ALN has released the below statement on the continuing detention, abuse, and harassment of lawyers in China. A version of the statement is also available here in pdf format

More than Eight Years after the 709 Crackdown, Chinese Authorities Continue to Disappear, Arbitrarily Detain, Abuse, and Harass Human Rights Lawyers in China

1 November 2023

More than eight years after the “709 Crackdown” in China on 9 July 2015, in which more than 300 human rights lawyers and activists were arbitrarily detained, greatly expanding Xi Jinping’s assault on all voices of dissent in China, Chinese human rights lawyers continue to face disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, disbarment, travel restrictions, surveillance, relentless harassment of them and their families, and other abuses.

Four prison sentences handed down this year for Li Yuhan, Guo Feixiong, Xu Zhiyong, and Ding Jiaxi emphasize this continuing failure of the government of China to meet even the most minimum standards of protection for lawyers and their legitimate work to protect the rights of the most vulnerable and abused populations. These standards include the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which states that governments shall ensure that lawyers are not subjected to or threatened with official sanctions for performing their recognized duties and that they receive civil and penal immunity for their professional statements.[1]

1.  Li Yuhan

On 25 October 2023, the Heping District People's Court in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, sentenced human rights lawyer Li Yuhan to a six-and-one-half year sentence after she had already spent six years in detention following her disappearance on 9 October 2017, arrest in November 2017, and trial from 20 October 2021, which had been postponed multiple times and was the last time her family had seen her until the sentencing.[2] Li was convicted for fraud and picking quarrels and stirring up trouble, typical charges in retaliation for legal defense activities and human rights work. Notably, Li’s verdict was given well after the five year period required by China's own Criminal Procedure Law. While she only has a half year left in her sentence after time served, Li expressed plans to appeal the decision.

Following the sentencing, Li’s family reported a significant deterioration in her physical condition since her trial. She is now in her 70s, uses crutches for walking, and faces a number of other medical issues. It was also reported that medication, food, and warm water were withheld at her detention center and that officials had urinated on her food, that conditions did not improve until after multiple complaints from her lawyers, and that her applications for medical parole were denied. As a human rights lawyer, Li had defended prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu, one of the first lawyers detained during the 709 Crackdown in 2015, which made her a target for arrest, as well as worked on other politically sensitive issues such as freedom of religion cases involving Falun Gong and Christian house churches and numerous human rights related petitions to local governments.

2.  Guo Feixiong

On 11 May 2023, Guo Feixiong, the pen name of Yang Maodong, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for inciting subversion of state power and defaming China’s political system, followed by a “deprivation of political rights” period of three years.[3] His appeal was rejected by the Guangdong Provincial Higher Court on 26 June.

In early September 2023, Guo’s family visited him in Sihui Prison in Zhaoqing, Guangdong province, after which they reported that Guo’s physical condition was greatly deteriorating following a number of hunger strikes while in detention. They reported that Guo looked dangerously thin and pale with a weight of 40kg, significantly less than his normal weight of 70kg. Guo was disappeared on 5 December 2021, but he was not formally arrested until 12 January 2022 and not allowed to talk to his own lawyer until 16 June 2022. In late November 2021, shortly before his latest detention, Guo was barred from traveling to the US to see his wife, who was dying from cancer and finally died on 10 January 2022, due to “suspicion of endangering national security”.

Guo has been imprisoned twice before, 2006 to 2011 and 2013 to 2019, totaling over 13 years, for illegal business activity in 2006 for publishing a book criticizing political corruption in Liaoning province and for gathering crowds to disturb social order and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” in 2013 following a speech he gave supporting press freedom at a local newspaper’s anti-censorship protest. Guo was prominent as an advocate for democracy and against government corruption, graft, and censorship; he won the Front Line Defenders award in 2015; and following his periods of detention, he was subjected to regular harassment and state surveillance.

Guo and his family reported his mistreatment during his periods of detention including, during his first period of incarceration, being interrogated for 13 days and nights without sleep, strapped to his bed for 42 days with his arms and legs shackled, and hung from the ceiling by his arms and legs while his genitals were electrocuted with a high-voltage baton.[4] During this period, he was also reported to have gone on a hunger strike for nearly 80 days in protest.[5] The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor stated that “UN human rights experts have sent 10 urgent letters to authorities about his situation since 2006. He must be released immediately on humanitarian grounds.”[6]

3.  Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi

On the 4th and 10th of April 2023, the Chinese lawyers Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi, respectively, were sentenced by a regional court in Shandong province to two of the longest prison terms[7] issued for rights lawyers since the start of crackdowns under Xi Jinping’s administration after they had already been detained for more than three years.[8] Xu received a 14-year prison sentence and Ding received a 12-year sentence, both for subversion of state power. The two were originally detained after organizing a private two-day meeting of about twenty activists and human rights lawyers in Xiamen, Fujian province, in December 2019, which saw at least five participants eventually arrested, including Xu in Guangzhou in February 2020 and Ding in Beijing on 26 December 2019.[9] The roundup was part of a year-end crackdown against more than 20 human rights defenders in China in the same period.

Xu and Ding were not able to meet with their lawyers until 21 January 2021, following 13 months of incommunicado detention, and they were tried in separate and closed trials, due to the allegation of state secrets being involved, by the Linshu People's Court in Shandong province beginning from 22 June 2022 after having been already detained for about two and a half years. Xu’s and Ding’s lawyers were also asked to sign a “confidentiality agreement” before the trial barring them from disclosing information about it.

Both Xu and Ding’s lawyers reported serious abuses particularly while the two were at a “residential surveillance at a designated location” center in Yantai, Shandong Province for the first six months of their detention. In Ding’s case this included reports of music being constantly blasted into his cell, sitting upright for seven days straight in 2019, 24 hours of sleep deprivation per week, and being strapped to a tiger bench the week of 1 April 2020 for up to 21 hour interrogations, which caused “unbearable pain” and swollen ankles. In Xu’s case this included reports of torture, sleep deprivation for 10 days in May 2020, being strapped to a tiger chair for over 10 hours a day, intentional reductions in his food rations, and cold showers only three days a month.

In 2010, Xu and Ding co-founded the New Citizens’ Movement, which advocates for civil rights and government transparency. The two were first arrested in 2013 after organizing protests calling for equal social and education benefits for migrant workers in Beijing, with Xu and Ding receiving jail sentences in 2014 for four and three and a half years, respectively, for “assembling a crowd to disrupt public order.”[10]

4.  Other Notable Cases Involving China’s Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers

Other prominent cases of Chinese lawyers or legal activists detained in 2023 include the following.

It is also worth noting that many Chinese rights lawyers formerly detained, for example Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang and other lawyers detained as part of the 709 Crackdown in 2015, continue to face surveillance and harassment from the government, and they have not received justice or compensation for their former arbitrary detention.[17]

5.  The International Community Must Take Action to Help Protect Rights Lawyers in China

The Asia Lawyers Network is greatly alarmed by the continuing arbitrary detention and abuse of Chinese human rights lawyers by Chinese authorities, and we make the following recommendations.


[1] OHCHR, "Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers", 7 Sept. 1990,

[2] Gao Feng, "Ailing rights lawyer Li Yuhan jailed for 6 ½ years", RFA, 26 Oct. 2023,; Zhou XIngchen, "Li Yuhan, Rights Lawyer in China, Given 6 ½ Year Sentence", 27 Oct. 2023, VOA,; Amnesty, "China: After six years deprived of liberty, human rights lawyer finally sentenced", 25 Oct. 2023,

[3] Kirton, Pomfret, "China hands eight-year jail term to activist at trial barred to diplomats", Reuters, 11 May 2023,; Chris Buckley, "A Chinese Dissident Tried to Fly to His Sick Wife in the U.S. Then He Vanished.", New York Times, 2 Feb. 2021,; Front Line Defenders, “Human rights defender Guo Feixiong at risk of losing his life in prison”,; Maya Wang, "Prominent Chinese Activist Seriously Ill in Prison", Human Rights Watch, 6 Oct. 2023,

[4] Zhang Min, "Chinese Rights Lawyer Beaten, Staging Hunger Strike in Prison", RFA, 28 Dec. 2007,; Zhang Min, “Guo Feixiong was released from prison on the 13th and returned to his home in Guangzhou” (in Chinese), RFA, 13 Sept. 2011,; Guardian, "Freed China dissident was tortured in custody, say rights groups", 14 Sept. 2011,

[5] "Detained cyber-dissident has been on hunger strike for nearly 80 days", RSF, 27 Feb. 2008,

[6] OHCHR, "China: UN expert urges release of human rights defender Guo Feixiong", 18 Oct. 2023,

[7] The other comparable case was democracy campaigner Qin Yongmin, who in July 2018 received a 13-year sentence after having already spent 22 years being detained. BBC, "Qin Yongmin: Prominent Chinese dissident jailed for 13 years", 11 July 2018,

[8] Nectar Gan, "‘A democratic China must be realized in our time’: Beijing jails two prominent legal activists for subversion", CNN, 11 Apr. 2023,; Guardian, "Outcry over lengthy jail terms handed to China human rights lawyers", 11 Apr. 2023,; Li Yuan, "They Are Men Who Acted out of Conscience", Bu Mingbai & China File, 22 May 2023,; Front Line Defenders, "Human rights defender Ding Jiaxi sentenced to 12 years in prison"; BBC, "China jails prominent legal activists Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi", 10 Apr. 2023,; China Chage, "Prominent Dissident Xu Zhiyong Met With Lawyer After One Year in Detention", 8 Feb. 2021, https://chinachange. org/2021/02/08/prominent-dissident-xu-zhiyong-met-with-lawyer-after-one-year-in-detention/; China Change, "Prominent Human Rights Activist Ding Jiaxi Tells Lawyer Details of Torture Throughout His Year in Custody ", 5 Feb. 2021,; Mimi Lau, Guo Rui, "Chinese rights advocate Xu Zhiyong on trial for state subversion amid secrecy and tight security" SCMP, 23 Jun. 2022,

[9] Li Qiaochu, Xu Zhiyong’s girlfriend, herself an activist, was also detained for four months from February to June 2020. His sister also reported being taken away by unidentified men in the middle of the night and denied necessities for nine hours before Xu’s trial. SCMP, id.

[10] Simon Denyer, “Chinese activists Xu Zhiyong Sentenced to Four Years in Prison”, Washington Post, 25 Jan. 2014,; Nectar Gan, "‘A democratic China must be realized in our time’: Beijing jails two prominent legal activists for subversion", CNN, 11 Apr. 2023,

[11] Dake Kang, "Laos deports human rights lawyer who was fleeing state pressure back to China", APNews, 15 Sept. 2023,; Hwang Chun-mei, Gao Feng and Wang Yun, "Chinese rights lawyer Lu Siwei repatriated by Laos last week", RFA, 14 Sept. 2023,; Guo Feng, "Chinese rights lawyer Lu Siwei is out on 'bail, pending trial' ", RFA, 31 Oct. 2023,

[12] William Yang, "Detention of Chinese Lawyer in Laos Highlights Risks of Fleeing China", VOA, 8 Aug. 2023,

[13] Front Line Defenders, "Profile: Chang Weiping",

[14] Front Line Defenders, "Human rights lawyer Qin Yongpei sentenced to five years in prison", https://www.

[15] Xinlu Liang, Jun Mai, "Chinese citizens’ rights activist Hao Jinsong jailed for 9 years for fraud and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ ", SCMP, 20 Jul. 2023,

[16] NTD, "Petitioner Reportedly Dies In Police Custody, Wife Missing", 18 Oct. 2023, petitioner-reportedly-dies-in-police-custody-wife-missing_948790.html.

[17] Gloria Guo, "The Ongoing Battle of China’s Human Rights Lawyers and Their Families on the 8th Anniversary of the 709 Crackdown", US-China Today, 8 Jul. 2023,