Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin will prosecute the head of a top Beijing law firm and three legal activists on charges of “subverting state power,” the state prosecutor in Tianjin said on an official blog on Friday.
Zhou Shifeng, the detained head of the Beijing Fengrui law firm at the center of the sweeping crackdown on human rights defenders that began on July 9, 2015, and activists Hu Shigen, Cui Yanmin and Gou Hongguo will be prosecuted on subversion charges, according to the official blog of the Tianjin People's Procuratorate, Second Branch.
The charge of "subversion of state power" carries a minimum jail term of 10 years in cases where the person is judged to have played a leading role. China’s best-known political prisoner, Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is currently serving a 13-year sentence on the lesser charge of "incitement to subvert state power."
Wang Xiaoguang, former defense lawyer for Zhou whom authorities claim was fired by his client, said he has maintained contact with Zhou’s family and will help them to handle some legal issues.
“Zhou Shifeng’s family has sent me some information and it is not good to disclose it now. This is not the right time to take over this case. It depends if the trial will go public. Then we will know the details of the case,” he told RFA’s Cantonese Service.
The Tianjin prosecutor’s blog post did not mention a trial date.
Gou Hongguo’s defense lawyer, Ji Zhongjie, who was also told by Tianjin police that his client had fired him, said he will still try to work on the case.
“We only learned the news from the media. We were hired (by his family) but have never been able to work on the case,” Ji told RFA.
He added, however: “Definitely, we will work on the case. We still have the contract and they never withdraw it.”
Legal defense denied
China has detained, questioned, or otherwise placed restrictions on at least 319 lawyers, law firm staff, human right activists, and family members since the July 9 crackdown began, according to a Hong Kong-based rights group.
At least 23 remain in criminal detention or formal arrest on subversion, state security, or public order charges, while others have been banned from leaving the country or placed under house arrest or other forms of surveillance, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group said on its website.
Dozens of Chinese lawyers have hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which controls police and courts, for refusing to allow the detained lawyers access to attorneys hired by their families, amid unconfirmed reports that some have been subjected to torture and abuse in detention.
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 widened to include the detention and interrogation of some 319 lawyers, paralegals, law firm employees and rights activists.
Reporting by RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated by Wong Lok-to. Written in English by Paul Eckert.