Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

9 Years Following Infamous ‘709’ Crackdown, China’s Human Rights Lawyers Hold Out Hope

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: July 9, 2024
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, his wife Li Wenzu, and their son. (Image: Courtesy of Li Wenzu)

Nearly one decade after a nationwide sweep that ensnared dozens of prominent human rights lawyers and activists across China, the key figures in the events have been released, but remain under constant surveillance and harassment, while rule of law remains severely lacking under the communist regime. 

Starting July 9, 2015, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a series of arrests targeting lawyers throughout the country who dared represent sensitive cases, such as those involving political dissidents or adherents of the persecuted spiritual community Falun Gong. 

In a Kafkaesque twist, many of the targeted lawyers found themselves on the receiving end of Chinese law, wielded as a political weapon in the hands of the CCP. 

Key victims in the “709” crackdown — the name referring to the month and date of the first arrests — include lawyers Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, and Wang, as well as activists such as Wu Gan. 

The detainees were jailed for many months before being put on show trials in which they were made to admit guilt. While in custody, they suffered from varying forms of physical and psychological abuse. 

After serving their sentences, the “709” lawyers and their relatives have spoken out, sharing the ordeals they continue to face under the CCP, as well as their hopes for a more just China. 

Those persecuted in the 709 crackdown and their family members continue to be surveilled and stalked. Some lawyers have been disbarred, while others were recently re-arrested. Their landlords are pressured into evicting them, their utilities have been disrupted, and their children have been prevented from attending school normally. 

Lawyer Zhou Shifeng, who was released in 2022, expressed in a video shared with overseas human rights groups his firm faith that rule of law would one day be achieved in his country. 

He noted how that year, the CCP police officials who orchestrated the 709 crackdown — Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun — themselves ended up being ensnared in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

“The evil forces and political gangsters will be severely punished by history and the people,” Zhou said in the video, which was edited as a compilation with other statements and published by human rights website China Change.  

Wang Quanzhang, known for his steadfast defense of persecuted adherents of Falun Gong, sees the fate of those involved in the 709 crackdown as a consequence of China’s lack of justice. 

“I’d really like to have a chance to ask these perpetrators: ‘when ordinary people like us are deprived of human rights, can your human rights be protected?’”