Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin released the relatives and attorneys of several jailed human rights lawyers after police there held them overnight following a street demonstration protesting the human rights attorneys’ continued detention.
Police detained eight family members and lawyers who held orange buckets printed with slogans outside the Guijiasi police station in Tianjin on Monday, in a protest over the detention of rights lawyers that began in Beijing on July 9, 2015, according to a Hong Kong-based rights group.
Wang Qiaoling, wife of detained lawyer Li Heping; Li Wenzu, wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang; Lu Xiaoqing, wife of detained lawyer Huo Yanmin; and Fan Lili, wife of detained lawyer Ge Ping were then detained as they stood outside court buildings on Monday after their husbands were denied access to their defense attorneys.
'Waiting for you'
The women carried buckets painted with slogans like "Cui, I'm waiting for you!" "Quanzhang, I believe in you!" and "Heping, I'm on your side!”
Defense attorneys Cai Ying, Wen Donghai, Wang Lei and Ji Zhongjiu were with the women, and were also detained near the Tianjin municipal prosecutor's office and the Tianjing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court.
The group was held briefly before being released after repeated lobbying from fellow lawyers Li Yuhan, Lu Zhoubin, Liang Xiaojun, Cheng Hai, Lu Tingge and Huang Hanzhong, the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said on its Facebook page.
It said the four defense lawyers and three family members of the July 9 crackdown [detainees] and a photographer had all left the custody of Tianjin police by Tuesday morning.
The group said that the fate of the four lawyers and one of the protesters is currently uncertain, as they were handed over to state security police from their hometowns who were tasked with escorting them home.
Protesters and petitioners detained away from home often face surveillance, further detention or house arrest on their return, activists have told RFA.
Fan Lili said she had arrived late at the protest, and that the others had already been detained.
"[These lawyers have been detained] for nearly 11 months now, and yet their cases haven't been transferred to the prosecution office," Fan told RFA after arriving back home on Tuesday.
"They won't allow their lawyers to visit them, so we went there to show support for our loved ones, because we want them to come home," she said.
She said she hadn't witnessed the detentions first hand.
"I was stuck in traffic, and by the time I got there, I couldn't see any of the others," Fan said. "So I started calling them, but I couldn't get through."
"Later, I drove back to the courtroom, but I was stopped by the state security police, who told me to go home immediately, so I did."
Calls to the cell phones of Wang Qiaoling and Li Wenzu resulted in switched-off messages, while calls to the Guajiasi police station rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
The protest came amid growing concern for Li Heping's detained legal assistant Zhao Wei, as unconfirmed reports circulated indicating that she may have been subjected to sexual abuse in the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center, where she is being held on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power."
Zhao's lawyer Ren Quanniu said he had made renewed attempts last Friday to arrange a meeting with his client, but to no avail.
"It was the same as last time; they said she has appointed another lawyer," Ren said, adding that he had filed a complaint with the prosecutor's office in Tianjin"My complaint called for an independent inquiry to find out the truth, and it called on them to set up a criminal investigation ... and to make the results public."
After the detention of top rights attorney Wang Yu, her husband Bao Longjun, and their colleagues at the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm on the night of July 9, 2015, police launched a nationwide operation targeting hundreds rights lawyers and activists nationwide.
Wang is being charged with the more serious charge of "subversion of state power," while Bao's arrest is for the lesser charge of "incitement to subvert state power."
Incitement to subvert state power carries a maximum jail term of five years in less serious cases, and a minimum jail term of five years in cases deemed more serious, or where the suspect is regarded as a "ringleader."
"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. Jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is currently serving a 13-year sentence for "incitement to subvert state power."
The activists arrested alongside the lawyers are typically people who participated in activities like staging small protests, complaining to the government about abuses, or helping human rights groups gather information, usually in their local community, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Around 1,000 lawyers signed a statement this week condemning an attack on Guangxi lawyer Wu Liangshu, who says he was assaulted by police officers at a district court in Nanning after he refused to hand over his cell phone for inspection.
Qingxiu district court police demanded Wu give them the phone, accusing him of having used it to record a conversation during a dispute with court officials.
"The violent assault and search of this lawyer seriously damages the rights of attorneys," said the statement posted online on Sunday evening."If they treat a professional with violence and barbarism, imagine how they deal with civilians.
Wu, who denies having made any recordings, told RFA in an interview on Tuesday that China's public servants regularly act with impunity.
"Public servants are a law unto themselves, and fear nothing and nobody," he said. "That's why they are so afraid that details of their behavior will be made public."
"They basically have the attitude that everyone has to do as they say because they are officials, and that you have to obey their every command if you are on their turf,” he said.
Reported by Yang Fan and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.