Chinese rights lawyers and staff of law firm missing as police search office

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Originally published by South China Morning Post on July 10, 2015

At least five employees of a Beijing law firm – including three lawyers – have gone missing, with some taken away by either police or unidentified men and another disappearing after reporting that her home was being broken into, their fellow lawyers said yesterday.

Police searched the firm, Beijing Fengrui,  yesterday morning, lawyer Liang Xiaojun said.

The firm was where activist Wu Gan,  nicknamed the “Super Vulgar Butcher”, used to work. Wu has been charged with “inciting subversion”.

Fengrui’s head, Zhou Shifeng,  was seen being taken away by three unidentified men early yesterday, wrote Liu Xiaoyuan,  a partner at the firm, on Twitter.

Zhou had gone to a Tongzhou district  detention centre to meet a client, Zhang Miao,  on Thursday night, Liu wrote. Zhang, a news assistant for German weekly Die Zeit,  had just been freed after nine months in custody.

Zhang had been detained in October for “creating a disturbance” after she helped Die Zeit report on the Occupy Central   movement in Hong Kong.

Zhou, Zhang and an associate stayed in a hotel that night. At around 7.30am the next day, the associate heard Zhou shouting for her. She opened the door to see him being taken away, Liu wrote.

Other Fengrui employees were also taken away on Friday.

According to Liu’s Twitter account, another lawyer, Li Zhu-yun, was taken from her home and had her flat searched by a dozen plain-clothes police.

A staff member, Liu Sixin, disappeared after calling Liu Xiaoyuan at around 8:45am and telling him, “They are coming”, before the call went dead, Liu Xiaoyuan said.

Fengrui’s finance officer Wang Fang is also believed to be missing, after he left home but did not arrive at the office, according to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Lawyer Liang Xiaojun   said he learned that up to 30 policemen went to Fengrui  yesterday to carry out investigations.

The firm’s lawyers, including Zhou and Liu Xiaoyuan, could not be reached by phone. Calls to the firm went unanswered.

A fifth Fengrui employee – rights lawyer Wang Yu – had gone missing early on Thursday, after sending her friends a text message  saying someone was trying to force open her front door, according to rights group Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

In an earlier message, Wang told friends she had seen off her husband and son at the airport on Wednesday night, where they were due to leave for Australia. After returning home, she found the electricity and Wi-fi connection cut.

Liang said Wang’s friend tried to enter her home with her house keys yesterday but found the lock changed. They could not find records of her husband and son’s departure from the airport, and their whereabouts were unknown, he said.  Both Wang’s and her husband’s phones remained switched off yesterday.

Liang said no one knew the whereabouts of the Fengrui employees who could not be contacted. Beijing police did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

Liang believed police were collecting evidence against Wang, who took up many sensitive rights cases other lawyers did not dare to handle.

Eva Pils,  a China law expert at King’s College London,  said the attack on rights lawyers was part of  an attempt by the authorities to crack down on civil society.

“Overall, I think there is a concerted effort to portray human rights lawyers as troublemakers  who are against the system, and are therefore regarded as ‘enemies of the people’ in the eyes of the authorities,” Pils said.

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