Relatives and friends of fourteen human rights lawyers jailed during a nationwide police operation targeting the legal profession since July 9, 2015 have marked the second anniversary of the crackdown with fasts and placards, although some still don't know their loved ones' fate.
Li Wenzu, wife of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been detained incommunicado for 725 days, said her husband is being held in an unknown location with no access to visits from family or his lawyer.
"There has been no news whatsoever. When the lawyer tries to visit him, he is unable to do so," Li said. "Nothing has leaked to the outside world from inside, in spite of people following his case and calling for [his release]."
"All I have is a single piece of paper: his arrest notification," she said. "The thing I worry about most is the fact that a lot of the people detained in the July 9, 2015 crackdown have been subjected to brutal torture, and I worry that the same thing has happened to Wang Quanzhang."
Li Heping's wife Wang Qiaoling said the relatives of the detained lawyers had been forced to form a community of their own, as they have faced continual eviction and harassment from the authorities to prevent them from speaking out.
"Two years after July 9, 2015, apart from speaking out on behalf of our husbands, we have found friendship, and our children have found friendship," Wang said. "They have also learned a very valuable lesson about the difficulties that we face in life, and how we deal with them."
Xie Yanyi's wife Yuan Shanshan said many of the relatives of detained lawyers fasted on the anniversary.
"We have been fasting to mark the the anniversary of July 9," Yuan said. "As far as I know, more than 10 people have been doing this."
"Another way of marking it has been to hold up placards," she said. "The authorities, basically the judicial authorities, have told lawyers and law firms not to hold any activities marking the anniversary."
Veteran journalist Liu Hu said placard protests had been spotted in Hunan, and the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
"Also, we had lawyer He Wei refusing food in Chongqing, even though he was pretty skinny already," Liu said. "A lawyer surnamed Ma in Xinjiang and another in Shandong both did too."
"The authorities may be trying to clamp down on them, but they intend to mark it as a special day," he said.
At least 320 lawyers, law firm staff, human right activists and family members have been questioned, summoned, forbidden to leave the country, held under house arrest, residential surveillance, criminally detained, arrested or missing since the initial raid on the offices of the Beijing Fengrui law firm, the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said in a statement on its website.
'Politically motivated' charges
Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to drop what it said were "politically motivated" charges against the lawyers and activists still in custody.
"The Chinese government’s claims of respecting human rights become ever more absurd each day it holds these lawyers and activists in custody," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said.
"Jailing the very people who fight for the rule of law undermines progress toward the stable society the Communist Party claims to want," she said.
Li Heping and Wu Gan were put in handcuffs and shackles and linked by an iron chain that made them unable to stand up or lie straight, even while sleeping, HRW said.
Meanwhile, Gou Hongguo, Wu Gan, Li Heping, and legal assistant Zhao Wei reported being kept in solitary confinement and confined to their cells for several months.
And lawyers for Xie Yang detailed a litany of torture and abuse meted out to the detained lawyer by state security police, who punched and kicked him, blew smoke in his face, and forced him to sit in a fixed position for more than 20 hours at a time, it said.
It added that lawyer Li Chunfu had showed signs of severe mental trauma upon his release in January 2017 after 18 months of secret detention and torture.
'War on law'
The New York City Bar Association said the crackdown has amounted nothing less than a "war on law."
"[In a crackdown] unprecedented in its scale and severity, Chinese human rights lawyers and activists have been summoned for questioning, kidnapped by secret police, detained incommunicado in “black jails” and other prisons," the association said in a statement on its website.
"[They have been] humiliated, and subjected to marathon interrogation sessions and other forms of sadistic psychological and physical torture, including sleep deprivation, forced medication ... brutal beatings, electric shocks, prolonged submersion in water, death threats, and months of solitary confinement," it said.
"The harassment, intimidation, disappearance, detention, and prosecution of Chinese human rights lawyers undermine China’s legal reform and deter the development of a professional and independent bar," the statement said.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Dai Weisen for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.