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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.
Wang Qiaoling, May 26, 2017
This interview was conducted on May 5, 2017, three days before lawyer Li Heping returned home. – The Editors
Host: Hello everyone and welcome to “Surveying China,” (放眼大陆); I’m Huang Juan (黄娟). From July 9, 2015, for the next two months, about 300 lawyers, rights defenders, and dissidents were subject to mass disappearances; they were summoned by police, detained, and some have eventually been sentenced and jailed. This became the “709 Crackdown” that shocked the world. It’s been almost two years. Some victims have been imprisoned, others have been released on probation, still others have been given suspended sentences. It would seem that what family members want most is for the victims to be released, no matter what the circumstances. However, almost everyone who was released has fallen off the radar — they weren’t in fact truly freed. How can this be?
Today, we’re interviewing Ms. Wang Qiaoling (王峭嶺). Wang Qiaoling’s husband Li Heping (李和平) was disappeared about two years ago. On April 25, the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court suddenly staged a secret trial of Li; they announced the verdict on April 28: Li Heping had been found guilty of subversion of state power and sentenced to three years imprisonment, suspended for four years, with deprivation of political rights for four years. From the verdict to May 5, eight days have passed, yet Li hasn’t been set free and allowed to return home. Lawyers hired by the family have gone to the court and the detention center, but Li was nowhere to be found. Wang Qiaoling, what was your reaction to the sentence?
Wang Qiaoling: First of all, I never expected they would carry out the trial in secret, and I never expected that the charges against my husband would be upheld. I heard from the secret police, the security police (国保), that he’d been sentenced. Then they told me that this was “the best news.” “A suspended sentence means he can return home.” But when I heard it, I was enraged.
As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t any sort of good news! I know exactly what sort of man my husband is. If one were concerned with enduring humiliation to save one’s skin, then of course it’s a good thing that he can come home. But he’s not merely an innocent man. He’s someone who goes out of his way to help others, to help those who are even more innocent, and tries to secure justice for them. It’s as though, if he went out and helped up an elderly person who’d fallen in the street, and for that was falsely accused of subverting state power — would you say his being sentenced in that case shouldn’t make me mad?
So I was really furious about it. With the entire 709 case from its inception to today, we’ve personally experienced China’s rule of law. It’s as worthless as a rag. There’s no rule of law. So we’re working as hard as possible to expose the truth. Myself and the other wives of 709 lawyers dearly hope that our husbands will be declared innocent and come home free. But the secret police tell me that he’s been convicted of the crime, given a suspended sentence, and then try to say it’s good news. They’ve used so many perverse, twisted methods to torment my husband, force-feeding him drugs, and all sorts of other cruelties. For 22 months his lawyers have been unable to see him. There’s been no news. So their declaring my husband a criminal makes me really mad.
Host: International observers were also rather astonished about this: Why was Li Heping put on trial without his family even knowing about it?
Wang Qiaoling: Exactly. It’s not only the trial we didn’t know about. We hadn’t even received the bill of indictment beforehand; and afterwards they didn’t show us the judgement. It was conducted in total secrecy. In other words, 22 months after my husband was arrested, we know nothing, and then at the end they tell us he’s a criminal.
Host: Though we did see the official news that they had designated Wen Zhisheng (温志胜), of the Tianjin branch of the Beijing Zhonglun Law Firm (北京中伦律师事务所), as Li Heping’s lawyer. But he didn’t inform the family of Li Heping’s trial or what was going on. Have you met this Wen Zhisheng?
Wang Qiaoling: The first time I met this lawyer named Wen Zhisheng was on April 28, the day that my husband was found guilty. Wen Zhisheng, though he was Li Heping’s defense lawyer, wasn’t with his client in the courtroom when the sentence was read, but was instead with the secret police waiting outside my apartment building, waiting for me to come downstairs. They didn’t dare come up, because they knew I wouldn’t let them in. So they just waited for me to come down, then stopped me, surrounded me, and prevented me from leaving. At this point Wen Zhisheng told me: “I’m your husband’s lawyer.” I said, “So you’re Wen Zhisheng? I call you and you don’t answer; I sue you and you don’t dare show your face.” He closed in on me and said: “I have a handwritten note from your husband to you.” I said: “You people have fabricated so many things, including letters to family members from prison.” We’ve been through too much over these 22 months. They’ve fabricated letters, signatures, and video recordings. They even came and told us family members not to appeal on behalf of our husbands, because they’ve already confessed. But when the victims emerged they said that they had never made those video recordings.
So when Wen Zhisheng gave me the letter, I simply didn’t believe him. I’ve never acknowledged that Wen Zhisheng actually represents my husband. We can pay for a lawyer ourselves, and we can get the best in China. I myself notified the court that I’ll be acting as Li Heping’s defense counsel. Li Heping and I studied law together at university, in the same class, so I’m entirely qualified to serve in that capacity. But my husband has been deprived of any news from outside, and the authorities forcibly assigned this lawyer to him. So when I saw this Wen Zhisheng, I told him: “I don’t believe you, and I don’t accept you as my husband’s lawyer.” I didn’t look at the letter he gave me. Then he went over and snatched the phone from another 709 wife, because she was taking photos of the encounter.
Host: What did it matter that someone was taking photos of him? Did he want to hide the fact that he had been assigned to be Li Heping’s lawyer?
Wang Qiaoling: I think he tried to seize her phone because he was terrified of being exposed. From when I learned that he was made my husband’s lawyer, I had tried to see him, but he never took my calls. So I sued him; the day before yesterday I received a response from the Tianjin Higher People’s Court, ruling that they would not accept my case. So I gave Wen Zhisheng a nickname: “The running dog of the Zhao family Wen Zhisheng,” “the Zhao family’s running dog.” He’s a disgrace to the term lawyer. Even though I don’t acknowledge his role, as the officially-appointed lawyer to Li Heping, how could he not be in Tianjin on the day that Li Heping is being sentenced? Amazingly, at 11:00 a.m. when I go out, he’s there outside my door. He must have had to get up early, at least, and spend three hours traveling from Tianjin to my home in Beijing. So from that you know just how he goes about acquitting himself as a lawyer.
Host: It’s quite strange. Given that he’s the officially-assigned lawyer, why not just follow the procedures and be in the court when the verdict is delivered?
Wang Qiaoling: He came to my house with the police to do one thing: fool me into going with them back to Tianjin to meet my husband. That way, they could put us both under house arrest. I would have lost contact with everyone, and there would have been no opportunity for the truth to be exposed. From the beginning of 2016, of everyone who has been released on probation — including those who were given suspended sentences in August, as well as those even later released on probation — there’s not a single one who has been truly free. This is the “709 Model.”
Host: You mean to say that everyone who has been released, to this day, has not really been free to speak?
Wang Qiaoling: That’s exactly what I mean.
Host: Has anyone gone to meet with them?
Wang Qiaoling: There have been meetings. People have definitely gone to visit them in secret, but no one dares take photos, or if photos were taken, no one would dare publish them. It’s got to that point. They were subjected to unimaginable torture inside. After they’re released they’ve not dared to speak to their own family members or society at large. When the police came on April 28, if they had succeeded in taking me away they would have brought me to my husband in Tianjin, and then used coercive measures to completely cut us off from any contact with the world. Without a phone, I wouldn’t be able to go online, and I’d have lost contact with the world. This is the 709 model. Every family has been dealt with in this manner. Look at the case of Wang Yu (王宇). No one has seen her.
Host: I haven’t heard any news.
Wang Qiaoling: Zhao Wei [赵威, Li Heping’s legal assistant] is the same; no one I know has seen her. Another assistant of my husband’s, Gao Li (高丽), has not been seen either. Over these last two years we’ve seen just too many family members who’ve been tricked when going in to visit. The relatives think that after they see the detainee, they’ll all be able to go home together. That’s what the police tell them. But then they go, and the result is that all contact is lost.
Host: You mean family members also get put under house arrest?
Wang Qiaoling: When we can contact them, the most we dare do is just ask how they’re getting on. They say “alright,” and don’t dare say more than that. When they get entrapped like this we really have no idea what has befallen them. Consider the entire 709 Crackdown — how many victims have really dared to come out and speak the truth? This leads me to Li Heping’s current circumstances. According to Chinese law, Li Heping has been given a suspended sentence. On that very day he should have been released to come back home. Why, at this point, have we heard nothing? Today Li Heping’s former defense attorney Ma Lianshun (马连顺) was commissioned by me to go to the Tianjin Procuratorate, the court, the detention center, and the Guajiasi (挂甲寺) police station to ask them: “Where is Li Heping?” They all say: “We don’t know. He’s gone.” So now you see what sort of situation Li Heping is in. He’s been disappeared. A new round of disappearance.
Host: Goodness — he’s been given a suspended sentence and they still won’t let him go.
Wang Qiaoling: Right. This is the 709 model.
Host: It’s been eight days now. What are they playing at? In the case of Li Heping, whether he’s given a suspended sentence as in this case, or if he was released on probation, if the authorities were determined to keep him detained, why bother going through the trial?
Wang Qiaoling: If they simply kept him detained indefinitely, it would set the Chinese government against the democratic countries around the world that cherish universal values and liberty. This is why, under intense international scrutiny and pressure, they have no choice but to release some people, let them out on probation, or give suspended sentences — as though these were really light punishments. It’s a show for the world, because the pressure was getting too much. It’s as if someone was abusing his children and wife. In front of other people, he’d say: “Look, I’m not hitting them anymore!” But now they’ve switched their methods of tormenting those they’ve detained. Just look at those who’ve been released on probation and are home now, or those given suspended sentences — who dares speak freely? This is to say that imprisonment has now become house arrest, so you can’t speak, can’t have any contact with the world, and it puts the victims under intense psychological pressure. That pressure falls not only on them, but the entire family. By giving Li Heping a suspended sentence, their goal is to use house arrest to stop him from helping those victims around him who need help. He’s also lost his license to practice law, because he’s been convicted. And now for the next four years, any move he makes will be scrutinized, and if the authorities think that he’s trying to “subvert state power,” they’ll haul him in and make him serve three years in jail.
Host: This method actually seems to closely resemble what they’ve done to Gao Zhisheng (高智晟).
Wang Qiaoling: Yes, it’s very like the approach they used before on Gao. In wrapping up the 709 cases, the Chinese authorities, on the surface, have adopted a lenient approach — but in actual fact they’ve used more underhanded, devious tactics to harm these lawyers and activists. None of the 709 victims dares to speak freely about what they went through. This itself is a huge psychological torment. On top of that, almost every day they’re going around frightening this lawyer and that — arresting someone while they’re on vacation, grabbing others when they’re in the middle of a meal. They’re continuing to foster an atmosphere of terror among human rights lawyers.
Host: I assume you’re referring to the recent detention of Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) in Yunnan, and the arrest of a number of human rights lawyers in the middle of a meal in Chengdu?
Wang Qiaoling: Right. And actually if you think back to Jiangang’s involvement in Xie Yang’s (谢阳) 709 case, all he did was his duty as a lawyer. If your client has been subjected to savage torture and you pretend like nothing happened, are you doing your job as a lawyer? In that case the authorities should simply scrap the entire legal profession and be done with it. If you’re a lawyer, then you have to defend the rights of your client — you expose the facts of the torture that your client was put through; this is one’s professional duty. If the authorities have the nerve to carry out this sort of torture, then they shouldn’t complain when it’s exposed. If they’ve got the nerve to act like scoundrels, then they should at least dare to proclaim themselves as scoundrels. You can’t act like a thug and simultaneously pretend like you’re a good person. I’m holding back on speaking too harshly in order to spare their feelings a bit.
Host: In these 709 mass arrests, there was another lawyer who received a lot of attention, Xie Yanyi (谢燕益). He was released a little while ago, but I don’t know what his circumstances are like now. It seems difficult to get any information about him.
Wang Qiaoling: Right — this is the “709 model” that I was talking about. Lawyer Xie was released on probation around the same time as Li Chunfu (李春富, Li Chunfu’s younger brother). Their families are really happy that they were allowed home. But they found that even after they came back home, they were unable to enjoy life in any normal fashion. Once home they made some announcements like “We need to rest,” etc. But have you heard anything about what they went through? No. What you’ve heard privately, or heard from so-and-so’s wife, hasn’t been verified by the person themselves, so you can only say that privately the news is that this or that happened. This is the 709 model. The authorities changed up their tactics, continuing to keep detained those they’ve “released.” If they dare to speak publicly about what happened to them in prison, the security police will appear once more and begin harassing and disturbing the family. So they can’t really live free lives.
Host: You just mentioned Li Chunfu, Li Heping’s younger brother. The news seemed to be that soon after he was released, his family found that he was mentally disturbed, but I haven’t heard the details of the situation now.
Wang Qiaoling: He indeed experience enormous mental suffering, and when he got out his mind seemed muddled and confused. He couldn’t identify his family members, and didn’t know whether he could trust and rely or them or not. He thought that the friends dropping by to visit were police. At the time, this was truly agonizing to behold. He said himself: I remember the day I left the detention center very clearly; the procedural aspect of the case had reached a decision-point: either I was going to sue the court, or else they were going to release me. But on that day the police were adamant to take me out of the police station.” He’s a lawyer; he said to them: “Firstly, you’re not my family; secondly, you’re not my lawyer, and you’re just taking me away like this. The detention center is under surveillance, but you taking me away like this means I can’t be certain of my personal safety.” So he was forcibly removed from the detention center, and even his signature on the probation documents was added later — the police forced him to sign them. There was also a bail bond of 1,000 yuan for the probation. He found it very strange, saying: “I don’t have any money. Who paid this?” The police said that his family paid it, but there was no family there, and no one knows where this money came from. So whether it’s Li Chunfu or anyone else arrested in the 709 crackdown, from their arrest to their release, there has been all manner of trampling on due process, official procedures, and the law. The police themselves say it: “There’s no law. There’s nothing you can do but confess.”
Host: It sounds like all these cases were blackbox operations. Ms. Wang, your husband has been locked up for nearly two years and has been unable to meet his lawyers. As his wife, how have you gotten through this?
Wang Qiaoling: I’m extremely concerned for his safety. Who can bear their husband’s absence, disappearance and separation for so long? Li Heping was vanished on July 10, 2015; when we received the notification of his arrest on January 20, 2016, my first reaction was: He’s alive; thank God that he’s still alive. Over the next grueling year or so, we received not a skerrick of news about him, until a few days ago when the police told me that my husband had been found guilty and was given a suspended sentence. My first reaction was again: He’s still alive. In China, detention centers are at least better than “residential surveillance at a designated place,” basically secret detention, where deaths can happen easily. I was very concerned that his body wouldn’t be able to take it, or that there’d be some sort of accident. My feeling on both these occasions was to thank God that he’s still alive.
How did I get through these last two years? I’m greatly fortunate because I’m a Christian. In the times of greatest trial, I pray. The most difficult times have been when I haven’t heard word about my husband. At these times, I’ve myself received a knock on the door and been taken to the detention center. Last August I accompanied another family as they went to apply to observe their husband’s court case. On the road in the middle of the night I was taken away by about a dozen men who shoved me into their car. No one knew who had taken me. I was locked in a room in the detention center for 24 hours. At this most difficult time, I got through it with prayer. As a Christian, I know that our human lives aren’t in our own hands — but in the hands of God. If one day, as I’m rushing about my business, I die — I believe that this will have been allowed by God. I know that upon death I’ll certainly be going to Heaven. That’s not because I’m so great, but because I have faith — we’re formed by our faith in God. So over these past two years, during the days of greatest torment, I’ve relied on prayer and faith in God to overcome. I know that God is a God of kindness and compassion. The 709 Crackdown over the past two years has pushed many families to the verge of destruction — but I always try to look at these affairs as they must appear in the eyes of God. In the midst of unrighteousness, you can often see love between people emerge and grow, and this love is conferred by God.
I remember some time ago that a foreign friend told me that China’s birth control policies are a horrendous violation of human rights; but because of these birth control policies, many baby girls are abandoned, and he and his wife adopted and raised three Chinese girls. Now he has three great loves in his family. And precisely in the midst of injustice, I found that my husband’s work was precisely about showing compassion toward and helping those around him — especially those at the bottom of society, like peasants, or those who have been wrongly sentenced to death, and so on. After my husband was arrested I met so many strangers who respected him, believed in him, and because of this loved our family. I also saw my children, throughout all this turmoil, go from being jealous of one another to showing concern and love for one another. I also saw that as our family went through these collective trials and tribulations, we not only withstood what was hard to face, but we were also willing to reach out a helping hand and support those around us. I have witnessed all these things over the last two years. When God opened my eyes and let me see all this, I felt that the burden of living became easier to bear.
Host: I remember there was a wife of one of the 709 lawyers — I think it was Li Wenzu (李文足, the wife of Wang Quanzhang)? — who said she cried for a long time, all the way until you reached out with a helping hand, wrote her a letter, and she finally had an ally and no longer felt isolated and helpless.
Wang Qiaoling: That was roughly what happened. In early 2016 when I received the notice of my husband’s arrest, I thought: God, what is it you want me to do? Right then, I said to myself with great clarity: Don’t linger in your own pain; you need to help those around you who are suffering in the same way. So during that Chinese New Year, I gave it a go, driving around to check in on the other family members of 709 victims. What we’re able to do is so feeble, minimal, and limited, but when you’re willing to do that little bit, you’ll find that love is like a seed that, when placed in the soil, can grow and grow. In the nearly two years since the 709 incident we’ve all been supported by one another. This is so precious. I feel that for all families — whether or not they fell victim to this shocking 709 incident — we all need to learn to not just look after ourselves, but look after those around us.
Host: When a lonely individual steps outside themselves, it creates a greater power. Over these last two years, in fact, the model of resistance we’ve seen from 709 families is completely different to the impressions we have and the circumstances of the past. Back years ago in Taiwan it was also like that — the families of those persecuted would display the tragicness of all, and thus gain international sympathy. Of course, this sort of suffering is indeed worthy of sympathy. But the way you went about resisting was original and creative, adopting a lot of new approaches, and this was what drew a lot of attention. I think in the future this will become a model that is worthy of study.
Wang Qiaoling: Someone will actually study this? Hah.
Host: I hope it won’t need to be studied much more!
Wang Qiaoling: For us it camel very natural — it was natural to go about it this way. That people want to study it, I think that’s quite amusing. I suffered clinical depression 17 years ago. I had just given birth to our eldest son and was suffering post-partum depression and was receiving treatment for in hospital. When I began believing in Jesus, and was in an environment where everyone was kind to one another, in a church, I gradually underwent a complete recovery. When I lived out in my own life the teachings of the Bible, I found that they brought benefits both to myself and the people around me. I experienced this as the work of God. You might have found that we’re very optimistic, proactive, and we don’t play the victim or indulge in sadness — this is just our normal manner. We’re just really optimistic people. If it wasn’t for so many years of the church helping me, I wouldn’t be like this.
China’s Hero Lawyers, WSJ editorial, May 22, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post Editorial, January 26, 2017.
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer,’ interview with Ai Weiwei in 2010.
Transcribed and translated by China Change.
China Change, April 28, 2017
Late Friday, evening time Beijing, Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭) and Li Wenzu (李文足) issued the following video statement. China Change offers our audience a translation:
Statement by Wang Qiaoling and Li Wenzu
Wang Qiaoling: This morning at 11:00 a.m. I was walking out the first floor entrance of our apartment building with my daughter when I found myself surrounded by a large group of state security agents. Among them were Beijing state security agents, Tianjin state security agents, chief of the Tianjin Jiaguasi (挂甲寺) police station, and the neighborhood property management people. As they closed in on me, the state security officers demanded that we discuss Li Heping’s case. I thought it was a standard attempt to threaten us and asked them to present their ID badges. They refused. As we were arguing and haggling over this point, they told me that Li Heping had already been given a suspended sentence. I was extremely shocked. This meant that Li Heping had already been tried in secret.
[The paper says: Why try him in secret?]
[709 case, the 659th day]
As far as I know, in Li Heping’s ten year career as a lawyer he has opposed torture, defended the rights of religious believers, and appealed on behalf of those suffering injustice. Everything he has done can be discussed openly, and it is all transparent and upright.
[The paper says: My husband Heping is innocent and aboveboard.]
My husband Li Heping was tried and judged in secret on April 25, and this morning the sentence was announced. At the moment he was being sentenced, the lawyer appointed to him by the authorities, Wen Zhisheng, was instead at my house with state security agents, waiting since the early morning for me to appear. At one point during all this he dashed up to me and tried to snatch away my cell phone, and also tried to hit me, until he was dragged away. This Wen Zhisheng is more of a state security agent than the agents themselves — he’s a volunteer security agent, effectively. The conduct of this lawyer — working with the authorities to frame his colleagues — is utterly shameless.
The state security agents said that the result — three years imprisonment, suspended for four years — is something that everyone worked hard to achieve, and is to the delight and satisfaction of all. They told me to immediately pack up the kids so they could take us all to see Li Heping.
Screw your delight and satisfaction. For Li Heping, who’s now a political offender, a three year sentence with a four year probation means that his personal freedom will be restricted for seven years. Over the last two years I’ve seen so many kind-hearted family members of 709 lawyers who’ve been hoodwinked by state security agents and taken to Tianjin — and then the whole family is cut off from the outside world. What on earth happened to them? We have no way of knowing.
Today, many journalists asked me: How do you feel about Li Heping gaining freedom? I told them that Li Heping is not free. According to Chinese law, Li Heping was given a suspended sentence, so he should be at home with us right now. But instead of that, a big gang of state security agents came to our door and tried to take me and my daughter to Tianjin. This shows that Li Heping is still being locked up by the authorities — simply under different auspices.
Li Wenzu: Today, state security told me very explicitly that Wang Quanzhang would be next. They told me to be a bit more obedient and Wang Quanzhang might be able to get a suspended sentence too.
Wang Qiaoling: Screw your suspended sentence.
Li Wenzu: Exactly.
Li Wenzu: For 659 days, we look forward to their return each every day, hoping for their true freedom.
Wang Qiaoling: So, the 709 cases are far from coming to an end. We still have a very long road ahead.
Continue reading (some redundancy) for more details and also comments from human rights lawyers:
After 22 months in captivity, Li Heping (李和平), one of the remaining “709” human rights lawyers ensnared in the mass arrests beginning July 9, 2015, stood secret trial on April 25 in Tianjin. Three days later on Friday April 28, his wife Wang Qiaoling was told that Li was given a three-year prison sentence with a four-year probation. Wang firmly maintains that Li is innocent, and said the sentence is absurd.
Wang Qiaoling said that state security agents in Tianjin and Beijing, together with the officially-designated lawyer Wen Zhisheng (温志胜) — dozens of people in all — traveled to Wang Qiaoling’s home in the Daxing district of Beijing, informing her that Li Heping had been given a suspended sentence. They said that they were prepared to take her and the couple’s young daughter to Tianjin to “reunite” with Li. Wang Qiaoling immediately rejected the invitation.
Wang Qiaoling told Radio Free Asia that the state security agents were trying to bring her to Tianjin in order to put them under house arrest and make sure they can’t speak to the press.
“The scene outside our apartment was a spectacle,” Wang said. “Dozens of them had come just to tell me this news: first, that Li Heping had been given a three year sentence, with a four-year probation; and second, that I absolutely had to read a letter Li Heping had written, and speak to him on the phone.”
In a video from the scene, Li’s officially-assigned lawyer was seen to brandish this letter, trying to give it to Wang.
She rejected all of it. “They’ve lied far too many times already,” she said.” “They told me that I should be happy with this outcome, because ‘your husband can come home.’ You lock someone up and torture them for nearly two years, and now you come and tell me that this is the best outcome? Why didn’t the family even know about the trial? If the sentence was pronounced today in the court in Tianjin, why was his lawyer there? You come here trying to make me buy this story, but all you want to really do is make sure our whole family is under house arrest and that Li Heping stays in captivity, and that I stay silent.”
While Wang Qiaoling was squaring off with the security police — led by Sun Di (孙荻), a senior security officer at Beijing Public Security Bureau and a human rights perpetrator who took part in Gao Zhisheng’s torture, and was involved in the cases of many dissidents, such as those of Hu Jia (胡佳) and Ai Weiwei (艾未未) — she suddenly received a telephone call from a Tianjin phone number. It was Li Heping speaking over a noisy background. He said that it’s inconvenient to speak on the phone, and that he wanted Wang to come to Tianjin to be with him. Wang, however, demanded that Li instead be allowed to come home. “It’s not that I don’t miss you,” she told him. “If I go, we will all lose our freedom.”
Human rights lawyers closely watching the latest developments think that the goal of the authorities was obvious: to bring Wang Qiaoling to Tianjin and put her under house arrest. This would also be a way of dismantling the 709 family members who have banded together to support each other. They believe that this, if achieved, will pave the way for the trial of Wang Quanzhang.
Much earlier on in the 709 saga, the families of Zhao Wei (赵威, Li Heping’s legal assistant) and Ren Quanniu (任全牛) were given the opportunity to “reunite,” but in the end got trapped under house arrest.
Meanwhile, the Tianjin 2nd Intermediate Court published a message to its official Weibo channel saying that the April 25 trial was closed because Li Heping’s case relates to state secrets, that Li’s sentence was announced on the morning of April 28, and that he was guilty of “subversion of state power” and would be sentenced to prison for three years with a four-year probation. According to the announcement, Li Heping said he would not appeal; some members of the public were able to observe the sentencing.
The news has also been published by the official media Global Times, as well as to the websites of every major news portal.
Wang Qiaoling told RFA that she understands any decision her husband might make after being jailed and put through an ordeal for nearly two years. She also wishes he would come home. But the judgement against him was simply preposterous.
Wang Qiaoling: “Just earlier someone asked me: ‘Do you think this is a bit lighter than what happened last August?’ I’ll speak from my heart. My husband is innocent. What we want is for him to be released as innocent so he can come home. Only then would it be clear that the rule of law actually governs China. You’ve gone and turned an innocent man into a criminal, and then suspended the sentence so it seems really humanitarian. But this is absurd. I don’t acknowledge it, and I don’t recognize it.”
Security police on Friday also sought to “persuade” Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang, another 709 lawyer still in custody. They said that Wang’s case is almost completed, and that Li should maintain a calm and restrained attitude.
Hunan attorney Wen Donghai (文东海) represented Wang Yu (王宇) before her “release” and had made many trips to Tianjin. Drawing from his experience and reflection, he told RFA that the 709 case has been playing out for two years now, and the official attempt to concoct criminal charges against the lawyers has failed. Now, under constant international pressure, the authorities are trying to quickly wrap things up and save face.
“If they still want to save a bit of face,” he said, “they should immediately release Xie Yang, Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, and Wu Gan. This is the best option. They’re not only innocent of any crimes, but the ones who’ve committed crimes are in the public security organs, the procuracy, and the courts. These sentences simply bring shame to the authorities themselves, and will deal even more damage to their legitimacy.”
‘My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer’, interview with Ai Weiwei in 2010, August 21, 2016.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Wang Qiaoling, Li Wenzu, Chen Guiqiu, Jin Bianling, March 1, 2017
The following letter was recently delivered to:
- U. S. Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith, co-chairs of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China;
- Congressman James McGovern and Joseph Pitts, co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U. S. Congress;
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany;
- Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the President of Germany;
- Sigmar Gabriel, the Foreign Minister of Germany;
- François Hollande, the President of France;
- Bernard Cazeneuve, the Prime Minister of France.
We thank you for your sustained attention to the human rights situation in China, especially on the matter of the “709 lawyers,” who have been targeted from July 9, 2015 to this day. The case began with the mass disappearance of lawyers, and has included the deprivation of their right to a legal defense, as well as coerced confessions. After a year and seven months, to this day there are still four lawyers (Xie Yang 谢阳, Jiang Tianyong 江天勇, Wang Quanzhang 王全璋 and Li Heping 李和平), as well as one citizen activist, Wu Gan (吴淦), who are in detention. Recently, news has emerged of their torture in custody.
From September 2016 onwards, two of the undersigned (Li Wenzu 李文足 and Wang Qiaoling 王峭岭) have met with four individuals who were among the 709 detainees but have been released, learning about their experiences during detention. The following information about what they have been through cannot be attributed to them by name, something they exhorted repeatedly for fear of their safety and that of their families.
The majority of the lawyers and citizens targeted in the 709 arrests were placed in secret detention facilities known as “residential surveillance in a designated place” for six months, during which time they were tortured. Following is a summary of the four main categories of torture they were subjected to.
1) Forced consumption of drugs. Whether the internees were in good health or not, they were all made to take medication. The most common were drugs, so was it claimed, to treat high blood pressure. Other common drugs included tranquilizers or barbiturates of various sorts, as well as antipsychotic drugs. Of the four individuals we interviewed, the minimum they were forced to take was two pills per day — they were told it was to treat high blood pressure (though they were in fine health and did not suffer high blood pressure). The most they were forced to take was 20 pills per day, including barbiturates and antipsychotic drugs, along with other unidentified drugs. The victims were either forced to consume the drugs or tricked into doing so, and afterwards often felt dazed and stuporous.
2) Marathon interrogation sessions and sleep deprivation. Wearying interrogation sessions became practically mandatory for 709 detainees. They were regularly called in for questioning and prevented from sleeping. While the interrogators changed shift for all-night interrogation sessions, the drowsy detainees were shoved, beaten, or frightened by a clap next to the ears to stay awake. Victims were forced to sit in a fixed position on a stool, and as soon as they fell asleep, they were roughly roused awake. The torturers have countless methods.
3) Beatings, leg torture, and water dungeons. Being slugged was a daily occurrence. Worse was torture of the legs applied by guards. The prisoner, sitting on the ground, would have their legs forced onto a metal bar elevated about a foot off the ground. Another bar would be dropped across their thighs, and then someone would sit on top of it. If the victim still didn’t confess, another helper would add weight, causing excruciating pain. Prisoners were also put in cages submerged mostly in water, and left inside for seven days, the entire body underwater with a space to breath at the top. As they stood in the water and tried to sleep, rats would scurry about outside the cage, biting their nose and ears.
4) Threats to the lives, or freedom, of family members. The lives and freedom of prisoners’ wives and sons have been threatened. One of the prisoner’s son was taken into custody by public security officials, who threatened to formally arrest him if the prisoner didn’t confess; on other occasions, the father and brother of prisoners were arrested and held as long as the prisoner refused to confess.
These are only some of the forms of torture applied. When we first heard it all, we were also deeply shocked. A superpower that lays claim to being a responsible country “governed according to the law,” in fact carries out these horrifying acts of torture against a group of lawyers. Later, as we thought it over, we understood that this is simply the standard modus operandi of the Chinese government. In July 2007, Li Heping was abducted by public security officials and electrocuted until he was knocked out. In February 2011, Jiang Tianyong was disappeared for two months and also tortured. In June 2015 Wang Quanzhang, while carrying out his duties as a lawyer in a court, was slapped in the face by bailiffs nearly 100 times. The torture and abuse suffered by Xie Yang has already been set forth in detail by his defense lawyers, and a portion of it appears as an addendum to this note. All these deeds we describe represent the true face of the Chinese government — a government that plunders, murders, and destroys the ordinary Chinese people.
We hope that you can join a global effort to denounce and condemn these acts of torture by the Chinese government, and call for the Chinese authorities to investigate and hold accountable the torturers and others responsible. These human rights lawyers are the pride of China and should be set free immediately.
Your sincere friends,
Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭, wife of Li Heping)
Li Wenzu (李文足, wife of Wang Quanzhang)
Jin Bianling (金变玲, wife of Jiang Tianyong)
Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋, wife of Xie Yang)
(Names of more 709 family members have to be concealed as they have been warned against speaking out for their loved ones.)
Addendum: The torture suffered by Xie Yang
Xie Yang’s primary clients were victims of forced demolition, forced internal migration, and grassroots peasants who had their rights violated. He was arrested on July 11, 2015 and denied access to his lawyers for 16 months, during which time his lawyers were also prohibited from reading any of his case files. His first defense lawyer, Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), was never allowed to meet him or read the case files; only on November 21, 2016 was Zhang Zhongshi (张重实), a new lawyer, allowed to meet with him, and Xie Yang was forced to dismiss Lin Qilei. On December 16 the case was transferred to the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court.
From his arrest in the early morning hours of July 11, 2015, until midnight on July 12 — a total of over 40 hours — he was deprived of sleep. Beginning the following day, he was then put through seven days of interrogation, during which time he was allowed to sleep only nine hours. This is far beyond what any normal person can bear. This deprivation of sleep led to Xie Yang’s mental breakdown.
During his six months of secret detention, Xie Yang was forced to sit on a stack of plastic stools, leaving his legs to dangle in the air and causing one of his already injured legs to swell up, leaving him almost crippled. Every day during the long interrogation sessions he was slugged, threatened, insulted, yelled at, and had smoke blown in his face. Even when his whole body was shuddering, and he was in a cold sweat, in an obvious state of pain and fever, the national security agents shoved him down onto the ground face first, pressuring his chest and suffocating him, then pounding him in the head until he was concussed. Any notes that were made revolved around the three topics determined by the security agents: that he was out for money, out for fame, and out to oppose the Party and socialism. He was pushed to the brink of death by the security agents, but they kept him alive to prolong the torment. As they inflicted pain, the agents held out the bait of “establishing merit,” trying to lure him with rewards if he would frame his peers. When this failed, they threatened the safety and lives of his wife and child, or the jobs of his friends and family, in an attempt to dominate him. All written records of the sessions they produced were fake. They wrote them, and simply made Xie Yang sign off, without the opportunity to request any changes. If he did, they’d torture him further.
In the year he was in the detention center, officials and guards would close in on Xie Yang and try to force him to confess. They prohibited any other prisoners from having any contact with him. No one was allowed to speak with him, give or lend him anything, let him participate in card games, mah jong, chess, or any other entertainment. He was forbidden from using any of the money that had been put in his account, so that for a long time he was unable to buy toothpaste or even use toilet paper. Prosecutors, along with police, used the excuse of questioning him to force him to confess, prevented defense lawyers from meeting him, and demanded that he keep his mouth shut about the torture.
The Changsha Municipal Public Security Bureau, the Changsha Municipal Procuratorate, the Changsha Municipal Second Detention Center, and all individuals involved in Xie Yang’s case, acted in collusion with one another. They prevented lawyers from meeting Xie Yang, covered up the torture aimed at gaining a confession, and punished a man who is entirely innocent.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (2) – Sleep Deprivation
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (3) – Dangling Chair, Beating, Threatening Lives of Loved Ones, and Framing Others
January 25, 2017
Lawyer Li Heping (李和平) is one of China’s earliest human rights lawyers and no stranger to torture. In an interview with the artist Ai Weiwei in 2010, he recounted how he was abducted one day in 2007 by Chinese domestic security police, beaten savagely, and thrown onto a hill outside Beijing in the middle of the night. In recent years he ran an anti-torture education program in Beijing, which was likely the reason for his arrest, along with scores of other lawyers, in July 2015, in what is now known as the “709 Incident.” Last week, lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) published his interviews with lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳) detailed horrific torture the latter was subjected to during a period of “residential surveillance at a designated place” and at the detention center, yesterday the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Concern Group said that it learned from sources that Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) were tortured by being shocked with electricity. Both have been in custody for over 500 days without access to family or their lawyers. We asked a colleague of lawyer Li Heping to tell us more about the anti-torture work Li engaged in, which has now likely brought torture upon Li himself. The author of the article wishes to remain anonymous. — The Editors
China, among all countries, has one of the longest histories of the use of torture. In contemporary China, torture is most often understood as merely a part of the interrogation process in criminal cases. This is directly related to the fact that the concept of “torture” as defined in the international criminal context has no clear domestic legal definition in China. In fact, the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which China ratified in 1986, defines torture broadly: it includes the application of physical or psychological torture by public officials for the purpose of gaining information or confessions, and it also includes torture for the purpose of threatening, menacing, or discriminating against victims. All these forms of torture can have severely negative impacts on the body and minds of victims. So in China, many people — including lawyers who are steeped in the law — have a limited understanding of torture.
In recent years it has become known to the public that torture has been employed in many criminal cases to procure confessions. Public reports of exonerations — including in the Hugjiltu case in Inner Mongolia, the Nie Shubin case in Hebei, the Yang Ming case in Guizhou — show that in every single case of this kind, torture was used. Clearly, the use of torture is one of the key reasons for these false convictions and grave injustices. If torture is reduced, then the number of unjust and false convictions is also likely to decrease commensurately.
As a way of helping more lawyers better understand torture and equip them with more information about torture, Li Heping and a number of criminal defense lawyers took a leading role in promoting the idea of “Prohibition of Torture” (禁止酷刑). From around 2009, Li and a few other Beijing-based lawyers, began to work with the UK-based NGO The Rights Practice, advocating and promoting inside China the idea of prohibiting torture. This work included organizing small-scale legal salons, large-scale law symposiums, drafting anti-torture handbooks, raising the profile of specific cases of torture, and more.
We began at a fundamental level, discussing the definition of torture in small group setting, then the key articles of The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We compared the clauses in the convention to China’s own laws, and in doing so, discovered the problems with Chinese law, and proposed means and strategies for dealing with them.
Through a few years of work, many lawyers who attended these discussions gained a much deeper understanding on the prohibition of torture. The lawyers were able to provide numerous ideas for judicial reforms that would prohibit torture, including changes to the detention center system, the right for lawyers to be present at interrogations of their client, exclusion of illegally-obtained evidence, audio-visual recording of suspect interrogations, and many other institutional safeguards and reforms. Some of these suggestions for reform have already been implemented, while others — like the right for lawyers to be present at interrogation, or the exclusion of illegally-obtained evidence — still require a lot of work at the procedural and practical levels.
Lawyers need to pay constant attention to these issues and continue to promote them. What is gratifying, however, is that many individual cases of convictions obtained via torture in custody ultimately resulted in a commutations or amended, non-guilty judgements, after lawyers began advocating around them.
Of course, the project has not been entirely smooth going. Li Heping and other main participants were subject to long-term pressure from the authorities, and the police regularly called them in for “drinking tea,” threatening and intimidating them. Sometimes the police would warn the lawyers off attending a particular event, or prohibit them from meeting a visiting foreign dignitary, among other demands.
In early 2011, a number of lawyers were among scores of activists who had been forcibly disappeared across the country, and when they were released a few months later, they exposed how they were tortured during their disappearance.
In July 2015, a nationwide campaign targeted human rights lawyers, and Li Heping was among those taken into custody. To this day he still has not been tried. According to publicly available information, a number of lawyers, after being arrested, were put under residential surveillance at a designated location (指定居所监视居住), during which time they were subjected to extremely severe torture. The Hunan lawyer Xie Yang, for instance, was beaten by police and put through exhausting interrogations and sleep deprivation. Li Heping’s younger brother, Li Chunfu (李春富), was detained for 530 days, during which time he suffered severe psychological damage. These cases make clear that torture remains an extremely serious problem. Everyone needs to pay attention to the issue, including, of course, the international community.“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We believe that while advocacy for the prohibition of torture will remain full of risks, more and more lawyers will stand up and say “no” to torture. Through the efforts of lawyers, torture in China will occur less and less, and those who have carried out the torture will receive the punishment they’re due.
Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China, New York Times, January 20, 2017.
Document of Torture: One Chinese Lawyer’s Story From Jail, WSJ China Real Time, January 20, 2017.
A broken lawyer and a hawkish judge cast deep pall over China’s legal system, Washington Post, January 21, 2017.
Beijing Breaks Lawyers, Wall Street Journal editorial, January 22, 2017.
‘Your only right is to obey’: lawyer describes torture in China’s secret jails, the Guardian, January 23, 2017.
In China, torture is real, and the rule of law is a sham, Washington Post editorial, January 27, 2017.
Cataloging the Torture of Lawyers in China, China Change, July 5, 2015.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
Wang Qiaoling, January 17, 2017
Since Li Chunfu was released from the custody of China’s security forces on January 12, his family has been providing updates on his condition to the outside world. Their notes make clear that Li was left a broken man, suffering both physically and mentally. China Change calls on the United Nations to investigate the treatment of Li Chunfu in custody, and we call for immediate access on the part of legal counsel to Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, as well as Jiang Tianyong who has been held in secret detention since November 21, 2016. The circumstances of all these individuals are now of grave concern given Li Chunfu’s condition. — The Editors
These last few days I’ve been staying at Chunfu’s (李春富) house, worried that he might have another episode and hurt his wife. Last night we followed the doctor’s orders and invited Chunfu to sit on the sofa with us to chat about his treatment. Chunfu had sustained serious damage to his neck vertebrae and spine in custody, and his neck is a bit twisted. If the doctor hadn’t pointed this out, we wouldn’t have realized.
As we sat on the sofa and finished talking over medical treatment, Chunfu suddenly screamed: “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me!” I was struck dumb. I could only look upon Chunfu’s face, twisted up with a sinister expression, and his eyes, full of ominous glint.
I finally understand what my sister-in-law was referring to about his outbursts. Anxious, I mimicked his cry: “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me!” The doctor suggested that family members may repeat what the patient says. I felt highly insecure, but kept my eyes fixed on him: “Tell me! What are you hiding from us!” The malice in Chunfu’s eyes began to slowly dissipate.
Chunfu’s wife Bi Liping (毕丽萍), sitting beside us, was crying. “Chunfu, when I saw you at the police station I suspected right away that you had physical problems. I could have turned and left and not brought you home. But I brought you back, and that proves that we don’t want to hurt you. Why don’t you ever trust us? Sister-in-law and Yang Bo (杨波, nephew of the Li brothers) put aside their own affairs to stay with us, just so they could help with your treatment. You have to believe us.” Chunfu got that vicious look in his eyes again and started staring at me. I felt so crushed. I roared out once more: “Tell me! What are you hiding from us!” The menace in Chunfu’s eyes again slowly disappeared.
We told him to go wash his face and brush his teeth so he could go to sleep, but he was absent and confused, and asked: “Why do I have to brush my teeth?” After he finished brushing, he again queried his wife: “Which one’s my toothbrush?”
Before nodding off he called Bi Liping into the room, twice, in order to ask: “Are you sure you’re not hiding anything from me?”
The whole night at Chunfu’s was spent in fitful sleep. I was thinking over: why haven’t Heping and Quanzhang been allowed access to a lawyer? Xie Yang (谢阳) and Wu Gan (吴淦) can see lawyers now. Is it because Heping and Quanzhang are now the same as Chunfu? I tossed and turned through the night, and only got a few winks of half-conscious sleep in the morning. When I again saw Chunfu looking at me, with that tortured, fierce expression fixed on his face, I finally understood what my sister-in-law meant about his episodes, and why she’s been unable to sleep and now constantly wakes in fright.
709 lawyer family members,
Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭, wife of Li Heping)
Li Wenzu (李文足, wife of Wang Quanzhang)
Bi Liping (wife of Li Chunfu)
January 16, 2017
Addendum by lawyer Chen Jiangang: Li Chunfu is in a state of paranoia, dread, and alarm. He’s always fearful. Fearful of something going wrong, fearful of people coming to take him away. When he sees an old friend he’s a little better, but even when it’s a friend talking to him, he’s still full of suspicion, foreboding, and dread. For example, when we went to eat a meal together, someone asked him to order. He responded: “What’s that mean? Is something going to happen?” When asked whether he wants to eat dumplings or noodles, he responded by repeatedly asking what that question was supposed to mean, and “why are you making me choose?”
*Translator’s note: Several human rights lawyers and activists reported that “Tell me! What are you still hiding from me?!” is what interrogators frequently yell during interrogations.
An Update on Lawyer Li Chunfu’s Condition, January 14, 2017
A Third Update on Lawyer Li Chunfu: He Was Drugged in Custody, January 15, 2017
Translated from Chinese by China Change.