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Lawyer Xi Xiangdong: Record of a meeting with He Zhengjun of the Transition Institute, detained on suspicion of “operating an illegal business”

This record of a meeting between He Zhengjun, a member of the Beijing-based independent think-tank Transition Institute, and his lawyer, Xi Xiangdong, earlier this year, details the roadblocks thrown up by prison authorities in disregard of the regulations that should permit a lawyer access to his client within a certain time frame.

When they finally meet, He is ” in good spirits” and maintains “a positive attitude” but toward the end of their visit, makes a heartbreaking request of his lawyer: to contact his sister to ask her to observe the anniversary of their father’s death, and perform the traditional rites that is customary for children of deceased parents, if he is not released by the end of the month.

Lawyer Xi Xiangdong: Record of a meeting with He Zhengjun of the Transition Institute, detained on suspicion of “operating an illegal business”

He Zhengjun, the administrative manager of the Transition Institute, was taken into detention on November 26, 2014, and officially arrested on January 3, 2015, charged with operating “illegal business.” He is currently being held at Beijing No. 1 Detention Center.

This letter was originally published by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (维权网) blog on January 7, 2015

(See here for more about Chinese Human Rights Defenders)

This afternoon (Wednesday, January 7, 2015) at the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, after much resistance from detention center authorities, I finally met with He Zhengjun, the administrative director of the Transition Institute. On January 3, 2015, Mr. He was formally arrested by the First Branch of the Beijing Municipal Procuratorate on suspicion of the crime of “operating illegal business.” According to current public information, this was the first “breakthrough” lawyer-client meeting since compulsory measures were taken against Guo Yushan, Huang Kaiping, and He Zhengjun – all senior staff members of the Transition Institute.

He Zhengjun was criminally detained on November 26, 2014. On December 5, in my capacity as his defense lawyer, I accepted his family’s request that I go to the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center and try to meet with him. At the counter in the main hall where the procedure for visits from lawyers is handled, the policeman did not tell me that they had no record of my client on file, as they had done last time I was there to meet Zhai Yanmin (associated with China’s New Citizens’ Movement). This time, they made me register, but with the visit paperwork still incomplete, I was told to go home and wait for notification. I was told that the detention center needed to examine and verify the authenticity and validity of my lawyer’s papers. They emphasized that verification would not begin for 48 hours, and that after verification another 48 hours would be counted, but that there would be no time limit for the verification process. This clearly disregards the regulation in the Criminal Procedure Law that stipulates that the public security organ must “promptly arrange a meeting with a lawyer, no later than 48 hours from the day on which the suspect was detained.” Beijing No. 1 Detention Center is flagrantly abusing its power to obstruct meetings with lawyers. After I made that accusation, the Lawyers Department of the Inspection Team of the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau responded: “the detention center is examining and verifying the paperwork for the meeting in accordance with the law.” They claimed that the concrete basis of this action was Article 14 of Several Provisions Concerning the Safeguarding and Standardizing of Legal Defense in Criminal Procedure of the Beijing Municipal Four Departments, which states that “Detention centers shall establish a lawyer reception office, responsible for examining and verifying the professional license, proof of legal office, proof of power of attorney, or official legal aid engagement letter submitted by the lawyer. If these documents are found to be authentic, the detention center shall promptly arrange for the defense lawyer to meet with the criminal suspect or defendant in custody within 48 hours.” This interpretation, which states that the detention center should examine and verify the authenticity and validity of the paperwork before “promptly arranging a meeting, no later than 48 hours later,” provides no concrete time limit for the examination and verification process. This regulation seriously violates the Criminal Procedure Law. Furthermore, by providing such a hostile interpretation of this”regulation,” the detention center is seeking to obstruct lawyers’ access to their clients – a wanton abuse of power and a distortion of the law.

That time, I did not succeed in meeting Mr. He, but within several days the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau sent an official notice of detention to his family (having far exceeded the legal time limit for notification). I had left my papers at the detention center, and in the following month I inquired more than ten times whether or not the illegal “examination and verification procedure” was finished. Every time, they replied that the leadership was still examining my paperwork. They continued to supply this official-sounding reason for illegally obstructing my meeting with my client. After much convolution, on the afternoon of January 5, the day before yesterday, they responded again: “the leadership is still examining the paperwork.” Yesterday evening I received news that Mr. He had been formally arrested. This morning I rushed to the Beijing No. 1 Detention center to push for a meeting.

This time, a female police officer received me. I told her that I was requesting a meeting with He Zhengjun, and that my paperwork had been submitted for examination and verification more than a month ago. The female police officer responded: “this has not been approved by the leadership.” I negotiated with her, saying: “The crime that He Zhengjun is suspected of committing is ‘operating illegal business.’ This is a very common charge, not included in the three types of crime, stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Law, for which higher approval is necessary for a meeting. I am requesting to meet with my client, not to submit a petition, so I do not require approval from anyone – and does it really take more than a month to verify the authenticity of my documents? He Zhengjun has been formally arrested, and this detention center is violating the law by not allowing me to meet with him. For how long will you continue to use paperwork as an excuse? You must arrange our meeting today.” The police officer saw that I was determined, and asked me to wait while she reported to the leadership. After 15 minutes or so, the female police officer emerged from the inner office with my paperwork and came back to the counter, and informed me that the leadership had signed off on our meeting. I told her, “the leader’s signature is unnecessary; it is the duty of the police officers at the front desk to handle paperwork and arrange meetings, it does not require the approval and signature of the leader.” She replied that this was the internal workflow of the detention center and not up to her.

I met with Mr. He in the fourth visiting room. He was brought out wearing a detached black hood that covered his entire head. Recently, I have discovered that in many detention centers, suspects are brought out like this for trials or meetings. I have heard that it is because last year, a suspect escaped from the Yanshou County Detention Center in Harbin. Since then, detention centers in many places have forced prisoners to wear a black hood when bringing them out from the cells. This strategy clearly reflects the authorities’ failure to properly supervise suspects, but it is the individuals in custody who are made to suffer for it. This follows the same logic as a sick person making other people take medicine on their behalf.

Mr. He was in good spirits, maintaining a positive attitude. He recounted his experience, the entire process, from being taken into detention until now. The Haidian Guobao police1 arranged to meet with Mr. He at 2 p.m. on November 26. When he met them they immediately showed him a subpoena notice and a search warrant, and took Mr. He to his home, where they performed a search. They took all of Mr. He’s electronic devices, and immediately afterwards took him to the Preliminary Hearing Team of the Public Security Bureau inside the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. He was interrogated from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. that same day. Afterwards, they announced that he was being criminally detained, performed a physical examination, and sent him to a cell. For more than a month afterwards, investigators of the preliminary hearing team interrogated Mr. He more than twenty times. Two or three interrogations took place in the evening, but all finished before 10 p.m. Between his detention and trial, I can confirm that he was provided with regular meals and time to rest, and was not subjected to unlawful treatment such as torture or grueling interrogation. Mr. He cooperated fully with the investigating unit and evaded no questions about the nature of his work at the Transition Institute. He told them that the running and research topics of the Transition Institute were all legitimate and transparent, and that there was nothing obscure or shady about the organization. Mr. He insisted that neither he nor any of his colleagues had ever undertaken any business activities whatsoever, let alone committed the crime of “operating illegal business.” Mr. He expressed full confidence that in the end he would be found innocent and released.

Mr. He expressed deep gratitude to all his relatives and friends for their concern, especially a one Mr. Yu who deposited 100 RMB for him2 – he was deeply moved by this, and asked me to pass on his thanks in public. We talked about lawyers Ha’er3 and Yu Wensheng:4 Mr. He said that some of his fellow detainees had heard that these two wonderful lawyers were being held at the No. 1 Detention Center. He has adjusted very well to his current situation. In his free time, he reads constantly – he joked that on the outside he never had so much time for reading. Finally, he entrusted a very important matter to me: January 30, 2015 is the third anniversary of his father’s death. If he has not been released by the end of this month, Mr. He requested that I contact his older sister and ask her to go home to burn incense and perform the traditional rites, as is customary for children of deceased parents, to express their love and respect.

In accordance with the law, I will now learn the details of the case from the handling unit, and petition for the compulsory measures to be modified, sparing no effort to ensure that the innocent He Zhengjun can regain his freedom as soon as possible.

Xi Xiangdong

January 7, 2015

1 Guobao (国宝) refers to China’s highly secretive national security police, the domestic security arm of the Ministry of Public Security which deals chiefly with the surveillance and suppression of political dissidents, including identified organizations (such as Falun Gong), petitioners seeking justice from higher powers, and latterly, individuals involved in the weiquan (or “rights protection”) movement. Like the Public Security police force, Guobao is structured hierarchically and maintains a presence at national, provincial, municipal and county levels. Here, “Haidian Guobao” refers to the Guobao squad of Haidian District in the Beijing Municipality.

2 Mr. Yu is likely a stranger who heard about He Zhengjun’s situation online and deposited funds for He to spend in the detention center.

3 Ha’er is the nickname of Beijing-based civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, who is currently being held in the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center. During his legal career, Pu has represented individuals in several high-profile cases, including artist Ai Wei-wei and Tang Hui, who was sent to a labor camp in 2012 for seeking justice for the rape of her 11-year-old daughter. Pu is also known for his use of social media to express public criticism of the Chinese government. In May 2014, Pu was detained by police after attending a private seminar commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. A month later, on June 13, 2014, he was formally arrested, charged with “creating a public disturbance” and “illegally obtaining the personal information of citizens.” For more information, see http://lawyerpu.com.

4 Yu Wensheng is a civil rights lawyer employed by the Daoheng Law Office, Beijing. He was criminally detained on October 13, 2014 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and causing trouble.” (Four days earlier, Guo Yushan was detained on the same charge.) At the time, Yu was representing Zhang Zonggang, detained for his support of the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong. Yu was formally arrested for “picking quarrels and causing trouble” on November 20, 2014. He was released on bail on January 20, 2015.

Related Reading

The plight of China’s rights lawyers

In China, to destroy lives is legal, but to save them is not

Just man Guo Yushan

Silencing Guo Yushan

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