Lawyer for Legal Assistant Zhao Wei is Detained Over Sexual Assault Rumors

china-zhouwei-june272016.jpg Detained legal assistant Zhou Wei is shown in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of New Citizens Movement

The lawyer for a Chinese legal assistant who was reported released last week has been detained for “spreading rumors” after he looked into reports his client was sexually assaulted during her year in detention.

Zhao Wei, 24, was working as an assistant to a top Beijing rights lawyer when she was swept up in a crackdown on human rights lawyers and defenders on July 9, 2015.

Zhao, who is also known by her online nickname Koala, was released on bail, according to a July 7 posting on the social media account of police in the northern city of Tianjin.

However, Zhao, who was held for nearly a year in the police-run Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," has not returned to her husband or her family since her reported release and her whereabouts are unknown.

A tweet from her account thanking her supporters and the “countless helpful and sincere uniformed police officers who worked on my case" aroused suspicions that the message was dictated, or even directly sent, by police.

Zhao's defense lawyer Ren Quanping, who wasn’t allowed to meet with her since her detention, was detained last week after he went to Tianjin police to investigate reports that she was sexually abused in detention.

"Ren Quanniu said his client Koala was sexually harassed on his Weibo account on May 27, and then the authorities charged him with spreading rumors,” lawyer Wu Kuiming told RFA’s Mandarin Service.

“Ren is Koala's attorney, he heard the internet rumors and he also received a lot of phone calls asking him about this matter. After he took Koala’s case, he had never seen his client, so he couldn’t verify the rumors,” he said.

“So Ren quickly went to Tianjin authorities, asking them to explain what happened. He also filed a complaint with the Bureau of Supervision in Tianjin. All he has done is within the scope of a lawyer, and this is not spreading rumors.”

No illegal behavior

While in custody, Ren was allowed to see his two lawyers, Chang Boyang and Zhang Junjie.

Chang told RFA’s Cantonese Service he held a one-hour meeting with Ren on Monday and found him in good spirits and firm on his innocence.

“He said he committed no crimes and did not behave in an illegal manner,’ said Chang.

“What he did is within the scope of his duties as a lawyer and did not cross any legal lines,” added Chang.  “He thinks this is revenge (from the authorities).”

Chang said he and other lawyers would investigate rumors that Zhao was sexually harassed.

Zhao's husband You Minglei has said he believes she has been sexually abused or mistreated to some degree while in detention, but said he doesn't know the exact circumstances.

The year-old crackdown on China's embattled legal profession comes amid a broader clampdown on rights activists and non-government organizations (NGOs) campaigning for social justice.

Raids that began on July 9 and 10, 2015 of Beijing’s Fengrui law firm, where Zhao worked as an assistant, widened to include the detention and interrogation of some 319 lawyers, paralegals, law firm employees and rights activists.

Reporting by RFA’s Cantonese Service and Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Chen Ping and Wong Lok-to. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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