HRW: Excerpts related to lawyers who defended Falun Gong from: “Walking on Thin Ice” Control, Intimidation and Harassment of Lawyers in China (April 29, 2008)

Gao Zhisheng

The case of the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, sentenced to four years under subversion charges after months of increased harassment, has received extensive international attention, and prompted foreign governments to make regular diplomatic representations to the Chinese government, though with little apparent effect. […]

Suppression of Gao Zhisheng

Gao was a successful lawyer who specialized in defending cases of corruption, land seizures, police abuse, and religious freedom. In 2001 he was rated by the Legal Daily, a publication operated by the Ministry of Justice, as “one of the top ten lawyers in China.” Increasingly outspoken, he started to take on more politically sensitive cases, including torture of practitioners of the banned Falun Gong movement. As the courts systematically refused to lodge his lawsuits, he turned to writing reports and publishing open letters denouncing these abuses, including to the top leadership of the Communist Party.

As 2006 progressed, the Chinese authorities first put Gao Zhisheng and his family under around-the-clock police surveillance, then suspended his law firm license and stripped him of his professional lawyer’s license. Then they arrested him, detained him incommunicado for six months, coerced him into pleading guilty and relinquishing the right to choose his lawyer, and tried him in proceedings his family members were not permitted to attend. He was then sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for subversion with a five-year reprieve. […]

•  On October 19, 2005, one day after Gao published a scathing open letter to the top state leaders about abuses against religious and Falun Gong practitioners, he received an anonymous threat by phone: “We know where you live and we know where your daughter goes to school.” The next day Gao and his wife verified that their 12-year-old daughter was indeed followed by plainclothes police officers.

[…] The violence and intimidation against Gao Zhisheng appears more typical of the tactics used by the authorities against people identified as political dissidents than the forms of intimidation recounted by average lawyers. What made Gao a dissident in the eyes of the authorities was his refusal to yield to pressure and desist from denouncing the lapses of the judicial system and the defects of Party control over the legal system.

Gao’s outspokenness, his defense of the Falun Gong, his acerbic interviews with foreign media and open letter to the state leaders had clearly made his case the province of the political police—the State Security Bureau and State Protection Bureau—rather than the judicial authorities. The fact that the authorities saw Gao as a dissident was later reflected in his sentence for subversion, based on his having published nine articles that “defamed and made rumors about China’s current government and social system, conspiring to topple down the regime.”

Yet, even if in the eyes of the authorities Gao was tried as a dissident rather than a lawyer, his work as a lawyer prompted the retaliation. His case became emblematic of the authorities’ blatant disregard for legality in the methods used to silence him and the chilling effect his case had on the legal profession.

Yang Zaixin, Guangxi

An attorney from impoverished Guangxi province, Yang Zaixin, was dismissed from his law firm in January 2006 after he took a series of sensitive cases, including those of defendants accused of being members of the banned Falun Gong. Yang posted articles online protesting his dismissal and continued his involvement in sensitive cases.

On February 17, 2006, his home was searched by the local police, who confiscated his computer and court case documents, and took him to the police station for 24 hours to question him about his activities and links with overseas media and groups. Undeterred, Yang continued to denounce his dismissal in internet postings and interviews with overseas media as politically-motivated, and announced that he would go to court to challenge it. On April 9, around 9 p.m., Yang was assaulted by a group of unidentified men in front of the school complex where he resides. The men punched and kicked Yang, and took turns hitting him after he fell to the ground.

Yang sustained minor head and ear injuries that required stitches, and bruises on his back, chest, and arms. Yang called the police immediately after the attack, but the police officer declined to send a patrol, requiring him to come first to the police station to report the case even before seeking medical attention. Yang was bleeding and went to the hospital first. When the head of the police station was contacted by a journalist from Voice of America’s Mandarin service, he denied knowledge of the attack, stating that, “Last night, nobody came to report such a case.”

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