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She was 'strip-searched' in a police station. And she's a lawyer

Inkstone logo Inkstone 12/10/2018 Xinyan Yu
a person posing for the camera © Sui Muqing

Having practiced law in China for two decades, Sun Shihua is no stranger to how Chinese law and order is often enforced.

But never in her wildest imagination did she think that she would be strip-searched and assaulted in a police station.

"It was the darkest, most terrifying and shameful day in my 20 years as a lawyer," Sun told Inkstone.

The 48-year-old lawyer said she was mistreated on September 20 in a police station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, where she was representing a client.

Sun said that following a scuffle with police at the station, she was forced to strip off all her clothes in a detention room.

Following a complaint that Sun filed on September 21, the Guangzhou Lawyers Association said on Monday it would investigate the case and make sure all lawyers' rights were protected.

However, the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau, which oversees all local police stations, denied any wrongdoing.

The case has raised questions about abuse of power by the authorities, following a sweeping crackdown starting in 2015 that has put many human rights lawyers and activists behind bars. One of them, Wang Quanzhang, is still in detention after he was taken by the authorities in 2015.

Many users on China's Twitter-like Weibo have called for the Guangzhou police station concerned to release its CCTV footage of the incident.

"If it's so difficult for even a lawyer to defend her rights, it's not surprising international society has been putting pressure on China regarding human rights issues," Bi Kong Zhi Xing, a Weibo user wrote.

"I believe Sun Shihua. The Guangzhou police should release the CCTV footage. No one is safe in a society without rules," Zhu Qiang, a lawyer based in Nanjing, wrote on Weibo.

Sun was representing a petitioner involved in a demolition case when she went to the police station on September 20.

She said she went to apply for parole on behalf of her client, but the police in charge refused to talk to her. Instead, she was asked to mail in the application. So she asked to see his name card and badge number.

"A policeman surnamed Chen threw his name card at me, and I raised my hand to block it from hitting me," Sun says. "But to my surprise, he accused me of trying to attack him."

Sun said more police came and surrounded her, some locking her arms and others choking her. She was then arrested for "assaulting police" and strip-searched.

"Two male policemen put up a small curtain and a middle-aged female policewoman scolded me and forced me to take all my clothes off for a body search," Sun tells Inkstone.

"I took off my clothes and stood naked for 20 minutes. It was the longest 20 minutes of my life," Sun recalled in a blog post.

She said she was interrogated for six hours before being released around midnight.

Sun and her husband have requested surveillance footage of the scuffle, but the police told them they would have to go through a lengthy application for it to be released.

"It's increasingly common practice for lawyers to be illegally detained, but I'm not going to keep quiet about my wife's case," Sun's husband Sui Muqing tells Inkstone. "It takes a lot of courage for her to speak up about such traumatic experience."

"What the police did to my wife was not legal. It was an abuse of power," he adds.

Sui is a former human rights lawyer who was disbarred earlier this year for representing prominent dissidents and activists.

The Guangzhou Lawyers Association, a civic organization regulating and serving lawyers of which Sun is a member, said it would investigate Sun's claim of abuse.

The Guangzhou Public Security Bureau said on Tuesday that this was a case of "disturbing order at workplaces" and accused Sun of being the disruptor.

"Sun and those who came with her stirred trouble at the police station," the bureau said in a statement. "They were summoned for a body search, information collection and questions as part of the legal process."

A member of staff at the police station told Inkstone they had no comment on the incident.

Sun Shihua and her husband Sui Muqing believe the police detained her for a crime she did not commit, because she was representing a sensitive case.

Her client was Zhou Jianbin, a man from Guangzhou, who has been petitioning the government for years regarding a case of forced demolition.

Forced demolition has been a common cause of grievance against local governments in recent years. As China rose to become the world's second-biggest economy, residents in fast-developing parts of the country were often forced to give up the land they had occupied for property development, in exchange for compensation.

Sometimes the compensation offered was fair, sometimes it wasn't.

Zhou was detained for "disturbing order at state agencies" after he brought his petition to Beijing in September during a major summit held by China and African states.

Sun told Inkstone she was trying to get Zhou released on parole, saying the charge was far-fetched because he "has never set foot in a state agency."

The couple said the local public security bureau has tried to silence them. But they plan on suing, despite a small chance of success.

"I want to help vulnerable groups get social justice," said Sun. "But I've become one of them."

This story originally appeared on Inkstone, a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features. Like what you see? Sign up for our newsletter, download our app, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright (c) 2018. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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