Detained Chinese human rights lawyers and defenders continue to face long, bleak periods incommunicado and the risk of torture and ill-treatment. Lawyer Yu Wensheng was held incommunicado for 18 months before being allowed to see his lawyer of choice on 14 August 2020. He told his lawyer that he was tortured while in detention. He described being sprayed with pepper spray water, held for long periods in a metal chair and being deprived of food. He complained that he was no longer able to write with his right hand and his wife is concerned about his ill health.

Lawyer Yu Wensheng was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” by Xuzhou Intermediate People’s Court on 17 June 2020. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, and deprived of political rights for three years after release. He had been found guilty in a secret trial on 9 May 2019 and neither his lawyers nor his family had been informed. He had been detained since 19 January 2018 and held in ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ (RSDL), a form of incommunicado detention. RSDL is an extrajudicial coercive measure that is open to abuse and risk of torture.  

NGO workers, Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong were detained a year ago on suspicion of “subversion of state power.” They have been held incommunicado without access to their lawyers or families. On 10 July 2020, Cheng Yuan’s wife contacted the Changsha Procuratorate and was informed that the three men had been charged on 24 June and their case had been transferred to Changsha Intermediate Court. The families have still not received any written notification about the formal charge or when the trial will take place. This lack of information and access raises serious concerns about their treatment in detention.

A number of other human rights lawyers are being held incommunicado and without access to a lawyer.  Gao Zhisheng has been missing since August 2017, a month later his brother was informed by police that he was being detained in Beijing. His whereabouts are unknown. Lawyers Ding Jiaxi, Zhang Zhongshun and Dai Zhenya were taken away by police in December 2019 and held incommunicado in RSDL. Lawyer Ding Jiaxi was formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” in June 2020. They had all attended an informal meeting in Xiamen.

UN human rights experts have expressed grave concern about all of the above cases and their alarm at the ongoing use of incommunicado detention and RSDL in China. For many years the UN has reiterated that the measure is incompatible with international human rights law. The UN Committee Against Torture has urged the repeal of RSDL and in August 2018, ten UN Special Procedures sent a joint letter strongly condemning its use and reiterating the recommendations of the Committee. On the 30th anniversary of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers we share the concerns of many at the persecution of lawyers in China and the extent to which their role is being undermined by the authorities.