HUMAN RIGHTS lawyers in mainland China have issued an open letter to Beijing condemning the arrest and persecution of its prominent civil rights lawyers to mark the one-year anniversary since the large-scale government crackdown.
The lawyers were detained for supposed “subversion of state power” in what has become known as the “709 crackdown”, which refers to July 9, when the first arrest took place.
A year later, nearly two dozen lawyers and activists are still in detention, with 24 formally charged with various offenses, including inciting subversion and provoking social disturbance.
In the letter, addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) urged the government to release all lawyers and others said to be unlawfully detained.
The group said cracking down on human rights lawyers would not, as Beijing claimed in justifying its actions, make the nation more peaceful or stable.
Instead, it claims that the campaign has unified civil rights lawyers as they join together to collectively fight against what they see as a threat to their safety and profession.
According to the group, at least 319 people have been affected by the government’s campaign.
The wives of several of the detainees have also issued a letter criticizing the “unjust” detention of their loved ones.
In a translation of the letter, posted to the CHRLCG Facebook page on Friday, the wives said that though they wished for their families to be reunited, their suffering was also an “honor”, as their husbands were paying the price for “pushing forward the advancement of Chinese society”.
Teng Biao, a Chinese legal scholar in exile, told the South China Morning Post: “The impact of the crackdown is tremendous, but it failed to wipe out the unity and the spirit to defend China’s human rights and rule of law.”
However, he said that those who have been charged with state subversion would likely face long jail terms, as the authorities are determined to use their cases as an example to intimidate others.
“The cost of defending human rights will be much higher from now on, and we will see only the most courageous and determined taking on these types of cases.”
Overseas bar associations and lawyers groups have also shown support for the cause, with groups including the Amsterdam Bar Association, the Australian branch of the International Association of People’s Lawyers and the International Commission of Jurists signing the letter.
Additional reporting by Associated Press