CIVIL RIGHTS

Young Chinese legal assistant held in huge crackdown on rights activists released on bail

Zhao Wei was among lawyers and civil rights campaigners seized by the police last year

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2016, 2:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 July, 2016, 12:02am

A 24-year-old legal assistant arrested last year in a huge mainland crackdown on civil rights lawyers and activists was released on bail on Thursday.

Zhao Wei was released after “confessing to her crime” and had shown a good attitude, according to a statement from the public security bureau in Tianjin.

In May there were widespread concerns for the safety of Zhao after online rumours were posted suggesting she could have been subjected to sexual harassment while in detention.

Zhao was working as an assistant to Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Heping when she was arrested last July.

Zhao was one of the seven employees at the Beijing Fengrui law firm who were placed under investigation after police carried out a search the firm on July 10. She was later formally arrested for alleged involvement in “illegal activity”, the security bureau said.

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Li, who was also arrested last July, has been officially charged with subversion of state.

He has not been allowed to see a lawyer or meet his family members since his arrest.

More than 300 lawyers, legal assistants, activists, petitioners and their relatives were detained or questioned in the crackdown from last July to September across the mainland. The crackdown which drew criticism from human rights groups and legal organisations across the world.

Mainland lawyers described it as “the harshest clampdown targeting the legal sector since the founding of modern China”.

After her release, Zhao, who is known as “Koala”, posted a Weibo message saying: “The afternoon sunshine and the breath of free air is wonderful. I’m the Koala you have missed. I’m well.”

She thanked her relatives for their support and the policemen who “treated her like a family member ... I just want to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet and spend time with Mum and Dad.”

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After her release, her husband, You Minglei said: “I’m happy for her to get her freedom, but the feeling is mixed as there is still a long road ahead.”

When a suspect is released on bail on the mainland, he or she might still need to stand trial.

Wang Qiaoling, Li’s wife, said she was happy to learn Zhao had been released.

“Zhao was an assistant to my husband,” Wang said.

“Similarly, his brother, lawyer Li Chunfu, who is unrelated to the case or the firm, was arrested [last year]. We want to see more innocent people released, but the reality is uncertain.”

Ren Quanniu, Zhao’s defence lawyer, said it was still unclear whether she would be permitted to return home.