China must immediately release all lawyers detained for carrying out their professional functions or for exercising their human rights, the ICJ said in a letter today to President Xi Jinping.
The letter describes a number of arrests and detentions credibly reported by newsmedia and non-governmental organizations over the past several months. Other lawyers had their professional license to practice revoked.
“These lawyers appear to have been arrested solely for trying to do their job, or exercising their freedoms of expression and assembly, on matters the Chinese government considers politically sensitive,” said Matt Pollard, Head of the ICJ’s Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
“All lawyers detained in such circumstances should be released and allowed to get on with their work,” he added.
“The multiple reports of arbitrary arrests and other interference with human rights lawyers in violation of international standards is a serious challenge to China’s claim that it is committed to the rule of law,” Pollard said.
Many of the arrests and revocations appear to have been part of a broader attempt to suppress events to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown, the ICJ notes.
Matt Pollard, Senior Legal Adviser, Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, e matt.pollard(a)icj.org
Lawyer Chang Boyang (photo) was reportedly arrested in late May when he sought to meet clients being held at a local police station. The clients were being detained on suspicion of “gathering in a public place to disturb public order”, apparently as a result of taking part in a memorial tribute on February 2 for former Chinese leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. When Chang Boyang arrived at the police station to meet them, he was reportedly also detained for “gathering in a public place to disturb public order”, in the absence of any evidence that he was even present at the event. The charges were apparently subsequently changed, with little explanation, in early July to “suspicion of illegal commercial activities”. He remains in custody.
Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was reportedly taken into criminal custody on 6 May 2014, three days after attending a private commemoration event. He was held without charge until 13 June, when he was formally charged with “creating a disturbance” and “illegally obtaining personal information”. While in custody, he was not provided prompt and necessary medical treatment and an early release on medical bail. He remains in custody.
Lawyer Ji Laisong was reportedly taken into custody on 27 May 2014, also after attending a commemoration event. He was reportedly initially accused of “creating a disturbance” but he was charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public space”. Chinese authorities allegedly did not allow him to access his lawyer alleging that his case involved matters of state security. He remains in detention.
Other lawyers have been targeted while defending the human rights of their clients. On 21 March 2014, lawyer Zhang Junjie was taken from his hotel room in the Heilongjiang Province, where he had apparently traveled to investigate the detention conditions of his clients in an unofficial place of detention (“black jail”). He was accompanied by Wang Cheng, Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, lawyers who had been stripped of their licenses to practice law by Chinese authorities reportedly because of their human rights activities. Zhang Junjie was apparently held under administrative detention for five days for “disrupting public order”, while the other three were held under a 15-day administrative detention without a trial.
Ding Jiaxi, a lawyer involved in anti-corruption initiatives, was arrested in April 2013, reportedly after he participated in a public event where participants held up banners and made public speeches calling for high-level government officials to disclose their assets. He was convicted of “gathering a crowd to disrupt order of a public place” and sentenced to three years and six months of imprisonment in April 2014. His lawyer, Cheng Hai, was reportedly assaulted by police officers during a prison visit in late November 2013 and later resigned in protest against the innumerous procedural violations occurred throughout Ding’s trial. In August 2014, judicial authorities in Beijing have reportedly ordered a one-year suspension of legal practice to Mr. Cheng Hai for allegedly “disturbing court order.” Ding Jiaxi remains in custody.
A number of the detained lawyers allege they were tortured or subjected to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and denied access to their legal counsel and family members.