The lawyer of the youngest detainee in China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists has reportedly written an “apology letter” while in criminal detention.

Ren Quanniu is the defence lawyer of Zhao Wei, a legal assistant to human rights lawyer Li Heping. He was hired by her family to represent her. After police announced that Zhao was released on bail on July 7, Ren was criminally detained on July 8 for “making up and spreading false information” about Zhao’s mistreatment in prison, said a Weibo post by the Zhengzhou Security Bureau.

Ren Quanniu and a formal arrest notice. Photo: Twitter/williamnee.

The letter was posted on Weibo by Zhang Huiyun, one of the lawyers appointed by authorities to represent Zhao. The letter claimed it was written by Ren and included apologies for posting that Zhao suffered “personal insult” in a Tianjin detention centre. It said that statements he made to foreign media – that Zhao Wei was sexually assaulted in detention – were false.

‘I deeply apologise’

“Here, I make the following apologies: 1. My comments damaged Ms. Zhao Wei’s reputation and character, causing harm to Zhao Wei and her family – I sincerely apologise to Zhao Wei and her family here. 2. My comments damaged the regulatory system in the country, here I deeply apologise to all regulatory officers. 3. My comments harmed women who were formerly detained in detention centres, here I deeply apologise,” the letter said.

The apology letter. Photo: Weibo.

Kit Chan, the executive director of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group NGO, said that Ren’s apology letter must be seen in the context of his situation.

He is still in detention and his family were evicted from their apartment by their landlord and harassed by Zhengzhou police, she told HKFP. One of Ren’s lawyers was pressured by police to withdraw from his case.

“In that kind of situation I don’t think [Ren] has many choices. This is just a way of surrendering to the pressure,” Chan said.

‘Not guilty’

When Ren Quanniu met with his lawyers Zhang Zunjie and Chang Boyang on July 11, he told them that he was only acting in accordance with his duties as a lawyer. “He [Ren] said that he was not guilty, did not take any illegal actions. His so-called actions were based on a foundation of facts,” Chang told US-backed Radio Free Asia. Ren admitted that he had published the Weibo posts, but did not agree with the police that the information was fabricated, Chang said.

Zhao Wei and her letter. Photo: Weibo.

“No one knows the whereabouts of Zhao Wei, and we are still doubting if she’s really free. Her so-called release is questioned as being used to discredit the rights lawyers. The whole ordeal of Ren needs to be seen in this context, including his apology,” Chan said.

Zhao Wei’s husband said that he has not been able to locate her. When he visited Zhao’s family home in Henan province, where she claimed to be staying with her parents in an earlier interview, he found it deserted.

Zhao also penned an apology letter after she was released, claiming that she was used as a pawn by “foreign organisations.”

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.