The assistant of a renowned Chinese human rights lawyer has been found held at a detention centre in Tianjin after going missing for 18 days.

According to the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), 24-year-old Zhao Wei – the assistant of the lawyer Li Heping – was taken away by several unidentified men on July 10.

Her lawyer, Ren Quanniu, found out on July 28 that she was detained in the Hexi detention centre in Tianjin, about 140km from Beijing, CHRLCG said without revealing its source.

Zhao Wei and her husband You Minglei. Photo: You Minglei

Also detained in the Hexi detention centre is Liu Sixin, a 49-year-old lawyer who was condemned by state media for being part of a “criminal gang” of lawyers and rights defence activists who “hyped up sensitive cases to gain fame and money.”

Both Zhao and Liu have been denied meetings with their lawyers. Police initially arrested them on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, which can see the convicted jailed for a maximum of five years. But when Zhao and Liu’s lawyers requested to see them on July 28, they were told police had filed “new charges” against the pair which allow authorities to ban them from seeing lawyers, according to CHRLCG.

Lawyer Liu Sixin “confesses” on national TV.

Police said the new charges, although not specified, belong to “three kinds of serious charges” under Article 37 of the Criminal Procedure Law, namely offences related to national security, terrorist activities and serious corruption. Suspects accused of these offences can be barred from seeing lawyers, the law stipulates.

Unprecedented crackdown.
China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists, which started on July 9, has targeted over 200 people. As of Thursday, 17 people are known to remain in detention or under house arrest, according to CHRLCG. But the whereabouts of most of the people concerned are unclear as authorities often fail to disclose where suspects are detained even to their families in sensitive cases.

A source at CHRLCG, who did not wish to be named, told HKFP: “A lot of the times lawyers have to go from one detention centre to another until they find their client.”

Zhao’s employer, Li, is a prominent civil rights lawyer who represented the freelance journalist Yang Zili who was imprisoned for eight years for “subverting state authority.” He is also well-known for representing Falun Gong practitioners and the civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.