Last July, Beijing launched a major crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, detaining, arresting, or interrogating more than 200 across the country in what has become known as the “Black Friday” campaign. The majority of those netted have since been released (though some remain subject to government surveillance, and have been blocked from leaving China), but more than 20 are still in detention, some having been officially charged; reports have claimed that some of the detained have been denied contact with family members and legal counsel. The New York Times’ Chris Buckley reports that now police have recommended the indictment of lawyer Zhou Shifeng, the founder and head of the Beijing Fengrui law firm, the office that was the main target of the “Black Friday” roundup.
Over the weekend, the police told Mr. Zhou’s family that they had recommended indictment on suspicion of “subverting state power,” said Liu Xiaoyuan, a former colleague of Mr. Zhou’s, citing word from Mr. Zhou’s family. Mr. Liu said the subversion charge was particularly serious and, if successfully prosecuted, could lead to a prison term of at least a decade.
The charge suggested that under President Xi Jinping, the government would continue its intense drive to silence organizations and activists who even a few years ago survived in a margin of official tolerance, said Maya Wang, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch.
“This kind of grave political crime, reserved for organizers of political parties in the past, is now used on a much wider range of civil society actors, showing how much space for activism has shrunk under Xi’s reign in just three years,” Ms. Wang said by email.
[…] Now prosecutors have up to one and a half months to decide whether to take Mr. Zhou to court on the charge of subversion, Mr. Liu said. Chinese courts rarely find defendants innocent, especially in politically contentious cases. [Source]
In January seven detained lawyers were charged with “subversion of state power,” and the unexpectedly harsh indictments elicited shock from foreign and domestic legal commentators.
The families of the detained lawyers and activists have been speaking out about the injustice their loved ones have faced under detention amid Beijing’s continuing crackdown on legal advocacy. A report on the imminent prosecution of Zhou Shifeng from Radio Free Asia details the suspected abuse of detained lawyers, and the dearth of information on their status:
Dozens of Chinese lawyers have hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party for refusing to allow the detained lawyers access to attorneys hired by their families, amid unconfirmed reports that some have been subjected to torture and abuse in detention.
Zhao Wei, also known by her nickname Kaola, was working as an assistant to top Beijing rights lawyer Li Heping at the time of her detention that started when several employees of the Fengrui law firm were detained on the night of July 9, 2015.
Zhao is being held in the police-run Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center on suspicion of “incitement to subvert state power.”
[…] Ren Quanping, a lawyer hired by Zhao’s family to represent her, and who has been denied official recognition as her attorney, said there is little news on the status of any of the other detained lawyers.
“There’s no news [about the others],” Ren said on Monday. “The news about Zhou Shifeng only came out via his family.” […] [Source]