Lawyer Charged After Trying to Defend June 4 Commemorators

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Originally published by The New York Times (blog) on July 7, 2014

A meeting on May 3 in Beijing to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement led to the detentions of several participants and criminal charges against a prominent lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, in events widely reported abroad and spoken of, quietly, in China.

But another commemorative meeting, earlier in the year on Feb. 2, perhaps less closely followed, also led to the detentions of about 10 people and formal charges against one person who did not even take part — the public interest lawyer Chang Boyang, according to fellow lawyers and Mr. Chang’s nongovernmental organization, Zhengzhou Yirenping. Mr. Chang is a co-founder of the group, which works to prevent discrimination against people with hepatitis.

On Saturday, Mr. Chang’s family was informed of his official arrest on July 3 on “suspicion of illegal commercial activities” — a switch in charges that baffled his lawyer, Liu Weiguo, according to a statement put out by Zhengzhou Yirenping.

“From a legal point of view, Chang Boyang’s work very obviously had nothing to do with ‘illegal commercial activities,’” the statement cited Mr. Liu as saying. “They were trying to prevent him from representing his clients,” Lu Jun, one of the group’s co-founders, said in a recent telephone interview.

The Feb. 2 meeting took place in Hua County in Henan, the birthplace of the former Chinese leader, Zhao Ziyang, who supported the June 4 demonstrators in 1989 and was purged from the Communist Party for it, dying in 2005 after years of house arrest.

In public, with a large banner saying: “Public Watch, Heroes of June 4: Remembering Yaobang and Ziyang,” a reference also to Hu Yaobang, the former leader considered a liberal whose death in April 1989 set off the democracy movement, about a dozen and a half people braved the cold.

In the second half of May, about six people who took part were detained, including the journalist Shi Yu, on suspicion of “gathering in a public place to disturb public order,” according to lawyers and colleagues of Mr. Chang’s. Several others who did not attend were also picked up, they said.

Mr. Chang agreed to defend three of them, but when he arrived at a local police station in late May to meet his clients he was detained for the same alleged offense, they said. Neither Mr. Chang’s lawyer nor his family have been permitted to see him since, they said. Mr. Shi, the journalist, was released on July 2, as was another participant, Shao Shengdong, but the rest are believed to still be in detention, the lawyers and colleagues of Mr. Chang’s said.

On June 12 Zhengzhou Yirenping’s bank account was frozen, the group said. On June 17 its premises were raided by the police, and computers and papers confiscated.

Those actions coincided with the group being delivered a detailed questionnaire from police aimed at registering “foreign NGOs,” Mr. Lu said, though it was unclear what, if any connection, there was between the two events. The questionnaire was part ofan overall tightening of monitoring, especially of Chinese groups that receive funding from overseas NGOs, as Zhengzhou Yirenping did, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chang’s family is anxious, fearing he is being tortured at the Zhengzhou No. 3 Detention Center.

Following several refusals to allow Mr. Chang’s lawyer see him, on June 7, the deputy head of the Zhengzhou Public Security Bureau, Zhong Zhicai, said that the detainees were also suspected of “harming national security,” and anyone wanting to meet them must request permission, the statement by Zhengzhou Yirenping said.

“Why don’t the police let his lawyer meet him, as is legal?” it cited Mr. Chang’s wife and daughter as saying. “Could it be as the media frequently says, because of torture? Because it would be exposed if he met his lawyer?” They also expressed concern about the impact of detention on the health of a man they described as “thin.”

Torture and abuse are common in Chinese jails, human rights groups say. The organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders recently issued a watch list of 13 detainees it said were in urgent need of medical attention, after the death in detention of Cao Shunli from ill health in March.

Scores of people were detained, and some charged, ahead of the June 4 anniversary this year, as the authorities stamped out attempts to remember the military crackdown on people in Beijing and other cities calling for greater democracy and an end to corruption, leading to the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people.

A request to Zhengzhou directory assistance for the telephone number of the No. 3 Detention Center was met with the response that it was “confidential.” Several later calls placed to the center were not picked up.

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