Cheng Yuan, head of a Changsha public interest law NGO, has been detained since 22 July 2019, along with two of his colleagues. He has still not been granted access to see a lawyer.

On 8 December 2019, in a post on Twitter, his wife, Shi Minglei, said:

“My husband Cheng Yuan was taken away by the Changsha state security 139 days ago, isolated from the world, we don’t know whether he is dead or alive.

He has been charged with subverting state power and held under ‘residential surveillance in a designated location.’ (RSDL)

Why have lawyers not been allowed to meet him?

Why have lawyers not been given his case file?

Why have lawyers not been given the facts over Cheng Yuan’s arrest? ... ”


There are fears that Cheng Yuan, and his colleagues, have been subjected to ill-treatment or torture.  The risk of torture is increased where detention facilities, such as RSDL, lack independent monitoring, access to a lawyer or family members.

The UN Committee Against Torture, following its 2015 review, recommended that China amend its legislation to grant all detainees the right to access to a lawyer from the very outset of deprivation of liberty, including during the initial police interrogation and irrespective of the charge brought against them.

China's criminal procedure law only allows lawyers to access their clients after an initial police interrogation which should take place in the first 24 hours. In cases involving one of the "three types of crime": terrorism, major bribery and endangering state security, the authorities have the right to restrict access to lawyers.

Many Chinese lawyers are unaware of China’s responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture despite China having ratified the Convention in 1988. In July 2019, The Rights Practice held a training workshop on international obligations for Chinese lawyers. The participatory workshop focused on the risks of ill treatment or torture when persons are deprived of their liberty and explored how to apply the Convention rights and the Nelson Mandela Rules for the treatment of prisoners in China.

Participants observed that many police, judges and lawyers in China do not criticise common interrogation practices, such as sleep deprivation. They reported that better understanding of the development of international law and evolving case law increased their confidence to submit complaints of ill treatment on behalf of their clients and push for the exclusion of illegal evidence at trial.