Today I was starkly reminded how privileged I am to be able to do my job without threat of reprisal. Having received a request for intervention from the China Human Rights Concern Group, I drafted a letter to the Chinese authorities on behalf of the Law Society expressing concern about the human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang. Mr Wang has been detained incommunicado for two years, without access to his lawyers or contact with his family. He was arrested as part of the “709 Crackdown” in which 300 human rights lawyers and activists were rounded up and interrogated. Mr Wang is one of a handful who remain in detention. He has reportedly been subject to torture, and his family have been harassed in an effort to force him to capitulate.
The Law Society’s International Action Team sends letters to foreign governments in cases where lawyers face threats. The draft text of the letter to the Chinese authorities with regard to Mr Wang is here:
The Law Society is the professional body representing more than 166,000 solicitors in England and Wales. Its concerns include upholding the independence of the legal profession, the rule of law and human rights throughout the world.
The Law Society is deeply concerned about the status of human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been incommunicado since 2015.
In July 2015, police rounded up and interrogated about 300 human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists across the country. As a result of this crackdown, Mr Wang was forced into hiding and lost contact with his family and friends. After intercepting a communication between Mr Wang and a friend, in August 2015 Beijing police located and detained Mr Wang. He was formally arrested on 8 January 2016 for the alleged crime of “subverting state power.” He has been detained since then, reportedly in the Tianjin 2 Detention Centre, although his family have had no formal notifications of his status since his arrest. He was indicted on 14 February 2017. As of the date of writing, his family have not heard from him at all.
There are reports that Wang was tortured with electric shocks in detention. In January 2017, the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group received information that Mr Wang had been badly tortured during the period of “residential surveillance at designated location”, believed to have taken place between August 2015 and January2016.
Throughout his detention, the authorities have repeatedly denied Mr Wang access to his lawyers, stating that his alleged crime was related to “national security”. The investigation is now completed and Mr Wang is awaiting trial, but he is still being denied access to his lawyers. This is contrary to the provisions of the Chinese Criminal Procedural Law.
Further, Mr Wang’s lawyers themselves have been the targets of harassment and persecution. Lawyers Li Zhongwei, Xi Xiangdon and Wang Qiushi were forced to withdraw from the case. Judicial authorities have not allowed lawyer Yu Wensheng to pass China’s annual lawyers’ evaluation, effectively disbarring him. Mr Yu was dismissed by his law firm as a result of the pressure exerted by the Judicial Bureau.
The lawyers have submitted numerous requests and applications to meet with Mr Wang, all of which have been rejected, sometimes without giving a reason. The only reason that has been given is that such a meeting might obstruct the investigation. The investigation is now complete, meaning these requests should be granted.
On 9 August 2016 and 27 February 2017, Yu Wensheng visited Tianjin 2 Detention Centre to repeat his request to meet with Mr Wang. He was told that Mr Wang had decided to dismiss all his defence lawyers, whether state- or family-appointed. Mr Yu demanded a meeting with Mr Wang to confirm that this is the case, in accordance with Article 8 of the Provisions on Ensuring the Practice Rights of Lawyers in Accordance with Law (2015). This demand was also rejected.
Mr Wang’s lawyers have requested access to his case file in accordance with Article 38 of the Criminal Procedure Law, all of which have been rejected.
Authorities have also been continually harassing Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, for advocating for her husband’s release. She has been interrogated on several occasions and put under house arrest for 15 days. She has been forcibly evicted from her rental homes after her landlords were intimidated by the police, and she has been followed around her neighbourhood by security officers. Her family and Mr Wang’s family have been visited by police. Mr Wang and Ms Li’s son was also denied enrolment in local kindergartens in Beijing. Despite this harassment, Ms Li has diligently exhausted all legal means of obtaining access to Mr Wang and his case details, none of which have been successful.
Ms Li issued a statement on 25 July 2017 which noted that she had been approached by two state-appointed lawyers seeking her consent to represent Mr Wang. She made clear that she had already appointed lawyers and had no intention to appoint either of the state-appointed lawyers. One of these state-appointed lawyers responded to deny that he was state-appointed but admitting that Mr Wang had not agreed to sign the Lawyer Entrustment Form.
China is a member of the United Nations since 1945. We respectfully draw your attention to the following rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
China is a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which provides:
Article 1: Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
Article 2: No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
Article 3: An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
We note that China has signed, but not yet ratified, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides:
Article 7: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 9.1: Everyone has the right to liberty and security of the person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
Article 10.1: All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
We also call your attention to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the United Nations in 1990, which provide:
Principle 1: All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.
Principle 7: Governments shall further ensure that all persons arrested or detained, with or without criminal charge, shall have prompt access to a lawyer, and in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of arrest or detention.
Principle 8: All arrested, detained or imprisoned persons shall be provided with adequate opportunities, time and facilities to be visited by and to communicate and consult with a lawyer, without delay, interception or censorship and in full confidentiality. Such consultations may be within sight, but not within the hearing, of law enforcement officials.
Principle 16: Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.
Principle 19: No court or administrative authority before whom the right to counsel is recognized shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it for his or her client unless that lawyer has been disqualified in accordance with national law and practice and in conformity with these principles.
Principle 21: It is the duty of the competent authorities to ensure lawyers access to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or control in sufficient time to enable lawyers to provide effective legal assistance to their clients. Such access should be provided at the earliest appropriate time.
Finally, we note that the Criminal Procedure Law lacks clear provisions relating to choosing a lawyer, which we regard as a serious flaw in domestic legislation that ought to be addressed forthwith.
The Law Society respectfully urges you to ensure that the relevant authorities:
- Immediately cease all unwarranted interference with Wang Quanzhang’s and his family’s choice of lawyers;
- Immediately arrange for Mr Wang’s chosen lawyers to meet with him;
- Investigate all instances of malfeasance and abuse of powers by any law enforcement officer and bodies, and hold legally accountable those responsible;
- Respect due process and abide by its domestic law and by the international obligations it has as a member of the United Nations and as a state party to the many international human rights conventions that it has signed and ratified;
- In this regard, ensure respect for the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular that lawyers can perform their professional duties without any intimidation, harassment or unwarranted interference;
- Also in this regard, consider ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Law Society will continue to monitor the situation of Wang Quanzhang as well as other lawyers and human rights defenders in China who are in any way hindered in carrying out their professional duties.