Following the sweeping “709” crackdown on dozens of rights lawyers and activists in July 2015, at least three lawyers remain in detention without having been tried: Xie Yang, Li Heping, and Wang Quanzhang. Lawyer Jiang Tianyong disappeared in November 2016 and is being held on suspicion of “leaking state secrets.” Details of abuse and mistreatment of detainees have come to light in recent months, including an account of torture of Xie Yang that he provided to his lawyers in late 2016. This week, several family members of detained lawyers have issued an open letter to foreign political leaders detailing mistreatment of their loved ones in prison, including those who have since been released. China Change has translated the letter:
The majority of the lawyers and citizens targeted in the 709 arrests were placed in secret detention facilities known as “residential surveillance in a designated place” for six months, during which time they were tortured. Following is a summary of the four main categories of torture they were subjected to.
1) Forced consumption of drugs. Whether the internees were in good health or not, they were all made to take medication. The most common were drugs, so was it claimed, to treat high blood pressure. Other common drugs included tranquilizers or barbiturates of various sorts, as well as antipsychotic drugs. […]
2) Marathon interrogation sessions and sleep deprivation. Wearying interrogation sessions became practically mandatory for 709 detainees. They were regularly called in for questioning and prevented from sleeping. […]
3) Beatings, leg torture, and water dungeons. Being slugged was a daily occurrence. Worse was torture of the legs applied by guards. The prisoner, sitting on the ground, would have their legs forced onto a metal bar elevated about a foot off the ground. Another bar would be dropped across their thighs, and then someone would sit on top of it. If the victim still didn’t confess, another helper would add weight, causing excruciating pain. […]
4) Threats to the lives, or freedom, of family members. The lives and freedom of prisoners’ wives and sons have been threatened. One of the prisoner’s son was taken into custody by public security officials, who threatened to formally arrest him if the prisoner didn’t confess; on other occasions, the father and brother of prisoners were arrested and held as long as the prisoner refused to confess. […] [Source]
The letter also provides details about the abuse suffered by Xie Yang, who was charged in January with “inciting subversion,” but has not yet been tried:
During his six months of secret detention, Xie Yang was forced to sit on a stack of plastic stools, leaving his legs to dangle in the air and causing one of his already injured legs to swell up, leaving him almost crippled. Every day during the long interrogation sessions he was slugged, threatened, insulted, yelled at, and had smoke blown in his face. Even when his whole body was shuddering, and he was in a cold sweat, in an obvious state of pain and fever, the national security agents shoved him down onto the ground face first, pressuring his chest and suffocating him, then pounding him in the head until he was concussed. Any notes that were made revolved around the three topics determined by the security agents: that he was out for money, out for fame, and out to oppose the Party and socialism. He was pushed to the brink of death by the security agents, but they kept him alive to prolong the torment. As they inflicted pain, the agents held out the bait of “establishing merit,” trying to lure him with rewards if he would frame his peers. When this failed, they threatened the safety and lives of his wife and child, or the jobs of his friends and family, in an attempt to dominate him. All written records of the sessions they produced were fake. They wrote them, and simply made Xie Yang sign off, without the opportunity to request any changes. If he did, they’d torture him further. [Source]
In response, official media in China has launched a campaign discrediting such allegations as “fake news,” perhaps picking up the tailwind of recent comments made about the media by U.S. President Donald Trump. From Tom Phillips at The Guardian:
Xinhua, the government’s official news agency, accused the overseas media of “hyping” a series of “cleverly orchestrated lies” by publishing reports about the plight of attorney Xie Yang, who was detained in July 2015 at the start of a crackdown known as China’s war on law.
Reports about Xie’s alleged torture by security agents surfaced on overseas human rights websites late last year. More detailed accounts of similar claims subsequently appeared in newspapers including the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Japan’s Asahi Shimbun.
Experts said the allegations, while impossible to verify, were consistent with abuses previously documented by human rights groups.
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) March 3, 2017
A report from Global Times also denied the claims of torture by Xie Yang and blamed their fabrication on lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who went missing in November after meeting with Xie’s wife and lawyers. Meanwhile, lawyers for Jiang have issued a statement in response to another Global Times report which included an alleged interview with Jiang, whom his lawyers have not been able to see. Translated by China Change:
Defense lawyers have applied no fewer than three times to meet Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) since his disappearance on November 21, 2016, to no avail. The reason given to us is that meeting our client would obstruct the investigation or possibly divulge state secrets — yet apparently unrelated parties, and Global Times journalists, claim to have seen Jiang Tianyong.
Our position has always been: lawyers meeting their clients cannot possibly obstruct the investigation or divulge state secrets, and according to the Criminal Law, when a person has been subjected to coercive measures, his or her lawyers shall meet with the client promptly. This is also an internationally-recognized standard for criminal procedures aimed at transparency. Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also repeatedly reiterates this right.
We are concerned about whether there is any legal basis for allowing Global Times journalists, whose credibility and trustworthiness are questionable, to meet Jiang Tianyong while denying lawyers’ access, and we seek to know whether the government is abusing power in doing so. A quick consultation of the law makes clear that there is no law granting a greater priority to so-called journalists or unrelated parties than to lawyers to see their client, and that this is a typical act of the government abusing its power. Global Times is humiliating Jiang Tianyong, and also lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), by parading them before the media and trying them unlawfully through public opinion. [Source]
“I don’t believe a single word or a single punctuation mark in the Global Times’ report […]”
“Since Jiang Tianyong went missing on November 21, neither me, nor his parents, nor his lawyers, have been able to find out where he is… His lawyers requested to see him multiple times, but they were rejected. So I want to know how this Global Times reporter was able to see him. They should publicise that,” Jin said. [Source]
Other political detainees who have been released, including lawyer Wang Yu and legal assistant Zhao Wei, have been “interviewed” by Chinese or Hong Kong media, even when their families and lawyers do not have access to them. Often these interviews serve as public confessions.
Jun Mai at the South China Morning Post interviewed lawyer Li Jinxing, who was not targeted in the 709 crackdown but has since had his license removed after defending activist Yang Maodong, about his rights-focused work:
Do you regret taking the case of Yang Maodong, which led to your suspension?
I understand that the authorities are carefully taking notes of which lawyer defends which cases. But any country, however underdeveloped, needs lawyers. And it seemed to me only a matter of conscience that I represent him. We could feel the pressure all the time, but at least I’m not among the lawyers locked up in the crackdown.
[…] You have a reputation for tackling judicial injustice without compromise. Has your suspension had an affect on others lawyers doing similar work?
There have always been Chinese lawyers devoted to protecting the legal rights of their clients and protecting the law over the past 30 years. They’ve just gained more attention now because of the internet. I don’t think the suspension of my licence will have any impact on the profession at all. More lawyers of the same kind will fill the gap. But I’m feeling very tired at the moment. I had to rest for six months two years ago under doctor’s instructions. I’ll also take this year to rest a little. I’m mentally prepared for being kicked out of the profession forever. In that case, I’ll try to be a legal consultant for criminal cases after I recover. But, of course, I’m still longing to embrace the profession again. [Source]