Radio Free Asia
Activists in Hong Kong have launched a postcard campaign targeting Chinese officials over the detention of dozens of rights lawyers in a nationwide crackdown on the country’s embattled legal profession.
|Hong Kong resident signs postcard calling for release of Chinese
rights lawyers, Aug. 2, 2015. RFA
By 4.00 p.m. local time on Monday, at least 265 lawyers, law firm staff, and associated human right activists had been detained, hauled in for questioning, or placed under surveillance or house arrest, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) said in a statement on its website.
While the majority have been released or placed under ongoing surveillance following questioning by police, a significant number remain incommunicado, believed detained at a secret location, the group said.
“More than 20 lawyers and law firm staff remain in detention, the majority of them in unknown circumstances,” CHRLCG convenor Kit Chan told RFA at the launch of the campaign on Sunday.
“We will be sending these postcards to police departments to let the Chinese government know that people around the world continue to be concerned about this.”
“We hope that those in charge of these cases will respect the law. What gives us greatest cause for concern is that the authorities aren’t sticking to domestic judicial procedures and to the criminal procedure law.”
Bid to raise awareness
According to human rights lawyer and pro-democracy politician Albert Ho, Hong Kong’s Bar Association will be contacting lawyers’ groups around the world in a bid to raise public awareness of the Chinese lawyers’ plight.
“Together with them, we can add to the pressure that is being brought to bear on the Chinese government, including via a request to Beijing to report back via the United Nations.”
The campaign has garnered strong support across much of civil society in Hong Kong, including former leaders of last year’s 79-day Occupy Central movement in the former British colony.
Deputy leader of the Chinese University of Hong Kong student union Hung Ho-min said students were also linking the call for the lawyers’ release with their opposition to Beijing’s winning bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“We hope to use this postcard campaign as a way to continue to bring to public attention the human rights situation inside China,” Hung said.
“We also want to put a bit of pressure on the police, so that they will take steps to improve the human rights situation of Chinese people, and release the rights lawyers and associates who were detained in this recent crackdown,” he said.
Politically sensitive cases
Meanwhile, pan-democratic lawmaker and rights activist Leung Kwok-hung said he is particularly concerned that many of the detained lawyers are being held because they accepted briefs on politically sensitive cases.
Citing the example of Sui Muqing, former defense lawyer for detained Guangzhou-based lawyer and activist Tang Jingling, one of the “Guangzhou Three,” Leung said the detentions are part of a worrying trend in mainland China, which still maintains an internal border and separate legal systems from Hong Kong following the territory’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
He said the lack of respect for the rule of law seen in the mainland could soon spread across the border into Hong Kong, which was promised the maintenance of its existing rights and freedoms for a minimum of 50 years.
“If we think that it’s OK that several hundred lawyers are detained, then pretty soon this sort of thing will happen here in Hong Kong as well,” Leung told RFA.
“In particular, I think it would be wrong of the Bar Association not to speak out.”
Repression and coercion are routinely used by Chinese authorities against activists, ethnic minorities, and law firms that take on sensitive cases, according to a State Department report last month.
Last month’s raid on the Fengrui public interest law firm in Beijing, in which rights lawyers Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Huang Liqun, Liu Sixin, and Wang Quanzhang had been accused by police of deliberately fomenting social unrest, was just the beginning of a much wider operation that has left the Chinese legal profession in a state of shock.
The move comes as the ruling Chinese Communist Party intensifies a clampdown on all forms of civil society, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), in an apparent bid to cleanse it of alleged “foreign influence.”
Many who seek to help others defend their legal rights are accused of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” and sometimes the more serious national security offense of “incitement to subvert state power,” and could face prison terms of up to 15 years.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wong Si-lam for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.