We, the undersigned lawyers and jurists, write to express our deep concern about the scores of lawyers detained or intimidated in China. The crackdown began on the night of 9 July 2015 with the detention of lawyer Wang Yu, her husband and their 16-year-old child in Beijing. Since then, hundreds of lawyers, law firm staff and family members have been subject to intimidation, interrogation, detention as criminal suspects, and forced disappearance.
Twelve lawyers and legal assistants remain under criminal detention or arrest. Most of those under arrest are suspected of “subversion of state power” or “inciting subversion of state power”. None of them have so far been allowed access to counsel, friends or family, and they are effectively disappeared. In some cases there is good reason to fear that they were put under pressure to “dismiss” their previously appointed lawyers. Some are not known to be suspected of any crime at all; and in the additional case of lawyer Li Heping, the Chinese government has so far declined to admit that he is being held at all.
We fear that without legal representation of their own free choice or other legal protections, the persons above are at high risk of torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment. Our concern is heightened by the findings of the UN Committee Against Torture, which stated on 9 December 2015 that it “remains seriously concerned over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system, which overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions”. Moreover, the state-controlled Chinese media have in a series of broadcasts denounced a number of detained “suspects” as members of a crime syndicate engaging in “rights-defence-style troublemaking”, and paraded some of those detained “confessing” to wrongdoing before they have even been publicly indicted.
In order to vindicate its claim to be a responsible stakeholder in the international community and to be a respected global superpower, it is imperative that Chinahonour its international commitments. Therefore, we respectfully urge President Xi Jinping to:
• Ensure the release of the detained or arrested lawyers and others held with them without legal basis
• Ensure access to counsel for all those detained, arrested or otherwise held as a criminal suspect
• Confirm the whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared
• Ensure that the rights of those detained, including their right to adequate medical treatment, are safeguarded
• Ensure that those detained and their colleagues will be protected from any future control measures such as: tracking and following, violent attacks, soft detention, “being travelled”, being asked to have “chats”, criminal, administrative, judicial detention, forced disappearance, torture and psychiatric incarceration.
Dominique Attias Vice-president of the Paris bar, France
Robert Badinter Former French minister of justice and former president of the French Constitutional Council
Michel Benichou President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe
Gill H Boehringer Coordinator of the International Association of People’s Lawyers; former dean of the Macquarie University Law School, Australia
Kirsty Brimelow QC Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Elizabeth Evatt Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists, Australia; former president, Australian Law Reform Commission; former member, UN Human Rights Committee
Tony Fisher Partner, Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP, UK
Patrick Henry President of the Belgium Bar Association, Belgium
Helena Kennedy QC Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers; chair of Justice (British branch of International Commission of Jurists)
Asma Jahangir Jurist; president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan; founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Michael Mansfield QC Barrister; professor of law at City University, London
Andrea Mascherin President of the Italian National Bar Council, Italy
Manfred Nowak Lawyer; former special rapporteur on torture, Austria
Christophe Pettiti General secretary of the Paris Bar Human Rights Institute
Stuart Russell Former administrative judge, Canada
Clive Stafford Smith Human rights lawyer
William Schabas Professor of international law and director of Doctoral Institute, Middlesex University
David J Scheffer Former US ambassador at large for war crimes issues; professor and director, Center for International Human Rights, Pritzker School of Law, Northwestern University
Ulrich Schellenberg President of the German Bar Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein)
Jean-Jacques Uettwiller President of the International Association of Lawyers