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Chinese Rights Lawyers Demand Immediate Release of Colleague

A man walks past a tricycle cart decorated with flowers and a poster with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other top leaders, parked on a street in Beijing, July 9, 2016. Overseas bar associations and lawyers groups have issued an open letter to Chinese P

More than 140 human rights lawyers in China have endorsed a joint statement calling on Chinese authorities to immediately release lawyer Ren Quanniu, who was arrested late last week on suspicion of “picking quarrels.”

Ren, accused of having circulated rumors online about the alleged rape of his client Zhao Wei while in jail, is currently under criminal detention by police in Zhengzhou, Henan province, pending further investigation, the city’s Public Security Bureau said on a Weibo posting.

But Ren on Monday flatly rejected the accusation, insisting that he was only exercising his legitimate right to practice law, according to lawyer Chang Boyang, who initiated the petition.

“He [Ren] said those remarks on his Weibo account were indeed posted by him. But he has fabricated nothing,” Chang quoted Ren as saying after their private meeting on Monday morning.

“He [Ren] learned about those tips online and from others. Many people called and consulted him since he is Zhao Wei’s defense lawyer. He then asked to meet with Zhao in person to verify the offense – a request repeatedly rejected by authorities in Zhengzhou,” Chang told VOA.

“After that, he turned to public prosecutors for help in hope that an investigation can be launched. He did nothing but posting about what he has done [as a lawyer] on his Weibo account. How is this circulating rumors?” Chang asked.

Legitimate right to practice law

Chang said he and other lawyers will soon put together facts in an official petition, hoping to pressure Zhengzhou police into setting Ren free soon.

Authorities in Zhengzhou have not only abused the law, but also seriously violated lawyers’ rights to practice law, Chang argued.

Zhao’s 34-year-old husband You Minglei, who is a legal assistant, also praised Ren’s efforts in getting to the bottom of his wife’s case.

“As a lawyer, it’s his job to poke around on Weibo to crosscheck if Zhao has been offended as alleged,” You told VOA, adding “local authorities have not only turned a deaf ear, but also ended up implicating Lawyer Ren as the one circulating the rumors. I find their move unjustified and shameful.”

Zhao, a 24-year-old legal assistant, was arrested during last July’s mass lawyer crackdown when more than 300 rights lawyers and activists were interrogated. She was freed late last week after she had allegedly confessed her crimes.

Following Zhao’s release on Thursday, You said he has yet been able to get hold of his wife. And he questioned the authenticity of several of Zhao’s postings on Weibo.

Political manipulation

“[I suspect] those Weibo postings were an act of careful manipulation by the government. Zhao Wei was fully aware of the condition before she started working for lawyer Li Heping. She has never been lied or tricked into doing anything,” You said.

Prior to her arrest, Zhao had worked for Li, one of 16 detainees on charge of “subversion of state power,” sharing the vision of her boss, who had defended members of the banned Falun Gong group and dissident writers.

But after her release last week, Zhao has nothing but harsh words to say against rights lawyers.

One of her Weibo postings read “I have been used as a chess piece by those with an agenda” while, in another posting, she pointed fingers at Ren after learning that he was behind the rumors about her alleged rape.

The sudden change of her attitudes have many, including her husband, wondering if her confession was coerced.

You said he suspects Zhao’s release was a ploy to suppress more lawyers by sending a warning to those who try to help defend the rights of lawyers and activists who have been arrested.

The public security bureau, however, refused to respond when contacted by VOA.

“If you’re interested in learning about the matter’s latest development, please refer to our official Weibo and Wechat accounts. We refuse to accept any interview over the phone,” said a bureau official who refused to be identified.