Groups slam China's 'crackdown on Hong Kong rights lawyers'

More than 60 rights organizations have joined a Chinese lawyer’s rights group in accusing China of extending a crackdown on human rights lawyers from the mainland to Hong Kong.

Jul 10, 2024

A protester in Hong Kong from the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group holds placards of missing, detained or under-house-arrest lawyers in this Jan. 27, 2011 photo. Rights groups have accused China of extending a crackdown on human rights lawyers from the mainland, which started on July 9, 2015, to Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP)

HONG KONG: More than 60 rights organizations have joined a Chinese lawyer’s rights group in accusing China of extending a crackdown on human rights lawyers from the mainland to Hong Kong.

In a joint statement, the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group and the 60 other rights organizations said that “human rights lawyers defend the full spectrum of civil society,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on July 8.

"They accompany and empower the most vulnerable against land evictions, discrimination, health scandals, or extralegal detention," the group said.

"They embody the promise of [the] rule of law and hold the government accountable," the group added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, PEN America, the International Campaign for Tibet, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project were among the co-signatories of the statement.

It was released on the anniversary of the mass arrests, detention, and harassment of more than 300 rights lawyers, public interest law firm staff, and rights activists across China starting on July 9, 2015.

"They [Chinese authorities] ensure that no one is left behind," the group said adding that the authorities have now extended the crackdown to Hong Kong, despite promising to maintain the city's traditional freedoms and judicial independence.

"We are concerned that the Hong Kong authorities are following a similar path," they said citing the cases of rights lawyers Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Margaret Ng, who are all behind bars awaiting trial on national security charges.

Reportedly, the Chinese authorities have revoked the business licenses of rights lawyers in China preventing them from earning a decent living, RFA reported.

Meanwhile, many others in China have served lengthy jail terms for subversion, often after years held incommunicado in pretrial detention.

Rights lawyers are also vulnerable to torture during detention, the group said in their statement, citing the cases of lawyer-turned-dissident Xu Zhiyong, rights attorney Ding Jiaxi, and rights lawyer Chang Weiping.

"We remain deeply concerned at the Chinese government’s increasing use of exit bans to impede human rights lawyers and activists from leaving the country, sometimes to visit a critically ill relative," the group said, citing the cases of Li Heping and Tang Jitian.

The group also said that 13 rights lawyers’ families were subjected to eviction, including lawyer Wang Quanzhang and his family since his release from prison in November 2022.

"The power of the state infiltrated our family, affected our lives, and distorted them," Wang told RFA in an interview.

"Following my release, I have been constantly forced to move house, forced out of Beijing, and my kid has been forced out of school,” Wang alleged.

A human rights lawyer using the pseudonym Lu Qiang for fear of reprisals told RFA that while not all human rights attorneys have been treated as badly as Wang, many remain under surveillance to this day.

"They haven't let up on the surveillance in nine years," Lu said.

"You could say it's everywhere — once they stopped me near the embassy district and the police told me to get in their car, then drove me back two hours to my home. They are still secretly watching us,” Lu added.

"Even if we're not in a smaller prison, we're still in a big prison,” Lu lamented.

Rights lawyers in China have defended the causes of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, members of religious minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, feminists, journalists, and political dissidents, the rights groups said in their statement.

The independent defense attorneys in China once played a huge role in bringing rights-related cases to international attention despite having a low acquittal rate, RFA reported.

These rights lawyers have now been replaced in China’s criminal justice system with government-appointed lawyers who are barred from speaking to the media, the rights groups said.

Yu Pinjian, a Chinese human rights lawyer, told RFA that the point of marking the 2015 crackdown was to acknowledge the huge price paid by rights lawyers and their families.

"The July 9, 2015, incident tore away the veil so people could see the totalitarian government for what it is. Since then, it has been tough being a human rights lawyer," Yu said.

"There's a high price to pay for speaking out against injustice," he

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