New Accounts Detail Rights Lawyer Detentions

New images, videos and verbal accounts have emerged to document the “Black Friday” crackdown in which at least 232 rights lawyers and others have been questioned or detained, with 27 still missing or in custody. From The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow:

They show arguments between the and security personnel, often at the entrances of the ’ homes in the dead of night, as well as broken masonry and ironwork after forceful entry by police officers who, the said, often did not have or search warrants.

Here’s what it was like for Ge Wenxiu, 54, a lawyer, and He Yanyun, 26, a legal assistant, who were taken away by State Security and police officers from their homes in the southern city of Guangzhou.

[…] “They didn’t have any documents, so I didn’t open the door,” [He] said. “I’m a citizen, and without any warrant or anything, I’m not going to open up.

“After they broke down the door and came in, they hit me a few times — a few punches on the ears, the stomach, the chest. But it wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t bruised. [Source]

A video accompanying the post shows the scene at Ge’s door before he reluctantly let police in. “You’re police, right? Then you need to show us your ID,” he says. “That’s not necessary. You can see our uniforms.” “Uniforms can be faked. You have to show your ID.” “Don’t talk so much! I can break down your door!”

At Hong Kong Free Press last week, Vivienne Zeng reported news of the whereabouts of Zhao Wei, lawyer Li Heping’s assistant:

Her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, found out on July 28 that she was detained in the Hexi detention centre in Tianjin, about 140km from Beijing, CHRLCG [Chinese Human Concern Group] said without revealing its source.

Also detained in the Hexi detention centre is Liu Sixin, a 49-year-old lawyer who was condemned by state media for being part of a “criminal gang” of lawyers and rights defence activists who “hyped up sensitive cases to gain fame and money.”

Both Zhao and Liu have been denied meetings with their lawyers. Police initially arrested them on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, which can see the convicted jailed for a maximum of five years. But when Zhao and Liu’s lawyers requested to see them on July 28, they were told police had filed “new charges” against the pair which allow authorities to ban them from seeing lawyers, according to CHRLCG.

Police said the new charges, although not specified, belong to “three kinds of serious charges” under Article 37 of the Criminal Procedure Law, namely offences related to national security, terrorist activities and serious corruption. Suspects accused of these offences can be barred from seeing lawyers, the law stipulates. [Source]

2012 amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law also provided a “veneer of legitimacy” to the practice of , under which several of the detained are being held. These include lawyers Sui Muqing and Xie Yang, Li Heping’s assistant Gao Yue, and activists Gou Hongguo and Xu Zhihan, all under suspicion of inciting subversion of state power. Xie is also accused of disturbing court order. At China Change, Yaqiu Wang notes that residential surveillance can be a far cry from the innocuous house arrest that its name might imply:

As Teng Biao (滕彪), a visiting fellow at US-Asia Law Institute, New York University, points out: “The essence of ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is pre-trial custody in a place outside of legally designated places of custody. Because it does not need to be subject to the rules of formal detention centers, in reality ‘residential surveillance at a designated place’ is often a more severe form of detention. When a detainee is tortured, it is difficult to obtain evidence.” Furthermore, authorities are allowed to detain “suspects” under this law for six months—no other legal process required.

[…] During the pro-democracy protests, or “Jasmine Revolution,” in 2011, the Chinese government placed a large number of political dissidents under “residential surveillance at a designated place,” including rights lawyers Liu Shihui (刘士辉) and Tang Jingling (唐荆陵). Liu recalled: “The agents beat me. I had to get stitches. My ribs were in severe pain. I was deprived of sleep for five days and five nights. To be taken to a detention center actually became my highest hope at that time.” Tang Jingling was deprived of sleep for 10 days. It was not until “his entire body started to shiver, his hands became numb, his heart beat erratically, and his life was in danger” that the police allowed him one to two hours sleep per day.

At around the same time, dissident writer Ye Du (野渡) was placed under residential surveillance in a police training center in Guangzhou for 96 days. He told China Change: “I didn’t see sunlight for a whole month. I was interrogated for 22 hours a day. One hour for food, one hour for sleep. I was interrogated like this for seven consecutive days until I suffered terrible gastrointestinal bleeding. Then they stopped.” [Source]

At the Sydney Morning Herald, Philip Wen presents the account of 16-year-old Bao Zhuoxuan, son of detained lawyer Wang Yu. Bao, along with his father Bao Longjun, was also taken as he headed for Australia to study. His father remains in custody.

“I started to scream but one of the men put his hand over my mouth,” Bao said in a phone interview. “Don’t worry about giving a reason, they didn’t even produce any identification before taking us away.”

[…] The younger Bao was taken to a hotel in Tianjin where he was held for two days, unable to make contact with the outside world. He has since been taken to Inner Mongolia, where he is staying with his grandmother while being monitored by police. His passport has been confiscated, and his hopes of studying in Australia indefinitely put on hold.

“I was happily preparing to go to Australia to start my studies,” he said. “For something like this to happen, it’s like falling to hell from heaven.”

[…] “To a lawyer, a strident human rights defender, their family is the most direct way to threaten and blackmail them,” fellow rights lawyer and close friend Chen Jiangang says. “Wang Yu, and other lawyers, can be extremely resilient as individuals, to the point they don’t worry about their own personal safety. But once you involve their children, their elderly parents, they will feel like their heart is in a bind.” [Source]

Relatives of activists and others have often been used to gain leverage, either by threatening or prosecuting them or recruiting them as advocates. Threats against journalist Gao Yu’s son, for example, were reportedly used to extract a televised confession, later retracted, which led to her conviction in April for leaking state secrets to overseas media. Authorities are now said to be demanding that she reaffirm the original confession in exchange for medical release.

At China Real Time, legal scholar Stanley Lubman examined the crackdown’s implications for the Party’s much-trumpeted legal reforms. The starkly different interpretations of rule of law that the detentions highlight were the focus of an earlier CDT post.

While the party-state has tried to marginalize rights lawyers by painting them as provocateurs who encourage disobedience of the law, the current assault on them is the latest and strongest expression to date of the Chinese leadership’s anxiety about social stability. The government’s invocation of the vague offense of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” to punish lawyers and activists speaks volumes about the uneasiness that runs through the regime.

At the same time, very different issues of are being addressed. Previously-announced programs to distance local courts from the influence of local governments and to increase procedural regularity and transparency in cases that are not regarded as threatening to social stability are still proceeding slowly.

[…] The outcome of the reforms, if successful, would be an autonomous judiciary in cases that are not viewed as concerning the interests of the Party. As legal scholar Susan Finder noted recently, “The reform plan is a recognition that the current system is dysfunctional in many ways. Party rule needs a better-operating more professional, and autonomous judiciary…in a world in which most matters that come before the courts don’t involve Party concerns.” It remains to be seen whether implementation of the reform plan will reflect this view.

[…] The harassment of weiquan lawyers will not cease. Yet if the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to cases of cadres violating individual rights, they could face a growing number of public protests — as well as increased pressure to respond constructively rather than by denial. No one can predict when that might happen, but the possibility will not disappear. Nor will the weiquan lawyers. [Source]

In a New York Times op-ed, Xiao Guozhen, a former rights lawyer and now visiting fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, argued that the current crackdown shuts off a vital “pressure valve,” and may prove self-defeating:

In the short term, the current crackdown will bring the government temporary peace. Out of fear, fewer legal professionals will take up activism, at least for a while. Without rights lawyers to advocate for them, petitioners and political dissidents will hesitate before they take to the streets.

But Mr. Xi and the Communist Party leadership fail to realize that suppression could eventually lead to their political demise. In China, rights lawyers serve as a pressure valve, directing citizens’ anger and discontent into proper legal channels and giving them a voice. Hundreds of protests break out across the country each day as Chinese people show discontent with corruption, land seizures and other injustices associated with the country’s rapid development.

Suppression of moderate dissent in a volatile society jeopardizes China’s chance to peacefully transition toward more democracy and could explode into massive and violent social unrest or even a political coup. If President Xi Jinping were to lose power in a coup, he and his friends will find themselves without an independent defense lawyer. [Source]

As a purported eye witness to the 2013 trial of fallen Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai reported soon afterwards, “often, an accused person only understands the importance of the law when standing in the dock.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow highlights a defiant music video released online, featuring 93 lawyers and associates:

Written, sung and produced by two engineers and rights advocates, Xu Lin and Liu Sifang, “The Justice Lawyers’ Song” shows the human face of the sweep, including prominent lawyers such as Wang Yu, Li Heping and Pu Zhiqiang. Some proudly wear their legal garb.

And there appears to be a hidden promise of victory in the penultimate image, which shows 14 lawyers who defended accused writers and political activists in the 1979 “Formosa magazine incident,” in which organizers of a human rights forum in Taiwan were arrested and tried in a crackdown that was criticized around the world. Within a decade, martial law had been lifted and political opposition parties were legalized in Taiwan.