By Rachel Ritchie
Updated at 3:20 p.m., CDT, on July 15, 2015.
(Beijing—July 14, 2015) Numerous news agencies, including CNN, The New York Times and BBC, have reported on the unprecedented detention and interrogation of human rights lawyers, legal professionals and advocates that began late last week and encompassed 24 provinces and municipalities. Since these incidents occurred, China Aid has spoken to several of the lawyers affected by the crackdown and advocated for their release.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) reported that lawyer Ms. Wang Yu, who is well-known for taking on some of China’s toughest human rights cases, was the first to go missing after police took her into detention on Thursday, July 9.
After Wang Yu’s abduction became known, more than 100 human rights lawyers throughout China released a joint statement, calling for her safe return. Unfortunately, many of the letter’s signatories were detained or interrogated in the following days. At present CHRLCG is reporting that more than 190 individuals have been either detained or interrogated, 30 of whom remain missing (these numbers and the associated link have been updated to reflect the most recent date reported by CHRLCG).
China Aid spoke to lawyer Zhang Kai, who was in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, on Saturday after he was released from interrogation. Zhang detailed his experiences: “At about 2 a.m. last night, a dozen public security bureau officers and local police officers rushed into my hotel room and detained me and my two assistants. During their interrogations, they made three main points: 1. No comment should be issued concerning lawyer Zhou Shifeng, [another lawyer detained in the crackdown]; 2. I must cancel a rule of law training in Wenzhou that was scheduled for today; and 3. The forced removal of crosses should not be politicized. The authorities also indicated that Zhou Shifeng and his law firm, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, will be punished very severely, likely for subversion-related charges. I feel that a major wave of persecution is coming.”
The details of Zhang Kai’s account, and his subsequent warning that these crackdowns may be the beginning of a wider campaign signal the Chinese government’s unwavering intent to suppress any perceived threats to the Chinese government or the Communist party, including Chinese citizens working at their peril to advocate for the rule of law and basic civil and political rights, such as the human rights lawyers and advocates detained and interrogated over the past few days.
Many are speculating about the catalyst of the crackdown, including the much-criticized National Security Law, which was issued on July 1, 2015. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Eva Pils, a China expert at King’s College, London University, said that the new security law “gives at least rhetorical support for this sweeping campaign” against human rights advocates.
The United States Department of State issued a statement on Sunday, also drawing a connection between the recent crackdown on human rights lawyers and China’s new security law: “Over the last few days we have noted with growing alarm reports that Chinese public security forces have systematically detained individuals who share the common attribute of peacefully defending the rights of others, including those who lawfully challenge official policies. We are deeply concerned that the broad scope of the new National Security Law is being used as a legal facade to commit human rights abuses.”
China Aid reported on the potential ramifications of the National Security Law, namely the Chinese government using the law as a “pretext to increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in China and to justify and perhaps enhance harassment of human rights lawyers…”
Jun Wang, who serves as the deputy director of the Constitution Committee for the Beijing Bar Association, called on professional law organizations worldwide to take a stand against this attack against their Chinese counterparts. “The recent abduction and detention of human rights lawyers, their staff, and even family members reveals a government campaign to harass and intimidate law professionals and is an indictment on the entire justice system in China,” Jun Wang said. “The international community of professional law organizations and bar associations should publicly speak out against this unjust treatment of our fellow law professionals, who surely have a vested interest in promoting the rule of law and an uncorrupt justice system in China.”
To be sure, the Chinese government’s actions and treatment of human rights lawyers moving forward will be closely monitored by the international community, including those individuals and organizations who have a stake in China becoming a credible and trusted partner, which not only abides by international human rights standards, but can effectively govern without implementing draconian tactics to suppress its own citizens.
Through China Aid’s Legal Defense Fund, assistance is provided to lawyers such as those affected by this nationwide crackdown in China. In doing so, China Aid has provided lawyers with the means to successfully defend human rights, rule of law and religious freedom in accordance to China’s own Constitutional law.