China’s Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers

8 July 2016, 10:00 UTC | China

Wang Yu and Bao Longjun

Wang Yu (left) and her husband Bao Longjun © Amnesty International 

Described as “courageous and fearless” by those who know her, prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu’s activism was triggered by a personal experience of injustice.

In 2008, Wang Yu was assaulted in the northern city of Tianjin for demanding to board a train for which she held a valid ticket. She lodged a police report but was subsequently imprisoned for two-and-a-half years. While jailed, she witnessed the mistreatment and torture of prisoners. This sparked a tireless career defending key human rights cases the Chinese government considered “sensitive”, including defending high profile Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti and taking on the case of human rights activist Cao Shunli who died in detention after being denied adequate medical help.     

Also a human rights advocate, Wang Yu’s husband Bao Longjun kickstarted his activism during her imprisonment working to secure her release. After Wang Yu’s release in 2011, both became active representing some of the most sensitive legal cases in China.

Both are being detained on charges relating to state security and denied access to lawyers and family members.

“She (Wang Yu) is the bravest and the most upright and selfless human right lawyer.”

Wang Quanping, lawyer

Wang Quanzhang

Wang Quanzhang is a lawyer at the Beijing Fengrui law firm and has defended human rights cases considered sensitive by the Chinese government, including practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement persecuted and outlawed in China. He has also taken up cases involving members of the New Citizens’ Movement, a loose network of grassroots activists that were persecuted beginning in 2014.

For representing such ‘pariah’ cases, he has seen his fair share of intimidation, including being expelled from a courtroom while representing Falun Gong clients and being beaten by police.

On 10 July last year, he was taken away by security officers during a roundup of Beijing Fengrui staff. He was placed under residential surveillance and subsequently formally arrested in January this year on the charge of “subverting state power”. Like Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, he has been denied access to lawyers and family members since being detained.  


“(For the past half year, we have fruitlessly explored all legal channels in search of a remedy.) It’s so easy for you (Chinese authorities) to create an unjust case; for us to pursue this through legal channels is like trying to ascend to the heavens.”

Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang

Li Heping

A lawyer with Beijing Global Law Firm, Li Heping has, like many of those affected in China’s crackdown, accepted cases considered sensitive and which many would not touch in mainland China. This has included defending Christians, Falun Gong adherents, well-known dissident and human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng and blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

For his work in human rights, he has been recognized by the U.S. Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. He too was caught up in last year’s widespread sweep. Placed under residential surveillance after being taken away on 10 July, he was formally arrested on 8 January this year. A month after his arrest, Li Heping’s attorneys were informed that he dismissed them, although they have been unable to verify this with him personally.

“He’s no hero, he’s just an ordinary person. What exactly has he done? While the whole of China’s judicial system is dealing in the lives of ordinary citizens, he chose to say “no”.”

Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping

Zhao Wei

Harbouring a desire to help the vulnerable, 25-year-old Zhao Wei got involved in campaigning on social issues while a journalism student in eastern China. Her blossoming interest in human rights issues in China spurred her to join Beijing Global Law Firm after graduation and she worked as a legal assistant to detained human rights lawyer Li Heping.

She was detained by Chinese authorities on 10 July last year, the same day Li Heping was taken away, and was formally arrested on 8 January on the charge of “subverting state power”. Since then, Chinese authorities have attempted to obstruct Zhao Wei’s lawyer from carrying out his work. Requests made by her lawyer and family to prison authorities to investigate reports that Zhao Wei could have been sexually harassed in detention have also gone unanswered.

“She has no army, neither is she calling for an insurrection. At most, she’d made some remarks about freedom of speech, how can this be subverting state power?”

Ren Quanniu, Zhao Wei’s lawyer

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