Human rights in China
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Chinese rights lawyer Wang Yu (left) disappeared on Thursday. More than 100 lawyers and activists, including Wang's colleague, Zhou Shifeng (right), have been caught up in a police crackdown. Photos: AFP, Weibo

Chinese police detain more than 100 lawyers and activists in weekend sweep

Police claim Beijing law firm was centre of criminal gang that seriously disturbed public order, according to state media report

More than 100 people were swept up in an unprecedented police crackdown on mainland human rights advocates on the weekend, with six – including four lawyers – criminally detained in what state media said was a nationwide operation to smash a “criminal gang”.

In an article on Sunday headlined “Uncovering the dark story of ‘rights defence’.”, spanning two-thirds of its second page, People’s Daily said the Ministry of Public Security launched the operation to “smash a major criminal gang that had used the Beijing Fengrui law firm as a platform since July 2012 to draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order”.

The article said the firm’s director Zhou Shifeng, his assistant Liu Sixin, lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Huang Liqun, Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were in criminal detention for “seriously violating the law”. It did not specify a charge. On the mainland, police can detain suspects for up to 37 days before prosecutors approve their formal arrests.

It said “the criminal gang” comprised Zhou, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Huang as well as Liu, Bao and high-profile activist Wu Gan, who masterminded many plots in the name of “rights defence, justice and public interest”. It accused them of “colluding with petitioners to disturb social order and to reach their goals with ulterior motives”.

Wu, an online activist nicknamed “Super Vulgar Butcher”, was formally arrested a week ago on charges of “inciting subversion” and “provoking trouble”. He also worked at Fengrui and Wang Yu was his defence lawyer.

People’s Daily said Wu was “a key player” in drawing a huge public outcry over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Xu Chunhe, by a policeman in Qingan, Heilongjiang , in May, offering 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) for any footage showing the incident. Other rights lawyers were accused of involvement. “These lawyers publicly challenged the court … and mobilised troublemakers to rally petitioners … outside the court,” it said. “They are the direct pushers.”

The six people criminally detained were among over 100 lawyers and rights advocates taken away, summoned or detained by police over the weekend. At least three law firms were also searched. Many of the detainees had signed a statement condemning Wang Yu’s  disappearance early on Thursday after her electricity was cut and her home broken into.

Late Saturday, lawyer Sui Muqing was put under “residential surveillance at a designated location” – a form of police detention that can last up to six months – for alleged “incitement to subvert state power”, according to a police document.

By 10pm Sunday, 106 people from 15 cities and provinces had been detained, summoned, questioned or were missing, said the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group. It said 82 had been released.

But of those released, at least three were taken away for a second time, said a lawyer, who declined to be named. The family of lawyer Li Fangping said he returned home late Saturday after having been questioned by police in Jiangxi province for three hours but police took him away again early the next morning. He was released again late on Sunday.

Lawyer Wang Cheng, who was released on Saturday after being questioned by police, had his home searched by police on Sunday, the same day that lawyer Li Jinxing was taken away for questioning, another released lawyer said.

Teng Biao, visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, said the Qingan incident was only a pretext for action against rights lawyers and activists, who have long been seen as a thorn in the side of the authorities. He said the crackdown on the lawyers made a mockery of the authorities’ claim to “rule the country by law”.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said the action showed the Ministry of Public Security’s interpretation of “disturbing public order” was ever-expanding. “That these lawyers are a ‘major criminal gang’ is a new and serious allegation, one that demonstrates the authorities’ willingness to warp the law beyond all recognition,” she said.


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: More lawyers held in crackdown