About 50 human rights lawyers and law firm staff held in Chinese police crackdown

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Originally published by South China Morning Post on July 11, 2015

Mainland police have launched a large-scale, unprecedented crackdown on human rights lawyers in the past two days – detaining dozens of lawyers and law firm staff and searching some of their homes and offices, while other people have disappeared, fellow lawyers and three rights groups say.

Up to noon on Saturday, 47 people – 42 lawyers, four law firm employees, plus one member of a rights lawyer’s family – across 15 cities and provinces had been taken away, summoned or detained by police, said Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

The rights group Chinese Human Rights Defendersdocumented 57 lawyers and rights activists that had been detained, summoned or disappeared since Friday morning.

One of them, Guangzhou-based lawyer Sui Muqing, was placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location” — a form of detention — for alleged “incitement to subvert state power” late on Saturday, according to a police document given to his family.

Amnesty International said that by Saturday evening 28 people detained in the crackdown, including Wang Yu’s teenage son, had been released.

The crackdown started after lawyer Wang Yu, known for her courage in taking on difficult human rights cases, went missing in the early hours of Thursday. More than 100 lawyers across the country issued a joint statement on Friday protesting about her disappearance. Many of its signatories were detained late on Friday night and early on Saturday.

Most fellow lawyers believe Wang has been detained by police. She disappeared shortly after she sent a text message saying unidentified people were picking at the lock of her front door. Her friends said a security guard at her housing compound saw police taking away someone early on Thursday.

Her colleagues at the Beijing Fengrui law firm, lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Li Zhuyun, were taken away by police on Friday, while lawyer Wang Quanzhang and another three staff members also went missing.

Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, a partner at the firm, sent a text message on Friday night saying he had been summoned by police.

Zhou, Wang Quanzhang and Liu’s phones all remained switched off on Saturday.

Beijing Fengrui is the firm where detained activist Wu Gan, nicknamed “Super Vulgar Butcher”, used to work.

Wang Yu was the lawyer of Wu, who was last week charged and formally arrested with “inciting subversion” and “provoking trouble”. The firm’s premises were searched by police on Friday.

Other lawyers taken away or summoned by police included Beijing–based Li Heping, Jiang Tianyong, Liang Xiaojun and Zhang Kai, Guangzhou-based Sui Muqing, Henan-based Chang Boyang and Ji Laisong, Shanghai-based Zhang Xuezhong, Zhejiang-based Wang Cheng, Shangdong-based Liu Weiguo, Hunan-based Yang Jinzhu and Gansu-based Jiang Yongji, said the rights groups and fellow lawyers, who declined to be named out for fears of reprisals.

Li Heping’s brother, lawyer Li Chunfu, said police also searched Li’s home and office on Friday and had taken away a large number of books and documents, computers and hard disks. Police had not given reasons for his brother’s detention, he said.

Sui’s wife, Sun Shihua, also a lawyer, told a friend that Sui was taken away by police late on Friday night on the charge of “seeking quarrels and provoking trouble”. China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said she was also taken away early Saturday morning.

Lawyer Li Jinxing, who was not in Beijing, said his office had been searched on Friday.

Other activists taken away included Beijing house church leader Hu Shigen and member Liu Yongping.

Zhang Xuezhong, who was one of those that was detained and later released, refused to discuss his detention when contacted.

Some of those who had been released, who declined to be named, said they were warned by police to refrain from publicly voicing their support for Wang Yu.

South China Morning Post’s calls to the Ministry of Public Security yesterday went unanswered.

Eva Pils, a China expert at King’s College, London University, said the nationwide crackdown was “the most recent step in the implementation of the Xi Jinping administration’s programme to crackdown on independent civil society.”

“Since so many lawyers started openly identifying with human rights causes and coordinating their advocacy campaigns, they are one of the closest things China has to a political opposition,” she said.

Amnesty International’s China researcher William Nee said police bore a grudge against lawyers because “they have effectively used the law to curb the misuse of state power and redress human rights violations”.

While experts said it was hard to say whether the latest crackdown was connected to the controversial, recently passed National Security Law, Pils said the law – aimed at protecting the political regime – “gives at least rhetorical support for this sweeping campaign”.

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