Derechos Humanos y Defensa de la defensa

Concerns about the Situation of Lawyers in China

Since July 9, 2015, in several Chinese provinces, more than 200 lawyers, law firm staff and human rights defenders have been detained, arrested, held incommunicado, summoned, or have otherwise had their freedom temporarily restricted.

The wave of arrests followed the disappearance of Lawyer Wang Yu, a lawyer in the Fengrui law firm, on July 9, 2015. Ms. Wang Yu has represented people involved in politically sensitive cases, including the five Chinese women's rights activists arrested in May 2015 for "causing a quarrel," after they had planned a public campaign to end sexual harassment. Mr. Bao Longjun, her husband, was also arrested on July 9.

Soon after Ms. Wang Yu’s arrest, a group of over 100 lawyers and rights activists signed a public statement condemning her disappearance. Many of them were also arrested along with other lawyers from the Fengrui law firm, including the head of the firm, Mr. Zhou Shifeng.

Although most of the 317 persons taken in for questioning have been released since, 14 lawyers and 22 human rights defenders are still subject to measures depriving them of their freedom. 33 other persons have been forbidden from leaving the country.

Several of those still under detention are or have been subject to criminal proceedings called “residential surveillance in a designated location”, which allows for secret detention, often in conditions of isolation, in an undisclosed location for a period of up to six months. As the six-month period ended on January 9, 2015 the UIA co-signed a statement drafted by the organisation, China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, calling upon the international community to support their demand for the release of the arbitrarily detained lawyers (see below).

After six months of detention, many of the arrested lawyers were formally charged with subversion against the State, a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Among them Messrs. Zho Shifeng, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping and Li Shuyun, as well as their assistant, Ms. Zhao Wei. Messrs. Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang and Bao Longjun were accused of inciting subversion against the State and risk a sentence of 15 years imprisonment ( for further information about this case, please see the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group Website here).  

Me. Jean Jacques Uettwiller, President of the UIA, and other 19 prominent lawyers and jurists, including Robert Badinter, Former French minister of justice, and Manfred Nowak, former UN special rapporteur on torture, signed an open letter to express concern about intimidation and detention of human rights lawyers in China ( see here). 

This letter has received wide media coverage. 

The Guardian
New York Times
- Associated Press
Yahoo News
Die Zeit (Online)
Japan Times
The Australien
- Le Monde
- Lawyers Herald