Amnesty International: Breaking the law: Crackdown on human rights lawyers and legal activists in China (excerpts)

Amnesty International • Persecution of Falun Gong

Amnesty International • Persecution of Falun Gong


Human rights lawyers in China have been harassed, intimidated, assaulted, abducted, forcibly disappeared, placed under surveillance and house arrest and faced criminal charges for protecting the rights of others. In the first half of 2009 alone, Amnesty International has learned of at least four human rights lawyers who have been threatened with violence; at least 10 who were prevented from meeting with or representing their clients in courts, and at least five who were briefly detained, one for one month, because of their human rights work.   


  • On 13 May 2009, a group of Jiangjin district police officers in Chongqing beat up and took Beijing-based lawyers Zhang Kai and Li Chunfu from their client’s house in handcuffs. The client’s father was a 66-year-old Falun Gong practitioner who had died suddenly in  custody in Chongqing’s Xishanping Re-education Through Labour facility on 28 January  2009. The client intended to sue the Re-education Through Labour facility for wrongdoing.
  • On 13 April 2009, Beijing-based lawyers Cheng Hai and Zhou Peng were attacked by at least four individuals who claimed to be from a government agency responsible for co-ordinating the offices of the police and courts in Chengdu, Sichuan province. The lawyers were on their way to meet a client’s family when they were attacked. Their client, Tao Yuan, is a former Beijing Normal University graduate student and Falun Gong practitioner who is currently imprisoned for “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law”. His family had asked the two lawyers to apply for Tan Yuan’s release on medical parole.
  • On 13 April 2009, two other Beijing-based lawyers – Wu Jiangtao and Li Renbing were also blocked from meeting the family of their client, detained Falun Gong practitioner Wei Cheng, when they arrived at Changchun city in northern Jilin province. Police put Wei Cheng’s family and relatives under surveillance and threatened them with imprisonment if they hired a lawyer.


  • On 23 and 24 March 2009, Beijing-based lawyers Jiang Tianyong and Tang Jitian (who was also briefly detained in June, see above), after being appointed by their client’s family, were denied the right to meet their client Ge Hefei, a detained Falun Gong practitioner in Hebei. Judge Liu Yanfeng of the Feixiang County People’s Court, Hebei province, told the two lawyers on 23 March that Gei Hefei did not want to meet with them. However, the judge failed to substantiate this claim. According to article 33 of the Law on Lawyers of the People’s Republic of China (Law on Lawyers),7 lawyers can meet with their clients as long as they present their lawyer’s license, certification from their law firm and an authorization letter requesting their representation.


Below are a few recent cases of lawyers who are being prosecuted for their work in defence of human rights. These cases of some of the most prominent human rights lawyers in China are additional examples of the pressures faced by those who stand up to defend the rights of others.

  • On 4 July 2009 authorities in Dalian city, Liaoning province, criminally detained lawyer Wang Yonghang, who has represented Falun Gong practitioners. On that day, approximately 20 plainclothes police broke into his home and took him and his wife to a detention centre. The police, who had no warrant, also searched their home, and confiscated their computer, camera, printer, and several books. His wife was released the next day, and Wang Yonghang was moved to another place of detention. After repeated requests from his wife, Dalian City Police Detention Centre, the place where he is currently held, gave her a detention notice which said that Wang Yonghang had been detained on suspicion of violation of Article 300 of the Criminal Law, which deals with “superstitious sects, secret societies and evil religious organisations” and has been used to imprison many Falun Gong practitioners. His wife has learned from sources that he has been beaten during interrogation. The two lawyers his wife hired tried to visit him at the detention centre on 14 July, but they were turned back. On 20 July, a Dalian City internal security police officer called the two lawyers and again told them that they were not allowed to meet with Wang Yonghang. This violates article 33 of the Law on Lawyers. 

[FDIC Editor’s Note: Wang has since been sentenced in November 2009 to 7 years in prison ; See here for additional details from Amnesty International]


  • Between 28 February and 30 March 2009, human rights lawyer Wei Liangyue and his wife Du Yongjing were detained. They have since been released on bail, pending further investigation. Wei Liangyue remains under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” under article 209(1) of China’s Criminal Law and Du Yongjing is still under suspicion of “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law” under article 300(1) of China’s Criminal Law. Wei Liangyue is an experienced lawyer in Heilongjiang province and has often provided legal aid to local people who face human rights violations, including Falun Gong practitioners who have been detained by the Chinese authorities simply for their beliefs.


  • Gao Zhisheng was taken from his home in Shaanxi Province by more than 10 security agents on 4 February 2009. He has been held incommunicado at an unknown location ever since. In December 2006, Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three-years in prison, suspended for five years, for “inciting subversion of state power” under article 105(2) of China’s Criminal Law. He was also sentenced to one year deprivation of political rights. He has been kept under constant surveillance since he was sentenced, which goes far beyond the legal provisions for those serving suspended sentences in China. In April 2007, Gao Zhisheng publicized the torture and other ill-treatment he had suffered while in custody awaiting trial.

This led to an escalation of the oppression and harassment of him and his family. On 13 September 2007, he published another open letter, this time addressed to the US Congress, drawing attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in China. Nine days later, unidentified men abducted him off the street and took him to an unknown location. During the six weeks of enforced disappearance that followed security agents subjected Gao Zhisheng to torture. Among many other things they stripped him, beat him severely, shocked him with electric batons all over his body and used toothpicks to pierce his genitals. They held lit cigarettes close to his eyes for several hours, which left him partially blind for several days afterwards.

Earlier this year, his family fled to the US. Voted in 2001 as “one of China’s top ten lawyers” by a publication run by the Ministry of Justice, Gao Zhisheng is a self-trained legal professional with a history of representing the victims of some of the most egregious cases of human rights violations by the police and other government agencies. In June 2007 Gao received the Courageous Advocacy Award of the American Board of Trial Advocates. His memoirs, A China More Just, were published in English the same year.



This year, at the time of publication, at least the following two law firms have not yet passed the annual review and as a result all lawyers employed by them including seven who have been actively involved in cases on behalf of victims of human rights violations were affected. For the most part, the activist lawyers only represent a portion of the employees of any of these law firms which can have varied clientele lists and expertise:

Beijing Anhui Law Firm

The firm employed, among others, Cheng Hai, Tang Jitian, Yang Huiwen and Tong Chaoping. Many of these lawyers called for a democratic election in the Beijing Lawyers Association. Cheng Hai and Yang Huiwen ran for the position of the chairperson of the lawyers association. Their names were eventually deleted from the ballot. They also represented […] Falun Gong practitioners […].

The Beijing Justice Bureau failed the law firm in the initial assessment. While the law firm is still awaiting the judicial authorities’ re- assessment of the “issues” previously raised by them, including the “failings of its nternal administration and financial system”, “incomplete case records”, as well as to provide case documents of a Sichuan Falun Gong case taken on by Tang Jitian and another Falun Gong case taken on by Cheng Hai in Hebei province, the Beijing Judicial Bureau told the law firm manager that there is no time limit for the firm’s assessment.

Sources in China told Amnesty International that the Beijing Justice Bureau has pressured Liu Guitao and Zhu Guangming, partners of the law firm, to quit the firm. On 18 August, the two partners formally left the firm. This act has placed the firm on the edge of shut down since article 15 of the Law on Lawyers provides a minimum requirement of three partners to set up a law firm. The Beijing Justice Bureau ordered the firm to find a minimum of two partners by 28 August or the firm will be shut down. Upon closure of the law firm, the remaining lawyers will have to find another law firm to mploy them so as to keep their professional licences. These lawyers expected difficulties in finding other employers willing to challenge the judicial authorities and hire them.

Beijing Shun He Law Firm

The firm employed Liu Wei and Wen Haibo. Both called for a democratic election in the Beijing Lawyers Association, represented Falun Gong cases and signed an open letter offering legal assistance to detainees during the unrest in March 2008 in the Tibet Autonomous Region and neighbouring provinces. The Beijing Justice Bureau failed the law firm during its initial assessment. To date, the law firm is awaiting the judicial authorities’ re-assessment of the “issues” previously raised by them.


As of the time of publication, at least 10 individual human rights lawyers listed in the following paragraphs have not yet passed the annual review.

Jiang Tianyong, Li Chunfu, Li Heping, Li Xiongbing

All were previously intimidated or physically harassed (see above) and were lawyers of the Beijing Globe-Law Firm, which separately passed an individual firm assessment earlier in the year. On 9 July however, the Beijing Justice Bureau announced that these six lawyers had failed to pass the assessment. According to the announcement, Jiang Tianyong’s license was invalidated […]  On the same day, the justice bureau also announced that Beijing Globe-Law Firm’s Li Heping, Li Xiongbing, Li Chunfu, Wang Yajun and Guo Shaofei (see below for more details on Wang Yajun and Guo Shaofei) will not have their licences “re-registered” because they had “failed their assessments”. The Bureau provided no further documentation on the reasons for failing these six lawyers.

The law firm manager told Li Chunfu that he had failed the assessment because the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court had complained about him. However, Li Chunfu claimed that he was never aware of this “complaint” and had never received any documents or oral warnings. The only explanation for this “complaint” that Li Chunfu could think of was the Falun Gong case he had in Chengdu in October 2008. At that time, 15 lawyers wrote a complaint letter to the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court and the chief of Chengdu Public Security Bureau expressing concerns that there were serious procedural irregularities in handling the case. Li Chunfu believes that the alleged complaint against him was in retaliation for this complaint by the 15 lawyers.


Xie Yanyi

He was previously a lawyer of the Beijing Gong Xin Law Firm. At end of May 2009, the Beijing judicial authorities told the manager of the law firm that it failed its assessment because of its poor management of the behaviour of Xie Yanyi. He represented Falun Gong practitioners […]  and – during a lawyers’ meeting on 17 May 2009 which discussed the physical attack on two lawyers in Sichuan – called for lawyers to protest such violence. The judicial authorities told the manager that Xie Yanyi’s behaviour was too “radical” and hence “inappropriate” for lawyers. They ordered the manager of the aw firm to dismiss him. If not, the law firm would not be able to pass its assessment and all lawyers hired by the firm would be affected. As of the time of writing this submission, Xie Yanyi has not yet received any official documentation to clarify the status of his licence.


Zhang Chengmao

He is a lawyer of Beijing Anyuan Law Firm and has represented […] Falun Gong detainees […]. The law firm did not submit his assessment to the judicial authorities and did not provide an explanation. He has not yet received any official documentation on the status of his licence. 

Zhang Lihui

He is a partner of Beijing G&G (Giant & Goal) Law Firm has represented Falun Gong  detainees […]. Amnesty International is not aware of the circumstances under which he has failed to pass the assessment as he has not yet eceived any official documentation on the status of his licence. Other partners of the law firm are under political pressure to remove him from the firm.

Wei Liangyue

A lawyer in the Heilongjiang Jiaodian Law Firm, he has represented many Falun Gong detainees and counselled them to plead not guilty to charges of “using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law” under article 300(1) of China’s Criminal Law.

In retaliation for his defence of Falun Gong practitioners, local police placed him under criminal detention on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” under article 209(1) of China’s Criminal Law between 28 February and 30 March 2009. (See below for more details.) The judicial authorities failed his assessment because he is currently released on bail pending investigation.


Sun Wenbing

A lawyer of Xin He Law Firm in Liaoning province, he has represented many Falun Gong detainees. His law firm and the judicial authorities have not yet provided an explanation of the circumstances under which he has failed to pass the assessment. His professional licence is currently held by the judicial authorities.

The following lawyers failed to pass the assessment by its annual deadline but were granted a pass after they submitted a written statement to the Beijing Justice Bureau guaranteeing not to take on any more “sensitive cases.”

Li Jinglin

On 16 June, he was warned by a Beijing Justice Bureau official to withdraw from Sanlu tainted milk cases and asked to stop working with some human rights lawyers including Tang Jitian. Li Jinglin has provided free legal service to victims of tainted milk, represented Falun Gong practitioners and called for democratic election of the Beijing Lawyers Association’s leadership. Beijing Justice Bureau previously withheld his license until he found a law firm to hire him.

Sources in China told Amnesty International that the Bureau has given warnings to some law firms in Beijing not to hire him. At the time of publication, Li Jinglin has passed the assessment and found an employer after he provided a written statement to the Beijing Justice Bureau promising not to take on any “sensitive cases”.

Wang Yajun and Guo Shaofei

During the week of 22 June, the manager from their employer, Beijing Globe-Law Firm, asked the two lawyers to write a statement, agreeing not to be involved in “sensitive cases”, including Falun Gong cases, in exchange for passing their annual assessments. Upon submission of such a written statement to Beijing Justice Bureau, the judicial authorities granted approval of Guo Shaofei’s annual assessment at the end of July.

Beijing Justice Bureau recently ordered Wang Yajun to quit his current law firm, and to promise not to take up any “sensitive cases” including Falun Gong. The Justice Bureau allowed his current employer to keep his professional license until he has left the firm so that he is unable to take on any new cases, in exchange for passing his annual assessment. At the time of publication, Wang Yajun has not yet found a new employer.



In 2006, the Beijing Zhisheng Law Firm directed by human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was also ordered to shut down by the judicial authorities after he issued a public letter to Chinese president  Hu Jintao calling for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. The stated reason for the shutdown was discrepancies between the law firms’ address in the fficial registration record and its actual location. The judicial authorities refused to accept Gao Zhisheng’s explanation that they had only moved less than two months previously and had not yet updated the address in the registrar.

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