Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have formally arrested two witnesses to the beating and stripping of a human rights lawyer who pursued a complaint about her treatment at the hands of local police.
Rights lawyer Sun Shihua is pursuing a complaint against police after being beaten, illegally strip-searched, drug-tested and detained at Hualin police station in Liwan district of Guangdong's provincial capital Guangzhou for seven hours on Sept. 20.
Rights activists Zhang Wuzhou and Liang Songji were present at the time, and Zhang shot video footage of the incident on her cell phone.
Police deleted the footage and detained Zhang and Liang on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble." Zhang is being held at the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center, while Liang is in the Guangzhou No. 3 Detention Center.
Liang’s sister, Liang Yiming said she had received a notice of formal arrest issued by the Liwan District Procuratorate, but was too intimidated by threats to family members to intervene in the case.
"We don't have a lawyer right now," Liang Yiming said. "Liang was already separated from his wife, so it's difficult to have her hire an attorney for him."
"[Also,] she is worried about bringing down further trouble on herself; that's why the authorities have been putting the frighteners on her."
Another relative, Liang Yankui, called on the authorities to release the footage.
"They should give some kind of public explanation for this, but they haven't released the video footage publicly," Liang Yankui said. "The police have their own version of the story, and it seems [the rest of the family] is going along with it."
Zhang's sister Zhang Weichu said she had also received a notice of formal arrest from the Liwan prosecutor's office, and that a lawyer appointed by the family had managed to visit her briefly in the detention center.
However, Zhang now appeared to be using a lawyer appointed by the police, she said.
"Of course any lawyer appointed by the authorities is going to be on the government's side, and try to get their client to plead guilty to secure a lighter sentence," Zhang Weichu said. "I have no trust in the authorities whatsoever."
Degrading treatment in detention
She said Zhang has developed bronchitis since her detention in the facility, and had been subjected to degrading treatment.
"It's usual for them not to allow you to lock the door in toilets at a detention center, but she has a male police officer watching her go to the toilet," Zhang Weichu said. "They are deliberately humiliating her."
Former rights lawyer Tan Yongpei said the formal arrests of Zhang and Liang make it more likely that further action will be taken against Sun herself.
"Now that charges have been brought in these cases, the next step will be to take further action against Sun Shihua," he said, adding that she runs the risk of being detained at any time, if she doesn't withdraw her complaint against the police.
According to her husband, rights lawyer Sui Muqing, Sun was left traumatized by the incident, which included a strip search, ostensibly for "hidden weapons."
China's legal profession has been subjected to a nationwide program of detentions, travel bans and other restrictions since July 2015.
Sui lost his license in January after he ignored official warnings not to take on politically sensitive cases.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.