Family of Chinese human rights lawyer fear he may have been secretly detained

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Originally published by The Guardian on November 30, 2016

Friends and family of a respected Christian attorney who has been missing for more than a week fear he may have fallen victim to Beijing’s campaign against human rights lawyers and now languishes in secret custody.

Jin Bianling, the wife of 45-year-old rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, said she had heard nothing from her husband since the night of 21 November when he had been due to board a train from the city of Changsha to Beijing.

Jiang had been in Changsha attempting to visit the wife of a fellow attorney who was among those detained as part of the so-called ‘709 crackdown’ – a major police offensive against Chinese civil rights lawyers that began on 9 July last year.

Almost one and a half years after that “war on law” began, several of China’s most admired human rights lawyers, including the crusading attorneys Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang – remain behind bars.

Speaking from the United States, where she has lived since 2013, Jin said she feared for her husband’s safety.

“I am very worried about him. I am worried about his health. I am worried he might be tortured while in jail,” she said.

Eva Pils, a King’s College London legal scholar who has known Jiang for more than a decade, said she was also worried about the well-being of Jiang, whose clients have included the blind barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng.

“I feel powerless. In my last meeting with him, in April 2016, much of our conversation revolved around the detention of his colleagues and what the authorities might do to them,” Pils said.

“It was clear to us that he was at a huge risk too. And yet there was nothing one could do but watch and wait for it to happen. Now it has happened and I hate the fact we have not been able to stop it and, inevitably, worry about who might be next.”

Pils added: “Since he has been effectively disappeared for a couple of days, and given his history of brutality at the hands of the police, I am most concerned that he might be tortured – again. If his detention was planned and is part of the ‘709’ crackdown – we can’t be quite sure yet – I expect that one way or another, mentally or physically, he will be tortured.”

About 250 lawyers and activists were targeted in the wide-raging sweep. Jiang has been an outspoken critic of the government’s campaign against lawyers and over 60 Chinese lawyers have written an open letter calling for his release.

Pils described Jiang as “warm, lively, talkative, really sharp-minded” and someone with “huge amounts of empathy and imagination”.

“He is also an emotional sort of person, easily fired up and easily upset,” she added. “And this is what worries his friends, because he won’t shut up when he thinks something is wrong. He really talks back.”

Jiang’s disappearance comes as two other grassroots activists have gone missing. Liu Feiyue, the founder of the website Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch, has been missing since 17 November and is being held on suspicion of “subversion of state power”, his family told the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

Huang Qi, who has been in and out of prison for years for his activism, has also disappeared, the NGO said. Both Liu and Huang ran websites collecting stories of human rights violations, detailing hundreds of cases from village officials illegally evicting residents to the detention of protesters.


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