Secrecy Shrouding “709” Detainees Pre-empts “Fairness” of Trial

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Secrecy Shrouding “709” Detainees Pre-empts “Fairness” of Trial

Alert: Unconfirmed Imminent Trials of Lawyers and Activists in Tianjin

(On Friday, July 29, Family members of “709” detainees were briefly detained, harassed by police when they demanded authorities to confirm the time and location of the trials.)

(On Friday, July 29, Family members of “709” detainees were briefly detained, harassed by police when they demanded authorities to confirm the time and location of the trials.)

(Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, July 30, 2016) Four rights defenders held incommunicado for over one year may face imminent trial at the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court on charges of “subversion of state power.” The trials may begin as soon as Monday, August 1, according to unconfirmed information CHRD received. Chinese authorities have failed to notify the detainees’ families nor their own lawyers. Several family members were briefly detained by police on Friday and two people disappeared on Sunday night as they tried to confirm with the court where and when the trials would take place.  The right to a public trial is a human right. Chinese law requires authorities to notify lawyers and families at least three days before a trial takes place.

The secrecy surrounding the “709” detentions over the past year – from the initially unknown locations of detention, to blocked visits by lawyers, lack of information for families, to what looks now like planned secret or abruptly announced trials – undermines any pretense of “fair” trial for these detainees.     

The four—Hu Shigen, Gou Hongguo, Zhai Yanmin, and Zhou Shifeng—are being held as a part of the “709 crackdown” on human rights lawyers that began in July 2015. Over 300 human rights lawyers and activists have been interrogated and intimidated or blocked from traveling abroad, and 20 remain in detention. The four men, who face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of the “subversion” charges, are the only detainees known to have been indicted.

CHRD condemns the escalating persecution of human rights defenders under the pretext that they constitute a so-called “threat” to “national security.” We urge the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release all 20 individuals still held one year after the crackdown began.

Police detained lawyer Zhou Shifeng and activists Gou Hongguo and Hu Shigen in Beijing on July 10, 2015, while activist Zhai Yanmin was taken into custody the previous month. Tianjin authorities placed Hu, Guo, and Zhou under “residential surveillance at a police-designated location,” a form of de facto enforced disappearance, until formally arresting the three on January 8, 2016. Police detained Zhai after he took part in a protest outside a courthouse in Shandong Province, and later transferred him to Tianjin jurisdiction and arrested him in early 2016. In mid-July, 2016, Tianjin authorities announced on weibo the four had been indicted on charges of “subversion of state power.” Hu and Zhou are being held at Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center, and Guo and Zhai are detained at Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center.

The use of “national security”-related charges to target human rights lawyers and activists has become a hallmark of Xi Jinping’s reign since 2013. In the ongoing crackdown, authorities have focused on lawyers, law firms, and activists who have challenged the authorities’ mishandling of “politically sensitive” cases and abuses of legal procedures. Many of the detained lawyers and activists had engaged in advocacy campaigns, speaking out about human rights violations or pushing for legal reforms. China’s state-run media denounced many of the detainees, and singled out Beijing Fengrui Law Firm as having acted as a “criminal syndicate.” Both Zhou Shifeng, head of that firm, and Zhai Yanmin have had no access to a lawyer of their own choosing since their detention. Both were shown on state television “confessing” to crimes, raising concerns that they may have been severely tortured. Authorities have grossly abused their power in their handling of the “709” detainees, disregarding Chinese laws and violating international human rights conventions.

Background on individuals:

Hu Shigen (胡石根) is a longtime activist as well as a former literature professor and writer. A member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, the 61-year old Hu took part in pro-democracy activities after the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. A Beijing court sentenced him to 20 years in prison due to his efforts to spread information about the 1989 crackdown. Hu was released in 2008 after 16 years, having endured severe torture in prison. Following his release, Hu resumed advocating for human rights, and in retaliation faced surveillance, house arrest, and police intimidation. He was detained during the “Jasmine Rallies” in 2011, and again in 2014 for attending the same seminar about June 4th as rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强). Hu is a member and leader of underground Christian churches, including the Sheng Ai (圣爱) Fellowship and the Yahebo (雅和博) Covenant Church.

Guo Honguo (勾洪国) began in 2013 to publicly voice his concerns over rights violations suffered by marginalized groups, taking to the Internet to help others defend their rights and to promote constitutional democracy. Born in 1961, Guo was a member of the underground church Sheng Ai Fellowship. He became a businessman after leaving the military. Due to pressure from local authorities, Gou’s company was shut down and his family forced to move out of their home. According to his wife, Gou requires daily medication to manage high blood pressure, but she is unaware of her husband’s health condition since she has not been allowed to see him in detention.

Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民) has taken part in several human rights campaigns, including with the New Citizens’ Movement. A Beijing-based activist, Zhai, 55, has been detained several times since 2014 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” for rallying for the release of detained human rights defenders. He was also briefly in police custody in October 2014 for supporting the Occupy Hong Kong democracy protests. Zhai participated in the 1989 pro-democracy protests as a student.

Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), lawyer and director of Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, has represented clients in several high-profile cases, including victims in the 2008 contaminated powdered milk scandal, dissident writer Tie Liu (铁流), and Zhang Miao (张淼), a news assistant detained for supporting the Hong Kong protests in 2014. Born in 1964, Zhou began practicing law in 1995, and started Fengrui Law Firm in 2007. Under his watch, Beijing Fengrui Law Firm employed several prominent human rights lawyers, who were also detained in the “709 crackdown,” such as Wang Yu (王宇) and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), and hired the influential activist Wu Gan (吴淦) as a special advisor. Before his detention, Zhou Shifeng announced he was establishing a China Lawyers Defense Fund of eight million RMB (approx. $1.2 million) to support the families of persecuted lawyers across the country.

For more information on the “709 Crackdown” on rights lawyers, see:

China: Free Rights Lawyers, Respect Rule of Law, July 7, 2016, CHRD

Individuals Affected by July 9 Crackdown on Rights Lawyers

Chart of Individuals Currently Detained in “709 Crackdown” (As of July 7, 2016)

Communiqué to UN Special Procedures & the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, April 19, 2016

“Too Risky to Call Ourselves Defenders”: CHRD Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China (2015), February 15, 2016

Politically Charged Arrests in China Escalate Persecution of Rights Lawyers, January 14, 2016

What Happened to the Detained Lawyers: 18 Held in Secret & Several Accused of “Endangering National Security”, August 20, 2015

China: Halt Police Operations Targeting Human Rights Lawyers as “National Security” Threat, July 13, 2015


Renee Xia, International Director (Mandarin, English), +1 863 866 1012, reneexia[at], Follow on Twitter: @ReneeXiaCHRD

Victor Clemens, Research Coordinator (English), +1 209 643 0539, victorclemens[at], Follow on Twitter: @VictorClemens

Frances Eve, Researcher (English), +852 6695 4083, franceseve[at], Follow on Twitter:@FrancesEveCHRD

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