Dozens of Rights Lawyers & Activists Held or Missing

Chinese Human Rights Defenders reports that at least 57 rights lawyers, law firm staff, and activists have been detained, questioned, or otherwise restricted [zh] across China in the past 48 hours. Verna Yu reports at South China Morning Post on several detentions at Beijing’s Fengrui law firm:

Fengrui’s head, Zhou Shifeng, was seen being taken away by three unidentified men early yesterday, wrote , a partner at the firm, on Twitter.

Zhou had gone to a Tongzhou district centre to meet a client, , on Thursday night, Liu wrote. Zhang, a news assistant for German weekly Die Zeit, had just been freed after nine months in custody. [Read more on Zhang’s case from CDT, and on her release from The New York Times.]

[…] According to Liu’s Twitter account, another lawyer, Li Zhu-yun, was taken from her home and had her flat searched by a dozen plain-clothes police.

A staff member, Liu Sixin, disappeared after calling Liu Xiaoyuan at around 8:45am and telling him, “They are coming”, before the call went dead, Liu Xiaoyuan said.

[…] A fifth Fengrui employee – rights lawyer Wang Yu – had gone missing early on Thursday, after sending her friends a text message saying someone was trying to force open her front door, according to rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. [Source]

Wang’s husband and 16-year-old son, whom she had earlier seen off at the airport, reportedly did not take their flight. China Change translated a statement signed by over 100 lawyers defending Wang and criticizing the manner of her detention. Among these supporters was Li Heping, now also detained. From Chris Buckley at The New York Times:

“We’re used to seeing detained at a courtroom, but this seems like it’s different,” said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “It looks like a large-scale, coordinated thing, rather than catch and release. It has the potential to be a lot more serious.”

The best known of the lawyers taken away was , who was in his home on Friday morning when the police entered, searched the home, seized computers and documents, and took him away, his brother Li Chunfu said in a telephone interview, citing his brother’s wife, who was at home.

[…] Li Heping, who did not belong to the same firm as the others who disappeared, has acted as the lawyer for some of China’s most prominent dissidents and rights campaigners. One client was Chen Guangcheng, the blind legal advocate who escaped house arrest in his village in 2012, fled to the American Embassy in Beijing and eventually settled in the United States.

Mr. Liu [Xiaoyuan] said he was baffled by the apparent detention of his colleagues. But they may have been detained because their law firm had employed Wu Gan, a combative activist who used the Internet to publicize controversial cases, said Maya Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. [Source]

Read more on Wu’s case via CDT. Liu Xiaoyuan, whose clients have included Ai Weiwei and Ilham Tohti, is now also apparently missing after warning that he believed he was being watched. Fei Chang Dao reports that searches for Wang Yu and Li Heping have been blocked on Sina Weibo.