The United States is concerned over the crackdown on human rights lawyers in China. Several attorneys from the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, who have been held in secret detention for months, have been charged with subverting state power – a charge that can carry a sentence of life imprisonment.
The lawyers are among a group of dozens from the same law firm detained by authorities in July, part of an ongoing crack down on human rights defenders and civil society activists by the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Those charged include well-known attorney Wang Yu, who has defended ethnic Uighur dissident Ilham Tohti and represented several other clients involved in human rights activism or religious freedom issues. The director of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm Zhou Shifeng was also charged with subversion. Other members of the firm now facing unusually long sentences include civil rights attorney Li Heping and his assistant Zhao Wei.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said, “The formal arrests of these rights lawyers on subversion charges means that the Chinese government now thinks that using the law to defend human rights is a subversive act against the state.” She called the arrests a “shocking attack on the legal profession…aimed at frightening lawyers away from representing clients who are at odds with the Communist Party.”
U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus has also expressed concern over the arrests of human rights lawyers in China. In a statement last month, he noted that lawyers such as Wang Yu and Li Heping “bravely fight for the legal rights of religious believers, journalists, victims of forced evictions, and women who simply want to protest sexual assault.” Ambassador Baucus said they “should be embraced as partners, not enemies, of the government.”
Speaking at a press briefing about the charges of subversion now levied against the lawyers from the Beijing Fengrui law firm, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said, “The United States urges China to drop these charges and immediately release these lawyers and others like them detained for seeking to protect the rights of Chinese citizens.”