Wife of detained Chinese human rights lawyer tries to sue lawyer appointed by authorities

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Originally published by Hong Kong Free Press on October 24, 2016

A Tianjin court held a hearing on Friday to decide whether the wife of a detained human rights lawyer will be able to sue a government-appointed lawyer representing her husband.

Yuan Shanshan, the wife of Xie Yanyi, who was detained as part of China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists that began on July 9, 2015, is attempting to file a lawsuit against Chen Wenhai, her husband’s lawyer, alleging that he has not provided her with information about her husband’s case.

Yuan tried to file the case at a first instance court in August, but it was rejected. She appealed the decision at the Tianjin Secondary Intermediate People’s Court, which heard the case on Friday but adjourned its ruling.

Yuan said before the hearing that the court has not notified Chen of the lawsuit and that only she and her lawyers would be present.

‘Defend my own rights’

The authorities told Yuan in May that Chen Wenhai had been appointed by her husband, and told a lawyer she appointed that he was no longer allowed to represent Xie.

Yuan said that she started the lawsuit because Chen was not appointed by the family. “I have to sue him to defend my own rights, and as Xie Yanyi’s wife, I have a responsibility to help Yanyi, and help him get legal help according to the law.”

Yuan said that lawyers appointed by the family were not permitted to see Xie after he was detained. Yuan said that their appointments were terminated by the Tianjin Public Security Bureau in May and that she was notified verbally, but did not receive any documents. NGO coalition the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders noted that the replacement of family-appointed lawyers with those chosen by authorities is a trend in the cases of those detained in the crackdown.

Yuan said that she didn’t expect a favourable result from the hearing, but felt she had to go ahead with the lawsuit.

“I believe this will become history… I want to make all 300,000 lawyers in China aware of the fact that as lawyers, they should enforce the law, stand on the side of the law and justice, and not stand with those who knowingly break the law and act as their puppets.”

Kit Chan, the director of Hong Kong-based NGO the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, said the case shows the “defective and distorted” rule of law in China. “Rule of law can only be meaningfully implemented when lawyers are free to perform their professional duties. This is not even rule by law by the Chinese standard, as there is no legal basis for government-appointed lawyer if not in the circumstances of legal aid service, which does not apply in the case of Xie Yanyi.”

She added that Yuan’s scepticism of lawyers appointed by the authorities is justified. “In a country where judicial independence is largely missing and lawyers are under intensive interference and monitoring in carrying out their professional duties, what could one expect from a police-appointed lawyer? The absurdity and irrationality is obvious.”

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