This month marks the first anniversary of the launch of an alarming, systematic crackdown against lawyers and human rights defenders in China.
In July 2015, authorities began a nationwide campaign against the legal community. As State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement marking the anniversary, “More than 300 people have been interrogated, detained, arrested, placed under residential surveillance or forbidden from leaving the country.”
Mr. Kirby said the United States “remains deeply concerned about the continued detention of at least 23 defense lawyers and rights defenders and denial of access to independent legal counsel.”
In its most recent human rights report on China, the State Department noted that the lawyers arrested during the past year by authorities were detained on charges ranging from “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” to “inciting subversion of state power.”
Among those still in detention are Wang Yu and Li Heping. They have defended the legal rights of religious believers, journalists, victims of forced evictions, and women protesting sexual assault. Also among the so-called “disappeared” are Xie Yanyi, who defended Falun Gong practitioners.
Zhang Kai, who authorities detained in August 2015 immediately prior to a meeting with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein, represented churches facing demolition and forced cross removal in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. In February, Zhang made what many believe to be a forced confession on Chinese public television, and authorities released him in March after six months in detention. Reports indicate that Zhang remains on house arrest “awaiting trial,” as the charges against him have not been dropped. At least 20 other lawyers and rights defenders remain in custody.
State Department Spokesperson Kirby said the detention of lawyers and rights defenders by the Chinese government “violates China’s international commitments,” and the campaign against the legal community in China “undermines China’s development of a judicial system that respects the rule of law.”
“Jailing those who seek to defend the legal rights of others harms China’s international image and its ability to build a rule of law society, which is a critical component to fostering innovation and creating sustainable prosperity in the 21st century,” Mr. Kirby said.
“To this end, we urge Chinese authorities to immediately release the lawyers and rights defenders still in detention, drop the charges against them, and allow them to move freely and reunite with their families whom they have not seen in a year.”