Updated: Eight activist lawyers detained in Sichuan over 'illegal jail' have been released

Seven had been arrested over an attempted visit to a detention centre and one was part of a rescue group that arrived later

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 9:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Eight prominent lawyers, who have been arbitrarily detained in Sichuan province on Monday, have been released from police custody. Seven of them tried to visit a detention centre; the eighth was part of a rescue group that arrived later.

The seven detained lawyers had attempted to visit an "illegal" detention centre in Ziyang. Later that day a separate group of four lawyers arrived to try to rescue them, but they were also detained.

Three in the later group had been released early, but police in Ziyang kept the fourth, Li Heping, in detention. By Tuesday morning, all had been released. 

"No explanation was given, and no charges have been put forward against them," Wen Haibo, a Beijing-based lawyer, said by phone on Tuesday. Wen had travelled with three other lawyers to negotiate the release of the original seven.

Li Heping was kept in detention because of critical posts he wrote on his microblog, Wen said, citing police.

"We were told yesterday [on Monday] that the three of us could leave," he said. "But the police station was crowded with plainclothes people. We thought if we left yesterday night, we wouldn't be safe, so we stayed until sunrise."

The seven lawyers from Beijing, Chongqing and Wuhan, including renowned activists Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, had gathered in Ziyang on Monday morning to raise awareness over what they say is an illegal detention facility in the prefecture-level city.

About 200 people are illegally detained at the Ziyang Legal Education Centre, said Liu Weiguo, a Beijing-based human rights lawyer, who was not part of either group but has been following the developments. 

The seven lawyers were arrested and detained by police within hours of their arrival. Via microblog posts and calls, they alerted Wen and the three other lawyers in provincial capital Chengdu some 100 kilometres to the north, who raced to Ziyang to negotiate their release.

When the four joined the group in detention at a police station in Yingjie, a town on the outskirts of Ziyang, in the early afternoon, three lawyers of the first group showed signs of beatings, Wen said.

Jiang, who has gained prominence defending people persecuted for religious motives, was limping. All three told Wen they had been beaten by uniformed policemen.

"The [seven] lawyers had travelled to Ziyang because local people had alerted them to an illegal jail there," said the lawyer Liu. "This detention centre has no legal basis and the detention of the lawyers constitutes yet another serious violation of the law."

Calls to the Yingjie police station and the Ziyang Legal Education Centre went unanswered on Tuesday.