Qin Yongpei is the founder of Guangxi Baijuming Law Firm.
Everyone says he is upstanding and outspoken.
Qin Yongpei, a civil rights lawyer from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and who was active online, exercised his rights to question unjust issues and complained about official misconduct.
Qin’s wife, Deng Xiaoyun, described Qin’s work as “like a tightrope dancer, one wrong step, then he is doomed!”
In China, when someone chooses to seek justice and speak out for truth, it often leads them into trouble, — even catastrophe. To stop Qin from speaking, the authorities have blocked some 900 of his accounts on Weibo (China’s micro-blogging platform) and around 80 accounts on Jinri Toutiao (China’s news and information content platform). Yet, he insists he was merely exercising his freedom of expression by writing and sharing on these online platforms.
On 3 October 2019, Qin Yongpei was put under criminal detention by the police of Nanning city and was immediately charged with “inciting subversion of State power’.
His wife was not at home when Qin was taken away. When she returned home in the evening, their daughter told her in a panic, “Daddy seems to be detained.” Deng could not reach Qin the whole night and she noticed that their home had been searched, an ominous omen in her eyes. Only a while later, was she able to she have the story reliably confirmed.
Deng believes her husband was detained on trumped-up charges. The authorities targeted him in order to silence other activists, who believe in justice and freedom like Qin.
“Many other lawyers get rich and famous, Qin has neither. He doesn’t care about wealth, fame or power. He is born with a mission to expose injustice and speak out for the victims.”Deng Xiaoyun
In a legal career spanning over ten years, he has defended human rights lawyers who faced retaliation from the authorities and provided legal aid to vulnerable groups; he has represented victims in cases including illegal administrative detentions, industrial pollution, forced demolition of houses, and wrongful convictions.
Because of the conviction of his moral principles and his outspoken nature, he publicly criticised officials who were suspected of abuses of power and human rights violations by posting on his social media. In 2015, Qin openly signed a complaint against Tang Bin, the then chief of Nanning city Public Security Bureau to the Political and Legal Affairs Commission, and posted the criticism on Weibo. This open criticism of the regime led his social media accounts to be forcibly shut down repeatedly.
During one campaign in 2018, Qin offered a reward to his online followers for collecting evidence of offences conducted by Fu Zhenghua, the then Minister of Justice and vice-Minster of Public Security. Fu was dismissed from public office and removed from China’s top political advisory body in October 2021, and has been placed under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and national laws” since then.
In May 2018, after Tang Bin, the official he openly criticised, became the Executive Deputy Director of the Public Security Department in Guangxi Autonomous Region, Qin’s law license was revoked and his law firm was forced to shut down.
Subsequently, Qin established a legal consulting service and continued to engage in his legal work. Around the same time, he also co-founded the “Post-Lawyers’ Club in China”, to support human rights lawyers who have had their licenses revoked.
Convicted of posting tens of thousands tweets
Qin Yongpei has been cut off from the outside world since his detention. His lawyer Li Guisheng was only allowed to read the files related to the case, but could not see Qin.
His wife, Deng Xiaoyun posts on Twitter to discuss her husband’s case regularly. She questions the authorities for violating the legal procedure, having not held a court hearing within the year after his indictment.
However, in April 2020, the authorities contacted her elder brother, threatening to arrest her if she continues to speak out for her husband on Twitter. Local government officials from her mother’s family also talked to her younger brother and father, passing on the message to stop talking and “for the sake of the child, not to break the law”.
On 25 May 2020, the lawyer Li Guisheng received the prosecution statement of Qin Yongpei’s case. They accused Qin of “maliciously denouncing and spreading rumours about the State leaders and attacking the State power and the socialist system” and “inciting the crowds ignorant of the truth to question the sovereign State and socialist system” through posting on Weibo and Twitter since 2014. The organisation “Post-Lawyers’ Club in China” was accused of being an illegal organisation which openly challenged the State’s judicial power.
After receiving the prosecution statement, Li made a request to the authorities in Nanning City and was finally allowed to meet Qin Yongpei.
Qin Yongpei told Li that his “offences” were some 1,000 tweets or comments, collected and selected from more than 50,000 online comments he had posted on internet in the past three or four years. There was no other “criminal evidence” and he believed it was a retaliation, led by some powerful figures in Guangxi.
Right to see relatives and attend funeral deprived
Qin has been denied the right to meet his family since his detention. The parcels and letters from his wife are often returned. “I can’t remember how often those parcels I had sent him were returned; I can’t understand why our letters were intercepted; I can’t tell how long I have waited and demanded, till I can finally see him.”
Qin Yongpei’s 89-year-old mother went on a hunger strike, in order to force the authorities to allow her meet Qin. The court finally allowed her to have a video call with Qin on Mother’s Day in 2021. She passed away on 11 July 2021, the family applied for Qin to attend the funeral but, as with their other requests, it was turned down.
When Deng saw her husband again on 4 August 2021, she was shocked by how haggard and tired he looked, “my daughter and I were scared and worried about his health!” She sent out a tweet after their meeting:
“After being separated (from the family) for 643 days, his aged mother passed away and as her only son, Qin was not allowed to attend the funeral, although he met the criteria for release on bail. Today afternoon, I finally saw Qin Yongpei. At first, he stared desperately at me, so did I and it felt so unreal. He lost so much weight, his round face has become a diamond shape face, his voice is not as loud as before, his eyes are brighter than before, he has got so much grey hair, like an old man. I feel so upset.”
“I reminded him several times that his gaze was as sharp as a knife and it somehow scared me. He immediately resumed his usual look. He told me his case was set up by those people he had offended. They blacklisted him, reported him to the Political and Legal Affairs Commission in order to discipline him. He is sure that he is innocent and demands an open trial.”
Deng knows that he can survive the physical hardship in the detention centre, but as someone who likes reading and communicating with others, Qin suffers badly in custody, without books to read and others to talk to. “I am worried about his mental health. His lawyer and I keep advocating for his rights to read.” Qin wanted to read the Bible, but the detention centre returned the Bible his wife had sent for him. Deng believes the mental anguish he suffers is far more cruel than the physical hardship.
On 31 December 2021, two years and three months after his detention, Qin was sent to the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanning City for a closed-door trial.
On the eve of the trial, his lawyer Li Guisheng demanded the court to notify seven lawyers or legal professionals to testify in court as witnesses for his defendant, but the court refused.
Only his wife, Deng Xiaoyun, and lawyer Li Guisheng were allowed to come to the court as Qin’s defenders. “At that time, no one was allowed to come to the hearing. The entire court stopped receiving outsiders, it claimed the trial was not open to the public because it involved State secrets. I can only come to the court as a relative-defender, otherwise there would not be anyone else there.”
She quoted her husband’s speech at court, “he said: I accused those people who actually endangered the foundation of the Communist Party and I am now retaliated against. It is all because I reported and criticised too much.”
The retaliation Qin refers to started with a domestic violence dispute a few years ago in Guangxi Province. Hu Kai, a police officer of the Qixing District Police Station who was in charge of the case, was accused of helping the husband in the dispute and refusing to accept the wife’s complaints. His boss, Qiu Zuhe, director of Guilin City Public Security Bureau, instead of punishing Hu, promoted him to the position of deputy director of the district police station.
Qin learned about this case and decided to make a complaint against these two police officers, and uploaded the relevant documents to the internet. Shortly after that, the police threatened him to detain him if he refused to delete those documents.
“I am innocent.” He clearly said in the court.
Since the hearing, Qin Yongpei has been awaiting his verdict. On 4 February 2022, six independent United Nations human rights experts published a letter, which they sent to the Chinese government on 4 December 2021. The letter detailed the Chinese government’s crackdown on two human rights lawyers, Qin Yongpei and Chang Weiping. They face detentions, prosecutions, forced disappearances, torture; their families are harassed and threatened. The UN human rights experts urged the Chinese government to respond to these allegations.
This story was written by The 29 Principles. Read more stories in our series of Chinese lawyers’ profile here.