The Chinese law community is up in arms after prominent human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was detained at Jinjiang court in eastern Jiangsu province after defending the case of a Falun Gong practitioner.
Wang was ordered to remain in judicial custody on April 4, 2013 for 10 days for “disrupting court order” during the trial. He was released two days later.
The Falun Gong spiritual discipline, which has been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party since 1999, is one of the most sensitive topics in China. Wang is known for daring to take on difficult cases such as these. Last year, he was dragged out of a court in China after he tried to defend a Falun Gong practitioner.
News of Wang’s detention spread quickly on China’s most popular microblogging site Sina Weibo, with many lawyers calling his arrest an abuse of the court’s power and a move to suppress lawyers.
The next day, a group of lawyers travelled to the court to demand an explanation for Wang’s detention. They signed a letter to the court that reads:
“If this case is not immediately set right, it will have a very negative impact nationally and internationally, 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.”
After Wang was released, the Jingjiang court explained in online statement posted on its website that it had cut the 10-day sentence short because the detention had already served its purpose as a punishment.
But many lawyers believed the court released him because of public pressure. Wang announced on his Weibo account that he had asked for a judicial review of his detention. He also wrote:
“While peforming my duty legally as a lawyer, I suffered judicial custody, this is not only a violation of individual rights and freedom, but also a microcosm of the degradation of the working environment for Chinese lawyers.”
Wang’s release didn’t stop many lawyers from worrying about the country’s legal reality. Lawyer Yang Xuelin commented on Weibo:
“I was relieved after Wang’s release, but I’m not happy. From Wang’s arrest to his release, the rule-of-law approach has been blocked. Why arrest him? Why release him? All because of factors other than the law. Especially the official release says “[It] has served its purpose as a punishment without the need for further detention. This is such a big joke. Without the public pressure and lawyers’ protest, who believes that they would have taken the initiative to release Wang?”
Law professor Zhang Yibin confirmed Yang’s thoughts:
“Lawyers have no victory, the rule of law has no victory. From the beginning to the end, the court did not dare release the truth or admit its mistake. If they get away with it this time, there is no guarantee that this not going to intensify retaliation in the future. This incident solely relied on the lawyers’ and netizens’ spontaneous rescue. Neither the Department of Justice nor the Lawyers’ Association played its due role. Such a situation makes lawyers chill, do we have to defend our rights this way every time?”