Lawyer Zhou Shifeng sentenced to 7 years in prison
On 4 August 2016 human rights defender and lawyer, Mr Zhou Shifeng, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by a court in Tianjin province on charges of 'subversion of state power'.
Zhou Shifeng is head of the Fengrui Law Firm and a prominent human right lawyer. He is a key member of the 'rights defense movement,' which has tried to challenge state power through litigation and publicity.
He has taken on a number of 'politically risky' human rights cases since 2001. In 2008 he sued one of the largest dairy producers in China on behalf of a victim of the contaminated milk scandal, while in 2014 he represented Tie Liu, an 81 year old writer who was arrested following online critcism of the Chinese givernment. In 2015, Zhou publicly announced his intention to establish a "China Lawyers' Rights Defence Fund" which would provide financial assistance to family members of detained lawyers.
On 4 August 2016 human rights defender and lawyer, Mr Zhou Shifeng, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment by a court in Tianjin province on charges of 'subversion of state power'. His is the third trial of human rights defenders in China this week. Mr Hu Shigen was sentenced to 7.5 years by the same court on 3 August and on 2 August Mr Zhai Yanmin received a three year suspended sentence.
Zhou Shifeng was one of scores of human rights defenders detained in a nationwide crackdown which began on 9 July 2015. He was held incommunicado for over a year. In July 2015 a televised confession was broadcast on Chinese state media in which he said that the Fengrui Law firm had engaged in illegal behaviour. During the course of his three hour hearing on 4 August 2016 he was defended by a court-appointed lawyer after his previous legal team were replaced. According to Chinese state media, Zhou Shifeng stated that he had colluded with 'foreign forces' in order to 'attack China's judicial system' and 'bring trouble to the government'. The language used in his comments closely echo that of Hu Shigen and Zhai Yanmin at their trials on 3 and 2 August and raise questions about the veracity of his reported confession.
Front Line Defenders utterly condemns the sentencing of Zhou Shifeng to 7 years in prison and calls on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally quash the sentence against the human rights defender, as it is believed it is an attempt to prevent him from carrying out his peaceful and legitimate work in the defence of human rights. Front Line Defenders furthermore condemns the irregularities in the judicial process, including the use of a pre-trial confession and the removal of his legal team.
On 11 and 12 January 2016, the families of five human rights lawyers and a legal assistant received official notice that their family members had been formally charged. All six individuals had been held in secret detention for six months.
Mr Zhou Shifeng, Mr Wang Quanzhang, Ms Zhao Wei and Ms Li Shuyun have all been charged with subversion of state power, while Mr Xie Yanyi and Mr Xie Yang have been charged with inciting subversion of state power. The maximum penalty for the crime of 'subversion of state power' is life imprisonment. There is a 15 year maximum penalty for the crime of 'inciting subversion of state power'.
On 10 July 2015, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Li Shuyun and Zhao Wei were detained by police in Beijing. On 11 July 2015, Xie Yang was detained in Changsha, Hunan province. On 12 July 2015, Xie Yani was also detained in Beijing. None of the six have been permitted access to lawyers and all have been held incommunicado since their detentions. They were among over 300 lawyers, legal assistants and human rights defenders who were detained, placed under residential surveillance, subjected to travel bans or harassed in the period following 9 July last year. It is believed that up to 20 other human rights defenders remain in some form of police custody, in addition to the aforementioned six.
9 September 2015 marked two months to the day since a nationwide crackdown on human rights defenders began in China.
The whereabouts of at least 18 defenders remain unknown following their detention by police in July. It is thought that at least nine others are also detained. Many of those missing or detained are lawyers who have been at the forefront of the human rights movement in China over the past number of years.
Beginning on 9 July 2015, scores of human rights defenders, mostly involved in legal activism, were taken in for questioning by police in a number of cities across China. While many were released shortly after, it is reported that at least 27 remain in police custody. The families and lawyers of at least 18 of those detained have not been informed of where they are being held, nor have their lawyers been permitted to meet with them. No information has been received about their physical or mental well-being. All but one of those detained have been refused access to their lawyers, with some legal representatives informed that this is because their clients' cases involve 'national security'.
On 9 July 2015, human rights lawyer Ms Wang Yu and her husband Mr Bao Longjun, a legal activist, were detained and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' in an unknown location. They are being held on charges of 'inciting subversion of state power' and Bao Longjun also faces the charge of 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles'. The following day, a number of lawyers and legal assistants Messrs Wang Quangzhang, Xie Yuandong, Li Heping, Liu Sixin, Zhou Shifeng, Huang Liqun and Ms Li Shuyun were seized by police in Beijing. Their whereabouts are currently unknown, as are the whereabouts of Ms Wang Fang, an accountant at a law firm where some of the detained lawyers work, and Mr Hu Shigen, a human rights defender and writer who previously spent 16 years in prison as a result of his human rights activities. Three further human rights defenders, namely Messrs Gou Hongguo, Liu Yongping and Lin Bin, were also detained on 10 July and remain under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location.
That same day, lawyer Mr Sui Muqing was detained in Guangzhou and has also been placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 12 July lawyer Mr Xie Yanyi was also detained in Beijing and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'disrupting court order' and 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 20 July Ms Gao Yue, an assistant to lawyer Li Heping, was detained and subsequently placed under 'residential surveillance' at an unknown location on charges of 'picking quarrels and provoking troubles' and 'inciting subversion of state power'. On 1 August, Mr Li Chunfu, the younger brother of Li Heping was disappeared following a raid on his home by police in Beijing. He has not been heard from since. In addition to the defenders named above, at least nine others reportedly remain in detention.
Since 9 July 2015, the Chinese police have detained or questioned more than 100 human rights defenders and their family members.
While many of them have been released, at least six human rights lawyers, namely Ms Wang Yu and Messrs Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Huang Liqun, Sui Muqing and Xie Yang, remain imprisoned or under house arrest.
The human rights defenders were arrested and detained by police at different times between 9 and 11 July. Sui Muqing and Xie Yang are accused of inciting subversion of state power and have been placed under house arrest. Four lawyers from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang andHuang Liqun, were taken from their homes or offices by police during this period and remain in detention. Wang Yu's husband and fellow human rights defender, Mr Bao Longjun, has also been detained by police in Beijing.
This most recent crackdown started on 9 July, when Wang Yu was kidnapped in the early morning after sending her friends a text message saying that the internet connection and electricity had been cut off at her home and that people were trying to break in. Shortly after her detention, more than 100 Chinese lawyers joined an open letter protesting her disappearance. Later some of those lawyers who signed the letter, as well as her colleagues from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm were detained.
Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang and Huang Liqun are human rights lawyers working for Fengrui Law Firm, based in Beijing. The Law Firm has handled a number of high-profile human rights cases including that of the Uighur human rights defenderMr Ilham Tohti, who is currently serving a life sentence on separatism charges. The firm’s director, Zhou Shifeng, represented Zhang Miao, a Chinese journalist who had worked with a German magazine reporting on the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2014 and who was recently released after nine months in detention. Clients of Wang Yu include practitioners of Falun Gong, the religious group banned in China. Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer Sui Muqing, who has been under a travel ban since May 2015, is known for representing clients in so-called politically sensitive cases. Xie Yang is a Hunan-based human rights lawyer who has represented the family of Xu Chunhe, a man shot dead by policeHeilongjiang Province in May 2015.