Wall Street Journal: Chinese Activist Wang Yu Seen ‘Confessing’ in Video

The Wall Street Journal

By Josh Chin

Aug. 1, 2016 11:07 a.m. ET

■ Human-rights lawyer detained in 2015 crackdown expresses regret for ‘going to extremes’

BEIJING—A celebrated Chinese human-rights lawyer, detained for more than a year, in a video interview disseminated online Monday disavowed her work and accused her boss of trying to foment revolution.

The confession, which some people who knew her said was possibly coerced, was the latest development in the government’s crackdownon China’s human-rights community.

Wang Yu of Beijing’s Fengrui law firm was among roughly two dozen lawyers and activists who were formally arrested following a broad government crackdown begun in July 2015 during which at least 200 other lawyers and activists were detained or interrogated.

In the video, versions of which were released by both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese media, Ms. Wang is shown answering questions from an off-camera interlocutor. In one version, lilting guitar music plays as she announces that she has been out on bail for several days.

Human-rights lawyer Wang Yu. Photo: Agence France-Presse/
Getty Images

“I felt the civility and humanity of justice in China,” she says. She goes on to express regret for “going to extremes” in her work for Fengrui, a law firm known for taking on politically sensitive cases. “I also wrote inappropriate things online and accepted interviews with foreign media. For this, I feel ashamed and express remorse.”

Reports said the interview was conducted on Sunday, but Wen Donghai, one of Ms. Wang’s lawyers, said he had been unable to contact her and couldn’t confirm her release. Police and prosecutors in the coastal city of Tianjin, where Ms. Wang was being held, didn’t answer repeated phone calls on Monday evening.

Family members of some of the arrested activists and lawyers swept up in that same crackdown released a statement on Monday saying, “We strongly suspect Wang Yu made these statements to the media under pressure and threat.”

The video appeared online on the same day that a small group of activists and diplomats convened outside a court in Tianjin in response to rumors that another lawyer detained in the crackdown, Fengrui director Zhou Shifeng, and three activists were scheduled to face a closed-door trial there on charges of subverting state power.

The wives of two of those arrested were themselves detained in Tianjin over the weekend after they pressed authorities to confirm the trial date, according to activists. The wife of a third arrested lawyer was taken away after she attended protests outside the court in Tianjin on Monday, the activists said.

The arrested lawyers and activists are accused of a wide range of offenses, including politicizing legal cases to attract attention for themselves, deliberately disrupting trial proceedings and staging “fake” protests outside court houses, according to state media reports.

In its report announcing Ms. Wang’s release, the Hong Kong newspaper Oriental Daily said the trial for the four men would be held on Tuesday. Calls to the court outside of business hours rang unanswered.

Mr. Zhou’s trial would be the first formal prosecution to arise from last year’s crackdown.

The campaign against the lawyers is part of a wider strategy by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government to suppress dissent that many activists describe as the most serious in China since the clampdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989. Controls have been tightened in traditional media, on the internet and in classrooms as Mr. Xi seeks to inoculate the country against what he sees as pernicious Western influences.

On Aug. 6, Ms. Wang was due to be named the first recipient of the American Bar Association’s new International Human Rights Award. In her video interview, the lawyer takes specific aim at such awards, and at foreign groups that had supported her in the past, saying their aim was to attack and smear China.

“I won’t be used by these people again,” she says.

She attacks her boss, Mr. Zhou, questioning his qualifications as a lawyer and accusing him of using human rights cases to hype his firm, earn money “and lay the foundations for a color revolution,” referring to the revolutions that toppled autocratic regimes in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and elsewhere.

The press office of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in a statement called for Beijing to release Mr. Zhou and his colleagues, calling the charges against them “vague and apparently politically motivated.”

“The only message the video interview sends out is that when you are in detention in China, you could be put in front of the camera to confess any time the authorities want,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher for Amnesty International. “It seems that the Chinese government wants to discredit all the human rights lawyers and scare other lawyers away from taking human rights cases.”

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