8 Years Since Nationwide Suppression, Persecution Continues for China’s Rights Lawyers

By Sophia Lam
Sophia Lam
Sophia Lam
Sophia Lam joined The Epoch Times in 2021 and covers China-related topics.
July 18, 2023Updated: July 18, 2023

July 9 marks the eighth anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) suppression of human rights lawyers in China. To this day, they continue to be persecuted, according to Chinese lawyers who recently spoke with The Epoch Times.

In 2015, the CCP launched a nationwide campaign to persecute human rights lawyers, activists, and their families. The regime arrested over 300 lawyers and activists on July 9 that year, later known as the “709 Crackdown,” or “709” for short.

The human rights lawyers and activists who were detained by authorities have been constantly stalked, monitored, harassed, threatened, and evicted since they were released from prison.

In Hong Kong—once a beacon of freedom for Chinese people—pro-democracy barristers and politicians have been suppressed since Beijing’s National Security Law was implemented.

China’s Human Rights Situation ‘Even Worse’

“Since the 709 Crackdown, the CCP’s judicial retrogression has become even more severe, and coupled with the economic decline, the [human rights] environment has become even worse,” said Tian Liang (pseudonym), a rights lawyer representing lawyers who were suppressed during the 709 incident. Mr. Tian uses an alias for safety concerns.

Epoch Times Photo
Wang Quanzhang with his wife, Li Wenzu, and their son. A human rights lawyer, Wang was detained in China without trial in August 2015. (Courtesy of Li Wenzu)

The targeted human rights lawyers have been representing many cases involving political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong practitioners.

“In a Chinese court, especially when representing faith and human rights cases, such as those of Falun Gong adherents and people who are allegedly involved in so-called subversion of state power, we are basically not allowed to make an innocence defense for our clients,” said Mr. Tian.

“Although there is no document explicitly stating this, the Judicial Bureau, the Lawyers Association, and the judges of the court warn us of this kind of restriction before the court hearing,” he added.

Chen Jiangang, a human rights lawyer now living in the United States, told the publication on July 8 that the suppression of rights lawyers reveals the true nature of the CCP.

“The CCP violates human rights, while lawyers protect human rights. There is a contradiction between the two, which is irreconcilable,” Mr. Chen said.

As long as the CCP remains in power, rights lawyers will be the enemy of the CCP, he added.

Lawyers for Lawyers, a Dutch nongovernmental organization (NGO), claims that the past three months saw “severe harassment against released human rights lawyers” in China and that the new wave of suppression is known as the “709 crackdown 2.0.”

Persecution Continues

Several Chinese human rights lawyers and their families have been subjected to inhumane treatment by the authorities since the suppression began.

Wang Quanzhang and his family were forced to move 13 times in Beijing in the past two months, and their home was cut off from electricity, gas, and water.

Mr. Wang has defended local activists, victims of government land grab, and adherents of the persecuted spiritual belief of Falun Gong. He was arrested in the 709 incident in 2015. In January 2019, he was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for “subversion of state power”—a catch-all charge Beijing often uses against dissidents.

Li Heping, one of the prominent rights lawyers arrested in the 709 incident and charged with “subversion of state power,” was severely tortured in prison. Mr. Li was released on May 9, 2017, and his family was forced to leave Beijing after being subjected to numerous evictions.

On June 9, Mr. Li, along with his wife and daughter, were intercepted at Chengdu’s Tianfu Airport by border police, who restrained them from leaving the country on the grounds that he might “endanger national security.”

Xie Yanyi, who was detained for 18 months following the nationwide suppression in 2015, was also forced to relocate several times. In July 2022, his 6-year-old daughter, who was of school age, was refused admission because her family lived in a rental residence and she was not a permanent resident of Beijing.

Epoch Times Photo
Lawyer Xie Yang (center) accompanied his client Xu Yan (right), wife of human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng, are trying to meet with Yu in person outside the Xuzhou Intermediate Court in Xuzhou, in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, on Oct. 31, 2019. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

Xie Yang was arrested for a second time in 2022 and detained for over a year. Mr. Xie was not allowed to visit his 92-year-old father when he became critically ill last month. Moreover, his family’s request for a video call was rejected by the court.

Mr. Xie was previously arrested on July 11, 2015, and released on bail on May 8, 2017, according to Front Line Defenders, a human rights organization based in Dublin, Ireland.

On April 13, Beijing police arrested Yu Wensheng, a human rights lawyer, and his wife Xu Yan, who were on their way to meet the European Union delegation in China.

Yu and Xu were criminally charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Their teenage son was monitored by the police at home, and two lawyers—Song Yusheng and Peng Jian—were intercepted by plainclothes police when the lawyers attempted to sign a legal document with the boy to represent the couple.

Gao Zhisheng, known as “China’s conscience,” disappeared from his home in Yulin, Shaanxi Province, on Aug. 13, 2017. His whereabouts and status remain unknown.

In addition to the victims of the 709 suppression, Xu Zhiyong, a renowned legal scholar, and Ding Jiaxi, a rights lawyer, were sentenced to 14 years and 12 years in prison, respectively, on April 10.

‘709 Human Rights Lawyer Award’

The annual China Human Rights Lawyer Award was renamed the “709 Human Rights Lawyer Award” this year to recognize not only human rights lawyers in China but also lawyers in Hong Kong and elsewhere who have been persecuted.

The award was initiated in 2016 by multiple international human rights groups, including U.K.-based The 29 Principles, U.S.-based Human Rights in China, Taiwan-based Judicial Reform Foundation, and other NGOs.

The winners of this year’s award include Yu Wensheng, Zhou Shifeng, who is still under surveillance after his release, and Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, a Hong Kong barrister and former vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, who is still in prison.

Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Democratic Patriotic Movements of China (the Alliance), poses after an interview in Hong Kong on May 24, 2021. (Vincent Yu/AP Photo)

Despite repeated condemnations by Western governments of the CCP’s persecution of human rights lawyers and dissidents, Beijing has defended its actions by saying that these issues are part of China’s “internal affairs.”

Lawyers’ Perseverance Is ‘Very Meaningful’

Despite the challenges the lawyers face in defending human rights under the CCP’s totalitarian rule, their perseverance has been “very meaningful in at least three aspects,” according to lawyer Chen Jiangang, who exposed the torture of Xie Yang. Mr. Chen and his family fled China and arrived in the United States in 2019.

“I think it is of great significance that the world comes to see the true nature of the CCP [through the work of Chinese rights lawyers],” Mr. Chen told the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times.

“Even though our individual ability is limited, we’ll rely on God for his arrangement and a favorable world situation. I don’t know when the CCP will be overthrown, but I believe this is an inevitable path to human rights in China. As long as the CCP exists, human rights, the rule of law, and constitutionalism won’t be realized in China.”

Ning Haizhong and Hong Ning contributed to this report.