Human rights attorneys who defend adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual practice are being targeted by communist authorities, with the latest incident a serious assault on Beijing lawyer Cheng Hai by police in Dalian. Last week, another Beijing lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, was detained in court for using his cellphone to photograph evidence.
Cheng Hai told Reuters Friday that he was beaten by uniformed police after being denied the right to defend 13 Falun Gong practitioners.
Cheng said that around 10 officers punched him in the face, kicked him, and ripped his clothing. He was waiting outside a Dalian courthouse with another solicitor for an explanation as to why their Falun Gong trial had suddenly been postponed, when both men were detained and Cheng was beaten.
“The main purpose was to threaten the lawyers and cut off any legal help that is available,” Cheng told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The rights lawyer is planning to sue the Dalian police. “This is a very serious case of Chinese law being trampled upon and ignored,” he said.
The Falun Gong practitioners were reportedly arrested for setting up satellites to broadcast independent media New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television, according to the group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. NTD regularly covers topics censored by the regime, including the persecution of Falun Gong.
While lawyers that defend Falun Gong in China are being pressured and persecuted—a fact that has persisted for years—these incidents are now being reported in the Chinese press. In the case of Wang Quanzhang the Zhejiang Daily ran a commentary with the headline: “Lawyer Detained: a Farce, a Joke.” In the past, such cases have been tightly censored.
This opening of the censorship window, albeit so far a mere crack (the reports did not mention Falun Gong, for example), to many analysts indicates that the new Party leader Xi Jinping is asserting his primacy, and attempting to hasten the decline in power of Jiang Zemin, a former regime leader who initiated the persecution of Falun Gong and remains invested in it.
Rights groups believe that during Jiang’s persecution of Falun Gong, thousands of practitioners have been tortured to death and many have died from having their organs harvested.
Falun Gong adherents are also regularly denied access to legal defense, and lawyers brave enough to take on their cases have lost their licenses or been abused themselves.
Following Wang Quanzhang’s detention last week, members of the public and other lawyers rallied to his defense, forcing authorities to release him early. The meditation practice has gained strong public support over the last 18 months as more Chinese people call on the regime to end the persecution, mostly via petitions to authorities, sealed with stamps of red ink.