recently the authorities have cancelled her license on the basis that she had failed to complete her transfer from one law firm to another. The truth is, Huang had been forced to leave her firm in Wuhan. Her plans to enter a firm in Guangdong didn’t materialize because orders were sent to firms not to accept her. She was then accepted by a firm in Changsha, Hunan. The local authorities there forced that firm to fire her. Currently Huang is currently seeking a solution to keep her license.
Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原)
Liu Xiaoyuan is a partner at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown in 2015, though the Beijing Bureau of Justice stated on its website that Liu was ‘practicing’ law, in fact he had been unable to do so for the last three years, and nor was he able to transfer his employment from Fengrui, because, as the authorities say, they’re still investigating Fengrui, and until their investigation is over, no one will be allowed to move onto another employer. This means that Fengrui’s lawyers who have not been otherwise detained during the 709 crackdown will need to wait at least until the case against Wang Quanzhang is finalized.
Wang Quanzhang has been in detention for over 1,000 days now. His wife in February 2017 was informed that he had been formally charged by the Tianjin Municipal Procuratorate with incitement to subvert state power, but his lawyers have not been allowed to see him, and no trial has been conducted. Sources say that Wang has been tortured so badly that he can’t be “shown,” and that this is the real reason the case has yet to be tried, judged, and that Wang is denied access to his lawyers.
Zhou Lixin (周立新)
Zhou Lixin is another partner with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Since the 709 crackdown, he’s been listed by the Beijing Bureau of Justice as ‘practicing,’ but is in the same situation as Liu Xiaoyuan: unable to work for the last three years, and no indication of when this situation may change.
Peng Yonghe (彭永和)
Peng Yonghe is a Shanghai-based lawyer. On May 2, 2017, he publicly announced that he was quitting the officially-run Shanghai Lawyer’s Association. After that, he was forced to change law firms, but was prevented from getting new employment, and thus unable to work. The authorities told him on several occasions that as long as he took back his resignation from the Shanghai Lawyer’s Association, he’d be able to go back to practicing law.
In early May 2018, Peng announced that his wife applied for three jobs within the space of around a month, but that ‘relevant departments’ interfered and no one would hire her. Most recently, they’ve been unable to rent in Shanghai, also due to political interference.
Yu Pinjian (玉品健)
Yu Pinjian, based in Guangzhou, has a PhD in law. In September 2017 the authorities demanded that his law firm force him to find another employer. But, in a similar pattern to the other cases, once he left his first employer to transfer to another, the process was interfered with and he was unable to complete the procedures, and it now appears that his law license could be revoked as a result.
“I didn’t do anything,” Yu Pinjian has said on the record, “except for posting a few articles. I didn’t delete them as was told to, and the authorities then wanted to teach me a lesson.” (Yu Pinjian’s article on his public WeChat account, ‘Righteous Person of the Law’ [正义法律人] has already been deleted by censors anyway.)
Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱)
On May 14, the Changsha-based lawyer Yang Jinzhu received a four page Notification from the Hunan Provincial Justice Department of his planned disbarment for “alleged expressions that threaten the national security, using inappropriate methods to influence the handling of cases, disrupting court order, and using malicious language to defame others.”
The first accusation refers to Yang’s article posted in a WeChat group, titled “Lawyer Yang Jinzhu Angrily Fucks the 18 Generations of Ancestors of the Chinese Judicial System,” in which he vented his frustration. “This government ignores the law. The judiciary ignores the law. And when they see lawyers who defend personal rights, they put you in stocks, tie you up, fetter your hands and feet — this, right now, is China’s judicial system!”
A Record of 709， Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer’, Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, Matthew Robertson and Yaxue Cao, July 27, 2015.
May 9, 2018
On July 9, 2015, Wang Yu (王宇) became the first target in a campaign of mass arrests against human rights lawyers in China. Over the next roughly two weeks, over 300 rights lawyers were arrested, interrogated, detained, and threatened — thus begetting the notorious ‘709 Incident.’ After over a month in secret detention at a black site in Beijing, Wang Yu was transferred to Tianjin for a continuation of her detention, then under so-called ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ (指定居所監視居住). For over a year she was not allowed to see her lawyer, family, or communicate with the outside world. Another 20 or so lawyers and activists, including Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun (包龍軍), were given similar treatment. During the secret detention and their time in detention centers, they were severely tortured, including by sleep deprivation, prolonged interrogation, forced-feeding with unidentified drugs, beatings, insults, being hand- and foot-cuffed, or having their family’s safety threatened. Some were even placed in cages submerged in water, so-called ‘water cage’ torture. Currently, three individuals are serving prison sentences, three were released on suspended sentences, and all others except one were released on a probationary form of ‘bail.’ Lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) has been detained for over 1,000 days, neither sentenced nor released, and no one even knows whether he is dead or alive.
In August 2016, Wang Yu and her husband were released on a probationary form of bail (取保候審), whereupon they were forcibly taken to an apartment building in Ulanhot, Inner Mongolia. There they were reunited with their son, Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), who had previously been coercively removed from Beijing and placed in Ulanhot to continue high-school. In Ulanhot, their movements were closely monitored, they were followed wherever they went, and their apartment was fitted out with an extensive array of surveillance cameras that pointed to their doorway, stairs and in and out of the building entrance. Wang Yu believed that the apartment itself was bugged too. Around a year later they were allowed to return to their own home in Beijing. Now, though they’re apparently ‘free,’ every move they make is still surveilled by the authorities, and Wang Yu has been unable to resume her profession as a lawyer.
Among China’s human rights lawyers, Wang Yu has been called the ‘Goddess of War.’ Prior to the 709 crackdown, she traveled the country taking on all manner of human rights cases. The image of Wang the lawyer in the ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ documentary, handing out fliers about the law under the beating sun in Hainan, left a deep impression of her commitment.
On July 8, 2016, the American Bar Association announced that it had selected Wang Yu to receive its inaugural ABA International Human Rights Award, “in recognition of her dedication to human rights, justice and the rule of law in China.” This news seemed to rattle the Communist Party. The authorities knew perfectly well that the 709 crackdown was an illegal, politically motivated large-scale persecution of human rights lawyers, and that the cruelty of torture methods they used exceed what most people can conceive. They fear the moral support that the international community was extending to the targets of their attacks.
In an attempt to sever such support, in the days leading up to the award ceremony, the authorities forced a detained Wang Yu to record at least two similar video statements castigating and rejecting the award. In one news clip, broadcast on CCTV, China’s state-run central TV, she says: “I haven’t really done anything in terms of human rights, so this sort of award is using me to besmirch the reputation of the Chinese government and besmirch the image of China. Thus, I insist on not approving, acknowledging, or accepting it. Nor will I have any other individual or organization accept the award on my behalf. If, despite my explicit rejection, they force the award upon me, this will be a violation of my human rights, and I strongly protest.”
In another clip broadcast on Phoenix, a state-run TV station thinly-masked as commercial TV in Hong Kong, she sits outdoors with a grass lawn behind her. In front of her are a number of official journalists whose faces the audience couldn’t see. She says, her voice halting: “As far as I’m concerned, this award is using me as a tool to attack and denigrate the Chinese government. I’m a Chinese person; I only accept the leadership of the Chinese government. I don’t want this or similar awards, not now, nor in the future.”
Two Tianjin lawyers claiming to represent her even sent a letter to the ABA, saying that the ABA award constituted an “infringement on the reputational rights of Ms. Wang Yu… Ms. Wang Yu reserves the right to pursue your organization as liable for such infringements.” The letter demanded that the ABA “cease and desist” in giving her the award.
On the basis that Wang Yu was in detention and could not speak of her own free will, the ABA dismissed the ploy and went ahead giving the award in Wang Yu’s absence on August 6, 2016, during its annual convention in San Francisco.
Two weeks after the award, a nationalistic website in China published an article by a “former NGO worker” who claimed to have worked at ABA’s office in Beijing. It described one boss as being lazy and incompetent, and another as rude and lecherous. It portrayed the ABA Beijing office as a place where Chinese employees were discriminated against and where “humanity and dignity…was worthless.” It insinuated, without clear factual statements, that ABA’s activities in China were political and ABA was a tool of the U.S. government being used to instigate a color revolution.
Now we have come full circle: in the book “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from inside China’s system for enforced disappearances” published in November 2017 by Safeguard Defenders, Wang Yu for the first time reveals what she experienced under residential surveillance (China Change has an excerpt). In a new report recently released by the same organization, Wang Yu revealed how she was forced to rebuke and reject the ABA’s award. On television, she appears with a slightly puffy face, sitting outdoors before a grass lawn. In front of her are a number of official journalists whose faces the audience couldn’t see. She says, her voice halting: “I haven’t really done anything in terms of human rights, so this sort of award is using me to besmirch the reputation of the Chinese government and besmirch the image of China. Thus, I insist on not approving, acknowledging, or accepting it. Nor will I have any other individual or organization accept the award on my behalf. If, despite my explicit rejection, they force the award upon me, this will be a violation of my human rights, and I strongly protest.”
The following statement by Wang Yu about this incident is reproduced below with permission.
Wang Yu’s Account
It is difficult to explain, why I went on television, what kind of mental process I had gone through. And until now, I still feel it is difficult to describe, I don’t know how to talk about it. Actually, I do want to talk about it in detail, but I always feel sad. I am still struggling to get over the trauma. But I know I should speak out, even if just in this simple way.
It was about April 2016 and I had already been transferred to the Tianjin First Detention Centre. I had just finished my breast surgery at that time and the guards and interrogators were taking quite good care of me. My interrogator said if I cooperated then my case would be “dealt with leniently.” He meant I could be released soon. They also kept reminding me that my dream of sending my son overseas to study could happen only once I had been released from the detention centre.
How, then, did they want me to cooperate? They said all the 709 Crackdown people need to demonstrate a good attitude before they would be dealt with leniently. They said a PSB [Public Security Bureau] boss would come to the detention centre in a few days and they wanted me to say to him that: “I understand my mistake, I was tricked, and I was used. I denounce those overseas anti-China forces and I am grateful for how the PSB has helped and educated me.” After that, they stopped taking me to the interrogation room and moved me to a staff office where they fixed up space for me to eat and memorise the material my interrogator gave me.
Around about the end of April, the interrogator told me the boss was coming today and that we should make the video. He promised me the video would only be shown to that boss, and it would definitely not be shown to the public. He told me not to worry and just follow the script they had given to me. If I couldn’t memorize it all, then we could just re-record it. They also told me that everyone who was caught up in the 709 Crackdown had already made such videos. I kept asking them to confirm that it wouldn’t be shown in public and they promised it would not. Despite their assurances, I was still very unhappy about having to do the video.
In the afternoon, I was taken to the office again. A few minutes later, a man came in; he was in plainclothes and about 50 years old. A young man in his 20s followed with a camera. They both said something similar to me; something about how they would find a way out for me. I have suffered a lot of memory loss in the past few years so even if I try to remember exactly what happened, I can’t. But I do remember asking him who would see the video and he repeatedly said that it was only for their boss and not for television.
The young man finished setting up the camera, then the older one started asking questions. I don’t remember the exact questions, but it was basically the same as my interrogator had told me to study. I didn’t answer very well, because my memory was bad and also I didn’t want to make the video. I really messed up some of the questions and they had to ask me again and again. After three or four hours, they eventually left.
Some 20 days later, I heard that the so-called PSB boss had said that last video was not good enough and that we had to record it again. So, we recorded it again, but two days later, my interrogator said it still wasn’t acceptable. The next time they came with a camera and a computer, with the script typed into the computer in a huge font size. They wanted me to read it from the screen and look into the camera. We recorded it like this many times and finally they left. But another two days later they came back and said it still wasn’t good enough, so we did it all again. But that didn’t pass either.
It was about the beginning of June, one day before the Dragon Boat festival, when my interrogator told me that another boss was coming and wanted to talk to me. If I behaved well I could get out of the detention centre. Not long after, two men in their 50s or 60s in plainclothes, came in. They surprised me by shaking my hand when they first arrived. Later, I learned they were the vice-director and division chief of the Tianjin PSB. They talked briefly about my health and my situation and then asked me to give a self-evaluation. I said: “Of course, I think that I am a good person and also a good lawyer. I believe in behaving with kindness and I am professional in my work and have always won my clients’ approval.”
After that they often took me to their office to talk with them. They kept trying to persuade me to do an interview on television, but I kept saying no.
In the beginning of July, my interrogator talked to me alone. He said, “Think carefully. If you don’t agree to go on television how will you be able to get out? How will your husband Bao Longjun be able to get out? How will your son ever be able to study abroad?”
I thought hard about it for a few nights. I thought, neither me nor my husband can communicate with anyone from outside. Who knows when it will all end. And my poor son was home without us. We didn’t know how he was doing. Although, my interrogator told me that he had been released and was living in Ulanhot, he might be under surveillance, he didn’t have his parents with him. What kind of future would he have?
I though the two so-called “bosses” who had been talking with me looked like they would keep their word. After speaking with them for many days, I trusted them, and the people around me treated me much better. Much better than when I was in RSDL [residential surveillance at a designated location], where they were very cruel to me.
So, I decided to accept. I just wanted to see my son so much. I thought, if I couldn’t get out my son would never be able to study overseas. I might get out many years later, but by then what would have happened to my son? If he was harmed now, the trauma would stay with him his whole life. I needed to be with him during this stage of his life. I decided that I would do my best to help my son go to a free country and study. He would no longer live like a slave, suffering in this country. He has to leave, he must leave, I thought. That was the most urgent thing. So I had to do it, even if it meant doing something awful.
I also considered the possibility that they might break their promise—and if they did I vowed to fight. So, I said yes to their request to go on television, but only if they released me first. I started practicing the script they prepared for me and we rehearsed it many times, almost every day before I left the detention center.
On 22 July 2016, they went through the formality of my “release on bail.” They took me from the Tianjin First Detention Centre to the Tianjin Police Training Base under Tianjin Panshan Mountain. I stayed there for about 10 days.
They transferred me to Tianjin Heping Hotel and for the next two days I was still under their control. I did the interview in a western-style building near the Heping Hotel a few days later. That afternoon, about 4 or 5pm I was reunited with my son. He hugged me and cried for a long time. I also quietly shed tears.
The next day, my son and I met his father Bao Longjun who had also just been released on bail.
After my release I became very depressed. We were kept under house arrest in Ulanhot. My son and his father often made fun of me because of what I had said on that television interview and I felt very hurt and under a lot of pressure. One time, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked my son, “Would you rather I suffered and went on television so I could be with you, or would you prefer that I didn’t go on television but then stayed in prison?” My son said emphatically: “I want my mum with me!”
Hearing my son say this, I believe that everything I suffered was worth it. This was the only way I could be reunited with my son, so I had to do it.
When I got back home, I gradually began to understand what kind of pain my son had been through over the past year. Such cruelty caused my son to suffer from severe depression and that made me even more determined to settle my son overseas so that he could heal both mentally and physically.
So, this is my story. I don’t expect everyone to understand. I just want to say that my son is everything to me. Perhaps, I had no other choice.
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017.
New York Times editorial: Show Trials in China, August 6, 2016.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post, July 18, 2015.
Wang Jiangsong, May 7, 2018
On April 25, an open letter from a WeChat group named “Changsha tower crane operator federation” (长沙塔吊联盟) was circulated. It said:
To all hardworking front-line tower crane operators, conductors, and elevator operators, greetings! As construction, crane, and mechanical equipment operators and engineers, in the most dangerous line of work on the construction site, our salary and compensation is severely out of step with the risks we take and the utter indispensability of our work. In the construction industry, the hours we work far exceed those stipulated in the Labor Law, and we have no social security. Yet despite being in the most unsafe work and working the longest hours, our pay is miniscule. In order to trigger a wave of simultaneous strikes among crane operators around the country, in order to protect our basic labor rights and dignity, and gain an equal salary, the Changsha tower crane operator federation has decided to unite, stand-up, and declare that we have the right to basic dignity in our labor and the right to engage in collective bargaining. Thus, we call for a united strike on the eve of International Labor Day of May 1, in Changsha’s May First Square (五一广场), so that we may make our voice known. We welcome and will be grateful for support from all walks of life.
Location: Changsha May First Square
Content: Organize a more robust crane operator federation, make better videos of the demonstration scene than that of crane operators on strike in other provinces, and reiterate our demand for construction labor rights.
Given the kind of activity and the particular nature of the profession involved, we hope that all fellow workers will proactively participate and make our voice known to the whole of society.
Changsha Crane Operator Federation
April 25, 2018
The letter caused an uproar in the WeChat group, and when shared around came along with expressions of concern for the safety of the crane operators. As expected, the following afternoon, one of the workers who posted the message said: “Terrifying. Because I forwarded a post about a worker strike on May 1 yesterday, the Changsha Ministry of State Security collected all possible information about me within a day, including my address, telephone number, work unit and more. Two hours ago they came to my workplace and demanded that I come to the police station and explain myself.” The worker promised to the MSS agents that he would not participate in any of the activities and was then allowed to leave, though he’s now worried that his employer is going to fire him because of it.
Moreover, the event was not limited only to crane tower operators in Changsha, but one that had been called for by various WeChat groups of tower crane operators across the country, making it a national event. On April 26, the spokesman for crane operators in Hainan published a video on Weibo calling on all operators in the province to join the national strike on the morning of May 1, with the demand that their regular salary and overtime wages be increased. “If we don’t strike, who’s going to increase our income?” he asked, adding: “A strike won’t be nationwide without workers in Hainan. Hainan crane operators too are full of passion, so let it burn!” On the same day, crane tower workers in Zigong, Sichuan Province, held a demonstration, their banners demanding wage hikes, or else they’d also join the May 1 strike.
The following day, workers in the following eight cities in eight provinces also held banners and circulated photographs of their protests online: Nanchang in Jiangxi, Tianshui in Gansu, Zhumadian in Henan, Xiantao in Hubei, Qingzhen in Guizhou, Huaian in Jiangsu, Hengyang in Hunan, Xiamen in Fujian.
Over the next three days, workers in at least 13 cities (Wuhan, Shijiazhuang, Yinchuan, Sanmenxia, Luoyang, Lankao, Yuncheng, Zhuzhou, Yueyang, Pingjiang, Dazhou, Zhongshan, Maoming) and elsewhere also held assemblies and shared photos and videos of their protests online. As of April 30, according to a preliminary count, the provinces in which crane operators staged demonstrators, held banners, called slogans with their demands, and shared photos or footage online, include: Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Hebei, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hainan, Fujian, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi, Shanxi, Shandong, Shaanxi — 19 provinces, with protests in between 27 and 30 cities. Participants ranged from dozens to hundreds in each event. This is the first instance of such a large-scale, nationwide, collective action by industrial workers in China for over decades, and may in fact be the first instance of its kind ever.
When May 1 came around, however, China’s crane operators did not formally go on strike. There are three potential explanations for this.
The first is that some places already agreed to the demands to increase wages and overtime pay, while other cities saw those examples and emulated them; the second is that some local governments said they would strictly prohibit any such strike, and the workers were sufficiently cowed as to call off the plan; the third is that the crane operators didn’t want to get mixed up with the ‘May First National Civil Resonance’ (五一全民共振) called for by some overseas activists, which has explicit political objectives. The latter, under the strict control of the authorities, didn’t go anywhere.
Despite that, the genesis of this large scale ‘mass incident’ of crane operators deserves our attention and analysis.
- This is an inevitable development in the evolution of China’s market economy and labor-capital relations
During the first wave of labor mobilization in China from 2010 to 2015, almost all collective worker actions took place at specific companies: for example, with strikes at Carrefour and Walmart. In these cases, though the strikes spanned multiple stores, the number of participants involved was not large, and still the action was limited to that particular chain of stores.
China’s labor movement is bound to follow the trajectory of the broader economy and labor-capital relations, and thus expand from actions in particular companies to actions spanning multiple companies, regions, and even industries. This instance of a simultaneous mobilization of crane tower operators in dozens of cities across the country has every qualification to be considered the beginning of a historical inflection point in labor in China.
Strictly speaking, collective rights defense taking place at one enterprise can only be called a ‘collective labor action,’ and not really a ‘labor movement.’ Only when many workers establish horizontal ties among one another, achieving a cross-enterprise and cross-region network, can it be called a labor movement proper. One of the most effective and powerful forms of organization, allowing a group of geographically distributed workers to unite their forces and coordinate actions in a single organizational structure, is the industry-wide labor federation. This is also why this form is a core component of labor movements in market economies, and the primary vehicle for collective bargaining between labor and capital. The reason for this is that workers in the same occupation, business, or industry, are in the same position vis-a-vis capital, and have identical interests that they demand from the same counterparty, thus their solidarity and unity has the lowest cost. As soon as they unite, they immediately have the power of scale; once they’re successful, they have ongoing efficiencies of scale to maximally resolve the structural problem [of disparate power between capital and individual workers], and the collective bargaining agreements they reach with industry have the power of law in governing labor-capital relations. All this is entirely consistent with the aspirations and demands of freedom, equality, and justice in exchange and contracts in a market economy, and at the same time is the fundamental meaning of a market economic system governed by the law. The responsibility of the state (defined as legislature, administration, and judiciary) is located in the preservation, not the destruction, of the freedom, equality, and justice of this negotiating mechanism between labor and capital.
- The state should rationally treat self-initiated, self-directed, and self-organized collective actions and acknowledge and protect the three rights of labor
The outside world only learned about this collective action by crane operators after the fact, and knew nothing of their internal discussions, contact with one another, organization, and planning before the fact. There is also no information or evidence indicating that outside players (for instance labor NGOs) got involved or played any role in assisting, counselling, guiding, or providing any other form of help. Even less has there been any shadow of ‘hostile foreign forces.’ Thus, we have every reason to understand this sequence of events as a self-initiated, self-directed, and self-organized collective action on the part of crane operators themselves.
If this conclusion is valid, then the mistaken judgement of the relevant organs in the government must be corrected: they believe that collective action by workers are necessarily directed, organized, manipulated, and planned behind-the-scenes by hostile foreign forces or domestic NGOs, and that they’re competing with the Party, government, and official unions for the working class. This is likely one of the primary reasons behind the mass arrests and prison sentences of labor organizers in December 2015, particularly the arrests on December 3. Following the December 3 incident however, instances of collective rights defense by workers did not contract in scale, but after a short lull in fact came back in full force, and as in the case of the crane operator demonstration attained a high water mark. All this abundantly demonstrates that the level of [labor] consciousness and organizational capacity of workers in China has reached a new level, at least in some sectors and regions, and they’re capable of their own collective action without the involvement of outsiders.
In the past, the standard operating procedure for the relevant organs when faced with labor protests — they themselves having failed to do their job and duty of defending the legal rights of workers, then lost the trust of workers — was to find a scapegoat: blame it on the incitement of hostile foreign forces or domestic NGO activists. This was how they passed it off to their own superiors. The shame is that this sort of buck-passing is actually able to deceive the higher-ups, though workers aren’t fooled, and the actual problems facing workers are unchanged. Thus the resentment and rage builds up daily, and the conflicts between labor and capital, and even between labor and the government, become more and more intense. Put it bluntly, the scapegoating that goes on is simply digging the government into a pit.
The experience and norms of market economies tells us that the state should rationally and forthrightly address issues raised by self-initiated, self-directed, and self-organized collective action, and acknowledge and protect the rights of workers to form organizations (freedom of assembly), to engage in collective bargaining (the right to collective dispute resolution), and to strike (the right to industrial action).
- The demonstration by crane operators establishes a model for broader labor and social movements
Crane operators, as the prime movers behind this collective labor action, appear to have come to a clear realization of themselves as a specially-positioned technical worker in the production chain — they have a ‘structural power’ and to a degree are irreplaceable. The crane operators also effectively reached out to and integrated in their efforts crane conductors and elevator operators, upon which they recognized that the interests of the entire construction site and all the workers and jobs on it are related, to a large extent, and in common with their own. From this they could foresee that as long as there is no undefendable attack by an outside force, the natural course of affairs would have it that a construction industry union is formed. This is the only fundamental means of getting at the root of the chaos and problems in the construction industry.
From a broader perspective, it is beneficial not only to workers, but the entire construction industry, society, and the nation. The next direction for the labor movement in China is for workers in each industry and sector to autonomously form their own federations.
There is absolutely no evidence indicating that the collective action on the part of the crane operators had any connection with the ‘national civil resonance’ advocated by overseas democracy activists. In fact, the opposite is the case: just as that event failed to gain much traction, the protests by crane operators appeared all the more remarkable and successful.
It can be said that in contemporary China’s social transition, the democracy movement (referring to the narrow opposition political movements that aim to change China’s political system) should perhaps take a leaf from the book of the labor rights movement. The current stage of the labor movement of course focuses on increasing its economic benefits, and this is the primary reason that they’re able to mobilize and unite a sufficient number of workers and thus gain some small victories, or at least be able to retreat largely unscathed. The political quality and value of the labor movement requires only that individuals with perspicacious judgement look beneath the surface, make their own inferences, and carry it forward.
Wang Jiangsong (王江松) is a labor scholar in China.
Also by Wang Jiangsong:
China Change, May 3, 2018
Every year, justice bureaus and lawyers’ associations across China demand that lawyers and law firms submit to a “annual review” (年检), held in spring each year, that determines whether they can continue to practice law in China.
Ostensibly, these assessments are aimed at evaluating professional competence and merit — yet their primary function, as far as the authorities are concerned, appears to be aimed at keeping a tight leash on the lawyer class, designated by the authorities as the “opposition.” For more than a decade, it has been used as a tool of pressure to keep human rights lawyers at bay.
China Change recently obtained a copy of the 2018 annual assessment form provided to lawyers in Beijing that demonstrates a codification of this political control. The form requires the following:
- On personal information, it demands: Name, law firm, whether full- or part-time, marital status, ‘political status’ (i.e. whether a Party or Youth League member or hopeful member, or merely one of ‘the masses’), lawyer ID, cell phone, citizen ID, passport number, social media accounts, professional speciality, income during the previous year, current address.
- The section below, on ‘integrity,’ inquires:
- Have you been subject to penalties or disciplinary sanctions by judicial administrative organs or the lawyers’ association?
- Have you been subject to coercive measures by public security organs?
- Have you been criminally penalized (including crimes of commission or omission)?
- Have you been penalized by securities, tax, or social security administrators?
- Have you undertaken employment in violation of regulations in Party, government, or state-owned enterprise units?
- Have you, against the regulations, established offices or branch offices near courts or detention centers?
- Have you been summoned for discussion by public security, justice organs, or lawyers’ associations, for inappropriate comments made on the internet or to media?
- An ‘annual summary’ section then requests a thought report of no less than 500 Chinese characters ‘including but not limited to’ topics like how they have adhered to the Law on Lawyers (律师法) and professional ethics, how many cases they have taken and of what sort, their legal aid work, awards from Party organs and the masses, complaints or penalties by plaintiffs or government departments, and, remarkably, whether they have sought instruction or engaged in collective internal discussion (i.e. with communist authorities, in breach of attorney-client privilege) when handling ‘major sensitive cases.’
All this is a significant change from the requirements of 2017, according to last year’s assessment form also obtained by China Change. That form requests only a few personal details and leaves space for a short summary of the year’s activities.
The annual inquisition has long been a tool of surveillance and discipline. It is administered by municipal bureaus of justice and lawyers’ associations, both of which are instruments of the state. In Beijing, for instance, the Beijing Lawyers’ Association interfaces with individual lawyers and manages their annual assessments, while the Beijing Bureau of Justice renews the licences of law firms.
This dynamic leads to peer pressure, as lawyers who take on sensitive cases are exhorted by their non-activist colleagues to “avoid making trouble for the firm,” according to Liu and Halliday (Liu and Halliday 2016, p. 108). The authors continue: “Accordingly, the live in constant apprehension that their practices and livelihoods will be truncated or their legal careers summarily foreclosed.” (Ibid., p. 91.)
The closest appearance of an official justification for the political use of these annual assessments is in the third requirement for professional competence stipulated in the 2007 Law on Lawyers. The three requirements are that a lawyer has passed the bar examination, has been a trainee lawyer for two years, and is ‘a person of good character and conduct.’ In 2010, Zhou Yongkang (周永康), the then Secretary of the Party’s Political and Legal Committee, apparently drawing on the third criterion, told the All China Lawyer’s Association that people with “bad political quality, professional quality, or with bad legal ethics could not be lawyers.” (Pils 2015, p. 179)
The thrust of Zhou Yongkang’s remarks was further amplified by Fu Zhenghua, a hard-core security cadre who became minister of justice in March 2018. Fu made the following remarks in an internal meeting on April 13, after listening to the verbal report of Beijing Municipal Party Committee Secretary Miao Lin (苗林):
“Beijing, as the capital, has carried out its judicial administration work under the firm leadership of the Municipal Party Committee and Municipal Government, always persevering in the ‘four consciousnesses’, always hewing to the ‘four self-confidences,’ always upholding the grand banner of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era of Xi Jinping (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想), with our work at the vanguard of the nation in every respect. Beijing has endeavored with remarkable results to improve the feelings of contentment, happiness, and safety among the masses in the city, and has achieved much success. For instance, the work of Party construction among lawyers started the earliest, with the lawyers in Beijing being the most numerous in the nation, including major lawyers and law firms. All this shows, from another angle, that the political quality, professionalism, and battle strength of the Beijing judicial administrative corps is the strongest in the country.”
It is precisely the emphasis on notions like ‘political quality’ and ‘battle strength’ that appear to have come down from Fu and informed the vetting of lawyers through the annual assessments.
A lawyer in Beijing, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, shared his views on the updates to the annual lawyers assessment in an online chat with colleagues, saying: “In what manner is this a professional assessment? It’s entirely a political assessment! If we fill everything in per the requirements, then it will be — to use an inapposite metaphor — no different to laying down on the ground, crawling forward on our hands and knees in surrender. This will cause untold trouble in the future.”
He added: “Everyone, share your views as to how we should respond to this.”
“Private personal information shouldn’t be submitted,” another lawyer said. “This way of toying with the law is different to even Zhang Jun [a previous official]. If a few lawyers can make open information requests on this, maybe we can unravel it.”
A third added: “This lawyer assassin and human rights thug Fu Zhenghua (傅政华) becoming the minister of justice really changes things.”
Post the 709 crackdown, it appears that the Chinese authorities have been using straightforward disbarment to take out human rights lawyers. In recent days, lawyer Li Heping (李和平) received notice of impending disbarment; lawyer Xie Yanyi’s (谢燕益) license status is said to have been revoked on the official website of the Beijing Justice Bureau, but he’s received no notice of such; lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) has not resumed practice and her inquiries have gone unanswered.
More lawyers are facing imminent disbarment as a result of their work in defending human rights and fighting a upward battle against abuses of the law. Even more lawyers are now looking upon this year’s “annual review” with concern and fear.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January 24, 2018.
May 2, 2018
The following is an essay by Liu Xia’s longtime friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) explaining the circumstances of the phone call and providing an excerpt of the call for the first time. — The Editors
‘Dona, Dona,’ Give Freedom to Liu Xia
Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer in exile
On April 30, 2018, at 4:00 p.m. in Germany, I spoke to Liu Xia at her home in Beijing. She said: “Now, I’ve got nothing to be afraid of. If I can’t leave, I’ll die in my home. Xiaobo is gone, and there’s nothing in the world for me now. It’s easier to die than live. Using death to defy could not be any simpler for me.”
I felt like I’d just been shocked with a jolt of electricity. I told her to wait. I know that the Chinese Ministry of State Security agents that have been holding her under house arrest, since Xiaobo passed away last July and Liu Xia was forcibly taken to Dali in Yunnan for a while, have been promising her, again and again, guaranteeing that she’d be able to leave the country and seek treatment for her deep clinical depression. First they told her to wait until the 19th Party Congress was over; next they told her to wait until the conclusion of the ‘Two Sessions’ in Beijing in March of this year. On April 1, before Liu Xia’s 57th birthday, the German Ambassador called her to convey Chancellor Merkel’s special respects, and invited her to play badminton in Berlin before long.
According to my information, in early April the German Foreign Minister had already made specific arrangements, including as to how they’d not alert the news media, how they’d covertly collect Liu Xia at the airport, and how they’d arrange her treatment and recovery and more. In my own calls with Liu Xia, I sought Liu Xia’s opinions many times, and discussed the matter in meetings and correspondence with good friends Herta Muller, Harry Merkle, Carolin, Silvia, and the international representative of Liu Xia’s photographic art Peter Sillem. We went over every possible detail. Due to Herta Muller’s support, the Literature House in Berlin was willing to provide her an apartment for an interim period. Carolin said she would host a poetry reading for her, while Silvia were going to help her enter a residency program. Peter Sillem had already reached out to hospitals and experts on her behalf.
We’ve all been patiently and quietly waiting.
We’ve all quietly awaited this special patient.
Liu Xia has no criminal record, and according to the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, she has the freedom to travel wherever she wishes.
We’ve been low key about it because after Xiaobo’s death, Liu Xia has been devastated, and the clinical depression she had suffered for years came back worse than ever, driving her to the brink of mental collapse. As long as she is in China, we have no way of looking after her. When Liu Xia told Xiaobo that a special rescue squad in Germany (including the 82-year-old Wolf Biermann and wife) were working to help them, Xiaobo, dying, was moved to tears.
In my April 30 conversation with Liu Xia, I said I’d no long keep it quiet. I will take action, and I will selectively reveal some truth that I have been holding back. I said to her that I would publicize her cries, which was uncontrollable even with her taking large doses of antidepressants, in the evening of April 8, 2018. She said yes.
The following statements were transcribed from audio recordings of our conversation that evening. In the first instance, I called and poured out my concern: I feared that Liu Xia would once again be ‘disappeared.’ I worried that the Chinese government would do the same as they did last year when they announced that Xiaobo and Liu Xia didn’t want to leave the country. Luckily I had her handwriting attesting to the opposite, and remarkably this became the strongest evidence that punctured the lies.
I insisted on Liu Xia writing another application to leave the country, and at first Liu Xia demurred again and again. She then panicked, after that threw the phone down. I waited a little while and called her back, and she cried out in tears:
“The German Embassy knows all about my situation. The whole world knows. So what’s the point of me writing those things again and again?”
“But what you’re facing is very special… the German government has been in discussions about this all along…”
“I don’t have anywhere to send it from. Nor do I have a cell phone nor a computer.”
“OK. That’s OK.”
“You know we don’t have all that stuff, but you still want me to do this and do that…”
“Over here, we…”
“So I’ll write it tomorrow and hand it in tomorrow. You can record it now: I’m so fucking angry that I’m ready to die here…. If I’m dead, it’ll all be done with…. It’s obvious that I don’t have all the ways and means in hand….”
“That foreign ministry spokesperson said that you fully enjoy all the provisions of Chinese law…”
“I know all that. You don’t have to repeat it. I’m not an idiot.”
“OK. Let me tell you about the arrangements: after we get you over here, we’ve got a place called the Literature House where you stay for a while and then apply to join an arts program. At the moment, the responses everywhere are very positive, and everyone agrees that this should be done very quietly….”
I couldn’t go on, because Liu Xia was crying non-stop. The audio recording went for 16 minutes and 30 seconds. I excerpted the first seven minutes, and at about the four minute mark played over it the piano solo “Dona, Dona.” I felt waves of emotion well up inside me. When I turned the music off, I yelled out “Liu Xia!” Her crying abated and she said: “After the German Ambassador called, I started packing. I wasted no time — what more do you want me to do?”
The general meaning of the lyrics is: a calf is being brought to the butchers, a swallow is flitting around above its head. The calf thinks to itself: If only I could turn into a swallow with wings and fly away, how grand it would be. Unfortunately, the calf is not a swallow.
Like her husband Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia had a passion for works related to Holocaust. Liu Xia even said that she felt she’d been a Jewish person in her previous life.
Dona, Dona became a byword for genocide: the millions of Jewish people were the calf after calf, resigned to their fate, being led to the slaughter. Please, people, with Liu Xia, it’s Dona, Dona now, and please allow me to use Liu Xia’s sobbing as its new lyrics……
Dona, Dona, give her freedom.
Dona, Dona, please cry out loudly for her.
Composed in the late Berlin night on April 30, 2018.
我如遭電擊，我說再等等。我知道，長期監管她的國保警察們，自去年7月曉波剛走，劉霞被強制挾持到雲南大理期間，就開始許願，一而再，再而三地許願——保證讓她出國治療深度抑鬱症。先是吩咐等到中共十九大召開之後，接下來是吩咐等到今年3月的人大、政協兩會閉幕之後。在4月1日她57嵗生日前，德國大使還致電給她，轉達了默克爾總理的特別問候，并相約不久後在柏林打羽毛球。據我所知，4月上旬，德國外交部已經作了具體安排，包括如何不驚動新聞界，如何將她從機場接到某一隱蔽地點，安排治病和調養等等。而我自己在通話中，也多次徵求劉霞意見，又多次與好友赫塔▪米勒（Herta.Müller）、哈瑞▪麥克（Harry Merkle）、卡羅琳（Carolin）、西爾維亞（Silvia），以及劉霞藝術攝影的全球代理人彼得▪西冷（Peter Sillem）聚會和通信，事無鉅細地溝通。由於赫塔的張羅，柏林文學之家願意為她提供過渡期公寓，之後，卡羅琳答應為她舉辦一場詩歌朗誦讀會，西爾維亞答應替她聯繫一個在歐洲的入住計劃，而彼得已替她聯絡好相關醫院和專家。
我們低調是因為曉波走了，她深受刺激，多年的抑鬱症再度加重，使之瀕臨崩潰，而她在國內，我們沒法照顧她。劉霞曾告訴垂危的曉波，他倆在德國有我們這個特別救援小組 (其中還包括82嵗的沃爾夫▪比爾曼 Wolf Biermann 夫婦)，曉波的淚水奪眶而出。