The Increasing Hardship China’s Human Rights Lawyers Face in Their Practice
My name is Luo Shengchun (罗胜春). I am the wife of lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), who was detained in connection with the December 26th Xiamen Gathering case. I first became familiar with the community of human rights lawyers when Ding Jiaxi was detained for the first time in April 2013. Over the next eight years, I bore witness to the difficulties and deteriorating circumstances faced by human rights lawyers in their practice. It is an extremely worrying situation. I was made especially aware of this when I spent the past year and more, appealing for Ding Jiaxi in the Xiamen case. I felt acutely that human rights lawyers in China are in a worsening predicament and that we urgently need to bring this to the immediate attention of the international community and supporters who work in the legal profession around the globe.
My name is Shi Minglei (施明磊). My husband Cheng Yuan and his two colleagues Liu Dazhi, WuGe Jianxiong have been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government for 719 days. Cheng Yuan (程渊) is the founder of NGO Changsha Funeng. In the two years prior to their arrest, the ChangSha3 contributed greatly to advocating for and protecting the rights of Chinese human rights lawyers, especially for those whose licenses were revoked. They have sacrificed much for their efforts. They are now personally experiencing being stripped of their rights to legal defense and communication. Wuge Jianxiong was also forced to dismiss his own father, lawyer Wu Youshui (吴有水). Our families are kept in the dark about the government-assigned lawyers, whose identity is apparently a “state secret.” They too face brutal torture as well as the pain of knowing that our families face recurring persecution. Take myself as an example, on the day my husband was arrested, I was put into black hood, hand-cuffed, threatened and put into home arrest (Living Under Surveillance) for 180 days. My 3-year-old daughter witnessed the arrest of her daddy and the threat against me. My daughter’s church school was also forced to close.
I want to alert the international community to the predicament faced by China’s human rights lawyers and ChangSha3.
Chinese human rights lawyers face increasingly dire circumstances in the practicing process. The following are personal experiences from the lawyers in our families, as well as information we have gathered from other cases.
1. Secret detention, violent disappearances, torture, secret trials, and extended detention as experienced by lawyers such as Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Yu Wensheng (余文生), and Li Yuhan (李昱函).
2. Illegally prolonged house arrest and denial of freedom of movement, these are examples of “non-release releases” as suffered by lawyers such as Jiang Tianyong (江天勇).
3. Direct prevention of lawyers’ engagement in human rights cases: four lawyers in the Chang Weiping （常玮平）case and two lawyers in the Ding Jiaxi （丁家喜）case were forced to withdraw. As a client, I made phone inquiries to nearly twenty lawyers to ask if they would take on my husband’s case. They either did not respond or told me bluntly that the Justice Bureau did not allow representation in Ding Jiaxi’s case due to its political sensitivity. In the 2020 Hong Kong 12 case, several lawyers were also forced to withdraw after signing contracts.
4. Lawyers are being threatened before taking on and while handling their cases. These threats include failing their annual inspection, revoking or canceling the lawyer’s license, dissolving their firm and restricting lawyers and family members from travelling outside China. In many cases, the above threats have become reality. For example, lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) is still blocked by the Chinese government from visiting his seriously ill daughter Tang Zhengqi (唐正琪) who has been hospitalized in an ICU in Japan for 2 months.
5. Lawyers are prohibited from accepting interviews, posting tweets, and restricted from making statements on the cases and clients the lawyers are representing.
6. The authorities arbitrarily classify case files and force lawyers to sign confidential
7. Lawyers are not allowed to make copies of the case files. They are only permitted to view and take excerpts, which makes it challenging for lawyers to review the case.
8. Lawyers are prohibited from taking photos or making videos and audio recordings when meeting with the litigant. Meanwhile, meetings with the clients are illegally wiretapped.
9. Interference in lawyers’ case handling as pertains to legal procedures such as, denial of lawyer and client meetings, disallowing lawyers’ appearance in court, restricting or prohibiting speech from lawyers during court sessions, blocking lawyers’ cross-examination efforts during court hearings, denying requests for witness appearances, and prohibition or restriction of family members’ appearance at court hearings.
10. Forcing the client to dismiss lawyers brought in by family despite opposition and protest of family members. Forcibly assigning government-appointed lawyers. The six lawyers involved in the ChangSha3 case were collectively dismissed and replaced with government-appointed lawyers on the day the investigation period expired. In the Duandianxing (端点星) case, Chen Mei and Cai Wei were arrested for backing up information on the spread of the coronavirus. Chen Mei’s lawyer Liang Xiaojun (梁小军) was replaced by government-appointed lawyers. In the HongKong12 case, the defendants were also forcibly assigned government-appointed lawyers.
11. In court, public prosecutors and legal personnel are able to assault and beat lawyers at will; lawyers’ basic right to defense and personal dignity are also disrespected. To cite a few examples in recent years: In 2017, lawyers Lu Tingge (卢庭阁) and Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) were assaulted by the bailiff when handling a case in Sichuan; In 2015, lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) was assaulted by the bailiff when he appeared in court in Shandong; lawyer Cheng Hai (程海) was assaulted when taking on cases in Dalian, Beijing, and Tianjin.
12. Assault by unidentified persons: Lawyer Chen Keyun (陈科云) was assaulted by unidentified persons near his home in Guangzhou this April. The police ignored his calls for help, and he found it impossible to file a report later. In 2017, another lawyer, Li Baiguang (李柏光) was abducted and beaten by unidentified individuals when handling a case in Zhejiang.
13. Pressuring human rights lawyers by harassing their family members and close relations. For example, Lawyer Chang Weiping’s parents and siblings were threatened; Lawyer Lu Tingge’s family members were harassed; kidnapping and beating of lawyers’ children, such as the son of lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) who was beaten and placed under house arrest after his parents were arrested; lawyers’ children forcibly kicked out of school, such as the children of lawyers Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Li Heping (李和平), and Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) who had their enrollment qualifications forcibly revoked by their schools. Pressuring lawyers’ landlords, forcing the lawyers to move out; pressuring employers of the lawyer’s family members, resulting in termination of their employment.
Human rights lawyers in China are a solid line of defense for Chinese human rights. These lawyers are now facing immense pressure and making huge sacrifices, making it increasingly more difficult to defend human rights in China. The plight of Chinese human rights lawyers is in desperate need of international awareness and action.