Humanrights Lawyer Chang Boyang is Arrested on a Charge of “Engaging in Illegal Business Operations”

Radically Different from Original Charge Upon Detention; Defense Attorney Repeatedly Blocked from Meeting with Detainee

In late May, many Zhengzhou residents were criminally detained by police on the charge of being “suspected of gathering to disturb the public order.” Those detained include Chang Boyang, the public interest lawyer representing journalist Shi Yu and others similarly situated. Mr. Chang was taken in by police on May 28th under the same criminal charge. On July 5th, Chang Boyang’s family received an “arrest notice,” informing them that Mr. Chang’s arrest was approved on July 3rd by the prosecutor’s office, as he was suspected to have committed the crime of “engaging in illegal business operations.”

Called into Question: Charge Upon Detention Radically Different from Official Arrest Charge

The charge under which Chang Boyang was arrested as a suspect has given rise to intense questioning by social media. The Weibo post scrutinizing the charge has been re-blogged more than 1,000 times.

This scrutiny from individuals from all walks of life is mainly targeted at two issues: first, Chang Boyang’s legal practice and public interest activities in no way amount to an engagement in “illegal business operations”; second, the charges against Chang Boyang at the time of his detention and at the time of his official arrest, “suspected to be gathering to disturb the public order” and “suspected to be engaging in illegal business operations,” respectively, differ drastically and cannot be reconciled.

According to Liu Weiguo, the lawyer representing Chang Boyang, “engaging in illegal business operations” refers to dealing in prohibited goods, goods designated to be dealt or sold monopolistically, or other goods that are restricted in trading; buying or selling import or export licenses, import or export certificates of origin or other business licenses or approval papers required by laws or administrative rules and regulations; or other illegal operations that seriously disrupt market order. Primarily, the charge is applied to those dealing illegally in table salt, tobacco products, telecommunication services, or publications. The culpability requirement for this crime is that the actor must act intentionally, for the purpose of making profit, and all of the following factors must be considered: whether the actor has effected serious damage to the country or caused other grave consequences, whether administrative penalties alone will be insufficient to effect reform, and other similar considerations.

Mr. Liu believes that, from a legal standpoint, the charge of “engaging in illegal business operations” clearly has nothing to do with Chang Boyang’s law practice.

Outside of his law practice, Chang Boyang has also actively engaged in public service, taking part in the founding of Zhengzhou Yirenping, an anti-discrimination public interest organization, and serving as its legal representative. Fellow co-founder Lu Jun explains that Zhengzhou Yirenping, a public interest organization which has an excellent reputation both domestically and internationally, does not do any of its work for the purpose of making profits, and does not charge any fee for its services. Thus, there is no basis for the charge of “engaging in illegal business operations.”

With respect to the change in the charge against Mr. Chang, Liu Weiguo’s analysis is as follows: when the police first detained Chang Boyang, it was on the grounds that he was “suspected to be gathering to disturb the public order,” and this charge was changed at the time of arrest to “suspected to be engaging in illegal business operations”; the two are drastically different and cannot be reconciled, and clearly we cannot rule out the possibility that Chang Boyang’s original detention by the police was “detention for the sake of detention” and that their method was to “first seize, and then frame a case” against the detained.

Anxiety: Detainee Prevented from Meeting with Legal Counsel; Will Police Extort a Confession through Torture?

Refusal by the police to grant Chang Boyang a meeting with his defense attorney has also given rise to extensive questioning.

Since Chang Boyang was criminally detained at the end of May, his lawyer has repeatedly gone to Zhengzhou Detention Centre No. 3, requesting to meet with Mr. Chang, but has been refused each time. Chang Boyang’s wife and daughter are extremely anxious because his lawyer has been unable to meet with him. “Why won’t the police allow him to meet with legal counsel as prescribed by law? Is he being tortured during interrogations to extort a confession, just like in the stories often reported by the press? Are they afraid that allowing a meeting with his lawyer will expose the truth about the situation?” Chang Boyang’s family explain that he is quite thin, and his wife and daughter are extremely worried that his body will not be able to withstand interrogation under torture, in combination with the lack of proper nutrition at the detention center. “We anxiously want to know whether Chang Boyang is psychologically and physically safe at the detention center, and whether he is being beaten or abused,” Mr. Chang’s family expressed.

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