Beijing police expel prominent rights attorney from city following release

Authorities in Beijing have expelled rights attorney Zhou Shifeng from the city after holding him for months under house arrest following his release from prison, a move likely linked to his whistleblowing over now-jailed former security chief Sun Lijun.

Zhou, who headed the now-shuttered Beijing Fengrui Law Firm that was targeted in a July 2015 crackdown on human rights lawyers, was released at the end of a seven-year jail term for subversion last September, but -- like other prominent rights lawyers -- has never fully regained his personal freedom.

"There were three of them watching him in shifts and hiding in his residential community [to spy on him]," a person familiar with the matter told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday. "He had to get their approval if he wanted to travel any kind of distance, and also anyone who wanted to visit him had to get their approval, too."

Zhou has now been forced to leave the city for his birthplace of Anyang in the central province of Henan, the person said.

The person said the authorities appear to regard Zhou as a threat because he repeatedly spoke out about the actions of former vice minister of public security Sun Lijun, who was handed a suspended death sentence in September 2022 for taking bribes, manipulating the stock market and illegal possession of firearms.

The Changchun Intermediate People"s Court said Sun had used his influence to seek gains for others and illegally accepted money and property worth 646 million yuan.

He had also displayed "extremely inflated political ambition” and very poor political integrity," as well as making “groundless criticisms” of the party"s policies, and spreading political rumors, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

"Sun unscrupulously cultivated personal followers and interest groups to obtain personal political gains," it said. "He also seriously undermined party unity and compromised political security."

Political retribution?

Zhou had repeatedly accused Sun and his faction of wrongdoing, the person familiar with the matter said.

"So he was criticized and persecuted by the Sun Lijun political faction," the person said, adding that Sun had always seen the 2015 crackdown on Fengrui as a form of political retaliation for his whistleblowing over Sun.

Zhou had continued to write to the ruling Communist Party"s disciplinary arm following his release, as well as the State Council"s complaints department and the Supreme People"s Procuratorate, complaining about failure by the state to follow due legal process, the person said.

While Zhou"s letter to the public prosecutor was ignored, the letter he sent to the State Council complaints department was forwarded to state security police in the northern port city of Tianjin, who were the targets of that complaint.

U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao said Zhou"s complaints are unlikely to garner any response from Beijing.

"The Supreme Court may have promised it would process all [complaints] letters, but it actually doesn"t respond to such cases," Teng said. 

He said that while Sun Lijun played a major role in the nationwide arrests, detentions and travel bans imposed on around 300 rights attorneys across China in 2015, he wasn"t the driving force behind it.

"The decision on the July 2015 crackdown came from the highest echelons of the Chinese Communist Party," he said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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