Chinese lawyer held for more than 500 days in civil rights crackdown has mental disorder

A Beijing lawyer has been diagnosed with a mental disorder after he was held in detention for more than 500 days as part of a huge crackdown on civil rights activists in China.

Li Chunfu had been held for suspected subversion after he was detained in July 2015 and he returned home on Thursday after his release on bail, said Chen Jiangang, a friend of Li’s and a fellow lawyer.

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Li showed obvious signs of a mental disorder after his release, Chen said.

“When we asked him if he wanted dumplings or noodles to eat, he kept asking himself what the question meant,” said Chen, who escorted Li to hospital on Saturday afternoon.

“The doctor spent only 10 minutes before diagnosing him with schizophrenia,” he said.

Li is now staying in hospital for treatment.

“They simply turned a rights lawyer into a mental patient. He was a very daring and critically-minded lawyer before,” Chen said.

Cheng Hai, another lawyer friend of Li, said the mental illness had led him to try to choke his wife after his release and he thought that everyone was trying to harm him.

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“He choked his wife and said she was trying to set him up,” Cheng said.

“He kept asking us if there would be trouble while we met.”

It is still not clear exactly what happened to Li, 45, during his detention.

He was among about 300 lawyers and activists detained, arrested or questioned by the authorities in the massive crackdown against rights activists that began on July 9, 2015.

Li’s elder brother Li Heping, a fellow lawyer, was also arrested and is still in custody.

The brothers had handled politically-sensitive legal cases, including representing members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned as a cult on the mainland.

While most of the people arrested in the crackdown have been freed, some on bail, many remain in custody on subversion charges.

The legal status of a handful is still unknown as the authorities refuse visits from family or even their lawyers.

About 50 human rights lawyers and law firm staff held in Chinese police crackdown

“I’m very concerned about their health and safety,” Cheng said.

“I don’t know whether they’ll become like [Li],too. The lawyers can’t see them as the authorities cited state security.”

Three rights activists and one lawyer arrested in the crackdown were tried and convicted at a court in Tianjin last August.

Their punishments included jail terms ranging up to 7½ years.

In the latest sign that Beijing will not be scaling down similar crackdowns, China’s top judge Zhou Qiang ordered the country’s judges on Saturday to strongly punish those convicted of subversion, state television reported.

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“Courts around the nation this year must stick to the order to safeguard state security and harshly punish state security offences such as subversion and separatism,” he was quoted as saying.

“The Supreme Court calls for stricter punishments against cults like Falun Gong and the Almighty God cult and to prevent cults from affecting political stability,” Zhou said.

China’s President Xi Jinping told a high-level meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee on law enforcement earlier in January that the government should prioritise political stability amid rising social tensions.

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