Dozens of lawyers and activists have been detained by police in China in what appears to be a nationwide crackdown. DW talks to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group on Beijing's actions and their implications.
Over 100 human rights lawyers and activists have been detained, have disappeared or questioned by the Chinese authorities in a nationwide crackdown, accuse rights groups. The detained lawyers were a "major criminal gang" who had "seriously disturbed order," according to China's Ministry of Public Security. Since July 2012, the group has organized more than 40 controversial incidents and severely disrupted public order, the ministry said on its website.
It also accused the lawyers of using the Beijing-based law firm Fengrui as a platform to raise awareness about sensitive cases, in order to "extort money in fundraising" from online campaigns and overseas donors and "create social chaos."
However, rights groups such as Amnesty International (AI) argue the crackdown has targeted those who deal with cases involving free speech, human rights and abuses of power. Furthermore, they call on the Chinese authorities to "end their assault on human rights lawyers."
In a DW interview, the Hong Kong-based "China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group" (CHRLCG) says the measures taken by Beijing represent a system of state-led oppression aimed at making the work of human rights advocates impossible in China.
CHRLCG: 'The actions taken by the Chinese authorities infringe upon the collective moral concept of rule of law'
DW: What is your assessment of the current situation regarding human rights lawyers in China?
CHRLCG: Taking into account the latest developments, we have found that particularly large non-governmental organizations have been "brought into line" since the end of last year. This was followed by a string of new laws and regulations directed at civil society, which include measures against human rights lawyers.
But hasn't the number of measures taken against these lawyers increased?
That is correct, and it is also the reason for our concern. These measures are not aimed at individual lawyers. Instead they represent a system of state-led oppression aimed at making the work of human rights advocates impossible. We are currently aware of similar measures being implemented in 15 provinces across China.
What do you make of the claims made against Beijing-based law firm Fengrui?
If we take an objective look at the facts, the Fengrui Law Firm has repeatedly represented clients involved in politically sensitive criminal procedures and has therefore earned our respect. But this is perhaps the reason why it has become unpopular with the authorities. The state has sought to ban the firm in order to intimidate others.
Some lawyers were summoned by the authorities only to be released later. Have you heard back from any of them?
Please understand that their feedback is confidential. Some of the lawyers who have recently been released, might be summoned again or even arrested. There is no guarantee that they will remain free.
The US State Department recently condemned the detentions, urging China "to release all those who have recently been detained for seeking to protect the rights of Chinese citizens." Do you believe the international community can pressurize Beijing in this regard?
I don't believe the current Chinese government will react to foreign pressure. However, the international community is obliged to express its dissatisfaction with the way China is dealing with human rights issues and oppressing human rights lawyers.
There are only a handful of such lawyers in China and they operate in very difficult circumstances. In some cases they contribute enormously to the protection of human rights and rule of law, so it is extremely important that they keep doing their work.
The actions taken by the Chinese authorities infringe upon the collective moral concept of rule of law. If China, as a member of the international community, fails to uphold its duties, then it should be made aware of it.
Founded in 2007, the Hong Kong-based "China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group" (CHRLCG) is a non-profit organization whose stated objective is to advocate for the protection of human rights lawyers and legal rights defenders in China.