Prominent Chinese human rights advocates to go on trial in Tianjin a year after sweeping crackdown
Supporters of other jailed lawyers and activists condemn secrecy around cases
A prominent mainland human rights lawyer whose firm was at the centre of last year’s massive government crackdown on rights activists is expected to stand trial in Tianjin this week on charges of subverting state power.
News also emerged on Monday that another prominent lawyer from the firm, Wang Yu, was released on bail, but it was unclear to what extent she was free.
Supporters of other jailed lawyers and activists condemned the secrecy surrounding the government’s year-long campaign against legal activism.
In a rare move, the Ministry of Public Security’s press office on Sunday invited the South China Morning Post to cover a four-day trial at the Tianjin No 2 Intermediate People’s Court starting on Tuesday. Three other Hong Kong-based media outlets are also understood to have been allowed to cover the hearings.
The ministry later confirmed the cases involved rights lawyer and director of Beijing-based Fengrui Law Firm Zhou Shifeng, and three other rights activists: Hu Shigen, Zhai Yanmin and Gou Hongguo. The Tianjin court is expected to hear Zhai’s case on the first day of the trial.
Widely known as the 709 crackdown, a massive campaign started on July 9 last year, resulting in the detention of some 300 human rights lawyers and activists, including Zhou and Wang.
Nearly two dozen are still in detention and face charges of varying severity.
Mainland state media previously accused the Fengrui firm’s lawyers and associated activists of disrupting social order by organising protests and stirring up trouble for personal gain. Rights groups say the activists are being targeted for organising protests and social media campaigns to raise awareness of legal rights and hot-button social issues.
Beijing-based human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong said the level of secrecy around the trials was unusual. In the past, high-profile dissidents such as writer Liu Xiaobo had family-appointed lawyers and relatives present at their trials.
“This is unprecedented ... a completely secret operation,” Jiang said. “From beginning to end, it’s a black box.”
Videos of an alleged confession by Wang posted on the websites of two Hong Kong media outlets in which she renounced her legal work and said “foreign forces” were using her law firm to undermine and discredit the central government.
Wen Donghai, a lawyer for Wang, said on Monday that he had learned from media reports that Wang had been released but had not seen her. Li Yuhan, another lawyer representing Wang, said Wang’s mother did not know of her release.
Detained Fengrui legal assistant Zhao Wei, 24, was released last month and claimed to the Post that she regretted her activism.
Zhao’s husband, You Minglei, said on Monday that he still knew nothing about his wife’s whereabouts.
“I earnestly want to know whether she is ... free,” he said.
After repeated calls on Monday to a number previously used to contact Zhao, a man answered only to hang up after being informed that a reporter was calling.
Meanwhile, flanked by Western diplomats, around two dozen supporters gathered outside the Tianjin court demanding information about the four. Supporters included Gou Hongguo’s wife, Fan Lili, who fell to the ground in tears after a confrontation with a plain-clothes police officer.
“My son is 16 months old now and he has never even met his father. How can you be like this? Let him come home,” Fan said.
Family members say they have not been permitted to visit the jailed lawyers and activists since they were taken away more than a year ago.
Additional reporting by Associated Press