The relatives of several prominent human rights lawyers detained since July 2015 are once more petitioning the Chinese government over the continuing persecution of their families ahead of National Day celebrations on Saturday.
A group of family members led by Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping, Li Wenzu, wife of Wang Quanzhang, Yuan Shanshan, wife of Xie Yanyi and Chen Guiqiu, wife of Xie Yang, issued an open letter to China’s highest prosecution body in its highest-profile campaign yet.
Accompanied by defense attorneys Yu Wenshen, Lin Qilei and Liu Rongsheng, the group said they had stepped up their campaign after being detained last June for 24 hours by police in Tianjin after they protested the prolonged detention of their husbands on subversion charges with no access to lawyers,
“On the eve of the Oct. 1, 2016 National Day celebrations, we are taking our complaint to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate,” the relatives wrote in a letter posted to the rights website Weiquanwang.
“Why are we being smeared in the official media? Why aren’t we allowed to hire lawyers … for our husbands?” the letter said.
“Is it illegal for us to lodge a complaint over this slander by the media? Why are we being called in [by police] for questioning over this?” it said.
The letter also questioned “whether our husbands have really committed the crime of subversion, or incitement to subversion.”
Police in Tianjin, which is handling the nationwide campaign against rights lawyers and their associates, detained eight family members and lawyers who held orange buckets printed with slogans outside Guijiasi police station in the city last June.
Fengrui law firm
They are all linked to detainees held in a crackdown launched on July 9, 2015 with the detention of lawyers from the Beijing Fengrui law firm.
“This group of relatives are all facing similar problems, which is why they went there together,” Lin Qilei told RFA on Thursday.
“The authorities in Tianjin have refused to allow any lawyer appointed by the family of [detained lawyer] Xie Yang to meet with him, nor will they allow them access to the case files,” Lin said.
“They have made official complaints against the Tianjin procuratorate and the Hunan provincial procuratorate, but to no avail, so now they are going to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate,” Lin said.
He said the families of the detained lawyers are also being targeted by the authorities.
“Some of the lawyers’ families are being told they can’t stay in their homes, and some of their children are being prevented from attending school,” Lin said.
“This has had a huge impact on the lives of their families.”
Maya Wang, China researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), called on the authorities to leave the families alone.
“[They should] stop putting pressure on their landlords, and allow them to carry on living where they are,” said Wang, whose report about the targeting of “diehard” rights lawyers by the administration of President Xi Jinping was published on Thursday.
“The way they are treating these families is a violation of China’s own laws, as well as being inhumane treatment,” she said.
Released but not free
According to Wang’s report, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has been systematically targeting the country’s human rights lawyers in the hope of silencing them for good.
“Courts have handed down harsh sentences against rights lawyers Xia Lin, Zhou Shifeng, and Tang Jingling, while continuing to detain five lawyers who were apprehended in a nationwide sweep in July 2015,” Wang wrote.
She said the government has also recently issued a new set of administrative measures that “aim to exert greater control over lawyers and law firms.”
More than 300 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and relatives were detained, questioned, or placed under surveillance or other restrictions since the crackdown began.
At least 16 remain in criminal detention on subversion charges, while four have been handed jail terms of up to seven years, according to the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.
Rights lawyer Chang Boyang, who represents Buddhist monk Wang Yun, said his client has been released on “bail” but remains under tight police surveillance, and isn’t free to resume normal life.
“It seems he’s still not really free,” Chang told RFA on Thursday. “He was allowed to meet with his family after getting out of detention, but after that he was followed and monitored everywhere he went.”
China on Thursday launched a five-year “action plan” for human rights, vowing to take a “people-centered” development approach, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It said Beijing would prioritize poverty relief and economic development, “as both the starting point and ultimate goal of China’s human rights work,” however.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.