Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Defending Falun Gong

36-year-old lawyer had represented torture victims and challenged legality of Falun Gong persecution in open letters to Chinese leaders

NEW YORK – A human rights lawyer from northeast China was sentenced on November 27 to seven years in prison for taking Falun Gong practitioners as clients and presenting legal arguments that the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign against the spiritual practice is illegal under Chinese law.

Wang Yonghang, a 36-year-old lawyer from Dalian in Liaoning province, had previously worked at Liaoning Qianjun law firm. Since 2007, he has taken on the cases of Falun Gong practitioners who have been detained by the authorities for practicing their faith. He has also published several open letters challenging the legality of the decade-long persecution against the group.

Specifically, Wang argued that Article 300 — the provision most often used to imprison Falun Gong practitioners — does not meet minimum international legal standards of clarity and specificity. Moreover, it is essentially nonsensical because simply practicing a religion or belonging to a religious group can not obstruct justice or “undermine the implementation of the law,” as Article 300 states.

Similar to China’s state secrets laws, Article 300 is so vaguely worded that it essentially leaves room for the authorities to arbitrarily imprison any Chinese person, while keeping a “rule of law” veneer.

Ironically, Wang was charged under Article 300 whose legality he had questioned in his writings. A letter to Communist Party-head Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao was reportedly used as “evidence” for the charges against him. Wang does not practice Falun Gong himself.

“Let’s be clear on what has happened here,” says Falun Dafa Information Center spokesperson Erping Zhang. “A noble and courageous lawyer has been imprisoned for doing nothing more than making legal arguments through legal channels…but the topic is Falun Gong. This is the latest in a long, disturbing line of evidence demonstrating there is no rule of law when it comes to Falun Gong in China.”

“There are over two dozen lawyers who currently represent Falun Gong practitioners in China,” added Zhang. “Many of these lawyers, like Wang, have not only affirmed in court the innocence of their individual clients but also challenged the legal underpinnings of the whole campaign, essentially proving that the persecution against Falun Gong is illegal under China’s own laws.”

“Wang’s imprisonment raises the question of whether his treatment is a precursor of what other rights lawyers will face in the coming months, particularly those who have already been disbarred or detained. For the sake of those attorneys, their clients, and fundamental principles of justice, it is imperative that the international community not pass over Wang’s sentencing in silence.”

Timeline of Wang’s Human Rights Work and Imprisonment

Wang began accepting as clients Falun Gong practitioners, who had been unlawfully detained.

May 2008
Wang wrote an open letter to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao in which he questioned the legality of the Party’s persecution of Falun Gong practitioners under Article 300 of China’s Criminal Law, which the Party has used to send practitioners to prison camps for up to 18 years. Full text of Wang’s letter to Hu and Wen (in Chinese)

July 2008
Wang published a more detailed online article analyzing the illegality of Article 300. He also submitted that article to the Procuratorate and Supreme People’s court, urging them to correct their mistake such that Article 300 would no longer be used to unlawfully persecute innocent citizens who practice Falun Gong. Full text of Wang’s second letter (in Chinese)

In response, the authorities revoked his license to practice law. Wang, nonetheless, continued to provide legal advice to Falun Gong practitioners and represented them in court.

June 2009
On June 16, he represented a Falun Gong detainee at court. Police then followed him and told him to drop his involvement in the case.

July 2009
On July 4, approximately twenty plainclothes policemen barged into Wang’s home, searched it, and took both him and his wife into custody. His wife was released the next day. When she went to the police station on July 6, police presented a criminal detention warrant stating that Wang had been detained in accordance with Article 300 of the Criminal Code. Amnesty International issued an urgent action on Wang’s behalf in July 2009 shortly after he was arrested. Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) likewise issued an alert on Wang’s arrest.

July-August 2009
Wang’s family hired two lawyers to represent him, but officials prevented them from meeting him, contrary to Chinese law. While being held in incommunicado detention, Wang was severely beaten, causing fractures in his right ankle. He was not given proper medical treatment and his ankle was only operated on one month later, in August, after it had become infected. Police did not notify his family about the operation or seek their authorization. See CHRD alert on Wang’s torture in custody.

November 2009
According to eyewitness accounts, on the morning of November 27, 2009, Wang was put on trial at Dalian Shahekou district court and immediately sentenced to seven years in prison. Approximately 40 police and security officers were stationed around the courthouse.