Skip to main content

Chinese authorities will do an “inspection” Thursday at the office of a lawyer who released shocking details about the torture of a fellow human rights lawyer.Kim Kyung Hoon

Chinese authorities will do an "inspection" Thursday at the office of a lawyer who released shocking details about the torture of a fellow human rights lawyer.

Chen Jian'gang says the announced visit to his office is a clear effort to intimidate him after he transcribed an interview with imprisoned lawyer Xie Yang.

Mr. Chen recalls weeping as he listened to Mr. Xie describe being beaten by Chinese interrogators.

"After five or six days of this I was basically paralyzed. I couldn't open my eyes, and my entire body throbbed in pain," Mr. Xie told him.

That account provided a shocking look at China's treatment of human rights defenders, hundreds of whom have been detained or questioned in the past two years.

Globe editorial: China must end its cruel detainment of government critics

Though dismissed by Chinese state media as "fake news," Mr. Xie's account helped prompt a rare critical diplomatic letter to the Chinese government in late February. The letter, signed by 11 foreign missions in Beijing, including the Canadian embassy, said Mr. Xie and others had made "credible claims of torture."

But Mr. Chen, himself a lawyer who acts on human rights cases, is now being threatened by Chinese authorities. On Thursday, his law firm has been warned, the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau and Chaoyang District Justice Bureau will conduct an inspection and want to see documentation related to past cases.

Mr. Chen believes he is being targeted.

"Why are they coming for me? It's because of Xie Yang's case," Mr. Chen said in an interview.

"They want me to be silent."

China routinely says its justice system adheres to the country's laws and treats everyone equally.

But Mr. Chen's role in making public a dramatic narrative of torture has made him a thorn in the side of the government, which has told him to refrain from writing articles or speaking to media. He has been warned that if he persists, it could threaten his professional credentials and his ability to practise law.

"It's obviously a threat," he said in an interview, after warning that he believes his phone has been under surveillance.

But rather than remain cautiously quiet, Mr. Chen has grown more outspoken. On Wednesday, he posted to Twitter a photograph of himself holding a banner that says, "Oppose torture, support Xie Yang."

He has also publicly sparred with state media over the accuracy of Mr. Xie's story.

In early March, the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid, said reports that Mr. Xie had "been tortured are groundless," citing local prosecutors. It also published comments from a person it identified as another inmate, who said Mr. Xie "always boasted that he had four dishes every day," suggesting he had been well treated.

Mr. Chen responded with a lengthy description of his meetings with Mr. Xie, a process that took days to produce a transcription that Mr. Xie himself signed. The two men "both shed tears regularly, again showing the effect of an evil system in destroying human nature, as well as the sins and tragic brutality that come along with government power that acts with impunity," Mr. Chen wrote.

At times, Mr. Xie told him, his interrogators sat him on a "dangling chair" that caused his legs to swell so badly he was temporarily crippled. They blew cigarette smoke in his face until he gagged. "I screamed out to Heaven and Earth for help, to no avail," Mr. Xie said.

That account underpinned the joint letter from the foreign diplomatic missions to the Chinese Public Security Minister expressing "growing concern over recent claims of torture" and calling for an investigation and changes to the Chinese judicial system.

"We urge the Chinese Government to put in place all necessary mechanisms to ensure that neither torture nor any other form of ill treatment takes place in any form of detention," said the letter, which was sent privately on Feb. 27.

The Globe and Mail obtained a copy of the letter and reported on it this week.

The inspection of Mr. Chen's workplace days later is China "tightening the screws and increasing pressure. It's a way of threatening him and threatening the firm," said Yaxue Cao, the founder of, which has translated and published the lawyer's reports of torture.

Chinese authorities, she said, are furious with Mr. Chen because he "stood up and rebutted the orchestrated smear and how ridiculous it is to claim that the torture report was a fabrication."

In her conversations with him, she has grown worried that more than his legal licence is at stake.

"He feels that some kind of reprisal is imminent and he might be detained," she said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Chen penned an article titled "In the Event That I Lose My Freedom."

"I want to live to see the universal values of democracy, liberty, rule of law, and human rights realized in China," he wrote. "If something unexpected happens to me, please know that it will absolutely not be because I committed suicide."

Songting is a couple of hundred kilometres east of Beijing. This former farming community is now ringed by steel mills whose pollution ends up being blown toward the Chinese capital. Locals say their food is contaminated and health problems are caused by the pollution.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe