Chinese Rights Lawyer Li Chunfu Mentally Disturbed and Physically Ruined After Abuse in Custody

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Li Chunfu (李春富) is a human rights lawyer and the younger brother of the well-known rights lawyer Li Heping (李和平). On August 1, 2015, he was taken into custody (less than a month after his brother was also detained on July 10) and put under residential surveillance for six months. In January 2016 he was formally arrested on charges of “subversion of state power.” On January 5, 2017, he was granted China’s version of bail awaiting trial, and on January 12 returned home by police. Following is the first report by Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), Li Heping’s wife, of the homecoming. We know from multiple cases of personal testimony, both published and privately relayed, that the 709 detainees have been subjected to extreme torture in custody. Given the mental and physical condition Li Chunfu was left in after nearly 18 months in police custody, we urge the international human rights community to immediately begin an investigation into the extreme abuse that Li Chunfu, Li Heping, Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang, and others targeted in the 709 arrests have suffered. — The Editors

Wang Qiaoling-Li Chunfu

Li Chunfu hugs tearful sister-in-law Wang Qiaoling.

When the human rights lawyer Li Chunfu was delivered to the front doorstep of his family home in Beijing at 5:00 p.m. on January 12, his wife was stunned by what she saw: Li’s body was emaciated, his complexion wan, his eyes lifeless — like he’d just aged to a 60-year-old-man.

The police told Li’s wife that he was being released on “bail,” then turned on his heel and left. But Li stood, hovering at the door, refusing to enter. His wife began to weep.

When she tried to pull him in by the hand, he was terrified and pulled away. Relatives who lived nearby heard that he’d been dropped off and rushed over, but rather than greet them Li became agitated and upset, jumping up and pushing them away, yelling “Get out of here! Danger!” Friends and family could do nothing but back away and sit at a distance from him.

Today (January 13), Li is still in a state of terror and confusion. When he saw his wife making a phone call, he shot his arm out and gripped her tight around the neck, growling: “Who are you calling?! You want to harm me!” As he yelled, he dug his fingers in, strangling her. Luckily, a relative was there and took control of the situation, pulling him away.

Li’s relatives can’t bear it and called his sister-in-law, Wang Qiaoling, to explain the situation. The security police (国保) had warned Li’s wife that she was allowed no contact with Wang Qiaoling, or else Li would be taken away again.

Our hearts were seized when we heard that Li Chunfu was in this state. And now what about Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) — are you still alive?

Signed: Family members of 709 victims
Wang Qiaoling (wife of Li Heping)
Li Wenzu (李文足, wife of Wang Quanzhang)


Addendum: The Story of Li Chunfu

The following is note written by Wang Qiaoling, the wife of Li Heping, in August 2015, and posted to a number of dissident websites. It narrates Li Chunfu’s journey from a village boy who wasn’t able to finish high-school due to poverty, to a rights lawyer. — The Editors

Li ChunfuActually, the most inspiring story from the Li brothers isn’t Li Heping, but his younger brother Li Chunfu.

Heping’s family was poverty-stricken. After we got married in his hometown, there was no mattress on the bed — instead, we laid a coarse sheet atop rice straw and slept on that.

Years earlier, Heping was in the first year of college and Chunfu was entering his third year of middle-school — but the family couldn’t afford tuition for them both. Chunfu, despite his excellent grades, was the one who had to sacrifice. My mother-in-law once told me that Chunfu lay on his bed for a few days, but in the end simply accepted the reality, got up, and headed south to work and earn money to support the family and his older brother.

His experience was harsh and unforgiving — he once slept in a cemetery, often went hungry, got stabbed in the stomach, had his wages held back, and went through all the typical experiences of the hapless, downtrodden migrant workers. One day in a factory he saw a work demonstration by one of the technicians, and was mesmerized: he decided that he also wanted to do that. Diligent and keen on learning, he eventually became the head of the technical team.

He eventually saved up about 10,000 yuan. The year was 1998. His plan was to go back to the village and build a house. But his brother Heping told him to forget it, encouraging him to use the money to study toward a degree. He recommended studying for the bar and become a lawyer.

Chunfu was struck by the idea, and in 1999 decided to take the biggest risk of his life. He moved to the provincial capital of Henan, Zhengzhou, hired a small flat next to Zhengzhou University, and began a regime of self-study in the law. It was a process of six years of gritty perseverance and countless setbacks, economic as well as academic.

Few expected that he would be able to persevere to the end. Those six years he withstood, to finally triumph in the end, led the whole family to look upon Chunfu with renewed respect and admiration. Another consequence of the grueling years of study to obtain his law license, however, was obvious: it seemed that he’d aged far more than a mere six years. His hair started to go grey and fall out, and what should have been the head of hair of a 30-year-old started to look like that of an old man.

In 2005 Chunfu went through a series of exams for a position of judge in the Zhengzhou court system, which he passed smoothly. But before he went for the interviews, a lawyer friend* urged him not to do it, describing the broad picture of China’s legal field and the pivotal role of attorneys in bringing about the rule of law. Chunfu was convinced and abandoned the idea of being a judge — but in hindsight, perhaps the two of them were too hopeful about the prospects of the rule of law in China and the place of lawyers in it.

I remember that it was also in 2005 that Chunfu formally started practicing law. He cherished every case that came his way. A few days ago I told my son that “If one day it gets so bad in China that people can’t even go to school, don’t give up: we can study ourselves. Uncle Chunfu is a case in point!”

*The lawyer who talked Chunfu out of being a judge was Jiang Tianyong. Jiang was disappeared in the evening of November 21, 2016; he is in the custody of Chinese public security personnel and has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”