V. Violence Against Lawyers

For the past few years the working environment of the legal profession has become more dangerous day by day.
—Text of an open letter by 53 lawyers, December 2006

For lawyers, retaliation by the local authorities is a big danger. We are all walking on thin ice.
—P.D., a Beijing lawyer, November 2007

Many Chinese lawyers routinely complain that violence, or the threat of violence, is an ever-present risk against which they feel inadequately protected by the state. The majority of cases of violence against lawyers are purely criminal, but many others are linked to their involvement in civil rights or human rights cases, and a few seem abetted by law enforcement personnel or local officials. This chapter documents the failure of the Chinese government to fulfill its responsibility under the law to adequately safeguard the security of lawyers and people who, without having the formal status of lawyer, exercise the functions of lawyers.

The government acknowledges that lawyers play an important role in the administration of justice and has indicated—including through instructions issued by the Supreme People’s Court—that legal institutions and law enforcement agencies must ensure that lawyers receive sufficient protection so as to be able to carry out their functions unhindered. But, in practice, lawyers say that criminal threats and assaults against them are a frequent occurrence; that those instances are not vigorously investigated; that bar associations are unwilling or unable to help them; and that they have to keep silent about specific incidents for fear of retribution or loss of business.

Despite lawyers being adamant that the risk of violence against them is an acute problem for the entire legal profession—a claim supported by countless articles in professional and legal publications—there are no recent published empirical studies documenting this. Very few cases have been reported in the official media over the years.78 Individual cases that have been given publicity in domestic media rarely involve politically sensitive cases and tend to show the government responding to the violation. This pattern suggests that only isolated cases or general and abstract discussions about them are tolerated in professional, academic, and media publications.

Indeed, after the national bar association published for restricted distribution a ground-breaking report on abuses against lawyers in 2002, in the context of a three-year program to study the problems faced by lawyers, Beijing judicial authorities cut the program short and prohibited the publication of similar reports.79 The report, based on a survey of 598 respondents, exposed severe difficulties for lawyers, and described cases of lawyers harassed, detained, arrested, or prosecuted in the course of carrying out their professional duties.80 The cases included lawyers assaulted by the opposing party: Yan Yujiu (Sichuan), She Yuanxi (Sichuan), Pei Shan (Xinjiang), Wang Bing (Liaoning), Jia Tianjin (Henan), Wang Fei (Chongqin); lawyers attacked by unidentified aggressors, including Liu Chixian (Guangxi), Yu Haifeng (Shandong), Yang Jianxin (Heilongjian), Teng Kuang (Heilongjiang); and lawyers kidnapped by the opposing party including Ren Shangfei (Hebei) and Chen Guangqiang (Fujian).81

In December 2006, 53 lawyers and law experts took the rare initiative of addressing an open letter to the central authorities to ask the government to protect lawyers.82 The drafters of the letter, lawyers Cheng Hai, Gao Fengquan, Zhang Lihui, Li Heping, Ouyang Zhigang, Li Jinsong, and Meng Xianming, wrote that the environment had grown “day by day more dangerous” over the past year:

For the past few years the working environment of the legal profession has become more dangerous day by day. Not only must lawyers face all sorts of illegal restrictions from the judicial and administrative departments, such as being followed, being, at times violently, prevented access [to clients or witnesses], or being prevented from gathering evidence, but their personal security is also threatened.

These threats are not coming solely from the opposite party: they increasingly come from forces of the Public Security Bureau, the Procuracy, and the courts themselves. Between March and August this year, more than four cases of lawyers being attacked by public security or court personnel have been exposed nationally, this is a frightening development!83

The government to date has not acknowledged the letter, while domestic Chinese media never reported the initiative. One lawyer told Human Rights Watch that the Party authorities in charge of judicial affairs had instructed the judiciary to maintain vigilance against “people who try to use the legal system to attack the party and the government,” and that it would never respond to this type of public appeal.84

Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, and the crackdown on cause lawyering

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.85 Along with the arrests of the blind barefoot lawyer Chen Guangcheng and the Guangzhou-based legal activist Yang Maodong (better known under his pen name Guo Feixiong), Gao Zhisheng’s arrest marked the peak of a campaign by the Chinese authorities to squash what they perceived as a nascent legal opposition movement in 2006.

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 three years’ imprisonment for subversion with a five-year reprieve.86

According to the court, the reprieve was granted because Gao had cooperated with the investigators and informed on fellow human rights activists. Gao later denied that he had informed on fellow activists, and stated that he had only agreed to the terms forced upon him by the authorities under psychological and physical pressure. The interrogators had questioned him for an extensive period of time under bright lights and openly threatened to retaliate against his family if he did not cooperate, he told a fellow activist.

A long string of violent incidents that had begun in 2005, starting with constant surveillance by plainclothes police officers, gave Gao reason to heed those threats.  Those incidents included:

  • 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.

  • On November 21, 2005, a group of unidentified men followed Gao to a meeting in a restaurant with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak, crowding the room they were sitting in and displaying hostile, intimidating behavior. After a UN aide took a picture of the group, the men protested vehemently and forced her to delete the picture. Gao and Novak retreated to a hotel to continue without their meeting being directly observed.

  • On March 10, 2006, plainclothes police officers who were monitoring his law firm stopped lawyer Li Heping—who was handling Gao’s appeal against the suspension of his professional license—from accessing his office. The men wrestled Li out of the building and threatened Gao.

  • On July 30, 2006, Gao was violently beaten by policemen in charge of the surveillance of his home, and then briefly detained at the local police station. Gao had come down from his apartment to request that they turn off the motor of their vehicle. A dispute erupted and three of the seven-man team posted there assaulted Gao. One of them tried to hit him with a large brick. Gao sustained minor injuries to his left arm and to one of his legs.

  • On August 15, 2006, Gao was arrested at his sister’s home in Dongying municipality, Shandong Province. He was taken away in a car and disappeared for over a month. His family was finally notified on September 21 that he was in police custody for suspected criminal acts.

  • Gao’s wife, Geng He, subsequently was warned by police officials not to contact or communicate with anyone, especially the media. If she complied, she was told, she would be able to meet Gao Zhisheng. (Gao remained incommunicado until his trial on December 12.) The family continued to be harassed by agents who monitored them around the clock, followed them everywhere, prohibited friends and visitors from coming to see them, and warned them about communicating with anyone about Gao’s case.

  • On November 21, 2006, plainclothes policemen made an attempt to pick up Gao’s two-year-old son from kindergarten. The officers showed their police badge to the teacher, who refused to comply. Gao’s wife’s enquiries to the police went unanswered.

  • On November 24, 2006, two police officers punched Gao’s wife in the street after she challenged them for tailing her. She called the police station, which declined to send a patrol but asked her to report to a station close to her residence.

  • On December 16, 2006, a few days before Gao’s trial, his 13-year-old daughter refused to be escorted home from school in a police car. Police officers dragged her into the car, bruising her legs and neck.

  • 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.”87

    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.

    Attacks against Chen Guangcheng’s legal team

    The second case that attracted considerable attention in 2006 was the long string of abuses and procedural flaws in the trial of the blind “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng. A self-taught legal activist, not a licensed lawyer, Chen documented abuses committed by the local family planning authorities of Linyi municipality, Shandong Province, in a report made public in June 2005.88 He was first put under house arrest in mid-August 2005 as he was trying to help four villagers to bring a lawsuit against the family planning bureau. By this time, Chen’s case had become something of a “cause célèbre” among weiquan and legal activists, and a number of lawyers, legal experts, and rights activists started to organize his defense and publicize his case.

    On March 11, 2006, following a confrontation with the police over the beating of a neighbor by unidentified men, Chen was taken away by police and detained incommunicado for six months. After being formally charged with “inciting crowds to disrupt traffic” and intentional destruction of property, Chen was sentenced in August 2007 to four years and three months’ imprisonment. In October, the appellate court annulled the first trial, although it did not make clear on what grounds, and ordered the case remanded to the same court, which in December imposed the exact same sentence for the same crimes. The second verdict was upheld in January 2007 by the appellate court.

    Lawyers who came to Chen’s defense were repeatedly subject to intense harassment and in some cases physical attack every time they came to Linyi to visit Chen, interview relatives and villagers, or prepare for and attend the trial. Incidents included:

  • On October 4, 2005, Bejing lawyers Li Fangping and Li Subin, accompanied by law lecturer Xu Zhiyong, attempted to visit Chen, who was then under arbitrary house arrest. They were stopped by over a dozen unidentified men surrounding Chen’s house. Xu Zhiyong and Li Fangping were shoved and punched, and the three men were taken to the Shuanghou police station where they were interrogated until the following morning, before being escorted back to Beijing.

  • In late June 2006, while Chen was detained at the Yinan County Detention Center, three lawyers accompanied by the Beijing-based human rights activist Hu Jia attempted to visit Chen’s family. As they entered the village, unidentified men surrounded their car and flipped it over. The men threatened the group and physically prevented them from reaching Chen’s house. Lawyer Li Jingsong started to take pictures but had his camera snatched by the men. Uniformed police present on the site refused to intervene and took Li Jinsong in for questioning.

  • On July 10, a few days before Chen’s hearing date for the trial, lawyers Li Jinsong, Li Subin, and Zhang Lihui, accompanied by Hu Jia, traveled to Linyi to gather testimonies and visit Chen’s relatives. Chen’s wife was taken away in a police car before she could meet them.

  • On August 17, lawyers Li Fangping and Zhang Lihui, along with legal scholar Xu Zhiyong, arrived in Linyi for Chen’s trial, due to be held the following day. Unidentified men physically intimidated the group in a restaurant, and accused Xu of being a pickpocket. The police detained the three lawyers, and held Xu long enough that he was unable to attend the trial.

  • On November 27, lawyer Teng Biao, who had traveled to Linyi to attend the re-trial of Chen, was forcibly taken away and detained for five hours by the police. He was handled roughly, with five or six policemen pinning him to the ground while they searched him, confiscated his mobile phone, and questioned him. He was released without explanation as to why he was detained.

  • On December 27, lawyers Li Fangping and Li Jinsong were ambushed on their way to meet with Chen to discuss his second appeal. Two cars without license plates stopped the overnight bus on which they were traveling. Eight unidentified men dragged Li Jinsong out of the bus and without a word started hitting him with metal pipes. Li Fangping stepped off the bus and was attacked as well, sustaining head injuries that required emergency care. The lawyers suspected that the local authorities knew of their itinerary, as they had communicated with the judge who had conveyed Chen’s request to see them.

  • As in the case of Gao Zhisheng, the local authorities put under surveillance, harassed and threatened the family of their target. Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, has been under permanent surveillance since Chen’s arrest. She has filed numerous formal and informal complaints, including with the help of some Beijing lawyers, all to no avail. When Yuan attempted to travel to Manila in August 2007 to collect a human rights award from the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation on Chen’s behalf, police confiscated her passport and sent her back to Shandong province. A few days later, she was forcibly pulled from the bus she had boarded to return to Beijing by a group of plainclothes policemen.89 To date she is still under around-the-clock police surveillance and her movements are restricted. 90

    Chinese domestic media never reported on Gao Zhisheng’s or Chen Guangcheng’s cases except to announce their convictions,91 and official spokespersons evaded questions from foreign journalists about these cases during the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ weekly press conferences.

    The conclusion that weiquan lawyers drew from the cases of Gao and Chen was that the central authorities would condone physical abuses against lawyers if they were involved in cases that could result in significant embarrassment for the government or the Party, even at the expense of damaging the credibility of the legal system as a whole.

    “The silence of the central authorities implies that they endorsed the actions of the local officials who beat up lawyers,” said one attorney directly involved in the Chen Guangcheng case.

    In Beijing it is the state security that was doing the surveillance of some of the lawyers [during the trial]—how could the central government not know about the case? What’s more, this case was widely reported by international media—the New York Times, Radio Free Asia, we got calls from media from the world over. And it was a big discussion topic on internet.92

    According to one account given to Human Rights Watch by a legal expert, the Ministry of Justice in Beijing had initially not paid any attention to Chen Guangcheng’s case, and that it was the local authorities in Linyi who were solely responsible for the abuses against Chen and various members of his defense team. But the central authorities then stepped in:

    After the international outcry that followed the first trial, the central authorities were forced to take notice. The party authorities at the Ministry of Justice mandated a special small investigative team to review the case. The team concluded that the trial had clearly violated the procedures…. The Political and Legal committee of the Party ultimately decided that it could not uphold the trial but nor could it give encouragement to the weiquan agitators. So it instructed the appellate court to have the case remanded.93

    It is impossible to verify this account of the central authorities’ involvement, given the notorious opacity of decision-making in cases with political overtones. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has a responsibility to uphold the law. The silence of the government and the official media in face of what appears to have been blatant criminal intimidation and unlawful acts over many months indicates that the central government was, at a minimum, abetting the repressive tactics of the local authorities and the political police.

    Weiquan lawyers readily acknowledge that Gao’s and Chen’s cases were out of the ordinary because their prominent standing in international media prompted the highest Party authorities to dictate the outcome.94 But these lawyers are also adamant that these cases were emblematic of the prevalent problems that lawyers and legal advocates face in their work: physical danger, surveillance and intimidation by state security personnel, refusal by law enforcement agencies to protect lawyers or entertain complaints, impunity for the attackers, and media censorship surrounding the cases.

    One lawyer, in reference to Gao and Chen, told Human Rights Watch:

    These cases may have been exceptional but the problems they exposed were typical of those that affect the legal profession. Completely typical.95

    Other lawyers who were not involved in the case shared this view in private discussions.

    What do you think? If this can happen when so many people pay attention to the case—lawyers, law professors, the foreign media, the internet community—how could the situation be better in regular cases? The problems shown by the ‘Old Gao’ and [Chen] Guangcheng cases are really very widespread.96

    According to another lawyer, it was precisely because Chen Guangcheng’s case was so typical that it inspired the legal community to support him.

    Personally I don’t think this case was well handled [by Chen’s legal team], but the hardships faced by the defense were not out of the ordinary for lawyers in China. The local authorities are too powerful—this is why you have to avoid alienating the central authorities in a case like this.97

    Beyond Gao and Chen: Recurring violence against lawyers

    Violence against lawyers is not limited to high profile cases that the authorities see as political. In fact, cases of assault against lawyers appear with disturbing frequency in all types of cases, from commercial disputes to administrative lawsuits.  For instance, between 2005 and 2006, at least five cases of physical assaults against lawyers in Shanghai were reported and widely discussed in the domestic media.98

    The cases of Wang Lin, who was beaten by a court official in Tianjin, and of Mao Liequn, who was attacked by a gang in Shanghai, received nationwide attention among lawyers, with various bar association trying to publicize the incidents to advance the cause of lawyers in public opinion and government circles. More sensitive cases like Gao Weiquan, who was dragged from a petition office, Yang Zaixin, attacked two weeks after having his professional license suspended, and Tang Jingling, who was assaulted in Guangzhou, are well known among weiquan activists but have received no publicity. All these cases were regularly cited by legal professionals interviewed by Human Rights Watch as typical of the dangers faced by lawyers.

    Wang Lin, Tianjin

    The March 2006 attack on Beijing lawyer Wang Lin is probably the most famous case to be covered by the official media. The fact that the incident took place just a few weeks after the Supreme People’s Court had promulgated new measures intended to strengthen “the protection of lawyers carrying their professional duties” was of particular significance.99

    On March 28, 2006, Wang Lin went to file a collective administrative lawsuit against the government construction bureau at the Tianjin Nankai District court. He was accompanied by 11 plaintiffs who were challenging a decision from the Tianjin Construction Bureau to evict them, arguing that the scope of an eviction order granted two years ago had been broadened without permission to encompass their homes.

    The vice-head of the administrative court refused to accept the filing of the case, asserting that the plaintiffs needed to file individual cases, not a collective one. Wang suggested that he would do so, but the court official replied, “Even if you file plaintiff by plaintiff we won’t lodge this case.” Wang asked for a written court document to that effect, which the official refused as well. “I am the court and the court is me. If I say no filing, that means no filing,” the official told Wang.

    In the heated discussion that followed, the official tried to punch Wang, and then shoved him outside the court, grabbing him by the back of the neck and warning him:  “Be careful when walking in the street at night.”

    Because Wang was relatively well-known, having been featured in a program by China Central Television that exposed the wrongful eviction of over 7,000 people in central Hunan province, and having worked for an influential law firm, he managed to get a prominent newspaper, the Beijing Youth Daily, to run a detailed exposé of the incident shortly afterwards.

    The publication of the article generated a strong debate among lawyers, who spotted an opportunity to highlight their plight and denounce the authorities’ inaction. Many articles quoted Wang Lin’s comments published on his personal website:

    You can beat me up, but please do not beat me up in court; please do not beat me up as I carry out my professional duties. Being beaten in this manner, I feel that not only myself but the law itself is being beaten. And this is what I find difficult to accept.100

    One online commentator suggested that petty harassment of lawyers by court officials was widespread:

    This is far from being the only case. In many local tribunals the personnel are really beyond belief! Last year a certain lawyer was even attacked during the hearing by a court official…. Court personnel make our work difficult and we have to endure countless humiliations.101

    In early April, media reports announced that the president of the Supreme People’s Court, Xiao Yang, had himself issued “internal instructions [pishi]” to investigate the Wang Lin incident “and solve it according to the facts.”102

    On April 15, the Tianjin Party political-legal committee set up an investigation team with members from the committee, the court and the Procuracy.103 The team concluded that “there was not sufficient evidence to resolve this case,” but nevertheless dismissed the court official. Although Wang was personally vindicated, the Nankai court has yet to grant a hearing for the administrative lawsuit of the plaintiffs whose homes were destroyed.

    Although the outcome of the episode—the sanction of a court official—is the exception rather than the norm, lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that “the case was emblematic of the behavior of some local courts.”104

    Gao Weiquan, Shenyang

    Gao Weiquan’s case is also illustrative. Gao (who is no relation to  Gao Zhisheng), a 59-year old lawyer from Shenyang, Liaoning Province, was physically assaulted on April 13, 2006, as he attempted to file a complaint for retrial at the Letters and Visit Office of the Liaoning Province High Court.

    According to Gao’s account, the staff refused to file his complaint without explanation. Gao then asked to see the head of the Letters and Visits office. He was told to “go look for him outside.” Three court staff members then brutally dragged him out of the building, hitting and kicking him with their fists and feet. Gao called the police. The court personnel justified his physical removal from the court on the grounds that Gao had been “petitioning without grounds” and “damaging the door” of the office. The police refused to lodge a formal complaint. The next day, Gao filed a report to the Shenyang lawyers association and the Liaoning High People’s court. Three weeks later, on May 8, having still not received an official answer, Gao wrote an open letter to the provincial Liaoning lawyers association and posted it on the internet:

    How come I have still not heard a word from the court? …  A lawyer is beaten and so what? If even the lawyers association doesn’t care, how can we expect the Public Security Bureau to do anything about it?105

    Despite eliciting much support on internet from fellow lawyers, neither the local judicial authorities nor the Liaoning lawyers association have taken any action to date.

    Mao Liequn, Shanghai

    Even when local bar associations are more vocal, the results are limited, as illustrated by the attempt by the Shanghai bar association to improve protection for lawyers after a 2006 spate of attacks against attorneys doing their jobs.

    In August 2006, lawyer Mao Liequn was severely beaten by a gang of 10 men while representing a Hong Kong company in talks to evict a Shanghai firm illegally occupying a dockside storehouse in Pudong. Mao suffered a broken nose and multiple injuries to his head, hand, and body that required hospitalization. “One man grabbed my clothes, hitting me with his fist on the face, while another one grabbed my hair. Other joined and blows rained all over my body,” Mao recounted to a Chinese journalist. His client, who was accompanying him, was also assaulted. Mao was then dragged into a nearby building, where he was again beaten up. An associate of Mao managed to call the police, and, crucially, to film from his car the assailants as they were escaping.106

    The Shanghai bar association reacted vigorously. A spokesperson told the press that the Mao Liequn attack “came as a warning to all of us,” and that the bar association was proposing draft legislation to strengthen the protection of lawyers carrying out their duties. “In recent years many lawyers from Shanghai were assaulted in the course of their professional work,” the spokesperson said.107 “We feel that there should be a law for protecting lawyers.”

    Local press reports highlighted three other recent cases of lawyers having been assaulted: On September 28, 2005, a lawyer from the Guochen law firm was attacked and threatened by thugs while handling a commercial dispute between rival firms. The harassment continued afterwards, ranging from threats to cutting the water supply to his private home. In two separate incidents in July and August 2005, two lawyers from the Guoxiong and Liancheng law firms, respectively, were attacked by disgruntled parties in front of the court building.

    The Shanghai bar indicated that the proposed legislation would seek to guarantee the rights and safety of lawyers during negotiations, investigations, and evidence gathering.108 Such legislation had been discussed for a number of years and had been recommended for ratification by the judicial affairs committee of the Shanghai People’s Assembly as early as 2004, but to no effect. Despite the national attention given to Mao’s case, it failed to generate momentum for the adoption of such regulations.  

    A few months later, on October 19, 2006, another Shanghai lawyer was violently assaulted. He Wei, from the Minjiang law firm, was working free of charge on a labor case, seeking compensation for a worker who had lost three fingers in an accident at a printing company. When He tried to visit the company, the manager reportedly told him: “A lawyer? What kind of thing is that?” and proceeded to beat him with the help of his associates, kicking him repeatedly on the ground.109 He Wei sustained a perforated eardrum and various other injuries that required hospitalization.  Shanghai media reported the case, including on television, and He Wei’s attacker was later sentence to a year of imprisonment, but there was no new public appeal from the bar association to enact regulations protecting lawyers.110

    Despite the inability of bar associations across the country to defend individual lawyers who represent sensitive human rights cases, the associations often do show professional solidarity with the victims of abuses.

    Li Heping, Beijing

    Li Heping, a lawyer from the Beijing Globe law firm, was kidnapped, detained, and beaten by a group of unidentified men on September 29, 2007. His captors released him after six hours, having threatened him with further violence if he did not leave Beijing permanently. 

    Initially a specialist in intellectual property and civil law, Li had also participated in a string of sensitive cases, including that of the blind activist Chen Guangcheng; the underground Christian sect leader Xu Shuangfu, who was executed with 11 other members in November 2006;111 Yang Zili, a member of a university discussion group (New Youth Study Group), who was sentenced in 2001 to eight years imprisonment for “subverting state power”; 112 and other cases highlighting abuses by state agencies.

    In the few days preceding the attack, Li had reported being followed by police and plainclothes officers he believed he had met before and were from the State Protection Bureau. On September 29, around 5 p.m., one of these officers invited him to get into his car. Li declined. Five minutes later a group of men seized Li, covered his head with a hood, bundled him into a car, and drove out of Beijing. He was then dragged into a basement where he was beaten up by men using electrical batons. They ordered him to leave Beijing with his family or face retribution. Li’s captors also copied the contents of his computer, and took his external hard drive, mobile phone chip, and notebook, before detaining him for a day in a Beijing suburb. Li reported the incident the next day, and was promised a “serious investigation” into the incident by the police. “They want all my family to move out of Beijing, to sell my apartment, my car and leave Beijing. In their words, I am to ‘get the hell out of Beijing [gunchu Beijing],’” Li recounted to Radio Free Asia the next day.113 Li has since indicated he intends to continue his work undeterred.

    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.”114

    In August 2006, Yang traveled to Shandong province to attend Chen Guangcheng’s trial. The local police apprehended him before sending him back to Guangxi, where he was detained for a few days by the police.115

    Tang Jingling, Guangzhou

    Tang Jingling’s case provides another example of physical attacks on and intimidation of lawyers by unidentified agents at the very time that judicial authorities are pressuring the lawyers to drop sensitive cases. Tang, a lawyer from Guangzhou who gained prominence in participating in a notorious case of counterfeited medicine, known as the “qi er yao” case, was working with rights activist Guo Feixiong on a number of election recall cases, including in Taishi, Guangdong.116

    On February 2, 2006, Tang was verbally provoked and hit by men who appeared to have links to law enforcement agencies. A group of unidentified men had started to follow Tang after he had visited Guo Feixiong that day. Tang tried unsuccessfully to get away from them, before going towards the closest police station. According to Tang’s account, one of the men then hit him from behind:

    One of them, maybe their chief, was older than the others, very tall, with a heavy face. As we were walking towards the police station in a small alley, he suddenly hit me with great force in the back of the head. I turned around and said ‘Why did you hit me?’ I talked to them calmly, [though] there were other people in the street [who] all saw his belligerent gesture. He didn’t reply. I gave him a look, and continued to walk in the direction of the police station. After a few steps, he hit me another time. Again, I asked him why. We continued to walk and at the turn of the alley, four people surrounded me.

    Tang recounted that the men obstructed his passage with their bodies, pushed him around, and stamped on his feet. At this point Tang saw a police car close by and went for help. The police took him to the police station a few hundred meters from there. The men waited outside the police station. Tang then contacted Sun Yatsen University’s Professor Ai Xiaoming, a renowned rights activist, who came to the police station to help Tang to file a complaint. The officer taking the deposition refused to accept that Tang had been assaulted and failed to give a copy of the complaint to Tang. After Tang and Ai realized that the police would not accompany them despite the presence of the gang outside of the police station, they took a taxi to Ai’s home, to which they were followed by the men who kept watch until 10 p.m.  A few weeks later, in April 2006, Tang lost his professional registration when his law firm withdrew his annual renewal application. (See below section VI.)

    As the cases above illustrate, physical intimidation of lawyers remains a pervasive risk. Violence is used as way to deter lawyers from representing certain plaintiffs, to deny them the ability to gather evidence independently, to discourage them from pursuing a case, to retaliate against them if they persist, and to frighten and silence them if they continue to be active about causes after having been disqualified as professional lawyers. Moreover, violence and the threat of violence are not only the province of criminals but also sometimes of non-state agents who appear to act with the knowledge of the police.

    The failure of the government to ensure that lawyers are able to perform all their professional functions without intimidation appears to be particularly conspicuous for lawyers who try to bring human rights cases before the courts, but not limited to these cases. The investigation of attacks against lawyers was a specific request of the 53 lawyers who addressed an open letter to the central authorities in December 2006. Without adequate protection for lawyers, the letter pointed out, the government pledges of building “a lawful and harmonious society” were unrealistic:

    We entirely support the general project of governing the Party and the state according to law, as well as the establishment of a harmonious society. But a harmonious society must be a society based on legality. If the environment for lawyers deteriorates in this way, how can we advance a law-abiding and harmonious society? We strongly request that the illegalities committed by judicial organs and associated rogue agents be investigated so as to carry out the lawful protection of the security of legal professionals discharging their duties. We also demand that the Law on Lawyers be revised, and that relevant regulations and supervision measures be enacted, so as to improve the environment in which lawyers work.117

    Despite the widespread character of attacks on members or ex-members of the legal profession and the repeated calls to address this situation, the government appears to continue to turn a blind eye to the problem.

    78 For instance the annual reports published by the Ministry of Justice, which includes the activities of the Lawyers and notaries bureau, doesn’t make any mention of having entertained complains from assaulted or threatened lawyers. See Law Yearbook of China, (Beijing: China Law Press, various years). [中国司法行政年鉴 (北京: 法律出版社).]

    79 “The exceptional publication of a survey on the situation of criminal lawyers,” China 21st Century Business Herald, August 11, 2004 [“刑辩律师执业状况调查报告的非正常公布,” 21世纪经济报道, 2004-08-11], (accessed February 13, 2007).

    80 A version of the report was later published as a book: Selection of cases of defense of lawyers’ rights (Changchun: Jilin People’s Press, 2003). [律师维权案例选 (长春:吉林人民出版社, 2003).]

    81 Ibid. For a brief presentation of some of these cases see: Tom Kellogg, “A Case for the Defense,” China Rights Forum 2 (2003): 31-34; “In Custody: Lawyers in Detention,” China Rights Forum 2 (2005): 101-105.

    82 “Strongly requesting the protection of the security of the legal profession according to law, and the amelioration of the environment of the legal profession,” Letter to the central government, dated December 29, 2006. The signatories were Cheng Hai, Gao Fengquan, Zhang Lihui, Ou-Yang Zhigang, Li Heping, Li Qingsong, Meng Xianming [“强烈要求依法保护律师执业安全,改善律师执业环境,” 2006-12-29, 附请求人: 程海, 高凤泉, 张立辉, 欧阳志, 李和平, 李劲松, 孟宪明], (accessed May 15, 2007).

    83 Ibid.

    84 Human Rights Watch interview with D.X., a Beijing lawyer, November 2007.

    85 “China Lawyer's Sentence Suspended,” The Associated Press, December 22, 2006.

    86 A reprieve withholds execution of the penalty as long as the defendant exhibits good behavior. If, however, the defendant  breaches bond conditions or commits another crime, the court is entitled to revoke the suspension and have the defendant serve the initial sentence in prison.

    87 “Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng says judicial procedures for his case fair,” Xinhua News Agency,  December 25, 2006, (accessed February 11, 2008).

    88 The report, “Violence in Enforcing Family Planning in a Chinese Region,” was translated into English and posted by the nongovernmental organization The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CRD) on June 11, 2005 at (accessed June 15, 2005).

    89 “Wife of blind activist says she was dragged off bus in eastern China,” The Associated Press, September 1, 2007.

    90 See “China vs. a Blind Man: A Report on the Case of Imprisoned Human Rights Defender Chen Guangcheng,” The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defender (CRD), February 20, 2007, (accessed March 1, 2007).

    91 The official Xinhua news agency only issued very brief dispatches announcing the formal prosecution and the sentencing of Gao and Chen.

    92 Human Rights Watch interview with G.F., a lawyer member of the Beijing Bar association, November 2007.

    93 Human Rights Watch interview with L.W., a lawyer and lecturer from Beijing, April 2007.

    94  Joseph Kahn, “Rivals on Legal Tightrope Seek to Expand Freedoms in China,” The New York Times, February 25, 2007.

    95 Human Rights Watch interview with W.R., a Beijing lawyer, April 2007.

    96 Human Rights Watch interview with L.D., a Beijing lawyer, March 2007.

    97 Human Rights Watch interview with M.Y., a criminal lawyer from Beijing, March 2007.

    98 “Shanghai lawyers appeal for greater protection following attack on colleague,” The Associated Press, September 1, 2006.

    99 “Supreme People’s Court Notice on Conscientiously Implementing the Law on Lawyers and Protecting Lawyers’ Professional Rights in Litigation,” March 13, 2006 [最高人民法院关于认真贯彻律师法 依法保障律师在诉讼中执业权利的通知, 2006-03-13], reproduced at (accessed July 26, 2007).

    100 “Wang Cailiang: A lawyer bringing lawsuits for forcibly evicted households,” Law and Life, April 28, 2007 [王才亮: 专为拆迁户打官司的律师, 法律与生活, 2007-04-28], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    101 Posting by a user on a Tianjin online forum (, 2006-04-13 09:09:11  (on file with HRW).

    102 “Tianjin Court reject responsibility for the beating of a Beijing lawyer – Xiao Yang issues written instructions,” The Beijing News, April 13, 2006 [“天津法官否认殴打北京律师 肖扬对此作批示”, 新京报, 2006-04-13], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    103 “Who is going to protect lawyers? The incident of the Beijing lawyer beaten by a Tianjin court official,” 21st Century Business Herald, April 19, 2006 [“谁来保护律师 "天津法官被指殴打北京律师"事件”, 21世纪经济报道, 2006-04-19], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    104 Human Rights Watch interview with X.Y., a law lecturer in Beijing involved in impact litigation cases, March 2007.

    105 “Lawyer Gao Fenquan issues a letter to the Liaoning Bar association,” Hualü Wang (, May 8, 2006[“高凤泉律师致辽宁省律协的公开信”, 华律网,  2006-05-08], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    106 “Lawyer Beaten at Pier while Carrying Duties –  Police Already Investigating,” China Youth Daily, August 31, 2006 [“律师码头履行公务遭群殴 警方已经介入调查,” 青年报, 2006年8月31日], (accessed February 26, 2007).

    107 Ibid.

    108 “Shanghai lawyers appeal for greater protection following attack on colleague,” The Associated Press, September 1, 2006.

    109 “Shanghai lawyer beaten while collecting evidence – What is the source of despise for the law?” Radio Free Asia (Mandarin Service), October 31, 2006 [“上海律师取证被打 蔑视法律根源何在?” 自由亚洲电台, 2006-10-31], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    110 “After the lawyers beating,” Shanghai Media Group portal (, November 22, 2006 [“律师被打以后,” 上海文广新闻传媒集团网站 (, 2006-11-22], (accessed April 8, 2008).

    111 “China reportedly executes Christian sect leader in secret,” The Associated Press, November 29, 2006

    112 See Philip P. Pan, “A Study Group Is Crushed in China's Grip: Beliefs Are Tested in Saga Of Sacrifice and Betrayal,” The Washington Post, April 23, 2004. Yang was sentenced to eight years imprisonment. He is due for release on March 13, 2009.

    113 “Beijing lawyer Li Heping kidnapped and beaten,” Radio Free Asia (Mandarin Service), September 30, 2007 [“北京律师李和平遭绑架殴打,” 自由亚洲电台¸ 2007-09-30], (accessed October 1, 2007).

    114 “Assaulted Guangxi Rights Defender Says Police is Not Taking Action,” Voice of America (Mandarin service), April 9, 2007. [“广西维权律师挨打称公安知情不管,” 美国之音, 2007-04-09], (accessed May 12, 2007).

    115 Human Rights Watch News Release, “China: Government Must End Crackdown on Lawyers,” August 23, 2006,

    116 Villagers in Taishi attempted to organize the recall of a local party power-holder. A long cycle of crackdowns and protests ensued. Ai Xiaoming, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou made an underground four-part documentary about the protest movement there, and authored a letter to Premier Wen Jiabao calling for central government intervention. Many of the legal activists involved in the Taishi dispute have since run into problems, from beatings and intimidation (Lu Banglie,) to harassment (Guo Yan, Zhao Xin,) to arrest (Gao Zhisheng, Guo Feixiong.)  A large compilation of articles related to the protests in Taishi was made by Fan Yafeng, “Chronology of the Taishi Incident,” Internet Publicatio, dated September 17, 2005. [范亚峰, “太石村事件备忘录,” 博讯, 2005-9-17.] A partial translation in English was made available on the “EastSouthWestNorth” website ( at See also “Chinese Authorities Arrest Rights Lawyer in ‘Test-Case’ Taishi Village,” Radio Free Asia, October 5, 2005, (accessed October 31, 2007). 

    117 “Strongly requesting the protection of the security of the legal profession according to law, and the amelioration of the environment of the legal profession,” Letter to the central government, dated December 29, 2006 [“强烈要求依法保护律师执业安全, 改善律师执业环境,” 2006-12-29.]