Eva Pils. 'If Anything Happens…:’ Meeting the Now-detained Human Rights Lawyers. China Change

January 10, 2016

Meeting people who could be disappeared anytime is a bit unnerving. You keep wondering if this is the last time you’ll see them. You want to ask what you should do in case something bad happens, but you don’t want to distress them by asking too directly.

As part of my research on human rights in China, I’ve spent the past several years interviewing Chinese lawyers. I meet with them in coffee-shops, parks, or in their homes, to discuss their work and their experience of repression. I’ve seen them disbarred, watched them being followed and harassed by the police, spoken to them when they were under house-arrest, and met some of them after spells of imprisonment or forced disappearance to ask them about their experience ‘inside’: What were the prison conditions? What was the mentality of guards and interrogators — and torturers? Six months ago, things started happening to many of them at once. They were taken away under various forms of custodial measures for investigation, or simply disappeared. As of this writing, several have still not come back, as detailed in this open letter. They have been held for six months without access to counsel, and there is good reason to believe that they have been tortured.

When I last met lawyer Wang Yu, she seemed most concerned about her sixteen-year-old son, Mengmeng. She worried that his passion for human rights put him at risk, especially with two human rights lawyer parents already in trouble. After an official news report denounced Wang Yu as a criminal and a fraud, she expected to be detained, or at least disbarred, but was not going to worry about herself as long as her son could leave to study in Australia. ‘I am really afraid they might detain him too. For myself, I no longer care if I am detained, I am not afraid,’ she said. As I looked at her sensitive and tired face and wondered how she could cope with being locked up again, she must have sensed my concern, and added, ‘I’ve been to prison. If I have to go to prison again, that’s fine, no problem.’ She also said, ‘[If I leave now] people will think that I have done something wrong, won’t they? But I haven’t done anything wrong, let alone anything illegal or criminal.’ And: ‘If anything happens, I hope that international society can pay attention and that someone will be taking care of our child.’

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