China targets rights lawyers as crackdown on activists widens

At least 52 lawyers and activists detained or questioned, says Amnesty International

President Xi Jinping: his government has taken a hard line on human rights and dissent and human rights defenders are regularly rounded up in frequent crackdowns. Photograph:  Ria Novosti/Host Photo Agency/Getty Images

President Xi Jinping: his government has taken a hard line on human rights and dissent and human rights defenders are regularly rounded up in frequent crackdowns. Photograph: Ria Novosti/Host Photo Agency/Getty Images

 

Chinese police have detained or questioned more than 50 human rights lawyers and defenders in a widening crackdown on activists, according to reports from rights groups.

Amnesty International said at the weekend that at least 52 lawyers and activists from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou had been detained or questioned over the previous 48 hours.

President Xi Jinping’s government has taken a hard line on human rights and dissent and human rights defenders are regularly rounded up in frequent crackdowns. In March, a group of feminists were detained on the weekend of International Women’s Day on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Among the activists detained was Wang Yu, a Beijing-based lawyer, who disappeared early on Thursday last week, after sending a text message to friends that her power and internet connection at home had been cut off. She then texted that someone was trying to break down her door.

Continual suppression

“We have grave concerns for the safety and wellbeing of Ms Wang and her family, and cannot help seeing this latest development as part of the continual suppression against the renowned lawyer, taking into account the recent waves of smearing against her led by the official media,” said Albert Ho, chairman of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

 

Sui Muqing in Guangdong province was detained on charges of picking quarrels and provoking trouble, according to his wife, the same charge used against the feminists in March.

Others detained included colleagues of Ms Wang at Beijing Fengrui law firm, which has represented jailed Uighur dissident Ilham Tohti and Zhang Miao, a news assistant at the German weekly Die Zeit who was jailed recently for half a year. Last week, the People’s Daily said that Fengrui was a “criminal organisation”.

Organise chaos

“Their objective is to win fame and organise chaos,” the newspaper, which is the official mouthpiece for the Communist Party, said. On July 11th, another lawyer in Beijing, Zhang Kai, sent a text message saying: “Police have come”, and he has not been heard from since.

 

“The authorities must end this assault against human rights lawyers. Such an unprecedented nationwide crackdown can only have been sanctioned from within the central government,” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

“This co-ordinated attack on lawyers makes a mockery of President Xi Jinping’s claims to promote the rule of law. The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for their work defending human rights.”