[CHRB] Forced “Switch” to Police-Appointed Lawyers Further Erodes Protections for Detained Rights Defenders (3/15-3/21, 2016)

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[CHRB] Forced “Switch” to Police-Appointed Lawyers Further Erodes Protections for Detained Rights Defenders (3/15-3/21, 2016)

China Human Rights Briefing

March 15 – 21, 2016

Independence of Judges and Lawyers

Coerced “Removal” of Lawyers & “Acceptance” of State-Appointed Lawyers Further Breach Detainees’ Due Process Rights

Since January, a substantial number of detained lawyers and activists, most of whom have been held incommunicado for nearly nine months, have supposedly “dismissed” their lawyers and “hired” other lawyers to represent them, according to police notifications. When families and family-authorized lawyers have demanded numerous times to meet the detainees to confirm any such “decisions,” police have rejected the requests. Police refusals to allow visits with the detainees to verify any changes of legal counsel raise the strong suspicion that the “decisions” have been coerced. All but one of the 11 cases that CHRD has documented are tied to the “709” crackdown targeting human rights lawyers.

In the cases (listed below), police have told families or family-authorized lawyers that the detainees, of their own violation, “fired” their legal defense and instead agreed to take on other lawyers appointed by the government. The complete lack of transparency about any changes in legal representation raises strong suspicions that police have grossly abused their power in coercing or threatening the detainees. Such a manipulative move deals another blow to the detainees, who have been deprived of access to defense counsel, visitation with their families, and other due process rights. The “709” crackdown detainees have been held incommunicado since last July, with authorities routinely citing concerns of “national security” or “interference” in investigations as pretexts. Though forced “dismissal” of defense lawyers is not unheard of in “politically sensitive” cases in China, it is alarming for there to be so many in such a short span of time, suggesting a systematic approach and decisions made in the high ranks of party leadership.

The suspected forced appointment of attorneys by police severely interferes with the independence of lawyers, and the detainees’ right to a fair trial will be seriously breached if they are tried while represented by attorneys forced upon them by authorities. Most of the individuals who have allegedly “fired” their lawyers have been arrested for “subversion,” a political crime for which a conviction carries a minimum of three years, and up to life imprisonment. Police appointed lawyers are unlikely to put forth a rigorous defense for a criminal suspect in a “politically sensitive” case, since such lawyers have been screened by authorities to ensure that they will stick to CCP-dictated guilty verdicts. For instance, police-appointed lawyers will not challenge “evidence” obtained through torture or coercion by police and get it thrown out in court, though such evidence, according to both Chinese law and international standards, is not legally admissible in court proceedings.

If, as suspected, detained HRDs have been forced to give up their lawyers—and then assigned others without giving free consent—this would violate both China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) and international human rights standards. As spelled out by CPL, a criminal suspect has the freedom to choose their own legal counsel, or “entrust” their defense to certain individuals (Article 32). Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees criminal suspects the rights to both “communicate with counsel of [their] own choosing” and also wage a defense “through legal assistance of his [their] choosing” in the event of a trial (Article 14 (b, d)). Though China has not ratified the ICCPR, it is obligated to honor its provisions as a signatory (1998). Other international human rights treaties that China has ratified call for protections on the right to a fair trial, such as the Convention against Torture. Recently, many of the family-appointed lawyers and the detainees’ families raised the issue of the “dismissals” in an open letter to the National People’s Congress, and requested national legislators set up a special committee to investigate the myriad rights violations in these cases.

Many lawyers for these detainees were pressured by government agents long before they were allegedly “fired,” besides being blocked from meeting with them. Lawyer Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), who had represented detained lawyer Zhou Zhifeng (周世), was summoned for questioning by Changsha police and warned by the Changsha City Judicial Department not to get involved in Zhou’s case. Another lawyer, Jinan-based Liu Shuqing (刘书庆), has paid an especially high price for trying to assist detainees from the “709” crackdown, as his license to practice law was suspended in mid-January (see CHRD’s previous reporting for more on intimidation of lawyers involved in “709” cases).

Except in one case, the following detainees who supposedly “fired” their lawyers were seized as part of the “709” crackdown (see more case details on CHRD’s website). All 11 detainees were either formally arrested or criminally detained in January, at which point authorities began to notify lawyers and families of the “dismissals.” In several “709” cases, a police officer named Li Bin (李斌), who works in pre-trial supervision at the Tianjin Municipal Public Security Bureau, has reportedly communicated with families and lawyers about the “firing” and re-appointment of lawyers. (Cases are listed in order of reverse chronological order, according to reported known dates of “notification” of the “firings.”)

  • Lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) has supposedly “fired” her two defense lawyers, Li Yuhan (李昱函) and Wen Donghai (). Lawyer Li was informed of this on March 1 by officer Li Bin, when she tried to visit Ms. Wang at Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center. Officer Li denied her request, and further claimed that Wang had admitted guilt and, in order to “cooperate well with public security to seek clemency,” had willingly dismissed the family-appointed counsel and chosen another lawyer, with whom she had signed an agreement. The officer then refused to allow lawyer Li to see Wang herself, or for her to have access to any documentation, thus making it impossible to confirm the claims. Reportedly, the officer said that no lawyer can visit Wang Yu at this time, and that Wang’s case was “special” in terms of how it would be handled. Lawyers Li and Wen, who had been hired by Wang Yu’s family, have not received any official notification that they were dismissed.[1]
  • Liu Sixin (刘四新), an activist and administrative assistant at Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, supposedly has “fired” lawyers Wang Lei (王磊) and Ge Wenxiu (葛文秀) and had new counsel, according to officer Li Bin, who spoke with lawyer Wang on February 28. Wang told officer Li that he and lawyer Ge had already obtained permission to defend Liu, and Wang requested to have the contact information for the newly assigned lawyers, but Li did not provide it.[2]
  • Lawyer Li Heping (李和平) has allegedly “dismissed” lawyers Ma Lianshun (马连顺) and Cai Ying (), according to police officer Li Bin, who spoke with lawyer Ma on February 17. The officer did not provide any documentation, and Li Heping’s wife days later stated that she had never thought of letting go of the two lawyers.
  • Zhao Wei (), a paralegal, has allegedly “dismissed” her lawyers Ren Quanniu (任全牛) and Yan Huafeng (严华), officer Li Bin informed the two female attorneys on January 28. Officer Li also told them that Zhao had confessed to criminal behavior. Ren and Yan have not been given any official document verifying any of this information, nor been allowed to see Zhao to confirm. Reportedly, two other female lawyers met with Zhao’s mother on January 29, informing her they had been assigned by a “lawyers management committee” to defend Zhao, who had supposedly agreed to have them represent her. (A “lawyers management committee” is a body under CCP control which supervises lawyers’ professional behavior to make sure it aligns with party interests and requirements.) The lawyers told her that Zhao had written a letter in which her daughter “admitted guilt” and discouraged her parents from hiring lawyers themselves. However, Zhao’s mother has said that, besides the signature, the handwriting in the letter—a document that she was not allowed to keep—did not closely resemble her daughter’s, making her suspect that Zhao had been coerced to “confess.”[3]
  • Labor activist Zeng Feiyang ()—in a case not directly related to the “709” crackdown—reportedly has “dismissed” lawyer Cheng Zhunqiang (成准强), according to Guangdong authorities who spoke with Cheng on February 22. However, police have not produced any written documentation to that effect. Zeng was initially detained last December 3 and formally arrested on January 8, on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” He is being held at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center.
  • Lawyer Zhang Kai (张凯) supposedly has “dismissed” in succession two lawyers who had been hired by his family, Li Guisheng () and Zhang Lei (). Subsequently, on January 19, judicial authorities in Beijing intimidated lawyer Li Jinxing (李金星) into giving up his representation of Zhang Kai (see recent reporting on Zhang’s case).[4]
Lawyer Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) (left) was supposedly “fired” by arrested lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), among a rash of such “dismissals” this year believed to have come about due to coercion.

Lawyer Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱) (left) was supposedly “fired” by arrested lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), among many such “dismissals” this year believed to have come about through coercion.

  • Lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世) has supposedly “fired” Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), which Yang was told when he went to Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center to see Zhou on January 13. That day, police officers Yang Jie (杨杰) and An Xiaolei (安小磊) informed Yang that Zhou had engaged another lawyer to represent him. However, Zhou’s family has refuted this claim, as they had not hired a new lawyer or received any written communication from Zhou about taking on a different lawyer.[5]
  • Li Shuyun (李姝云), a trainee lawyer with Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, has allegedly engaged a new lawyer, detention center guards at Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center told Lu Zhimin (智敏) on January 12. That day, Lu was denied a visit on those grounds. Li’s father wrote an open letter on January 13 appealing to any new lawyer to contact her parents.
  • Activist Gou Hongguo (勾洪国) has reportedly “fired” his lawyer, Ji Zhongjiu (纪中久), according to authorities who told Ji that Gou had engaged another attorney to represent him. Lawyer Ji and Gou’s family, however, have not received any written communication from the activist about hiring another lawyer.
  • Gao Yue (高月), paralegal for lawyer Li Heping, has supposedly “fired” lawyers Wang Fei (王飞) and Li Guobei (李国蓓).[6]
  • Activist Liu Yongping (刘永平) has reportedly “dismissed” and replaced lawyers Shang Baojun (尚宝军) and Shang Manqing (尚满庆), who have not been given any formal notification. According to Shang Manqing, Liu’s brother received a phone call from someone claiming to be the activist’s new lawyer, but the identify of this individual could not be confirmed.



Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve@chrdnet.com, Follow on Twitter: @FrancesEveCHRD

[1] “Lawyer Li Yuhan: Report on the Current Critical Situation for Lawyer Wang Yu & Me” (李昱函律师:关于王宇律师案和我现在的危急处境的通报), Rights Defense Network (RDN), March 15, 2016.

[2] “Case Reports on Mass ‘709’ Detentions – Lawyer Wang Lei: Tianjin Public Security Bureau Illegality, Cannot Continue to Violate Humanity” (709大抓捕案通报:王磊律师:天津市公安局违法不能再违人道), RDN, January 29, 2016.

[3] “Case Reports on Mass ‘709’ Detentions – Zhao Wei (Kaola) Suspected to Have Been Mistreated in Forced Firing of Lawyer & Writing of Confession” (“709大抓捕案”通报:赵威(考拉)疑遭折磨被迫解除律师、并写认罪书), RDN, January 29, 2016.

[4] “February 2016 Developments in Rights & Interests of Chinese Lawyers” (2016年2月份的中国律师权益动态信息), RDN, March 14, 2016.

[5] “Report on ‘709’ Cases: Newest Information on Lawyer Zhou Shifeng – Zhou Claims ‘Never Confessed’; Gao Yue’s Family Threatened by Authorities – If You Do Not Dismiss Lawyer, She Will Not Be Granted Bail” (709案通报:周世锋律师最新消息——周世峰称“从未认罪”;而高月家属被当局威胁——不解聘律师就不给办取保候审 (2016年3月17日)), RDN, March 17, 2016.

[6] “Report on ‘709’ Cases: Newest Information on Lawyer Zhou Shifeng – Zhou Claims ‘Never Confessed’; Gao Yue’s Family Threatened by Authorities – If You Do Not Dismiss Lawyer, She Will Not Be Granted Bail” (709案通报:周世锋律师最新消息——周世峰称“从未认罪”;而高月家属被当局威胁——不解聘律师就不给办取保候审 (2016年3月17日)), RDN, March 17, 2016.

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