China Set to Prosecute Top Lawyer Amid Ongoing Crackdown

Lawyers' Wives, Attorneys Released After Street Protest in China's Tianjin A screen shot from the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group's Facebook page showing detained family members and attorneys, June 7, 2016.

Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin have moved to prosecute the head of a top Beijing law firm on subversion charges amid a nationwide crackdown on the country's human rights lawyers.

Tianjin police have passed the case of Zhou Shifeng, the detained head of the Beijing Fengrui law firm, to state prosecutors in the city, fellow rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan told RFA on Monday.

"His family told me this, and they were told by the lawyer appointed for him by the Tianjin authorities, so this is reliable information," Liu said.

Zhou is charged with "subversion of state power" which 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 on the lesser charge of "incitement to subvert state power."

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.

Suspected torture, abuse

Dozens of Chinese lawyers have hit out at the ruling Chinese Communist Party 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.

Zhao Wei, also known by her nickname Kaola, was working as an assistant to top Beijing rights lawyer Li Heping at the time of her detention that started when several employees of the Fengrui law firm were detained on the night of July 9, 2015.

Zhao is being held in the police-run Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power."

Her husband You Minglei said he is concerned for his wife's safety.

"It does happen to dissidents, this sort of thing; [activists] Guo Feixiong and Gao Zhisheng were beaten up in jail, so I think there is a likelihood that she has already been beaten, humiliated, and sexually abused," he said.

A lawyer appointed for Zhao Wei by the Tianjin authorities, Dong Yanan, has repeatedly declined to answer requests for information about his client's well-being.

No news on cases

Ren Quanping, a lawyer hired by Zhao's family to represent her, and who has been denied official recognition as her attorney, said there is little news on the status of any of the other detained lawyers.

"There's no news [about the others]," Ren said on Monday. "The news about Zhou Shifeng only came out via his family."

"There are others whose cases have been mentioned by prosecutors, but it's not clear whether their cases are formally with the prosecution or not."

"We have been worried about them for some time, because they've all been held for nearly a year now, and we've heard almost nothing about their cases here on the outside," Ren said.

Meanwhile, detained rights lawyer Xia Lin, whose clients have included dissident artist Ai Weiwei, will stand trial on fraud charges in Beijing on Friday, his lawyer told RFA.

"We have argued all along that he is not guilty throughout the investigation by the prosecution service, and we will continue to do so [in court]," Ding Xikui said on Monday.

"We believe that he is innocent ... as do his family."

He said Xia is unlikely to receive a fair trial, however.

"The authorities don't play by the rules of the game, and they have failed to implement the rule of law," Ding said. "But if they sentence him, there's nothing we can do about it."

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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