China Launches Persecution Wave Against Lawyers Seeking to Help Protesters

Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest against strict
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Attorneys who have volunteered to help represent people who participated in the nationwide protests that began in late November in China say that police have begun persecuting them, raiding their offices and limiting their social media access, reports revealed on Tuesday.

China has experienced regular protests against the Communist Party — and, in particular, against its “zero-Covid” lockdown and quarantine policy, for much of the past two years with increasing frequency. On the weekend of November 26, however, protests occurred simultaneously in several of China’s largest cities, an uncommon sight precedented only by the pro-democracy protests of the late 1980s that culminated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chengdu, among other major cities, saw throngs of hundreds, potentially thousands, of protesters take the streets demanding an end to mass house arrest and quarantine protocols. Many began protesting by holding up blank pieces of paper representing what the government allowed them to say in public and used as a form of protest against the communist regime as a whole, not just its Chinese coronavirus policy.

The protests lasted through much of last week before the Communist Party suddenly announced that it had discovered the omicron variant of Chinese coronavirus caused much weaker symptoms than previous variants, a conclusion that most public health experts had arrived at a year ago. As a result, the Communist Party then claimed it was now reasonable to allow some individuals who test positive for coronavirus to quarantine at home, rather than be forced into unsanitary quarantine camps, and to do away with some mandatory testing provisions.

The Chinese regime has flooded its state media apparatus – and, subsequently, international mainstream corporate media outlets – with what appears to be positive news of an end to two years of welding people shut in their homes, abducting children from their parents, and allowing deadly fires to go unchecked to avoid contact with potentially infected victims inside.

As the world’s attention centers on the alleged good news, the Communist Party’s repressive forces are attempting not just to silence protesters, but scare the country’s lawyers out of representing them in court, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Wang Shengsheng, a lawyer in Zhengzhou who organized a list of fellow attorneys to circulate to protesters seeking legal representation, told RFA that, in response, Communist Party authorities raided her office and stole her legal documents. The office, RFA noted, is based in Guangzhou, a southern city close to Hong Kong that has experienced some of the most violent anti-lockdown protests documented this year.

“They sent people from the judicial bureau’s [Communist Party] committee,” she detailed. “They were checking whether my records were in order, for example, we need to sign a contract when taking a new case, and issue a receipt when we receive our fees.”

Wang said police were “deliberately trying to catch [her] making a mistake” to stop her from continuing to work as an attorney.

“The reason behind it was the fact that I offered pro bono legal advice … I don’t know why they think that was such a bad thing to do that they need to put pressure on me via my law firm,” she lamented.

Wang also said the government restricted her use of WeChat, a social media app heavily controlled by the Communist Party, and that she is one of at least three lawyers experiencing persecution from the Chinese government since attempting to organize legal defense for protesters.


China’s President Xi Jinping (AFP)

A group of 49 human rights organizations – including groups representing persecuted groups in China, such as Tibetans and Uyghurs, as well as international organizations such as Amnesty International – published a joint statement on Wednesday acknowledging the persecution of lawyers in relation to the latest wave of protests and demanding that China, a rogue communist state, respect international law.

:Although some local governments have announced relaxed quarantine measures in an attempt to calm the protests, we understand that the Chinese authorities are at the same time cracking down on protesters across the country,” the statement read, “and that some of those arrested have gone missing and are feared to have been forcibly disappeared.”

“It has also come to our attention that the authorities are interfering with the protesters’ right to legal representation,” it continued. “Some lawyers have been warned by local authorities not to take up the cases, some others have had incoming calls to their mobile phones suddenly cut.”

“Given the lack of credible and transparent official information, we are extremely concerned about the possible magnitude and seriousness of the situation,” the organizations said. “We urge the international community to continue to monitor the situation and to condemn the ongoing rights abuses associated with the crackdown.”

Under dictator Xi Jinping, China has maintained a prolonged war against defense lawyers, particularly those who specialize in human rights cases, to ensure that political dissidents do not receive due process. The most prominent victim of this campaign was the Beijing Fengrui law firm, once a massive legal operation specializing in human rights cases defending members of the most repressed groups in the country. Among Beijing Fengrui’s clients were many Falun Gong practitioners – considered dangerous cultists by the Communist Party – and internationally acclaimed human rights activists.

The Chinese Communist Party raided the offices of Beijing Fengrui in 2015 and effectively shut it down. By 2018, its former members said the firm had “ceased to exist.” Several of the firm’s lawyers were arrested and sentenced to years in prison, their families forcibly silenced on special occasions such as International Human Rights Day.

Yu Wensheng, an attorney sentenced to four years in prison after representing some of the lawyers rounded up in the Beijing Fengrui crackdown, told RFA this week that, upon his return to freedom, he would not be offering volunteer legal services to the protesters. He described his legal field as essentially decimated by arrests and intimidation.

“A lot of very capable and professional human rights lawyers have basically had their licenses revoked, and the ones who remain are too afraid to stand up to the government when it comes to representing cases,” RFA quoted him as saying.

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