BEIJING – Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded on Thursday the immediate release of human rights lawyers detained in China, accusing the country of arresting them on baseless grounds at a time when authorities are increasingly withdrawing their licenses to practice law.
Since August 2017, Chinese authorities have revoked or suspended the licenses of seven prominent lawyers, including Yu Wensheng, who was subsequently arrested on subversion charges after publishing an open letter criticizing President Xi Jinping.
“This endless persecution of the legal profession exposes the absurdity of China’s claim to uphold the ‘rule of law,’” said HRW China director, Sophie Richardson, said in a statement.
In January the authorities also withdrew the license of Sui Muqing, who has defended numerous lawyers and activists and was one of hundreds of defendants detained or interrogated in 2015 during one of the largest repressive waves against human rights lawyers seen in China.
According to HRW, Yu Wensheng’s arrest and revocation of his license represent a “continuation of the crackdown on human rights lawyers in recent years” as several of the 300 lawyers and activists who were arrested in 2015 continue to be detained or remain in prison.
“Not only is the Chinese government still holding some rights lawyers and activists rounded up in the July 2015 crackdown, it’s disbarring others as a crude way to intimidate the group,” Richardson added.
Under the presidency of Xi, who assumed office in March 2013, Chinese authorities have arrested and condemned some of the most prominent Chinese human rights lawyers, such as Xu Zhiyong, founder of the “New Citizens’ Movement,” sentenced in 2014 to four years of prison despite strong criticism from the international community.
HRW has made a fresh appeal to governments around the world and multilateral institutions to take positions and denounce the repressive practices of China against human rights lawyers.