On May 13, Beijing lawyer Li Chunfu went to the southwestern city of Chongqing with a colleague to meet with the family of a man who died in a labor camp. While meeting with the family, Li and lawyer Zhang Kai were detained by police. Li was chained to a chair and punched, while Zhang, also roughed up during their arrest, was locked in a cage. Their transgression? They were representing the family of Jiang Xiqing, a man who belonged to the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. After a few hours of questioning, the Jiangjin district police released them around midnight. “We were scared, but the people [we represented] were even more scared,” says Li. “So we went back the next day.”
Violence has not stopped Li and his fellow human rights lawyers from doing their jobs, but bureaucracy might. On June 1, the law licenses for Li and more than a dozen other prominent rights lawyers expired. The annual renewal is generally considered a formality — a matter of filing out forms and paying a fee. But this year Li and other top rights lawyers were shut out. They say they are being punished for simply doing their jobs.