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Mass Crackdown on Chinese Lawyers and Defenders

Last updated: June 6, 2017

Courageous Voices: A Rising Activism

As the crackdown on lawyers and defenders that began in July 2015 continues with prolonged incommunicado detention of individuals without trial, family members of those still detained, and of those released after suffering abuses in custody, have not stopped speaking out to demand justice. In these narratives, what we are witnessing is a rising activism among a group determined to hold the authorities accountable for unlawfully suppressing citizens who are exercising rights protected by Chinese and international law. (All text translated by Human Rights in China.)


Jan 3

Wu Gan (aka Tufu) formally indicted for subversion of state power (indictment dated December 23) and will stand trial at Tianjin Municipal No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, according to an online statement made by his defense lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜).

At the Tianjin’s No 2 Detention Center this afternoon, Ge Yongxi was told that he would not be allowed to meet with his client until his representation of Wu Gan was confirmed by the court. Source.

Jan 4

Lawyers Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清) meet with their client, lawyer Xie Yang, who has been detained since July 2015 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Transcripts released from the lawyers’ interview with Xie Yang reveals the following: he remains in detention after refusing to plead guilty and frame fellow lawyers as conditions to his release on bail; he has suffered extensive torture while in detention. Source

Jan 5

Yuan Shanshan says that her husband, Xie Yanyi, has been released from detention but remains under surveillance in a hotel in Tianjin. Source.

RFA reports that Tang Zhishun and Xing Qingxian have been released from detention: Tang Zhishun has returned to his home in Beijing, but Xing Qingxian’s whereabouts remain unknown, according to his wife, He Juan. Source.

Jan 12

Lawyer Li Chunfu, brother of human right lawyer Li Heping, is released on “bail pending further investigation” and returned to his Beijing home in psychological distress. Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping, reports that Li Chunfu was skin and bones, dazed, and in a state of extreme fear. In the days following his return he was anxious, aggressive, and violent towards his wife Bi Liping (毕丽萍). Source.

Jan 14

Li Chunfu is hospitalized and diagnosed with symptoms of schizophrenia after experiencing extreme torture while being under “residential surveillance in a designated place” for 500 days. Source

Jan 19

Xie Yanyi returns home after being detained since July 2015. He was first released on January 5 but held under surveillance in a hotel in Tianjin. Source

Jan 23

According to China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, while under “residential surveillance in a designated location” for six months, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, and other lawyers suffered extreme torture, including electric shock with voltage high enough to cause fainting. Source.

Wang Qiaoling, wife of 709 lawyer Li Heping, finds out after numerous inquiries that her husband is held at the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center under a different name, Li Xiaocun. The detention center had previously denied that it was holding Li Heping. Source.

A group of senior judges, lawyers and jurists from countries around the world including Australia, France, Spain, U.S. and U.K. issue an open letter expressing continued concern over the treatment of lawyers and legal assistants, as well as their colleagues, supporters, and family members in China. Source.

Jan 28

The European External Action Service issues a statement calling for an investigation into the account of torture of Xie Yang, and allegations of torture of Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, and the release of the lawyers and human rights defenders that remain in detention. Source.

Feb 1

TIt is confirmed online that Xing Qingxian has been released on bail and has returned home to Chengdu, approximately one month after his actual release from detention. Source.

Feb 14

Wang Quanzhang is indicted is on “subversion of state power. “ Source.

Mar 1

An article in the state-run The Global Times claims that lawyer Jiang Tianyong fabricated reports of lawyer Xie Yang’s torture, and states that Xie Yang told reporters that he was in good condition and able to contact family members while being held under residential surveillance. Xinhua accuses four foreign media outlets of producing “fake news” in reporting Xie Yang’s torture claims. Source

Mar 4

China Central Television (CCTV) broadcasts an “interview” with lawyer Jiang Tianyong “confessing” to distributing fabricated reports of lawyer Xie Yang’s torture. Source

Mar 9

Chen Guiqiu, wife of Xie Yang, releases a video calling for international attention on her husband’s case. She also condemns the deterioration of the rule of law in China and urges the authorities to release all those detained. Source

Mar 10

Lawyer Chen Jiangang releases a half-hour video in which he stands by the veracity of his transcripts of his meetings with detained lawyer Xie Yang, who detailed acts of torture he suffered in detention. Chen also denounces state-run media reports that claimed that Xie’s allegation of torture was fabricated. Source

Apr 5

Xie Yang’s wife, Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), writes letter to the state-appointed lawyer, He Xiaodian (贺小电), criticizing him for meeting with Xie Yang without the knowledge of or permission from Xie’s family, while the authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the two family-appointed lawyers, Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) and Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), to meet with Xie. Source.

Apr 10

Chen Jiangang (陈建刚) receives another phone call from Beijing Chaoyang Bureau of Justice stating that he will be investigated for the transcripts he posted online regarding Xie Yang’s alleged torture in detention. Chen also reports that lawyer He Xiaodian has again met with Xie Yang, and stresses that the authorities refusing to let Xie meet with the lawyer of his family’s choosing is unreasonable and unlawful. Source.

Apr 20

Xie Yang’s wife, Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), issues statement that Changsha Intermediate People’s Court will try Xie Yang on April 25, 2017 for inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order, and that his defense lawyer at court will be He Xiaodian. Source.

Apr 25

Dozens of supporters gather outside Changsha Intermediate People’s Court for Xie Yang’s trial on charges of inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order but were told that the trial has been postponed indefinitely. Source.

May 3

While on holiday in Xishuangbanna, lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), his wife, two children, and two of his friends are detained at a Jinghong, Yunnan police station around 1pm. At around 5pm, all six are taken away from the station in vehicles by armed police. Source. In January 2017, published transcripts of his meetings with his client Xie Yang (谢阳), detained 709 lawyer, who detailed torture he suffered in detention. Xie is charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

May 8 

Lawyer Xie Yang is tried at Changsha Intermediate People’s Court for inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order. No verdict is announced. The court announces in a Weibo post that lawyer Xie Yang is charged with “inciting subversion of state power and disrupting court order.” The court also releases a video on a Hunan TV station showing Xie Yang admitting to working with foreign media outlets to sensationalize stories, and stating that he had not been tortured. Source.

State-run media outlet The Global Times reports that Xie Yang has been released on bail following the trial. Source.

Earlier this year, on January 13, Xie said in a hand-written note that was later released online: “If, one day in the future, I do confess—whether in writing or on camera or on tape — that will not be the true expression of my own mind. It may be because I’ve been subjected to prolonged torture, or because I’ve been offered the chance to be released on bail to reunite with my family.” Source

May 9

Lawyer Li Heping returns home. In photographs and a video clips released online, he appears to have lost weight and has visibly aged, with his hair now white. He was first detained on July 10, 2015. Source.

May 18

At an U.S congressional hearing titled “Disappeared, Jailed, and Tortured in China: Wives Petition for Their Husbands’ Freedom,” Chen Guiqiu, wife of Xie Yang, along with Wang Yanfeng, wife of lawyer Tang Jingling, and Lee Chin-yu, wife of Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, testify about their husbands’ cases—including their disappearances, denied access to lawyers, and torture in detentionLi Wenzu, wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, also testifies via a video message. Source.

May 26

Family of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, including his father, mother, and wife Li Wenzu, are followed by police as they attempt to file a lawsuit against the Supreme People’s Procuratorate for illegal procedures in the processing of his case. Wang has been missing for 685 days and no information has been released to his family or lawyers. The lawsuit was not accepted by the procuratorate, which claimed the family did not follow appropriate procedures. Source.

Jun 5

Jiang Tianyong's father receives an official notice, dated May 31, 2017, stating that Jiang has been formally arrested on suspicion of subverting state power. The notice also states that he is being held at Changsha City No. 1 Detention Center. This is the first time his family has been made aware of his whereabouts in the six months since his detention. Source.

See full chronology starting from June 2015 >

Persons Still Missing or Detained

HRIC Statement

HRIC Urges Independent Observers at Upcoming Trials of Lawyers and Activists in China

August 5, 2016

This week, Chinese authorities put on trial and convicted one rights lawyer and three activists on charges of “subversion of state power”: Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), a law firm employee; Hu Shigen (胡石根), a democracy and religious freedom activist; Zhou Shifeng (周世鋒), a lawyer and law firm director; and Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), a rights activist. According to available official trial transcripts and media reports, all four defendants admitted guilt, expressed remorse, and accepted their trial verdicts. In addition, on August 1, Chinese authorities released a video of Wang Yu (王宇), another lawyer charged with “subversion” but recently released on bail, in which she referred to her former colleague Zhou Shifeng as not being a “qualified” lawyer,” and expressed remorse about her own “inappropriate” remarks and speaking with foreign media.

These five individuals are among the more than 300 lawyers and activists targeted in a nationwide crackdown that began in July 2015. To date, 18 others remain in police custody and have been formally arrested, five of whom are also facing “subversion” charges.

What do these events mean for Chinese civil society? How should the international community respond?

The targeting of those who are at the forefront of defending fundamental rights and promoting the growth of civil society underscores the true aim of the Communist Party of China’s policy of “ruling the country by law”—to maintain the supremacy of the CPC. Instead of safeguarding the people's rights, the current regime uses the legal system as a political instrument to undermine the very forces needed to sustain a rule of law: an independent judiciary, an independent bar, and a robust civil society. See more

Domestic Actions
UN & Governments

United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN Human Rights Chief deeply concerned by China clampdown on lawyers and activists,” February 16, 2016

Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Recent human rights developments in China,” July 17, 2015.

Government of Canada, “Canada Gravely Concerned by Detention and Disappearance of Lawyers and Activists in China,” July 16, 2015

United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “'Lawyers need to be protected not harassed’ – UN experts urge China to halt detentions,” July 16, 2015

European Union External Action, “Statement by the Spokesperson on recent developments in the human rights situation in China,” July 15, 2015

Congressional-Executive Commission on China “'Increasingly Bold Disregard for Basic Human Rights,” July 14, 2015.

Federal Foreign Office of Germany, “Human Rights Commissioner Strässer condemns the arrest of scores of lawyers in China,” July 14, 2015.

U.S. Department of State, “U.S. Condemns Detention of Human Rights Defenders in China,” July 12, 2015.

Professional Associations
Civil Society



"709 Crackdown”



Subversion of State Power

  1. Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) 
  2. Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), a law firm employee
  3. Hu Shigen (胡石根), a democracy and religious freedom activist
  4. Zhou Shifeng (周世鋒), a lawyer and law firm director
  5. Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), a rights activist
  6. Li Heping (李和平), human rights lawyer 

Gathering a crowd to disturb public order

  1. Zhang Weihong (张卫红 (aka Zhang Wanhe (张皖荷))
  2. Li Yanjun (李燕军)

Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

  1. Liu Xing (刘星 ) (aka Laodao (老道))
  2. Wang Fang (王芳 )
  3. Yao Jianqing (姚建清)


  1. Wang Yu (王宇)
  2. Ren Quanniu (任全牛)
  3. Tang Zhishun (唐志顺)
  4. Xing Qingxian (幸清贤)
  5. Li Chunfu (李春富)
  6. Xie Yanyi (谢燕益)
  7. Liu Sixin (刘四新)
  8. Liu Yongping (刘永平)
  9. Bao Longjun (包龙军)
  10. Lin Bin (林斌) (aka Monk Wang Yun (望云和尚))


Inciting subversion of state power

  1. Xie Yang (谢阳)

Subversion of State Power

  1. Wu Gan (吴淦) (aka Tufu屠夫) 

Picking quarrels and provoking troubles

  1. Yin Xu’an (尹旭安)
International Community Urges China to Uphold Rule of Law

See more: Crackdown on Chinese Lawyers

Professional Associations



Lawyers & Activists Charged

Update Sites


Analysis and Commentary


Relevant Legal Resources:
  • UN Committee Against Torture, “List of issues in relation to the fifth periodic report of China,” 2015: EN
  • UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990):  EN, CH
  • Draft Criminal Law Amendment (9) (2015): CH, EN
  • Criminal Procedure Law: CH