China Must Respect Due Process and Uphold the Rule of Law: A call for the Release of 36 Illegally Detained Human Rights Lawyers and Defenders

A Joint Statement by 108 Worldwide Civil Society Organizations regarding the 709 Crackdown

(9th January 2016, Hong Kong) Exactly six months have passed since 9 July 2015 when the Chinese government started detaining human rights lawyers and defenders in large scale. To date, we take note that 14 lawyers and 22 human rights defenders have remained under various forms of confinement, with some in complete disappearance. In addition, another 33 of them are banned from travelling out of the country.

The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (the Concern Group) and Taiwan Support China Human Rights Lawyers Network, along with 106 worldwide civil society organizations, once again call on the international community to pay continued attention to all those who are still in detention arbitrarily, to their mental and physical wellbeing as well as to the safety of their families and associates.

We also wish to express our strong condemnation of the Chinese authorities’ transgression of the legal rights of the lawyers and human rights defenders.

Independent sources indicate that the persecution of lawyers, defenders, activists and their families and other activists by means of intimidation, close surveillance and custody has been continuously ongoing since last July. It has also come to our attention that despite the numerous attempts by the defence lawyers and families of the detained individuals to seek redress and remedies within the Chinese domestic legal framework, all efforts have proved futile and all legal avenues have been exhausted.

In view of the passage of the 37 days for criminal detention and approval of arrest, and the soon-to-expire 6-month period for residential surveillance as stipulated in the Criminal Procedure Law, we urge the international community to join us in calling on the Chinese Government to:

  1. Immediately disclose the whereabouts of the detained lawyers and rights defenders, and ensure that their psycho and physical wellbeing and safety are protected;
  2. End all illegal and arbitrary detention and free all of the 36 lawyers and human rights defenders given no charge has been levied against these individuals;
  3. Investigate all instances of malfeasance and abuse of powers by any law enforcement officer and bodies, and hold legally accountable those responsible;
  4. Respect due process and abide by its domestic law and by the international obligations it has as member of the United Nations and as state party to the many international human rights conventions that it has signed and ratified;
  5. In this regard, ensure respect for the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular that lawyers can perform their professional duties without any intimidation, harassment or unwarranted interference.

Six months on, the whereabouts of most of the lawyers and human rights defenders in detention since 9 July remain unknown to both their defence lawyers and their family members; basic due process rights, including the right to meet with a lawyer, are in this context a distant dream.

Compared to previous persecution, the 709 crackdown has been one of the most targeted maneuvers against lawyers and activists -- in terms of its scale, number of people implicated, duration and severity -- since rights lawyers first appeared in 2003. Within a period of six months, 317 lawyers, lawyers and law firm staff from across the nation were affected. Members of this group were, and continue to be, summoned, questioned, banned from travelling out of the country, put under house arrest or ‘residential surveillance at designated location,’ or criminally detained, and even disappeared.

Means of suppression have also become more diverse and comprehensive. Apart from manipulating the legally prescribed measure of “residential surveillance at designated locations” to effectively enable secret detention; the government has also conducted a smear campaign of “trial by mass media” . The scope of control and intimidation was extended by the use of “collective punishment on families and friends”, and an additional chilling effect was achieved by threats and extortion; it has been amplified by the move to stifle external support and by attacks on lawyers’ online communications.

The violations against those detained in the 709 crackdown are one of many examples of the deteriorating state of human rights and rule of law in China as well as the narrowing of civic space over the recent years. In 2015, civil society in China faced exceptional challenges, with NGOs forced to close down; repressive national security and counter-terrorism legislation adopted; and dissidents, internet leaders, and members of religious and socially disadvantaged groups seized and or detained in unprecedented scale.

The Chinese government has rendered meaningless the pledges of President Xi Jinping to uphold “rule according to law”.  Its actions amount to blatant disregard of international norms and principles, and overt infringement of its own domestic laws.

We reiterate the importance of lawyers as an imperative and indispensable force in the promotion and protection of rule of law and human rights in any country. If lawyers have no human rights, there can be no room for rule of law.

Initiating Organizations 發起團體:

  1. China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group 中國維權律師關注組
  2. Taiwan Support China Human Rights Lawyers Network 台灣聲援中國人權律師網絡