A group of lawyers detained by authorities in the Chinese capital after they showed up at a professional disciplinary hearing in support of a colleague is suing a police district for "unlawful detention."
The nine attorneys had tried to sit in on the hearing during which human rights lawyer Cheng Hai was deprived of his license to practice for one year, but were detained for more than 10 hours after arguing with security guards.
"We are lodging a criminal complaint as victims of a crime against the police who broke the law," Zhang Lei, one of the group, told RFA on Tuesday.
"We are basing our case on the Criminal Appeals Law under which anyone whose rights have been violated has the right to make a complaint of criminal responsibility against those who violated them," he said.
"We have already filed the papers at the Beijing municipal prosecutor's office, as well as to higher supervisory authorities," Zhang said.
Cheng's hearing took place on Sept. 5, drawing dozens of his colleagues and supporters to the justice bureau in Changping county, a suburb to the north of Beijing.
Some were presenting themselves as witnesses, while others planned to sit in the public gallery.
Instead, police refused them entry, detained nine lawyers including Zhang, Wang Yu, Chen Jiangang and Wang Xin for some 14 hours.
The criminal complaint names six people, including the head of the Changping county police department and the county state security police bureau chief and his deputies, as well as officers present during the confrontation.
Cheng's hearing had been declared open to the public by the Changping police bureau, Zhang said.
The lawyers were "unlawfully detained" by Changping police and "forcibly dragged" back to the Longguan police station near the Ming Tombs.
Police then unlawfully deprived the detainees of their freedom, confiscating their personal belongings and measuring their height and weight and taking samples of their DNA without their consent, the complaint said.
"This was a very serious criminal act on the part of the police," Zhang said. "It carries a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment."
Wang Xin, who was also among those detained, said the lawyers were verbally accused of "breach of the peace" by police at the time.
"They didn't go through any procedures on paper," Wang said. "I explained to them in detail that I was at the hearing as a witness, and I told every police officer I spoke to this very clearly."
"They didn't try to deny that I was a witness, but they wouldn't let me leave," he said. "They deprived me of my freedom from 10 a.m. to midnight with no clear explanation given."
The lawyers said the charges of "disturbing public order in a place of work" are a travesty of legal procedure and an abuse of police powers.
But Wang said he didn't think their case had much chance of success.
"It'll be very difficult to win because their actions were highly coordinated,” he said. “But we must do this. We still have to try."
Fellow plaintiff Chen Jiangang agreed.
"But it doesn't matter whether they accept the case or not,” he said. “We are bringing it as victims, whose human rights have been blatantly trampled underfoot."
"There is no curb on the powers of the police, who can lock someone up in the police station whenever they like for a few hours or a few days," Chen said.
But he said the actions of Sept. 5 were likely planned and coordinated, rather than a decision made by a handful of local officers on the spur of the moment.
"Everything's linked together,” he said. “It's all of a piece like a franchise of stores, based on orders from above. The law enforcers themselves break the law."
China's embattled legal professionals say they are being increasingly targeted by official harassment, detention and beatings for speaking out on human rights issues or defending politically sensitive clients.
According to Wang Yu, most of the criminal justice system still fails to implement legal procedure correctly on a daily basis.
"It's very rare to find that they have followed the law to the letter at every step, in every case," she told RFA.
"We lawyers have to try to make it happen with every fresh case, but even though it's tough, we still have to keep doing it."
Public interest law firms often struggle to renew their business licenses, although rights groups say there is little purpose to the annual licensing scheme for lawyers and law firms, besides the exertion of state control over lawyers.
New rules introduced in recent years ban lawyers from defending certain clients and leave them vulnerable to being charged themselves with subversion if they defend sensitive cases.
Of more than 204,000 lawyers in China, only a few hundred risk taking on cases that deal with human rights, particularly when linked to the rights of Falun Gong followers, according to Amnesty International.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.