The Chinese government is waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation of lawyers, to stop them defending the dozens of activists and political critics rounded up by the authorities in the last two months.
Since an anonymous online call on 17 February to stage a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China, a group of high profile human rights lawyers have been detained, and at least a dozen more lawyers say they have been briefly detained, pressured by the authorities, and even told by police to stop tweeting about detained people.
“China is abandoning the rule of law,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Director for the Asia-Pacific. “The government is trying to systematically break the will of the country’s lawyers.”
“It is giving its security forces free rein to pervert the course of justice and deny activists and critics the right to a legal defense. The most disturbing thing is that there is no sign of the government relaxing its grip this time around. We fear that this is just a taste of things to come.”
Most recently, Beijing lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan was briefly detained on 2 April under suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, and berated by police for posting messages on Twitter about a missing Shanghai lawyer Li Tiantian. He was detained after making a request to visit his client Wang Lihong, a prominent female activist detained in Beijing in relation to the ‘Jasmine’ protests.
Guangdong lawyer Liu Zhengqing has not been heard from since he was detained by police on 25 March. He had been attempting to represent fellow lawyer, Tang Jingling, who was detained 22 February. Amnesty International has grave fears for the safety of both lawyers.
Other lawyers have had their computers confiscated, and have been visited every few days by the police, who warned them against representing fellow lawyers or lobbying on their behalf.
Three of China’s most high profile advocates Teng Biao, Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong were detained in late February and have been denied access to lawyers. Teng Biao and Jiang Tianyong are still in incommunicado detention, while Tang Jitian is under house arrest.
“It seems China not only wants to silence potential critics, but also to render them utterly defenseless,” Sam Zarifi said. “This is not behaviour we should accept from a modern world power.”
February’s call for a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China did not result in any significant protests or unrest.