Chinese cyber activist Zhen Jianghua has been denied access to his lawyer whilst being held in a secret location.

Zhen is the executive director for Human Rights Campaign in China, a non-profit organisation which spreads information about – and advocates for – human rights activists. He is also the executive editor and founder of, a website which works against internet censorship and provides technical advice to help people circumvent internet restrictions.

He was taken from his home in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai on September 1 last year on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to US-backed Radio Free Asia.

Zhen Jianghua. Photo: China Change

Zhen’s lawyer Ren Quanniu received news from the authorities last week that his application to meet with his client had been denied.

According to photos of the notice posted on the HRCChina website, authorities in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai rejected the application as Zhen was suspected of a national security crime.

Allowing Zhen to meet with his lawyer may “hamper investigation or leak state secrets,” authorities said.

China’s Criminal Procedure Law requires defense lawyers to obtain permission from the investigating body before they can meet with their clients in cases involving state security crimes.

‘Residential surveillance’ 

Zhen has been placed under “residential surveillance in a designated location” – a form of secret detention where suspects are held in solitary confinement in unknown locations.

Ren told US-backed Voice of America on Sunday that Zhen’s case was part of a state crackdown on websites that document human rights abuses. Activists including Liu Feiyue, the founder of the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, 64 Tianwang founder Huang Qi, and protest bloggers Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu have been detained over the past two years.

“It’s hard to say that their actions really constitute crimes, because the information they post – whether it’s their own information or information from others – a lot of it is truthful information, and the effect of posting it does not lead to the crime of subverting state power. It’s a bit of an abuse of power, I think, to casually give someone this crime, and then not let them meet [with their lawyers.]”

A notice sent to Ren Quanniu denying his request to meet with his client. Photo: HRCChina.

Zhen has not been allowed access to his lawyer since he was detained in September, according to NGO Amnesty International.

The group called for Zhen’s immediate and unconditional release as “he has been detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.” It expressed “grave concerns that he is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

A long-time activist, Zhen has previously been detained for short periods due to his activism, including while he was speaking with local residents in the “democracy village” of Wukan, which was the site of widespread protests against illegal land grabs by the local government in 2016.

A computer programmer by training, Zhen has also worked as an advisor with Chinese Wikipedia, and on an HIV/AIDS prevention education project with a local NGO.

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.