Staff at a detention center in Tianjin, China denied a request by lawyers for detained human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang to meet their client on the morning of September 20. The attempt devolved into a scuffle as Wang’s lawyers, Cheng Hai and Lin Qilei, attempted to record the police, which resulted in the confiscation of Lin’s phone and the tearing of Cheng’s pants.
Wang was detained by Chinese police as part of the 709 Crackdown over two years ago. The crackdown, named because it began on July 9, 2015, led to the arrest of over 300 lawyers. While in detention, many, including Li Chunfu, were tortured, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of the arrested lawyers have since been released on bail or given suspended sentences, but Wang remains in custody.
Two days after the beginning of the crackdown, the state-run Xinhua News Network accused Wang’s firm of being a “criminal organization” and inciting “social disorder.” He was arrested on August 2, 2015. After six months in detention, Wang was charged with subversion of state power. He was indicted on February 14, 2017.
There is no indication of why Wang has not been released or why friends, family, and lawyers have been repeatedly denied meetings with him. Following a previous attempt to meet with Wang, his lawyers were informed that the request was denied on national security grounds. Another attempt in June 2016 led to the detention of four lawyers and others at a protest in front of the detention center on Wang’s behalf.
A fellow lawyer detained during the 709 Crackdown claims that Wang’s continued detention is due to his unwillingness to admit to wrongdoing, a sentiment echoed by Wang’s wife, Li Wenzu, who claims that Wang’s refusal to compromise has undermined authorities’ efforts to quickly prosecute him.
This most recent arrest is not the first time Wang has fallen afoul of Chinese authorities. His home was raided by police in 2008, and he was detained in court in April 2013—marking the first time in China that a lawyer had been arrested while defending their client. Following the 2013 incident, he was sentenced to 10 days detention but was released three days later after public backlash.
The incident involving Wang’s lawyers is part of a recent escalation of attacks on human rights lawyers, according to a report released September 19 by Human Rights Watch. They also note that while lawyers from the targeted firms have been pressured by authorities before, the scope and depth of the investigations were unusual.
Wang’s condition is still unknown, and his wife’s weekly petitions for his release continue to go unanswered. No date for his trial has been set at this time.