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61-Year Old Human Rights Lawyer Criminally Detained in Shenyang

China Change, October 31, 2017




On the afternoon of October 31, lawyer Li Yuhan’s (李昱函) family revealed that she had been criminally detained by Shenyang Public Security Bureau. The charges against her are unclear.

She was last heard from on October 9 when she texted her younger brother that she had been taken away by police from Shenyang PSB Heping District.

Over the past three weeks, her relatives called the municipal government offices for her whereabouts.

She is one of the two lawyers who have represented lawyer Wang Yu (王宇), the first human rights lawyer detained during the massive 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers. During Wang Yu’s detention, lawyer Li made numerous trips to Tianjin to try to meet her client but to no avail as with other 709 detainees. Her children, even her in-laws, were harassed as a result of her doing her job as a lawyer.

In late June, she and lawyer Wen Donghai visited Wang Yu in Inner Mongolia where she had been under house arrest since her released from detention in Tianjin around mid-year.

The news of her criminal detention caused a stir among 709 wives whom lawyer Li Yuhan has befriended.

Wang Yu visit_709

Lawyer Li Yuhan and Wen Donghai visited Wang Yu in early June this year.

In 2014 she represented a former policewoman and a petitioner from southern Anhui province who was detained for giving an interview to the Washington Post about China’s petitioning system and whether it helps solve social problems.

She also represented Falun Gong practitioners charged with “using [a] cult to sabotage the enforcement of the law.”

Heilongjiang-based lawyer Wang Qiushi (王秋实) will go to Shenyang to try to meet with Li Yuhan.

In 2006, while practicing in Shenyang, she complained to the authorities about a man who possessed guns and evaded taxes and who harassed her clients. The wealthy man was well connected with local government officials, including the police, and her whistleblowing resulted in herself being beaten and harassed by Shenyang police over the years. More than once, she was treated as a petitioner, locked up in the petitioner camp in Beijing, and forcibly taken back by Shenyang police.

Li Yuhan has heart disease, and in March of this year, she underwent major surgery.





Two Years on: An Update on Lawyer Wang Yu, the First 709 Detainee

China Change, July 7, 2017


“Wang Yu (王宇) was at home by herself that night, having just seen off at the airport her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军), and their son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓軒). A group of men began idling about outside her home, and when she yelled out asking who they were, they shrank away and kept quiet. About an hour later, when she was unable to raise her husband and son on the phone, and just beginning to get anxious, the lights in her apartment suddenly went out. Her internet was also cut. The harsh buzz of an electric drill shattered the silent darkness and within a few minutes the lock had been drilled out, falling to the ground. A gang of men rushed in, shoved her onto the bed, and snapped a cold pair of handcuffs on her hands, twisted behind her back. She was hooded and hauled out into a waiting vehicle, then taken to a facility whose location is unknown to this day. There, they drew a circle around Wang Yu’s spot on the bed: for several weeks, she had to sit with her legs crossed in the circle, and if she left it would be screamed at or beaten.”

— Lawyer Wen Donghai describes how Wang Yu was taken away on July 9, 2015.  


Wang Yu hooligan sparrow

In the documentary Hooligan Sparrow, lawyer Wang Yu is shown handing out the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in2013.  Photo: Hooligan Sparrow website



When China Change reported lawyer Wang Yu’s disappearance in the small hours on July 9, 2015, two years ago, little did we know what was to follow. She was the first of over 300 human rights lawyers and activists across China who, in the coming days, would be detained, disappeared, temporarily rounded up, and interrogated. Eventually more than two dozen were placed under the notorious “residential surveillance at a designated place,” (指定居所监视居住) and over the last two years they have gone through torture and family trauma, and some have been released. At least three more — Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Wu Gan (吴淦) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) — remain in custody. None, whether released or not, have been truly free. The campaign is known as the 709 Crackdown.

Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were released on probation in August 2016. They live in Beijing, but they’ve now been sequestered in a public housing block in Ulan Hot, Inner Mongolia, and are being held under tight control. For nearly a year, until recently, no one has seen Wang Yu or her husband in public. It’s like they’ve disappeared from the face of the earth.

Wang Yu visit_709

Left to right: Li Yuhan, Wang Yu, and Wen Donghai

In late June, Wang Yu’s defense lawyers Wen Donghai (文东海) and Li Yuhan (李昱函) were able to visit Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, along with their son, in Inner Mongolia. After of nearly a year of probation, the whole family’s freedom is still severely restricted. There are three surveillance cameras set up in the corridor outside their door, and bugs have been planted throughout their apartment (they’re aware of this because the Security Police immediately know what they’ve been saying to one another). There are also guards on duty outside their building, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whenever they leave home, at least two security agents follow them. Their range of activities in Ulan Hot is highly limited — they leave home either to buy groceries and basic supplies, or else to visit Wang Yu’s parents who also live in Ulan Hot.

If they want to go to Beijing (where they actually live) or Tianjin (where Bao Longjun’s parents live), they have to submit an application to the Security Police. When they get there, the local Security Police follow them around, and keep them under extremely tight control.

Legally, Wang Yu and Bao Longjun are still on “probation”; Wang Yu’s probationary period ends on July 22, while Bao Longjun’s expires on August 5. The law states that during the period of probation they are required to report to the local public security bureau to account for their movements. The measures taken against them, however — house arrest, 24 hour surveillance, being followed wherever they go — are all illegal.

Neither Wang or Bao are currently allowed to work, and their subsistence is paid by the Security Police.  

Their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, was a high schooler in Beijing when his parents were detained. Over the past two years, he was also put under short-term house arrest and long-term surveillance, and forced to live with his maternal grandmother in Inner Mongolia. In October 2015, after two family friends tried and failed to spirit him out of China, the young man was put under even tighter control. Bao is 18 this year and still in senior high-school. His parents still hope he can go overseas to study, but they are not sure how long their son will continue to be barred from moving freely. This is notwithstanding the fact that all the measures taken against him are simply illegal and immoral.

In their meeting with Wang Yu, both lawyers secured a new signature from her authorizing them as her official legal representatives.

On March 30, 2016 when she was in prison, Wang Yu underwent surgery for breast cancer. Last August she was awarded the inaugural International Human Rights Award given by the American Bar Association.

We are certain that Wang Yu, like many others ensnared in the 709 Crackdown, was tortured in custody, and we have yet to hear the details of the horror.




A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on, Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017.

To American Bar Association With Regard to ABA Human Rights Award to Wang Yu, August 6, 2016.

The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, July 27, 2015.

She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post, July 18, 2015






A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on

Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017




With the second anniversary of July 9, 2015 approaching, and as someone who has witnessed it first hand and served as the defense lawyer for one of the prominent 709 detainees, I’ve racked my brains about what to say. I feel that I have so much to say — but at the same time, it seems that only being as quiet and still as a mountain could truly encompass the full meaning of the 709 Crackdown.

Naturally, the first people I was worried about when the crackdown began were my client Wang Yu (王宇) and her family. Prior to 709, she was extremely active as a human rights lawyer, gaining the nickname “Goddess of War” (战神) for her fearlessness. The 709 incident seemed designed to shatter this legend, and so in the early hours of July 9, 2015, the shocking, flagrant conspiracy that was the 709 incident began to unfold, with Wang Yu bearing the brunt of the impact as the first to be snatched away. Wang Yu was at home by herself that night, having just seen off at the airport her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军), and their son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓軒). A group of men began idling about outside her home, and when she yelled out asking who they were, they shrank away and kept quiet. About an hour later, when she was unable to raise her husband and son on the phone, and just beginning to get anxious, the lights in her apartment suddenly went out. Her internet was also cut. The harsh buzz of an electric drill shattered the silent darkness and within a few minutes the lock had been drilled out, falling to the ground. A gang of men rushed in, shoved her onto the bed, and snapped a cold pair of handcuffs on her hands, twisted behind her back. She was hooded and hauled out into a waiting vehicle, then taken to a facility whose location is unknown to this day. There, they drew a circle around Wang Yu’s spot on the bed: for several weeks, she had to sit with her legs crossed in the circle, and if she left it would be screamed at or beaten.

In the month that followed, Zhou Shifeng (周世峰), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Xie Yang (谢阳), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and another few dozen human rights lawyers lost their freedom one after another. I myself was one of the 300 or so lawyers and activists around China who were summoned, interrogated, and temporarily detained. I was warned away from paying any attention to what happened to Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, or anyone else.

Fortunately, after the majority of the lawyers overcame the initial sense of terror, they bravely announced that they wouldn’t be cowed. Other lawyers also began joining the ranks of those willing to defend their persecuted colleagues, and thus began the tenacious work of rescuing detainees. The obstacles facing the lawyers were formidable: many were unable to even see their clients from beginning to end; they were illegally told by police that they’d been fired; the atmosphere of terror was constant and nagging; the 709 defense work required groping in the dark given that little information about the detentions was available; and the 709 detainees’ wives and children were swallowed in anxiety by the unfathomable unknown. But despite all this, the 709 defense lawyers and their families didn’t shrink from the fight. From the beginning they were awaiting the arrival of dawn. It’s this persistence that will stand as a monument to the honor of China’s human rights lawyers as a whole.

Every step in the resistance of 709 lawyers and activists has been a trial, and it’s far from over. There is still no news about Wang Quanzhang, and his safety is now our greatest concern; Jiang Tianyong has been given a brutal lesson: the mercy he hoped to receive from the police through a confession led instead to harsher criminal charges, again proving that it’s futile to harbor any illusions about the authorities. Wu Gan (吴淦) set a courageous precedent by refusing to give quarter, adding more dignity to the last part of the 709 resistance. Then there is the long list of others – Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, Zhang Kai (张凯) — who have either been sentenced to actual prison, or been given suspended sentences under strict control, or been let out on a “probation” that amounts in fact to house arrest…

Although there’s often a great deal of disagreement in the Chinese legal field about how to categorize a human rights lawyer, there is simply no doubt that 709 lawyers are the true heirs to this title. Their efforts give real meaning to to the vocation of a human rights lawyer, and their comportment in the face of power shows the strength of character of those in their field. Because of the 709 lawyers, China’s human rights lawyers now have clear values to pursue.

With this understanding in mind, I begin to imagine that, in the years to come, there won’t be such a thing in China as a “human rights lawyer,” because as soon as the values pursued by human rights lawyers are internalized by China’s legal community as the universal standard of professional conduct, every lawyer will have become a human rights lawyer. The only distinction will be whether or not a lawyer has the fortune of coming across a case in which rights must be safeguarded, and whether they discharge their responsibility to see it to the end.

Human rights lawyers are guardians of fairness and justice. Their success in this role comes for their proactive involvement in public affairs and the positive leadership role they play. Some people have said that lawyers are manufacturers of public incidents — but I disagree. Public incidents don’t need lawyers to manufacture them; they arise naturally in society. The key is that lawyers can get involved in public affairs, and through their professional activities, knowledge, and experience, to a certain extent guide public discussions. Or to put it another way, lawyers are creators of public discourse — but they don’t manufacture public incidents. It’s precisely through participating in matters of public interest that they’re able to guide the discourse, and thus truly safeguard fairness and justice.

To an extent, human rights lawyers are dispute resolvers; strictly speaking, however, the resolution of disputes should ultimately rely upon the healthy operations of an independent judicial system — not merely the skill of lawyers. In actuality, the correct designation for lawyers is “a defender of the interest of the client,” and in this regard human rights lawyers are no different. There are particular circumstances under which lawyers, in order to safeguard the interests of their client, are forced to create a certain level of dispute so that the process of resolving the dispute results in a reparation to the party whose interests were harmed.

Human rights lawyers are entirely worthy of the title of human rights defenders. The rights of the lawyer, indeed, come from the basic rights accorded to any specific individual; and if the fundamental rights of the individual aren’t protected, the rights of the lawyer won’t be respected. But the defense of human rights is the responsibility of all people; lawyers are at the forefront of this defense of rights, as a result of the nature of the profession itself. Just as in the realm of environmental protection, which in the same fashion requires a group of experts getting involved to protect the environment.

Mostly, human rights lawyers defend personal rights, so they are inevitably on guard against the power of the state. Most of the attacks against human rights come from the abuse of state power. The 709 lawyers are worthy of the title of human rights lawyers because of their fearless exertions in balancing against the power of the state, and for their attempts to establish anew the proper balance between the state’s rights and individual rights in China.

Human rights lawyers should be the advocates of policies and the proponents of democracy. If they do so, of course, they will have entered the realm of politics — at which point they won’t merely be lawyers. This is just the same as how many social activists are also journalists, writers, scholars, or even regular citizens, simply adopting different roles in different contexts. In the case of lawyers, however, the law in which they believe and the political system are necessarily connected, making them natural-born politicians. Lawyers are often more apt than other professionals to take an interest in political affairs, and to use their knowledge and natural political acuity to get involved in public and political matters.

China’s human rights lawyers have gone through a stage of significant growth and transformation in the roles they play. Before the 709 incident, the majority of them avoided from commenting on political affairs, or kept away from them, whether deliberately or subconsciously. Indeed, lawyers would often try to turn political questions into legal ones, legal questions into professional ones, professional questions into procedural ones, and then engage in the minute analysis of procedure.

The initial form of human rights lawyers in China was the “diehard lawyer” (死磕律师). Even though the majority of “diehard” lawyers didn’t particularly want to touch cases that officialdom had designated “politically sensitive,” they were willing to walk into the Communist Party’s courts and use the Communist Party’s laws to hold forth a robust and courageous resistance. Through this, they won widespread social approbation. This circumstance was possible because at the time there was still a limited space for legal resistance. But after the 18th Party Congress, and in particular in the post-709 China, the Communist Party has severely rescinded the space for so-called “legal resistance,” replacing it instead with violent repression and power. This, conversely, led more lawyers to see clearly for themselves the true face of the slogan that the Party is “ruling the country according to the law.” They began to think over the root cause of all this. And as this took place, human rights lawyers began to slowly emerge into the view of the public. While the Party tried to besmirch their reputations and persecute them, they won the recognition of a wider and wider swathe of the public, and the number of supporters continued to swell. Even though the activities of human rights lawyers have been severely restricted by the authorities, the persecution has helped them reach a far greater audience, and has enhanced their reputations across society.

The direction taken by human rights lawyers in China will test how civilized the country becomes. If China undergoes a democratic transition in the near future, a portion of these lawyers will inevitably be set on the path of professional politicians, while others will continue in their role as lawyers, becoming even more professional. Moreover, they’ll increasing depart from being “human rights lawyers,” because a truly civilized country doesn’t require that many rights lawyers — only a country that engages in constant human rights abuses, and which also maintains a minimal degree of social openness, leads to the proliferation of human rights lawyers as a professional group.

Upon the occasion of the second anniversary of the 709 crackdown, this article is offered merely as a call to remember. I continue to believe that the steadfast pursuit of values will become the direction towards which China’s lawyers develop, and only that attitude is appropriate to lawyers in a civilized country.

I give my respect to Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Wu Gan, and the many, many other 709 lawyers and activists, as well as all the older generation of human rights lawyers!


Wen Donghai (文东海)

July 6, 2017


Wen Donghai latestWen Donghai is a human rights lawyer based in Changsha, Hunan province.



To American Bar Association With Regard to ABA Human Rights Award to Wang Yu, August 6, 2016.

The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, July 27, 2015.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August 19, 2015.


Translated from Chinese by China Change.






To American Bar Association With Regard to ABA Human Rights Award to Wang Yu

August 6, 2016




Over the last week, we all wondered whether the American Bar Association would go ahead with conferring its inaugural International Human Rights Award to the Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu. On August 1 she appeared on camera in China, repenting her courageous work fighting for justice and the rule of law, and repudiating the ABA award because she is a Chinese person and loves her country — as though receiving the award would be a betrayal of China.

It was indeed Wang Yu speaking, but from an undisclosed location, after nearly 13 months in secret detention, to three people whose faces and identities were hidden. We cannot begin to fathom what has happened to her and dozens of other human rights lawyers and activists who have been detained — but luckily now the whole world understands the simple fact that when she’s not free, she’s not free to speak her mind.

One thing we do know is that the Chinese government hates international recognition of the courageous Chinese citizens who seek to uphold justice, and who work to make China a freer and more just place. Hu Jia’s own account illustrates this perfectly:

In 2008, I was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” because I engaged in activities to promote human rights and liberty before the Olympic Games.

The European Parliament awarded me the Sakharov Prize, and I was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When I was in prison, the head of the Beijing municipal political police led a group of public security and foreign ministry officials to pay a visit to me in prison — they were putting me under intense pressure, trying to force me to make a public announcement that I rejected both the Sakharov Prize and the nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

In exchange, these officials said that they would reduce my sentence by 2.5 years, and also pay me double the cash award of the Sakharov Prize, as economic “compensation.” These secret political police, and the jailers in their charge, lobbied me with this proposal on up to seven occasions. I flatly rejected all of these despicable, filthy political dealings. Thus, I am deeply aware of how moral support, and awards from the international community, place the Communist Party’s security organs and foreign affairs officials under enormous pressure.

We know too well what happened after Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: China threw a tantrum at Norway, retaliating against not just the Norwegian government, but also salmon farmers.

We applaud the ABA for going forward with the inaugural International Human Rights Award to Wang Yu as planned. It’s the right thing to do.

This was an extraordinary week. In four days, a Chinese court in Tianjin tried four “subversion” cases at lightning speed, each a tightly-orchestrated affair that lasted only a couple of hours. Family-appointed lawyers were replaced by puppet lawyers that were there to merely stand in as “defense counsel,” to follow the script: no wives, relatives, friends, or free members of the public were allowed in court, or anywhere near the courthouse. Of course, all four were convicted.

China wants the world to believe that the cases were processed in court, but these show trials have only succeeded in once again affirming what we already knew: there is no such thing as the rule of law under the tyranny of dictatorship. Indeed, there is no such thing as a court.

What’s on trial, of course, is once again China’s conscience. These citizens, whether lawyers or human rights defenders, are committed to seeking basic justice according to the Chinese law, and helping those most vulnerable. Over the years, they came to the rescue of the families of victims of poisoned milk powder, victims of violent forced demolitions, private entrepreneurs whose assets were illegally expropriated, believers who were persecuted… the list goes on.

Sadly, in most cases, they were not been able to “rescue” those they tried to rescue, given that no courts in China actually uphold justice. But they kept on, tenaciously, one case at a time. In the process, they have come to ask the question of how to make China a just place. They met in restaurants and in house churches, discussing plans to provide legal assistance and to start public opinion campaigns for victims of injustice. These meetings in good faith became “evidence” of their supposed subversive intent, and grounds for torture and imprisonment.

These lawyers and activists are part of a long tradition of Chinese citizens who fought for their basic human and political rights: the Xidan Democracy Wall, the Tiananmen Movement, the opposition movement of the 1990s, the rights defense movement since the early 2000s, the New Citizens Movement, and the struggle for rule of law as represented by China’s small but brave band of human rights lawyers and activists.

They are, together, the rock of China, and the salt of the earth.

As ludicrous as these show trials were, this week’s performance was not confined to the courtroom. Over the past week, a narrative of an American-led international conspiracy has been propagated at a hysterical pitch, on social media, on CCTV, and in the front pages of the Party’s mouthpieces. The regime has claimed that these lawyers and activists are nothing but pawns of the United States and the West in general who, scheming for a “color revolution,” want to destabilize China and overthrow the government.

This war of propaganda does not just aim at fanning nationalist, anti-American sentiment. It also aims at intimidating the U. S. (which, by the way, has been too accommodating to China at the expense of undermining its own values), and the international community. They want the rest of the world to scurry off at the very word “subversion”; they want to see that Chinese citizens who embrace dignity, freedom, and justice get no support, and will no longer even dare to seek support from the outside world — whether lawyers, journalists, workers, parents, netizens, farmers, or even the Communist Party’s own cadres, for that matter.

That’s why we are here today, to show our support and appreciation for ABA for its steadfastness in upholding this important award to Wang Yu, whose has been known as Zhan Shen, “the warrior goddess,” to those who knew her. She will not be able to speak as a free person anytime soon, nor will she any time be able to travel across China to help those she strived to assist: the school girls who were presented to officials as sexual gifts, the practitioners of Falun Gong detained and tortured, or farmers who defended their homes from forced demolition.

But there might be a day when she, like the Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee, will speak out, with a few simple words, to tear down the wall of lies that has enclosed her for the time being.

No one comes to claim this award today. Because of this absence, and the void it presents, we feel we must speak.

This is a time when the international community, and indeed the United States, must recalibrate its commitment to the values the human race has come to embrace, for the sake of peace and security on earth.


A group of Chinese activists currently living in the U. S.

August 6, 2016











中国想要全世界相信这些案件是经过法庭正当审理的,但这些假庭审只是再次成功地印证了我们早已明白的东西: 在专制强权下没有法治这样的东西,独裁下甚至没有法庭这样的东西。

















 “Crooked Beam” Xie Yanyi

Liang Xiaojun, July 25, 2016

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益) is a human rights lawyer, and one of the 709 detainees. – The Editors


Xie Yanyi

It was probably somewhere around the end of 2008 that I started receiving occasional group emails from someone writing under the name Liang Buzheng (梁不正)—“Crooked Beam.” Sometimes the emails would contain this person’s views on politics, while other times they would describe the actions he was taking in the legal sphere. In those days much of my time was spent handling commercial cases in order to make a living, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to public interest law or human rights issues. As a result, I would often simply skip over those emails from “Crooked Beam” without really reading them. But I did take note of the author’s rather unusual name.

It was probably around that same time that I began to hear the name “Xie Yanyi” mentioned by different people in different circumstances. It was only then that I drew the link between that name and the “Crooked Beam” of the emails I had been getting. I’d heard that this Xie Yanyi had filed suit against former leader Jiang Zemin for violating the constitution by refusing to resign as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2003, and I became interested to find out what sort of a person this “Crooked Beam” was.

I asked the head of Xie’s law firm at the time about him. He was in a terrible fix in those days, since Xie’s employment there was preventing his firm from passing its annual review. He told me that Xie was “just like Li Kui” (李逵), the tough and temperamental character from the classic novel, Outlaws of the Marsh. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I took the image I had of Li Kui from the novel and its television adaptions and pictured Xie Yanyi as a big, strong fellow with a full beard.

Then, in May 2009, I attended a meeting of lawyers gathered to condemn police in Chongqing for beating lawyers Li Chunfu (李春富) and Zhang Kai (张凯)* over their investigation into the death of a Falun Gong practitioner in a labor camp. At the meeting, I was approached by a fellow with deep-seated eyes, delicate features, and a well-proportioned physique who asked me if I was a reporter. When I told him I wasn’t, he turned and walked away. I asked the person next to me who he was, and he told me: “That’s Xie Yanyi.” That was the first time I’d ever set eyes on Xie Yanyi.

From the end of that year, I gradually started getting involved in more public interest and human rights cases. Those of us working on these cases would often meet up for dinner, but since Xie Yanyi lived way out in Miyun County he was often unable to join us or else would only have a few bites and say a few words before rushing off. Our paths didn’t cross much back then, and we never had a chance to talk in any depth.

Later on, though, we would come to work together on a few cases. I would listen in great admiration to his flowing defense arguments, which were always strong, reasoned, and well documented, knowing that my own arguments were never as theoretically strong. These days, whenever my colleague Dong Qianyong (董前勇) takes on a case involving religious belief, I will give him a photocopy of one of Xie’s defense arguments for his reference. But in my own mind, I can’t shake the image of Xie Yanyi as a “barefoot lawyer,” wearing sandals, dressed in everyday attire, and toting a huge backpack.

It was probably around 2012 that he began telling me about his belief that China’s future transition to democracy could only come through the peaceful development of a democratic culture. Those days I was terribly busy with my work, running here and there to handle one case after another. I simply had neither time nor energy to think about the direction or path of China’s future development. I had no idea how to respond to his ideas, and he didn’t seem interested in trying to convince me. So we usually ended up simply laughing off those discussions.

Later, he gave me a copy of his self-published book entitled Roads of Faith, which was a collection of articles and essays he’d written over the previous few years. The epigraph read: “The power of peace and reason is unstoppable! This is the age when citizens will demonstrate their will.” I’m not much for reading books and I’d already read some of his articles before, so I merely paged through the book before placing it on my bookshelf, where it would remain untouched.

When the “709” crackdown on lawyers was launched last year, my friends and I were all living in fear, not knowing whose turn it would be to be arrested next. When I heard that Xie Yanyi had been arrested, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Through our previous work together, I’d come to know Xie’s mother, a remarkably spry old woman who was also a lawyer down in Gaobeidian (高碑店) in Hebei. I tried to contact her a number of times to find out what plans there were for Xie Yanyi’s legal defense, but no one ever answered and later her mobile just shut off, so I had to drop it. Besides Xie’s mother, I didn’t know any of his other relatives and didn’t know how else to help.

Late last year, a friend took me out to Xie Yanyi’s home in Miyun County, where I met Xie’s wife, Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊). She was six or seven months pregnant at the time, but she still took her electric bicycle out to buy groceries so she could cook for her two sons. There were two plaques hanging on the wall of their home, one reading “Peace and Democracy” and the other reading “The World Belongs to Everyone.” I knew that these were things that Xie Yanyi truly believed in.

On January 8, when Xie Yanyi was formally arrested on charges of “inciting subversion,” Yuan Shanshan appointed me to be his defense attorney. Given the blatant illegality of what the police have done, I don’t know how much I can really accomplish, but I’m grateful for the confidence that Yuan Shanshan and Xie’s older brother have shown in me.

It’s through our conversations that I’ve come to have a better understanding of who Xie Yanyi is. He had all sorts of advantages growing up, and could have been set for life if he’d simply relied on his parents. But he had much more respect for those who made their own way in the world. He gave up a chance to study overseas in Singapore and returned home to Gaobeidian, where he lived alone and devoted himself to studying to pass the bar exam.

After becoming a lawyer in Beijing, he encountered so many miscarriages of justice and observed so much of society’s darker side that his thinking changed and he began to think in terms of problems with the way the system was set up. After he filed his “first suit on behalf of constitutionalism” against Jiang Zemin in 2003, he became the object of heavy police surveillance but never gave up his aspiration to use his efforts to secure a peaceful, democratic future for future generations.

Xie made a point of getting to know people from all walks of life during his trips to handle cases or through his social encounters and would talk with them about his own beliefs and ways of thinking in an effort to persuade them. After the police shooting of a man in the Qing’an railway station in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, he paid his own way to go up to Heilongjiang and provide legal assistance to the man’s family and seek the truth about the case.

After Wang Yu (王宇) and her husband and son were taken into custody on July 9 of last year, Xie Yanyi was one of the first to go online and call for assistance. Even though he was also taken in by the police for questioning in the middle of the night, he refused to compromise. Instead, he stated: Even though he was put under tremendous pressure, he insisted on speaking up for Wang Yu and the Fengrui Law Firm. Soon his house was raided and he himself was “disappeared.” In August 2015, Xie’s mother passed away; in March 2016, his daughter was born . . .

Because I’m handling Xie Yanyi’s case and have come to have a much deeper understanding of his past, I’ve thought a lot and had countless discussions with friends about the choices we make in life as well as life’s meaning and value. I was paging through the copy of Roads of Faith that Xie gave me in an attempt to understand the trajectory of his thinking when I happened to notice the date of his inscription to me—July 11, 2012. Three years and one day later, he would be taken away from his home by police in the early morning hours and “disappeared” until this very day. Several hundred copies of Roads of Faith were confiscated from his home, perhaps becoming evidence for the authorities’ charge that he had engaged in “inciting subversion.”

While most of us might anticipate that China’s transition to democracy will come about as a result of elite power struggles, economic recession, or popular protest, people like Xie Yanyi long ago started to think and put into practice ways to make this transition possible. In this day and age, when there is so much cynicism and resignation in the face of tyranny, people like Xie Yanyi are really valuable. He represents the conscience, the courage, and the future of our nation’s people. Though we may have all faced the same kinds of difficulties as Xie Yanyi in the past, we have shrunk back from them whereas he stood firm. This willingness to stand firm makes his yearlong enforced disappearance a distillation of all the joys and sorrows others have experienced for over a decade. Through his loss of freedom, Xie Yanyi bears witness to the absurdity of claims to “govern the state in accordance with the law.”

It’s his family and children who have paid the most for these ideals, but the realization of those ideals will be a precious gift that he will bestow upon them.

Of all my interactions with Xie Yanyi, one scene is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday: One summer day, we are standing on the sandy banks of the Tuo River in Luzhou, Sichuan, watching the sun set to west as the river flowed eastward toward the Yangtze. I sigh to think of the passage of time, the vastness of the universe, and how insignificant we humans ultimately are . . .


Liang Xiaojun

July 14, 2016


*Li Chunfu is also among the 709 detained lawyers. Zhang Kai was detained last August for representing churches in Wenzhou. He was released in March, 2016, following persistent international pressure.


Photo: Epoch Times.

Photo: Epoch Times.

Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) is a human rights lawyer in China. 


America and Europe’s Failure in Securing the Release of Lawyers and Activists in Connection With the ‘709 Incident’, Jiang Tianyong, July 17, 2016.

After Four Detainees of the ‘709 Incident’ Are Indicted, Chinese State Media Name Foreign News Organizations, a US Congressman, & Three Embassies in Beijing as ‘Foreign Anti-China Forces’, China Change, July 15, 2016.

The ‘709 Incident:’ some testimony from the human rights lawyer community, Eva Pils, July 8, 2016.

Biographies of Lawyers, Staffers and Activists Detained or Disappeared in the July 10 Nationwide Raid Against Rights Lawyers, July 23, 2015.

14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, August 19, 2015.




The ‘709 Incident:’ some testimony from the human rights lawyer community

By Eva Pils, July 8, 2016


In April and early May 2016, I got the chance to speak to some twenty-odd old and new acquaintances amongst the targets of the so-called 709 Crackdown – the latest and largest crackdown yet on China’s already beleaguered human rights lawyers.  Named after the 9th of July, the date it began with the night-time detention of Lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun and their sixteen year old son, Bao Zhuoxuan, the 709 Crackdown mainly targeted three groups connected to rights advocacy: rights lawyers and assistants connected to Fengrui Law Firm;’ Lawyer Li Heping and his colleagues (with some overlap between these groups); and another group around activist Hu Shigen that included rights lawyers as well as more ‘grassroots’ human rights defenders.

In comparison with past crackdowns, 709 has affected a much larger number of lawyers, with human rights groups such as China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG)  and Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)  putting the total number affected at over 300 as of this week. It has also been much also more openly acknowledged and indeed, more widely advertised, by the Party-State than their other repression of human rights advocates since at least the 1990s.

709 王宇

Wang Yu (王宇) in Wangning, Hainan, May 2013. A screenshot of the documentary film Hooligan Sparrow.

How are we to understand these developments? What should we expect for the future not only of China’s human rights movement, but also for the wider legal profession and civil society more generally? And what next for the 23 lawyers and legal assistants still in custody now, a year later. Most of them are now officially held under suspicion of subversion or inciting subversion, and are still denied access to legal counsel of their own choosing as well as to their friends and family. The views and experience of those closest to the centre of the storm are surely relevant to how we answer these questions and understand the 709 crackdown. So, below, I share a few excerpts and impressions from my conversations with persons most directly involved, supplemented by recent updates. For obvious reasons, I have anonymised these comments.

Some of my interlocutors spoke from personal experience as they had, for example, themselves suffered forced disappearance and/or torture in the past. One major issue they commented on was how ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ (Article 73 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), revised in 2013) has changed the rules of engagement between human rights defenders and the party-state, by effectively legalising (or purporting to legalise) forced disappearances.. Article 73 purports to allow incommunicado detention without access to legal counsel for up to six months in cases of suspected crimes against national security (inter alia). The term ‘residential surveillance’ is a euphemism as detainees under such measures\ may be held in any ‘designated location’ that is neither their home, nor one of the regulated police detention centres. We have assumed that it may, for example, be a safe-house, a guesthouse, or a police-operated training centre.

709 李和平

Li Heping (李和平)

Conversations directly drawing on the experience of ‘709’ detentions corroborate many fears about residential surveillance.  For example, in the case of at least one person detained in the context of the ‘709’ Crackdown, detention was nominally authorized under the revised under CPL article 73. Detention took place in the same building where rights lawyers had been forcibly disappeared before the CPL revisions, when Article 73 was not yet available; and it was apparently carried out by some of the same personnel, showing that CPL revisions had changed the name, but not the structure of the harassment. [1]

The residential surveillance also involved severe sleep deprivation and use of stress positions amounting to torture and threats of further, even more serious physical torture. As a result of these – if the allegations are correct – in part criminal methods, the detention led to basically the same kind of forced confessions and statements of repentance that had been used, for example, in the 2011 “Jasmine’ crackdown. Also, just as in earlier forced disappearances, the prisoner was forced to read the ‘confession,’ ‘statement of repentance’ and promises to desist from advocacy in future before a camera, before they could be released. Talking with their guards, they referred to their situation as an ‘abduction’ (绑架), and the guards ‘did not bother to object’ to this description.[2]

‘[In the ‘designated location’ during ‘surveillance’] I was not allowed to sleep for [a certain number of] days and nights on end after they had held me for some time. They also brought a pair of handcuffs and showed me how they could handcuff me … [interlocutor demonstrates a painful posture]. At that point I told them, “alright, leave it, I’m not resisting anymore” …Because of the sleep deprivation, I was already completely broken. I thought I was going to die.[3]

In several cases, the authorities provided insufficient or no information on where detainees were held to their families. In the case of Li Heping, for example, no official notification at all was provided for six months; he was for all intents and purposes disappeared. In other cases, the authorities acknowledged that ‘suspects’ were being held but refused to disclose where they were and what they were suspected or accused of.  None of the detainees had access to legal counsel, family or friends during ‘residential surveillance.’ — In January 2016, the authorities formally ‘arrested’ (逮捕) the lawyers after the expiry of the six-month ‘residential surveillance’ period. Later they extended their arrest periods to give themselves additional time to decide whether or not to indict them; and, as discussed later, they sought to manipulate the procedures so as to continue denying the detainees access to counsel.

A second theme in comments on the crackdown was the weakening of communication and advocacy support structures for the now-detained principle targets of the crackdown, taken against a wider range of rights lawyers and supporters, including compulsory ‘chats’ and short-term detentions aimed to intimidate hundreds of rights lawyers and their sympathisers or supporters, as well as their families; strict surveillance and control of social media applications, [4]   and measures to restrict movement, such as ‘soft detention’ at home and travel bans, apparently authorized effective from 6 July 2016, i.e. three days before the first detention.[5]  Some interlocutors mentioned being explicitly told that these measures had been decided at ‘a very high central level,’[6] and concluded that they were integral parts of the crackdown.

709 王全璋

Wang Quanzhang (王全璋)

Those forced to have ‘chats’ were typically ordered to meet the police in the late evening or in the middle of the night (sometimes through phone-calls, other times by officers coming to their homes). Two victimised interlocutors reported being tracked, effortlessly it seemed, through the monitoring of their mobile phone while travelling (on trains, to their hotels, etc.).[7] During their conversations with the (domestic security division) police, they were usually ordered to ‘promise’ not to take on the cases of fellow rights lawyers; not to communicate about these cases via the social media; and not to take media interviews about them.

At least during the first few days of the crackdown, the enforced chats had an intensely terrifying effect on the rights lawyer community,[8] also on those of its members who managed to escape. One lawyer was travelling in another city when the first news about the detention started reaching him. With trepidation, he stole back into his hotel and moved out, to avoid being detected through his registration log with the local police. Despite having many friends in the city he dared not ask any of them if he could stay the night. Instead he persuaded a guesthouse to accommodate him without registration for a few hours, and went to an internet café to check up on his WeChat messages.

When I opened my account, the first message I saw read ‘Flee at once.’ As I flicked through the messages they all read: ‘disappeared’—‘disappeared’—‘disappeared’ – over a hundred messages like that. And out of nine people reported disappeared, seven were good friends of mine, really close friends. I knew it took only three minutes, no more than five, to locate someone [via their account]; so I immediately closed it down again.

He then called on a few friends in person, keeping his mobile phone and other electronic equipment turned off all the time, and left the city as soon as he could. Some days later he went home due to an import occasion, and within a short time, the local police called him and demanded to speak to him.  He had only managed to evade capture during the first panicked few hours and days of the crackdown. Among the lawyers I spoke to, only one had thus far entirely avoided the coerced ‘chat.’

‘I thought to myself, as a human rights defender in China, you live in fear without having done anything criminal at all.’

Anyone who was ‘caught’ and questioned might face intense pressure and the threat to be questioned again, or formally detained – as in Lawyer Xie Yanyi’s case, after he refused to make the required ‘promises.’  He was detained under Article 73 CPL after being initially allowed to go home. [9]

A particularly striking aspect in this context is how directly the police warned some lawyers against taking on the criminal defence of their detained colleagues. A lawyer who was ’caught’ when getting off a train and interrogated by domestic security police from his hometown, who had travelled there to meet him, described his conversation as follows.

‘I said, “first tell me what my status is, am I a suspect, or a witness, or what?” He said, “No status.” I said, “Well then what’s the procedure for asking me to speak to you?” He said, “There’s no procedure. But if you want a formal procedure, fine, we can do that.” Later I heard that [with other lawyers] they were using subpoena forms, but without bothering to enter a suspected crime on the form.  So we “chatted.”’

The conversation revolved around the persons of the detained lawyers. Did he know them? Were they friends?

‘He said, “We are warning you herewith, warning you severely, you are not allowed to take part in this matter in any manner whatsoever.” I said, “What do you mean by ‘take part’?” He said, “Any manner whatsoever. Including online messaging or reposting messages – none of that. If you don’t listen, you will be a co-suspect with them.” …He said, “if you get involved you’re a fellow suspect with them. And we know exactly what you have been doing in the past.” …I asked him directly, “do you mean not even if the lawyer’s families asked me to act as someone’s criminal defence lawyer — defending their rights in accordance with law, that would be my job as a lawyer.” His reply was explicit., “No way. If you get involved, you’re a co-suspect.”’ [10]

In the social media chat groups devoted to discussing the crackdown, this sort of incrimination has since come to be sarcastically referred to as ‘the crime of legal defence’ (辩护罪).[11] Such threats to criminalise professional legal advocacy call to mind the widely criticized legislative changes introduced earlier this year, to expand the scope of crimes of disrupting the courtroom.  Their underlying rationale also connects them to the highly suspicious purported ‘dismissals’   of originally appointed criminal defence lawyers by the lawyer detainees.

‘The greatest problem now is that the authorities do not allow the families to appoint lawyers, they want to use the lawyers they themselves like, to disrupt any channels of information and render meetings with the detainees impossible.’[12]

In some cases, family members of the detained were reportedly shown new defence lawyer appointment letters signed by the detainees;[13]  but the previously appointed lawyers have not seen these documents for themselves and have not been sent letters informing them of their ‘dismissal’ so that they are unable to confirm if they have been dismissed.[14] Forced or faked ‘dismissals’ of the originally appointed lawyers would of course violate the detainees’ right to appoint a lawyer of their own choosing; and in the view of one interlocutor signals a significant weakening in the Xi Jinping era of respect for this right recognised, at least in principle, in earlier political cases including those of Wei Jingsheng, Liu Xiaobo, and Hu Jia.[15] It would also testify, in my view, to how much the authorities are worried about forceful rights advocacy.

709 谢燕益

Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)

A third theme has been what might be termed orchestrated crackdown propaganda, including broadcasts and reports vilifying the lawyers connected to Fengrui Law Firm, and TV ‘confessions’ or ‘trial by television’ (电视审判). [16]

Based on current information, all detained victims who have been released had to produce statements admitting guilt and expressing repentance in writing and read the statement out aloud in front of a camera before being released. This followed a well-established pattern also used in the 2011 Jasmine Crackdown, for example. The use of such materials to display lawyers and legal assistants such as Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, Zhang Kai, and others on television, showing them in the humiliating and terrifying circumstances of detention, is new. For example, Wang Yu and Bao Longjun are shown distraught and in tears over the rendition of their son. Zhou Shifeng is shown expressing repentance; and others are seemingly recriminating their colleagues. [17]

In these broadcasts, targeted individuals generally ‘confess’ to wrongdoing phrased in very general and at times incoherent terms rather than admitting specific crimes; and express repentance and submission. Visually if not verbally they also express fear, anguish, and despair. Confessions etc. were televised selectively, largely focusing on the activities of the Fengrui Law Firm circle and its methods of forceful, vocal and politically aware rights advocacy using methods such as flash-mob demonstrations and social media communication to draw attention to specific cases from wider audiences,[18] and, apparently to establish a public presumption of guilt,

One lawyer commented,

‘[These reports] have in the eyes of many [rights lawyers] done the worst harm to us, because many ordinary people will still be inclined to trust these official reports. They might generally have comes across some positive information about rights lawyers; but after these detentions they will be informed that these lawyers were working in their own interest, to earn foreign money and that this entire circle has actually been doing these things under the direction of foreign anti-China enemy forces. The majority of viewers might accept the message conveyed by these CCTV reports.’

The interlocutor added that fellow legal professionals would also be bound to be frightened by these reports, as they would have to consider the possibility that they would suffer similar consequences, even if all they engaged in was lawful rights advocacy.

We do of course hope that as many lawyers as possible will understand the background of these reports, that they [the detained] have not violated the law… [but they will also learn from these reports] that if they engage in these activities, they will inevitably encounter repression of this kind from the government.’[19]

709 谢阳

Xie Yang (谢阳)

This form of selective crackdown-related propaganda, of ‘TV confessions’ and ‘trial by television’ represents what some see as a conscious reversion to Mao era style denunciation of ‘enemies of the party-state.’[20]  It is hard to see how the conduct depicted in the reports could be the basis for any credible charges of crime, let alone crimes ‘endangering state security.’  Charges of a public order offence, for example based on a few small and peaceful demonstrations for access to justice would seem still baseless, but – based on prior experience – less unlikely. Some interlocutors thought that the authorities had thus far not shown anyone ‘confessing’ to subversion because such ‘confessions’ would simply be too unconvincing or might ‘lead to more social controversy.’[21] But others thought that the state might bend the rules to make them fit whatever the detained rights defenders had done.[22] ‘Trial by TV’ allows the authorities not only to vilify particular individuals or groups like the Ruifeng law firm, but also to project and indeed propagate their power to extract meaningless, even irrational, statements from those it holds captive.

709 周世锋

Zhou Shifeng (周世锋)

A fourth aspect commented on were the new transnational dimensions of repression, a sense that there was fewer places one could flee to/be safe in, because of the risks of cross-border abduction and forced retrieval, and the long arm of the authorities through putting pressure on family and friends in China.

For example, Bao Zhuoxuan (Mengmeng), the son of Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, originally detained along with his parents on 9 July, deprived of his passport and held under strict surveillance, left the country with the help of friends. From there, he and the two friends were forcibly taken back to China from the border region with Myanmar. Now seventeen, Mengmeng is living under strictest surveillance with his maternal aunt and grandmother’s family. It is impossible for his parents’ rights lawyer friends to get near him or provide support or counsel.[23] A friend described his state as ‘utterly desperate.’

‘There is no contact with them. Their phone is controlled. And the flat just opposite his aunt’s flat has been taken over by the domestic security police [国保], who got the previous tenants to move out. At his school, they use the head student, teachers, and other classmates to control him. It was exactly the same with Gao Zhisheng’s [daughter] at the time.  So, the boy’s situation now is really under terrible strain. It ought to be the springtime of his life. But now, he has not been able to see his parent’s for such a long time; he has lost his freedom of movement, and his plan to go study abroad was disrupted when they abducted him [in the night of 9 July 2015, on the way to the airport]…his mobile phone was previously forcibly taken away by them so we dare not try to contact him. And [his entire family] is under their control. This family’s situation is really the worst…If Mengmeng could have left, if would have been a consolation for his parents and encouragement for others. The fact he was taken back has now also scared a lot of other lawyers, who are asking themselves, what if their own child has to go through this sort of collective punishment at some point.’[24]

An attempt to make contact attempt to make contact with Mengmeng and his family in late May was unsuccessful.

A fifth theme was apprehensions for the future. The hardest to talk about was the fear of torture. My conversations had, as noted earlier, confirmed that some of the detained who were later released had been tortured – by kicking and beating; sleep deprivation; excessively long interrogation , being blinded with light; stress positions; and  threats of extremely painful further torture, before agreeing to make statements.[25] We still know nothing about the situation of others detained incommunicado. It is unfortunately likely that undue pressure has been and continues to be brought to bear on them (including those displayed ‘confessing’ and ‘repenting’.

‘Torture is probably unavoidable in the cases [of the still-detained]. Torture is just part of the system in China… [Someone who was released] believes that those who have not been released yet have suffered worse torture [than he], because they are more central figures in these cases.’[26]

Another concern was the possibility of de facto secret trials resulting from forced or faked lawyer ‘dismissals,’ even though the lawyers purportedly ‘dismissed’ refused to abandon their clients.

‘Legally speaking, it would have to be the client themselves issuing the dismissal. Emotionally, we all know these people… We’re emotionally connected, and we have the same ideals. We borrow and learn from each other in our legal defence work. So in a situation where they are facing the calamity of imprisonment, there is no way [the detained lawyers] would let the Lawyers’ Association find a completely unknown lawyer for them [in our stead]. And again, from a legal point of view, the Lawyers’ Association can only be approached for a recommendation when the detained suspect does not know any lawyer they could appoint…it is just unconvincing, legally, emotionally, and in terms of common sense.’[27]

Some interlocutors believe that the in substance extremely weak prosecution cases against their colleagues and friends might succeed (in a manner of speaking) if the entire criminal process from detention/abduction to final conviction remained effectively secret, with no public access whatsoever. This might be the reason why the authorities did not resort to refusing access to counsel on the grounds that the cases involved ‘endangering state security.’

‘If they used that reason, they would only be able to block access to counsel during the [police] ‘investigation’ period, but not after public indictment, before the trial hearing…So, what is the point of now telling us that they have appointed [other] lawyers already? It means that we, the families and so on, don’t get to participate in the procedure from beginning to end, because they do not recognize our status. This is very bad news. It means that the families and our own lawyers may not get to know anything at all about the entire process. They can go through first and second instance – they can finish the entire trial without us ever knowing a thing. They can make the trial hearing non-public on ‘state security’ grounds, exclude the family members as witnesses, and only let people attend who don’t understand what is going on…[in that case] we might not find out what happened to them, until they are released from prison. That’s what we really fear.’[28]

In the eyes of the interlocutors, this would be the worst possible outcome. It would be the scenario most likely to allow the authorities to convict those in this process of state security crimes and impose harsh punishments,[29] another feared outcome; and it was the reason why they felt it was important to insist on their status as criminal defence lawyers.

I was sometimes left struggling to understand how, in the face of so many difficulties, the lawyers, friends and family I spoke to managed to stay positive. All the lawyers, rights defenders, friends and family I contacted were happy to meet. Several pointed out that whatever promises had been extracted from them did not bind them, legally or morally. As always, they seemed eager to speak, to come together and work on the cases of their lawyer colleagues, as well as the cases their colleagues had been forced to abandon when detained. And while some of my interlocutors were old friends, there were others I met for the first time because, at a time when all of their ‘rights lawyer’ colleagues already known to the authorities had been warned not to get involved, they had come forward to take on the criminal defence of a colleague in detention, becoming ‘rights lawyers’ themselves at what seemed like the worst possible moment to join these circles. Perhaps, the very fact that my interlocutors were so willing to meet and put their views and experience on record is part of what explains their resilience. They feel sure that history is on their side.


[1] Conversation #120-16-1.

[2] Conversation #120-16-1.

[3] Conversation #120-16-1.

[4] For example the social media app ‘Telegram’ widely used amongst rights defenders, was suspended for a short period at the beginning of the crackdown, in addition to the existing intensive control of digital expression. Also, as of mid-April 2016, ‘Telegram’ was heavily firewalled and only partly functional, with human rights defender circles apparently specially affected.  In addition, the authorities used mobile phones to track target persons down.

[5] Conversation #121-16-1.

[6] Conversation #138-16-1.

[7] Conversations #137-16-1, 138-16-1.

[8] Conversations #137-16-1; #138-16-1.

[9] Conversation #129-16-2, #121-16-1; #121-16-1; #137-16-1

[10] Conversation #137-16-1. Similar: e.g. conversations #121-16-1; #138-16-1.

[11] Screenshot on file with author (April 2016).

[12] Conversation #121-16-1

[13] Conversation #124-16-1.

[14] Conversations #125-16-1; #128-16-1 and 129-16-1.

[15] Conversation #138-16-1. This is not to say that the authorities did not attempt to put pressure on the defendants in these cases, for example, in Hu Jia’s case.

[16] See e.g. Cao Yin, ‘Lawyers “tried to influence verdicts”,’’13 July 2015,; CCTV 13, 北京锋锐律所“维权”黑幕利益链调查, 19 July 2015, 北京锋锐律所“维权”黑幕利益链调查; CCTV Dialogue, Interview with Global Times Editor Hu Jinin, 8 May 2016 .

[17] Some of the legal workers were also shown apparently recriminating colleagues. A lawyer commented, ‘Probably this video-clip was made when the domestic security police goaded [the detained lawyer] to talk about matters ‘unrelated to business’ and got him to make a few remarks about [his colleague]…and edited the recording to turn it into what looks like a denunciation. Conversation #121-16-1.

[18] Comments in conversation #129-16-1.

[19] Conversation #124-16-1.

[20] Conversation #122-16-1.

[21] Conversation #121-16-1, #122-16-1.

[22] E.g. conversations #138-16-1; 128-16-1.

[23] Conversation #121-16-1.

[24] Conversation #122-16-1/

[25] Conversations #120-16-1; #122-16-1.

[26] Conversation #122-16-1.

[27] Conversation #128-16-1.

[28] Conversation #129-16-1.

[29] E.g. Conversation #129-16-1.


Eva Pils is a Reader in Transnational Law at King’s College London’s Dickson Poon School of Law, a Non-resident Research Fellow at the U.S. –Asia Law Institute, New York University Law School, and author of China’s human rights lawyers: advocacy and resistance (Routledge, 2014).



China’s Shattered Dream for the Rule of Law, One Year On, a statement by the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 8, 2016.