Police in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang yesterday issued a statement accusing four lawyers of "disturbing social order", "shouting cult slogan"and practising without a legal license, after they were detained and allegedly beaten up by officials last month while representing members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong.
The detention of the lawyers and the beating of at least one of them have drawn the condemnation of fellow lawyers and legal experts from around the nation. One of the four lawyers, Zhang Junjie, was released last week with three broken ribs, which he said were the result of severe beating by police officers while he was in detention.
The other three lawyers, Jiang Tianyong, Wang Cheng and Tang Jitian, were still under detention and fellow lawyers fear they have also been subjected to police violence.
Zhang has insisted that he and his colleagues were investigating the illegal detention of Falun Gong members at a so-called "legal education centre" set up by local authorities in Jiansanjiang, a state-run forestry and farming community about 400 kilometres east of the provincial capital Harbin, and that accusations against the lawyers were fabricated.
The four lawyers had “incited and gathered 38 members of the Falun Gong cult and their relatives to create chaos, and shouted cult slogans to support the Falun Gong organisation” on March 20, according to a statement by the Jiansanjiang Public Security Bureau yesterday.
The police statement also accused the lawyers of using mobile communication tools to “fabricate facts, spread malicious speculations and to disturb social order”. Local police put 11 people, including the lawyers, on administrative detention between five to 15 days for "using cult activities to endanger society, it added.
Law experts have questioned the legal basis of the "legal education centres” - de-facto jails built by local authorities across China to lock up Falun Gong followers, petitioners and members of other religious groups without proper legal procedures.
The police statement also accused Jiang, Wang and Tang, the three lawyers still under detention, of not possessing lawyers' licences but having charging their clients fees ranging from 4,000 to 15,000 yuan.
Zhang declined to comment directly yesterday but referred a reporter to his Sina Weibo microblog. He wrote that the lawyers went to the "legal education centre" at Jiansanjiang with the relatives of detained Falun Gong followers to demand the authorities show them the legal documents for their detentions or release them. The authorities refused to let the lawyers visit the detainees.
He insisted the lawyers did not "incite and gather" a crowd and the people who were present on March 20 were mostly families of detained Falun Gong followers.
"I did not hear anyone shouting 'cult' slogan or supporting any organisation, they were all demanding an end to illegal detention and the immediate release (of their relatives)," Zhang wrote.
He wrote he was beaten by two policemen when he asked them to show their identification -- he earlier said he was slapped, beaten and kicked -- and then they used gestures to threaten to shoot him in the head. The authorities rejected his request for an examination of his injuries, then refused to give him water and food, he wrote.
Fellow human rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun, who had been to Jiansanjiang to investigate cases of detained Falun Gong members previously, said that Jiang, Wang and Tang were stripped of their lawyer licences by the authorities earlier because they had represented Falun Gong members or other sensitive cases. He added that any Chinese citizen can legally represent clients, even without a lawyer's licence.