At least eight people were arrested as Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei attended a crucial hearing
Chinese human rights lawyer Lu Siwei appeared in a hearing in China’s Sichuan Province today, after the provincial justice department decided to revoke his license as an administrative punishment for the “inappropriate online speeches” that he has made over the last few years. However, it is widely believed that the punishment is part of Beijing’s crackdown against human rights lawyers handling sensitive cases. Before the hearing began, at least eight human rights lawyers and dissidents were arrested by local police, and diplomats from 10 countries were also banned from attending the hearing.
Lu was appointed by family members of the 12 Hong Kong people detained in Shenzhen to handle their cases last year, and earlier this month, he received a notification from the Sichuan Provincial Justice Department, informing him that they were planning to revoke his license. He was scheduled to attend a hearing at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning and according to information from sources, Lu was brought into the Justice Department in an arbitrary fashion. Several human rights lawyers and dissidents who originally planned to attend the hearing were arrested by police and taken to the local police station.
According to a human rights lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous, at around 8:40 a.m. in the morning, Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng’s wife Xu Yan, human rights lawyer Wen Donghai, Wu Quimin, Chen Keyun and Liu Sishin were on their way to the Justice Department and they were suddenly stopped by police. A heated argument broke out between them and the five of them were taken away by police.
“We were all heading towards the Justice Department from different locations and at first, I tried to get to the building from the east side, but I was stopped by the police,” said the human rights lawyer. “Then I tried to get to the building from the west side, but I was also stopped by the police. They told me that I shouldn’t head to the building this morning, and they also asked me what was I trying to do at the Justice Department.”
Proxies banned from entering the court
After the five human rights lawyers and dissidents were taken away by police, Lu Siwei was arbitrarily taken into the Justice Department, while two of his proxies, human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi (謝燕益) and Cheng Hai (程海) were both kept outside of the building by plainclothes police. The police eventually let them into the hearing.
Ren Quanniu, another human rights lawyer who also handled the case of the 12 Hong Kong people and faced the possible fate of losing his license, said he saw Lu being surrounded by more than a dozen people and said Lu was eventually dragged into the Justice Department by three to four people. “There were more than a dozen plainclothes police outside the building and three to four of them would surround one of us,” Ren wrote online. “They wouldn’t let us take photos and they also wouldn’t let us get close to the building of the Justice Department.”
Not long after, Ren said another human rights lawyer Xie yang was pressed to the ground by three to four plainclothes police and they took away his cellphone. Eventually, Xie was taken away by the police. Additionally, human rights lawyer Wang Yu was dragged into a police car while searching for her friends around the Justice Department. According to Ren, police told Wang that they needed her for an investigation. Ren also lost contact with his other friends soon after Wang was taken away by the police.
Diplomats from 10 countries, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, France, Germany the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark were all outside the Justice Department, hoping to be able to attend the hearing. However, they were all banned by the police.
Being stalked days before the hearing
In fact, Lu Siwei had been followed by unknown individuals a few days before the hearing. According to human rights lawyer Xie Yanyi, several police cars have been parking outside of Lu’s residence since Monday, and he was also followed and surveilled by several unknown individuals.
On Tuesday, while Xie and Lu tried to run some errands at a hospital in Chengdu, two cars suddenly parked around their car, forcing their car to be stuck by the side of the road. Lu decided to call the police to the scene, but after the police arrived, they took Lu to the police station rather than making sure what happened at the scene. The police claimed that they needed to handle relevant matters at the police station.
“While I was talking to the police, I specifically told them that they should either let us drop the report or they should show their legal documents and began to conduct investigation,” Xie said. “However, they knowingly broke the law by unlawfully restrict Lu’s personal freedom.”
Lu Siwei reportedly received the notification from the Sichuan Provincial Justice Department on January 4. In the note, the department informed him that he made inappropriate speech online multiple times and he did so through multiple posts across a long period of time. The department claimed that Lu’s behaviors have seriously damaged lawyer’s professional image and caused vicious social influence. They decided to make revoking his license as a administrative punishment.
Human rights lawyers: Beijing revealed its guilty conscience
Another human rights lawyer who was also hired by family members of the 12 Hong Kong people to handle their cases said as Beijing decides to revoke the licenses of two human rights lawyers since the beginning of 2021, she believes the government’s intention is to create a chilling effect, hoping that other human rights lawyers will stay away from sensitive cases.
She also thinks that the arrest of eight human rights lawyers and dissidents who tried to attend the hearing reflects the Chinese government’s guilty conscience. “There are diplomats from 10 countries at the scene, and they were also banned from attending the hearing,” said the human rights lawyer. “Such behavior shows that the Chinese government didn’t want the international community to pay attention to Lu’s case and their efforts to ensure the case receives minimal attention exposes their guilty conscience and fear.”
The human rights lawyer also said that as Beijing increases its crackdown on human rights lawyers, she remains pessimistic about the prospect facing human rights lawyers in China. “We can no longer get involved in sensitive cases and after the two human rights lawyers lose their license, I think the Chinese government will increase their crackdown on human rights lawyers in the country,” she said.
She thinks that all the lawyers who had tried to handle the cases of the 12 Hong Kong people have probably been put on the government’s blacklist. She believes that the Chinese government will increase its surveillance of human rights lawyers bu she vows to keep playing the role of a human rights lawyer.
“After all, I’m a lawyer and I shouldn’t stay away from sensitive cases simply because of pressure from the government,” she explained. “However, I also know that the possibility for me to get involved in sensitive cases will become slimmer in the future. As a lawyer, if I can still handle cases, I will try my best to defend my clients. As a citizen, if I can no longer get involved in sensitive cases, I should still pay attention to these cases and speak up for them.”
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.