Human rights lawyer held in China 'confessed guilt'

9 linked to his firm who gave interviews to foreign media, attacked party also detained

BEIJING • A prominent Chinese human rights lawyer has "confessed guilt", a week after being detained in a major crackdown on legal activists, state media said.

Mr Zhou Shifeng is one of more than 130 lawyers detained or called in for questioning by state security bodies this month, according to tallies by rights groups.

The lawyer provided legal aid to families of children poisoned by milk powder from a powerful dairy firm, and this year defended an 81-year-old writer detained for criticising the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Zhou has reportedly not been able to meet a family-appointed defence lawyer. The official Xinhua news agency last Saturday said he "admitted guilt" and pleaded for a "second chance".

"Some things about my actions at the law firm were illegal... my mistakes were serious," the report cited Mr Zhou as saying, apparently while in police custody.

SERIOUS MISTAKES

Some things about my actions at the law firm were illegal... my mistakes were serious.

LAWYER ZHOU SHIFENG, as cited by the official Xinhua news agency

The state news agency said nine other lawyers connected to Mr Zhou's law firm Fengrui had been detained along with several associates, but did not specify what crime they are suspected of committing. The detained lawyers "gave interviews to foreign media, spreading opinions attacking the party and the government, slandering the legal system and other such negative views", it added.

State broadcaster CCTV yesterday showed "confessions" from Mr Zhou and several colleagues in a report lasting nearly 40 minutes.

It said the lawyers had been detained after repeatedly "creating a nuisance" in court by arguing, making recordings and taking photos.

Other "violations" highlighted by CCTV included lawyers organising protesters to demonstrate outside courthouses, and raising money online to fight cases.

Those held include female lawyer Wang Yu, known for defending poverty-stricken victims of forced demolition, sexual assault, detention in mental hospitals and other abuses.

CCTV showed Ms Wang raising her voice and pointing at officials in court during a hearing. It quoted a soft-spoken female court official as saying her behaviour had "not shown legal spirit".

In an apparent effort to pressure Ms Wang's family, her 16-year-old son has been questioned several times in the past week by police in the city of Tianjin, a family friend told Agence France-Presse.

Police are stationed outside the apartment of Ms Wang's parents in the city and follow the family whenever they go out, said the friend who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

China's ruling party has said it hopes to promote the rule of law, and a growing number of lawyers over the past decade have attempted to expose official abuses using the courts.

But President Xi Jinping has stressed the party's ultimate authority over the legal system, and limits on activism have tightened, with dozens of people jailed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Human rights lawyer held in China 'confessed guilt''. Print Edition | Subscribe