Chinese activists
Yuan Shanshan, Li Wenzu, Liu Ermin and Wang Qiaoling speak to the media after they shaved their heads to protest the detention of their husbands, detained during the 709 crackdownFRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

The wives of two detained Chinese lawyers shaved their heads on Monday, December 17, to protest against their husbands' arrest and persecution by the government. They received the support of two more women, who also went bald to demand justice.

Explaining that the country was "lawless" and that the government was targeting citizens, the women also attempted to enter a Beijing court. The four women went to the Hongsecun People's High Court in south Beijing aiming to submit a petition against the indefinite arrest of their husbands. However, they were prevented from entering the court premises by the police.

"We can go bald, but the country cannot be lawless," the four women shouted outside the courthouse, according to the Agence France-Presse.

The women's decision to go bald is being seen as symbolic as the Chinese word "wufa" is a homonym. It means a state of lawlessness as well as one being completely bald.

Why were the lawyers arrested?

Since Chinese president Xi Jinping assumed office in 2012, several reports of crackdown on rights lawyers and activists have done the rounds.

About 200 of them have reportedly been detained, arrested and jailed in several parts of the country, and many are also said to be under house arrest.

While the government hasn't explained the reason behind any of these arrests, it is often thought to be crackdown on dissent. Many believe that this was the government's attempt to overturn China's rights movements.

The "709 crackdown"

The women's husbands were arrested during one of these crackdowns on July 9, 2015, often referred to as the "709 crackdown." One of them was Attorney Wang Quanzhang, who reportedly defended political activists and people with land issues, and his wife said that the government still hasn't revealed the reason behind the arrest.

"My husband is being detained incommunicado without a proper explanation," Wang's wife Li Wenzu told news agency AFP. "I want answers as to why the authorities aren't following due process. I want to know why they aren't allowing the family's lawyer to visit Wang."

Li went on to reveal that Wang is yet to be tried or released and she has submitted more than 30 freedom of information requests to the police. However, not one of them have been answered. In a bid to highlight the situation, she even tried to walk 100 kilometres to a detention facility in Tianjin, but was prevented by the police.

"I want to urge the Supreme People's Court to perform its supervisory duties and investigate why the second intermediate court in Tianjin that is handling my husband's case is dragging its feet," Li said.

"The court has surpassed the time limit prescribed by law for dealing with such cases," she said.

While Li is awaiting the release of her husband and demands that the government speak up on the matter, Liu Ermin, wife of rights activist Zhai Yanmin, is concerned about her husband's health and believes that he is being tortured in detention.

"His health has deteriorated and we are still under constant surveillance," she told AFP.

And her fears aren't really unfounded as lawyer Xie Yanyi, who was earlier detained and then let go, has previously spoken about how the detainees are being ill-treated and tortured. Yanyi's wife Yuan Shanshan also joined the protest and shaved her head.

The protest also received the support of Wang Qiaoling, wife of lawyer Li Heping. Hoping himself was handed a three-year suspended jail term for subverting state power.