January 28, 2016
A summary of the situation
After six months of “residential surveillance at a designated place” (in reality forced disappearance), the vast majority of the human rights lawyers and other activists who lost their freedom in the “July 9 incident” [16 in all] have been formally arrested by the Communist Party on charges of “subverting state power,” or “inciting subversion of state power.” Even after family members and defense lawyers finally found where they were being held, the authorities continued to refuse visits—on the one hand, they claimed that visitation would endanger national security, and on the other claimed that the detained individuals had engaged new lawyers, dismissing those hired by family. Further, only a very few family members have been allowed to go to the detention centers and deposit living expenses for the detained lawyers.
The precursor to “subversion” or “inciting subversion” was “counterrevolutionary crimes” — a crime of a political character, or political persecution. When the Communist Party was revising the Criminal Law, it was a tailor-made provision for human rights defenders, and dissidents who opposed the Party’s dictatorship. Often, it allows the criminalization of speech. Since the 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping established his rule, the Communist Party has resorted to very little use of these sorts of politically-defined crimes to punish political activists or prisoners of conscience (with the exception of its imprisonment of activists around the June 4 incident, or the key figures who led or took part in organizing opposition parties in the 1990s). In particular after Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, the authorities carefully combed through the Criminal Law to find some non-political crimes to hang on political dissidents: for instance, the crime of “disorderly behavior,” originally classified as “hooliganism,” or “illegal business operations,” which was adapted from the old crime of “speculation and profiteering.” They did this in an attempt to avoid creating heroes through political suppression.