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Human rights lawyers targeted in ‘unprecedented’ crackdown

China has launched an ongoing attack on the country’s human rights lawyers, arresting at least 23 legal professionals and summoning scores more “for tea” with security services.

More than 100 people have been targeted in the nationwide crackdown, according to a list compiled by the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group (CHRLCG).

The Hong Kong-based NGO said they gathered the information through “contacts on the ground” who are in touch with the lawyers. “Of course there might be individuals that we missed out… but we try to verify the list and the information as best as we can,” the CHRLCG told Hong Kong Free Press.

According to the list, six have been criminally detained with official arrest warrants, including Beijing lawyers Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, Wang Quanzhang, Huang Liqun, Bao Longjun and Liu Sixi.

Guangzhou-based Sui Muqing has also been put under house arrest and 15 others who were taken away remain unreachable.

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Lawyer Zhou Shifeng. Photo: chinachange.org

Another 85 people from 19 provinces and regions, most of them lawyers, were temporarily detained for talks with police and later released, the CHRLCG said.

Prominent rights lawyer Wang Yu was “abducted” from her home in Beijing early Thursday morning. Authorities cut her electricity and internet before unidentified men broke into her home, her friends told CHRLCG.

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Lawyer Wang Yu.

Wang’s arrest prompted 101 lawyers from across the country to issue a public letter condemning the illegal methods the authorities used in apprehending her. Wang’s husband Bao Longjun and their 16-year-old son were taken from Beijing’s airport at around the same time, it was later revealed. Their son has since been released.

Zhou Shifeng was “forcefully taken away” early Friday from a hotel in Beijing. His client Zhang Miao, who spent nine months in detention for helping a German magazine report on the Occupy Central movement, had just been released late the previous night.

Both Wang and Zhou are lawyers from the Beijing Fengrui law firm. Another lawyer from the same firm, Liu Xiaoyuan, posted messages on Twitter detailing Zhou’s arrest. He later told Hong Kong Free Press that younger colleagues were “panicking” after an assistant and an accountant at the firm were also detained.

Liu’s tweets have since been deleted and he can no longer be reached by phone.

“Unprecedented” Attack

Amnesty International has called on China to stop its offensive against human rights lawyers. William Nee, China Researcher at the NGO, called the crackdown “unprecedented.”

“There was a similar crackdown in 2011 on the [pro-democracy] ‘Jasmine’ protests…however, this is wider in scope in terms of the number of people detained or questioned. And it looks like it’s going to be more severe in terms of consequences for some of the lawyers,” Nee said. “The government is very concerned about rights defense lawyers using the law, combined with social media and public protests, as a form of advocacy in their cases.”

Nee expects the crackdown to continue: “This is kind of the ‘new normal.’ The government wants to crack down on anything that it sees as a threat…they want to promote the rule of law, but they want to do it on their own terms with their own agenda, and they don’t want any input from their own citizens.”

State Media Campaign

China’s state media attacked human rights lawyers over the weekend, accusing them of “organising paid protests, hyping public sentiment and fabricating rumours on the Internet to sway court decisions.”

A report by state news agency Xinhua on Saturday condemned the “rights defending circle,” which it said was led by Beijing Fengrui law firm, as an “organised syndicate” that had “severely disrupted social order.” The Chinese-language report was carried across multiple internet news portals, with the comments sections under tight control. On Sina.com, over 510,000 “took part” in commenting on the story, but less than 500 comments were shown.

Two employees from Beijing Fengrui “confessed” on national TV. Zhai Yanmin, a “fixer” employed by Fengrui, admitted to being paid and paying others to hype up sensitive cases, including one recent case in which a policeman shot dead a man in a train station in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.

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Fengrui employee Zhai Yanmin speaking on TV.

Huang Liqun, a lawyer and former government official, said Fengrui senior partner Zhou Shifeng hires disgruntled lawyers and people who are “dissatisfied with the government” to work for him. Speaking in long, articulate and uninterrupted sentences, Huang appeared to be reading from a script.

china human rights lawyers crackdown

Fengrui lawyer Huang Liqun speaking on TV.

Hong Kong Protest

Hong Kong lawyers and activists converged on China’s liaison office on Sunday to condemn the widening crackdown. The protesters urged Beijing to release the arrested lawyers.

china human rights lawyers crackdown

Photo: The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China via Facebook.

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Human rights lawyers targeted in 'unprecedented' crackdown