Beijing rights defense lawyer Wang Quanzhang went to court to act as a defense counsel—but ending up being thrown into detention himself. The 10-day detention was cut short, however, after lawyers and citizens protested outside the court and detention center.
The case is the first of its kind where a judge, in open court, has ordered that a working lawyer be detained, according to analyses on Chinese dissident websites, and it has attracted widespread criticism from civil rights lawyers in China.
Wang was attempting to defend Zhu Yanian, a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that the Chinese Communist Party has persecuted for over 13 years. The persecution of the practice is one of the most politically sensitive topics in China.
Wang was given a 10-day judicial detention on April 3 and was being held at the Jingjiang Detention Center in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
The Jingjiang City People’s Court issued a terse online statement the following day, saying Wang was being held for “serious violations of court procedure.” It said “the situation was serious,” though failed to specify what violations Wang had committed.
Wang’s client, Zhu Yanian, had been accused under a vaguely defined and legally questionable provision in the criminal code that speaks of using a religious organization to undermine the law. That provision does not mention Falun Gong by name.
He began his defense by requesting the judge be removed from the case, citing a conflict of interest, as Zhu had already filed a lawsuit against him for depriving Zhu of his right to hire his own defense attorney, according to a report by Botanwang, a U.S.-based Chinese language website.
Wang had his cell phone confiscated when he tried to use it to photograph evidence he was submitting in court, and was detained at the end of the trial–an unprecedented move by a Chinese court.
Several lawyers pointed out that Wang had the right to take a copy of evidence he brought into court. Beijing lawyer Cheng Hai told Botanwang that this was just an excuse for locking him up, and that the court had abused its power.
“Perhaps it’s because Wang presented powerful arguments in court, and worried those who have violated the law,” Cheng added.
Li Subin, Wang’s co-counsel at the law firm Qingshi, was refused entry to the court and his license to practice law has been confiscated, the firm said via its Weibo microblog.
A group of 35 lawyers left Beijing for Jingjiang that evening, and submitted a letter of protest Friday to the local authorities, calling for Wang to be released.
“If this case is not immediately set right, it will have a very serious impact nationally and internationally,” the lawyers wrote. “It will harm the image of the Chinese judiciary; it will undermine or destroy the people’s trust in the nation under the rule of law.”
Huang Jiede, Wang’s assistant, said in a blog post that Jingjiang officials, including the public security office and judge Miao Qinqi, telephoned Zhu’s daughter three times before the trial, to pressure Zhu into dismissing Wang. Judge Miao advised Zhu’s daughter to instead hire lawyers from Jingjiang, and added that the court would offer “legal assistance” to Zhu’s family.
According to his assistant, Wang argued that the court had seriously violated the Criminal Procedure Law, because it has presumed that Zhu was guilty for upholding his beliefs. On this basis the public security office had arrested and detained Zhu, ransacked his home, and interrogated him using torture, including holding the 68-year-old next to an air conditioner for three days and nights, Wang contended.
The news that Wang was released came from Beijing lawyer Wu Lei, who posted a message on his Sina Weibo at 2:30 a.m. Saturday Beijing time, saying he was with Wang.
The Falun Gong spiritual discipline has been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party since 1999, and rights groups say that thousands of practitioners have died from torture and tens of thousands become victims of organ harvesting.
Wang is known for his dogged support of vulnerable groups in China, and for daring to take on sensitive cases. Last year he was dragged out of a court in northeastern China after he attempted to defend a Falun Gong practitioner.