At the heart of the crackdown are at least five lawyers from a firm in Beijing who have been placed under criminal detention and accused of exploiting public grievances to undermine the ruling Communist Party. Over the weekend, the Chinese state media publicized the allegations against them, accusing them of running a “criminal syndicate” that included activists who recruited protesters to put pressure on courts.
Human rights groups and supporters of the lawyers have said the Chinese government is using the charges to delegitimize the entire rights defense movement. Following are translated excerpts from a report on Sunday in People’s Daily, the party newspaper, laying out the allegations:
“In Qing’an, Heilongjiang; Nanchang, Jiangxi; Weifang, Shandong; Zhengzhou, Henan; Changsha, Hunan; Wuhan, Hubei … why is it that on the scene of a series of flash points time after time lawyers would appear and take the lead in stirring up trouble with multitudes of ‘petitioners’ holding up signs and making a ruckus? Why is it that outside the courts in a series of sensitive incidents time after time the presiding judges and officials in charge have been subjected to slanderous attacks and human flesh searches [Internet searches for damaging information]? Why behind a series of incidents that have been stoked into controversies has there invariably been a group of people who fan the trouble, always a group of shadowy, vicious manipulators?”
China apprehends paid protest organizers, including lawyers, internet celebrities http://t.co/ovQvaiY7da http://t.co/STGN1g7AyX
The People’s Daily report says that the Ministry of Public Security oversaw an investigation in Beijing and several other cities and provinces that led from Zhai Yanmin and Wu Gan — two activists who had previously been detained — to a broader network:
“A concerted operation organized and overseen by the Ministry of Public Security has smashed a suspected major criminal syndicate with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm as its platform, which since July 2012 has organized and planned uproars around more than 40 sensitive incidents, gravely disrupting social order. A suspected major crime syndicate has been uncovered that was composed of ‘rights defense’ lawyers, helping hands and petitioners acting in collusion, which was tightly organized, extensive and had a rigorous division of labor. The seamy inside is emerging of how, while proclaiming to be for ‘rights defense,’ ‘justice’ and the ‘public interest,’ it in fact gravely disrupted social order and attempted to achieve its sinister ends.”
The report cites the “Qing’an incident,” in May, when a petitioner in Qing’an, Heilongjiang Province, was shot and killed by a police officer, igniting a national controversy. The report alleges that Mr. Zhai and Mr. Wu organized five groups of petitioners to travel to Qing’an to support a campaign against the police and stoke the controversy. The report quotes Mr. Zhai as confessing to the police:
“ ‘Since joining this circle in 2013, whenever a sensitive incident occurs somewhere in the country, they would apply this established model and process to fan controversy.’ ”
The report says that a police investigation found a three-layered conspiracy behind these controversies. The “organizational core” was made up of Zhou Shifeng, the director of the Fengrui Law Firm; his administrative assistant, Liu Sixin; and another lawyer at the firm, Huang Liqun.
The “planning level” included Wang Yu and Wang Quanzhang, both lawyers at Fengrui; Ms. Wang’s husband, Bao Longjun; as well as the activists Mr. Wu and Mr. Zhai. The final layer, the report says, consisted of longtime protesters who helped recruit petitioners to join in protests, including Liu Xing, who has also been detained.
China apprehends suspected paid protest organizers http://t.co/UbAi3p64Ky http://t.co/8hcd0o9yzN
The network centered on the Fengrui Law Firm included people recruited to take photos of protests and post them on WeChat, a popular Chinese social networking service. Other recruits also sent images and reports to overseas Chinese websites.
The report says that the money for the protests and publicity came from donations over the Internet, sometimes from overseas. And sometimes, it says, lawyers also gave money to protest organizers. The report continues:
“How did such a large group communicate and coordinate its activities? The police have uncovered that they organized regular gatherings and dinners to discuss their ‘experiences and lessons learned’ and to plan further action. They also used instant communication tools to liaise, engage in agitation and planning, and carry out training, including WeChat, QQ groups and Telegram.”
The report adds:
“The police uncovered that Wu Gan, the ‘Super Vulgar Butcher’ leading the charge in many sensitive incidents, was an administrative assistant employed by Zhou Shifeng, the head of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm. Although he was not a lawyer, he has a special ‘status’ in the firm, and in addition to a monthly salary of more than 10,000 renminbi, he received ‘activity funds.’ He was deeply trusted by Zhou Shifeng, and directly participated in the firm’s major decisions.”
“It has been explained that the Fengrui Law Firm consistently championed an approach of turning ordinary incidents into flash points, and turning sensitive incidents into political ones, getting members of the public and Internet users to follow along and inciting discontent with the government.”
The report says:
“The police handling the case explained that in sensitive cases, these bullheaded lawyers would openly confront the court inside the courtroom and on the Internet, and behind the scenes would instruct the leading provocateurs to organize petitioners to offer support and provoke trouble outside the courthouse and online.”
“What then did these ‘rights defense’ lawyers, instigators and ‘petitioners’ have to gain from repeatedly stoking controversy over ‘rights defense’? Was there some deeper objective behind their doing this? Huang Liqun, Zhao Yanmin, Wu Gan and Liu Xing have confessed that their objective was fame and fortune and causing social chaos.”
The report asserts that the lawyers used the controversial cases to promote their own reputations and win clients, while the activists won celebrity and took a share of the donations to the causes they championed. It says:
“For the Fengrui Law Firm, fanning controversy was its shortcut to fame and fortune. By fanning controversy around a series of flash-point incidents, Fengrui expanded its reputation and the money rolled in. As Zhou Shifeng put it, it was very difficult to win some cases within the framework of the law, and methods beyond the law had to be used to win.”
The report concludes:
“Currently, Zhou Shifeng, Liu Sixin, Huang Liqun, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang and Bao Longjun and others are suspected criminals and have been placed under criminal detention according to the law by the Public Security organs. The police have also revealed that Zhou Shifeng and others are suspected of other grave violations of the law. The case remains under investigation.”
Follow Chris Buckley on Twitter at @ChuBailiang.