China’s embattled legal profession on Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of a nationwide crackdown targeting more than 300 law firms, human rights attorneys and associated activists that began with the arrest of lawyers Wang Yu and Bao Longjun and colleagues at the now-shuttered Beijing Fengrui law firm on July 9, 2015.
“The course of these five years can be described as a journey through thistles and thorns–– treacherous and dangerous,” the China Human Rights Lawyers Group said in a statement marking the anniversary.
“Many people were taken into custody and sentenced; many people experienced long-term detention, and the licenses of many human rights lawyers were permanently revoked or canceled,” it said.
“As for being harassed by the authorities through summonses for ‘chats; and the obstruction by various entities of lawyers’ normal professional practice––these tactics [became] even more commonplace,” it said.
While some didn’t actually lose their freedom, they have still spent the past five years in constant fear that they could lose it, the group said.
“This is a group of dancers on the edge of a precipice,” it said, dating the crackdown back to an article in the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper listing “rights attorneys” as among five categories of people deemed to pose a threat to the regime.
The statement said that while many Chinese rights lawyers simply want a constitutional democracy for China, with respect for “individual rights and fundamental freedoms,” they aren’t interested in subversion of the current government.
“We will, as always, maintain a moderate and rational, not radical, posture in our work,” it said. “We will not deliberately please anyone, nor do we have any intention of challenging anyone, let alone subverting anyone.”
“For those like-minded lawyers who are still detained, we will not give up; for those citizens who have lost their freedom because they exercised their rights guaranteed by the Constitution, we will not give up; we will unceasingly pay attention until they have gained their freedom,” the statement said.
Nine lawyers still behind bars
It listed at least nine rights lawyers who remain behind bars today, including Li Yuhan, Yu Wensheng and Qin Yongpei.
Meanwhile, detentions and harassment of lawyers continue across China. In the western province of Ningxia, lawyer Ma Wanjun remains incommunicado after he was taken away by police on June 17.
“This has to do with something he posted to his friend circle [on WeChat],” the source said. “He was detained on suspicion of ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’.”
Ma, 45, a Hui Muslim, was initially held under administrative detention, which was later converted to criminal detention. He has since been allowed a video meeting with his defense attorney.
The Ningxia justice bureau will hold a hearing on Thursday to have Ma’s license to practice as a lawyer revoked, the source said.
Meanwhile, authorities in the southern province of Guangdong have targeted a law firm that had wanted to hire women’s rights and labor rights attorney Wang Shengsheng.
Wang accepted a job with the firm last August, but hasn’t been able to take up her post because of objections from the municipal justice bureau, which is unhappy with her high-profile human rights work. The firm recently terminated the contract under pressure from officials.