Three years ago, on the night of July 9, human rights lawyer Wang Yu returned home after dropping off her son and husband at the airport in Beijing. Arriving at her apartment, she noticed a group of men hanging around outside. Later that night, the electricity went out, her internet connection was cut, and the men broke into the apartment and led her away in handcuffs to a secret detention center, where she endured torture and interrogations. Police released Wang a year later—only after she agreed to a televised confession.
Wang was the first of more than 300 lawyers, legal assistants, and activists detained throughout China in what is now called the 709 Incident, named after the date Wang was taken. Human rights lawyers, many of whom are professed Christians, stood up for the vulnerable in China against government policies and corporations. Seeing these lawyers as a threat to complete control, the Chinese government silenced them by placing the most prominent lawyers into “residential surveillance at a designated location.” The lawyers say they endured beatings, psychological torture, threats against family members, forced feedings of unknown drugs, and sleep deprivation while detained.
Most of the human rights lawyers have been released on bail. Today, 17 lawyers remain imprisoned and at least a dozen have lost their licenses and can no longer practice law. One lawyer, Wang Quanzhang, has been unheard from since his arrest three years ago: Family members don’t know his whereabouts or whether he is dead or alive.
Wang Quanzhang defended Falun Gong religious practitioners, victims of land seizures, and political prisoners. He taught Chinese villagers about their land and legal rights, helped found the rights group Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, and worked at Beijing Fengrui law firm, where Wang Yu also worked.
Wang Quanzhang’s wife, Li Wenzu, made dozens of freedom of information requests, visited a court complaint office, and in April, on the 1,000th day of Wang’s arrest, started a 100-kilometer (62-mile) march from Beijing to Tianjin’s No. 2 Detention Center, where officials last said he was held. Police have closely monitored Li due to her activism.