The family of a lawyer detained in northwest China have been warned to remain silent after publicly expressing concerns about his deteriorating condition, according to family sources.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of political retaliation, also said that attorney Chang Weiping, who is accused of inciting subversion of state power, was denied legal representation after one of the family members hired defense team had been pressured to drop into his case.
On Monday, Chang Shuanming, the 36-year-old attorney’s father, said he recently had a 10-minute meeting with his son at a police station in Baoji, Shaanxi Province – the first since his arrest in late October.
In a post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site, the elder Chang described his son as “fragile and tired, with red eyes that speak intermittently … as if reciting something”.
The lawyer tearfully discouraged his father, wife and other family members from raising awareness about his case, saying it was “in vain,” the Post said.
At the end of their meeting, the lawyer shouted, “You and mom must stay safe and sound,” as his 70-year-old father walked out the door.
“Did he say goodbye to me?” His father wrote online later. “His voice was so high and full of horror that it instantly broke my heart to pieces. My son, please keep the faith. I will never give up fighting for you. “
Baoji police responded to the Weibo post by threatening family members to remain silent and not speak to the media, family-related sources told VOA.
Sources also said the woman’s employers – senior managers at a Shenzhen hospital – also silenced her.
Legal representation denied
Since establishing his law firm in 2013, Chang Weiping has represented victims of workplace discrimination due to HIV / AIDS and litigation involving defective coronavirus vaccines. He also defended legal activists before his license was revoked.
His first arrest in January came after attending a meeting of lawyers and activists in the southeastern port city of Xiamen, Fujian Province. Sources told VOA that he was placed under “residential surveillance” at a certain hotel for 10 days before being released on bail.
He was arrested again in late October, six days after posting a YouTube video that openly accused Baoji police of torture while in custody in January. At the time, Chang said on the YouTube video, his hands were tied tightly to a so-called “tiger chair” – a device used to immobilize suspects during interrogation and sometimes bend an inmate’s knees slightly in the wrong direction – for 24 hours
He closed the video by insisting on his innocence and saying he had the right to attend the meeting in Xiamen.
The legal defense team hired by Chang’s family in November had previously been given access to his client, sources told VOA that the local Justice Department had forced the team to drop the case.
Neither the Guangzhou-based judicial officers nor the Baoji Police Department responded to multiple VOA phone and email requests for comment.
Torture by the police
Chang’s father believes his son is still being tortured – a suspicion shared by US-based Chinese lawyer Chen Jiangang, who fled China in 2019 after being warned that if he continued to do so, he would “disappear” Daughter-in-law of the detained former representative would represent Chinese leader Zhou Yongkang.
Lawyers have been largely unable to sleep while in detention, because of unknown drugs, or in isolation, Chen told VOA over the phone, describing Chang’s decision to yell at his father during their brief meeting as a sign of deep mental distress.
The Chinese government will never allow a family lawyer a free choice to represent Chang, Chen said. Instead, a government-appointed attorney will take the job to later conduct a show trial.
This, Chen said, shows the collapse of the Chinese criminal defense system.
Since the massive crackdown on lawyers in 2015, “it has been the Xi Jinping government’s blueprint to prosecute all lawyers … who the Chinese communist regime sees as its enemy,” said Chen.
Six international legal groups, including the England and Wales Human Rights Advocacy Committee and the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, issued an open letter in November denouncing Chang’s arbitrary arrest.
In their five demands, the groups called on China to unconditionally release Chang and give him free access to lawyers of his choice. They also asked the authorities to investigate and punish all perpetrators who participated in the previous torture of the lawyer based on China’s obligations under national and international law.
Six China-based HIV-positive activists signed a petition last week calling for better physical and legal treatment from Baoji police.
In their letter, they announced Chang’s contributions to the HIV / AIDS community and said he had helped “alleviate stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.”
“Every lawsuit he defended has changed the fate of these people,” they wrote.