Lawyers have been arrested, tortured, humiliated and forced to deny their work on television. Three years ago, Chinese authorities began a crackdown on lawyers and human rights activists. Some 300 professionals have been arrested. Nothing is known about some of them, like Wang Quanzhang. The crackdown on 9 July 2015 is the most serious violation of the rule of law, which China claims to respect.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – On 9 July 2015, Chinese authorities began a crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists. Since then, 300 people have been arrested for “disturbing the social order”.
Some have been freed after being tortured and forced to denounce their “subversive” activity on television. Others are still unaccounted for, people like lawyer Wang Quanzhang (pictured).
In November 2016, the Ministry of Justice introduced new rules for lawyers and law firms.
These impose on penalties, such as losing their licence to practise, on law firms that exert pressure on judicial authorities.
Firms can also be punished if lawyers sign petitions, write open letters or hold meetings that can "provoke discontent towards the party".
One of the first casualties of the new regulations was the Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing – a law practice that employed Zhou Shifeng, Wang Yu and Wang Quanzhang. The latter has been missing for the past three years.
The firm dealt with many sensitive cases, from dissident artist Ai Weiwei and blind activist Chen Guangcheng to human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng and Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.
Wang Yu was arrested three years ago and eventually released after physical and psychological torture. Now she suffers from a heart condition, psychological problems and hallucinations.
She said she endured “days of no sleep, deprivation of food and water as well as being locked up for seven months in complete isolation [from the outside world]. It was detrimental to my psychological state and is something I cannot overcome even now.”
The torture and humiliation ended only when she agreed to make a confession on state television.
Her son and her husband were also arrested at the Beijing airport. The 15-year-old boy was about on his way to study in Australia. The two have been separated.
A few months after his parents’ arrest, Zhuoxuan tried to flee China into Myanmar but was captured and beaten by Yunnan public security officers.
They threaten “to crush his skull if he continued to resist,” Wang said. He was eventually forced to sign a statement of guilt.
The family is now free, but Wang and her husband can no longer work as lawyers.
Sui Muqing has also been disbarred. After starting a promising career, he became disillusioned by the day-to-day reality of his work.
This led him to take an interest in human rights, but he paid dearly for this decision. On 9 July three years ago, he was arrested.
Sui was taken by police and placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of secret detention – for six months, followed by a month of house arrest.
During his detention, Sui was subjected to sleep deprivation for up to five days.
“On the last day, there was a suffocating pain all over my body, and I thought I was about to die – so I pleaded guilty to inciting subversion,” he said.
By the summer of 2016, Sui was taking on human rights cases again. Then, out of the blue, justice officials informed him in January that he would be disbarred under retroactively applied regulations.
Since late last year, 17 rights lawyers have had their licences to practise law revoked.
“The authorities want to tame the lawyers into tools to cooperate with them in all sorts of courtroom performances,” said Wen Donghai, another disbarred lawyer.
“The crackdown has caused a massive panic – many formerly active lawyers no longer dare to speak out against the government or take on [sensitive] cases.”
This May, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) submitted evidence under the US Global Magnitsky Act, calling on the US Government to sanction Zhao Fei, the former director of the Tianjin Public Security Bureau, for his role in the crackdown on Chinese lawyers.
"The crackdown has been a blatant affront to rule-of-law principles, which China claims to respect, and a politicized attack on civil society," the CHRD said in a statement.
"Those affected had been targeted as retaliation for their professional conduct as lawyers or as activists supporting rule of law development and independence of the criminal justice system,” it added.