Frontline Defenders Report: China – Dismissal of lawyers of three detained health rights defenders

For those readers out there who are happy to praise China’s handling of COVID-19. Please remember the state will be firmly imprinting their narrative over the next few months and like everything in life the reality is much messier.

18 March 2020

Update – China: Dismissal of lawyers of three detained health rights defenders

On 16 March 2020, the Changsha Judicial Bureau informed the six family-appointed lawyers of health rights defenders Cheng Yuan (??), Liu Dazhi (???) and Wu Gejianxiong (????) that the three have “dismissed” the lawyers and that new lawyers would be appointed. Since the detention of the three defenders almost eight months ago in July 2019, the Changsha police has rejected all requests by the family-appointed lawyers to meet their clients. One of the lawyers is the father of Wu Gejianxiong.

On 17 March 2020, the families of Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi and Wu Gejianxiong published a statement expressing shock at the latest development. The families said that any decision to “dismiss” the lawyers was likely made under duress, that any new lawyers must be appointed by the families, and that they reject the legitimacy of any government-appointed lawyers. The statement also said the blanket refusal to allow the lawyers to meet the three defenders is a violation of the due process guarantees under the Criminal Procedure Law.

On 11 December 2019, six UN-appointed independent human rights experts sent a joint letter to the Chinese government expressing serious concerns regarding “the alleged arbitrary detention, short-term enforced disappearance and formal arrest” of the three human rights defenders, as well as the “preclusion from contact with their families and their legal representation in order to mount their legal defence.” On 10 March 2020, speaking at the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union called on China to immediately release Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, Wu Gejianxiong and all other human rights defenders under arbitrary detention.

There has been a long-standing pattern of detained human rights defenders “dimissing” their original legal counsel of choice, often in the context of pro-longed detention during which they were not allowed to meet their lawyers. These “dismissals” are strong indication that the authorities are preparing to move towards prosecution and trial in the coming months.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its call on the relevant authorities in China to immediately and unconditionally release Cheng Yuan, Liu Dazhi, and Wu Gejianxiong, and, pending their release, guarantee their physical and psychological well-being as well as allow them immediate and unfettered access to lawyers of their choosing and to their families.