Chinese Lawyer Persecuted for Article on COVID in Wuhan, Remains Determined to Stand Up for Her Rights

Chinese Lawyer Persecuted for Article on COVID in Wuhan, Remains Determined to Stand Up for Her Rights
Screenshot of Lawyer Liu Yingying's social media photo via The Epoch Times on Sept. 13, 2023.
Sophia Lam

China’s stringent censorship of speech, including online, targets not just ordinary citizens, but also lawyers, who find it difficult to protect themselves—even with the advantage of their legal knowledge.

A young Chinese lawyer was punished and has been persecuted for the past three years for posting online what she saw in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s central Hubei Province, where the COVID pandemic broke out three years ago.

Liu Yingying, a lawyer in her thirties from China’s central Henan Province, wrote a short article on Mar. 26, 2020, about what she saw in Wuhan after the pandemic broke out.

The local lawyers association of Zhengzhou City in Henan Province gave Ms. Liu a warning on April 2, 2020, just days after she posted her article. Her boss then forced her to leave the law firm, Ms. Liu told the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times in a recent interview.

She says she has been forced to transfer from one law firm to another over the past three years, as each firm was pressured by the authorities before ultimately telling her to leave.

Coerced and Persecuted for an Online Article

In an article of less than 700 words titled “Today, Family Members Lined Up to Collect Ashes [of their deceased loved ones] at Hankou Funeral Home,” Ms. Liu expressed her sorrow for those who died in the pandemic, as well as for their families. She also criticized those officials who concealed and lied about the pandemic, and called for the authorities to punish officials who had failed in their duties.
Ms. Liu also mentioned Fang Fang, a popular writer in China, and the diary Fang Fang kept of the pandemic when she was stuck in Wuhan. Ms. Liu also commented on the numerous unclaimed cell phones scattered on the ground in China, a citizen journalist named Zhang Zhan who attempted to report on the true situation of the pandemic in Wuhan but was sentenced to four years in prison, and Xie Yanyi, a human rights lawyers who demanded that the Chinese health authorities disclose information about the pandemic outbreak.
 Locals wait in line to pick up the ashes of family members who died from the COVID-19 virus at Hankou Funeral Home in Wuhan, China, on March 25, 2020. (Mao Daqing/Weibo)
Locals wait in line to pick up the ashes of family members who died from the COVID-19 virus at Hankou Funeral Home in Wuhan, China, on March 25, 2020. (Mao Daqing/Weibo)

“The dead have passed away, but holding those accountable for their death shouldn’t stop here. I hope that all the malfeasant personnel in this pandemic will be brought to justice as soon as possible and receive due punishment!” wrote Ms. Liu.

The article was soon removed by the Chinese regime. A copy of Ms. Liu’s article can still be found on the website of China Digital Times, a not-for-profit organization that strives to archive the online articles of writers courageous enough to tell the truth in China before such articles disappear from readers' sight.

Soon the local authorities paid Ms. Liu a visit about the article. The Zhengzhou Lawyers Association investigated her.

Wu Zongzhang, Ms. Liu’s former boss and the director of Zhengzhou Guoyin Law Firm, was also the director of Zhengzhou Lawyers Association’s disciplinary board, according to Ms. Liu.

“I was young and trusted Wu Zongzhang, who had been my mentor for over a year during my internship at the firm,” said Ms. Liu.

She said that she followed Mr. Wu three times to the local lawyers' association to cooperate with them in their investigation.

“I had no idea why they were investigating me. When I went there for the third time, the investigator handed me a warning notice, and I realized that their purpose was to punish me,” said Ms. Liu.

The “Industry Penalty Decision Opinion” (“the Opinion”) issued by the Zhengzhou Lawyers Association on April 2, 2020, states that the association had decided to give Ms. Liu “a warning as a disciplinary action” because she was “suspected of using the internet and media to hype unverified phenomena, instigating and spreading anti-government speech.” According to the Opinion, Ms. Liu’s article had over 500,000 views, had been shared by over 10,000 people, and had received more than 4,000 comments, “causing a certain level of adverse social impact.”

At that time, Mr. Wu forced Ms. Liu to quit her job at Zhengzhou Guoyin Law Firm and sent an employee to her home, who forced her to sign a prepared resignation letter.

“Zhengzhou doesn’t welcome you, nor does the province of Henan,” her former boss told her.

She had to leave the city, only to find that she was being forced to transfer from one law firm to the next for the next three years. She said that she is now in China’s southern Shenzhen City, and that she faces the same destiny of having to leave the law firm she’s working for.

“They don’t allow me to take on any case; they’re forcing me to leave in this way,” she said.

“I cannot continue wandering from one place to another across the country like this, just because of a single warning,” Ms. Liu told the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times on Sept. 13.

“But why should I be wandering? Just because I have told the truth?” Ms. Liu said, adding that she has made up her mind to stand up and defend herself by appealing to justice.

She asked China’s National Lawyers Association for help on Sept. 9, and filed a lawsuit with a local court in Zhengzhou against Zhengzhou Lawyers Association on Sept. 12.

Voices of Support

China Human Rights Lawyers Group, founded in 2013 by Mr. Wang Cheng, Mr. Tang Jitian, and Mr. Jiang Tianyong, spoke up for Ms. Liu on April 8, 2020, condemning the regime for suppressing Ms. Liu and calling for freedom of speech, reported Radio Free Asia in 2020.

"Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. The decision of the Zhengzhou Lawyers Association violates Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution, and it also causes the Chinese government to contravene international legal documents such as the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers of the United Nations that China signed in 1988," the China Human Rights Lawyers Group stated.

A practicing lawyer under the pseudonym 'Lawyer Wang' expressed his view on Chinese social media that Ms. Liu was being punished for the words she wrote, and that it is the people and organizations that punished her that are in the wrong.

“I support her speaking out and will express my concern about any possible setbacks and further punishments she might be subjected to,” said Lawyer Wang.

A Zhengzhou resident using the alias 'Mr. Hou,' who had previously received legal services from Ms. Liu, told The Epoch Times: "Lawyer Liu is a lawyer with a strong sense of justice, courage to speak up, and she is full of vitality. I hope more people can show their concern over what has happened to Ms. Liu and support her."

The Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times reached out to Guoyin Law Firm in Zhengzhou on Sept. 13. A company representative said that director Wu Zongzhang was not in the office, and that Ms. Liu is no longer a lawyer at the firm because “she signed her resignation letter and left the firm of her own will.”

The Epoch Times called the Zhengzhou Lawyers Association on the same day, but the organization declined to comment.

Li Xi contributed to this report.