Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned lawyers, judges and jurists, write to express our deep concern about the scores of lawyers detained or intimidated in China during an unprecedented crackdown on criminal defence and human rights lawyers.

The crackdown began in the night of 9 July 2015 with the detention of lawyer Wang Yu, her husband and their sixteen-year-old child in Beijing. Since then, hundreds of lawyers, law firm staff, and family members have been subject to intimidation, interrogation, detention as criminal suspects, and forced disappearance.

As of 18 January 2016, some twelve lawyers and legal assistants affected by this crackdown remain under criminal detention or arrest. Most of those under arrest are suspected of ‘subversion of State power’ or ‘inciting subversion of State power.’ These persons are (with an indication of the crime they are alleged to have committed in brackets, where available):

  • Bao Longjun 包龙军, lawyer (arrested for ‘inciting subversion of State power’)
  • Gao Yue 高月, assistant to lawyer Li Heping (arrested for ‘helping to destroy evidence’)
  • Li Chunfu 李春富, lawyer
  • Li Shuyun李姝云, lawyer of the Fengrui Law Firm (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)
  • Liu Sixin 刘四新, assistant at Fengrui Law Firm, former lawyer (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)
  • Wang Qiushi 王秋实, defense lawyer of Wang Quanzhang, (placed ‘under residential surveillance in a designated location’ on 10 January 2016)
  • Wang Quanzhang 王全章, lawyer of Fengrui Law Firm (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)
  • Wang Yu 王宇, lawyer of Fengrui Law Firm (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)
  • Xie Yang 谢阳, lawyer (arrested for ‘inciting subversion of State power’)
  • Xie Yanyi谢燕益, lawyer (arrested for ‘inciting subversion of State power’)
  • Zhao Wei赵威 (aka Kaola), assistant to lawyer Li Heping (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)
  • Zhou Shifeng 周世锋, lawyer and director of Fengrui Law Firm (arrested for ‘subversion of State power’)

None of the above have so far been allowed access to counsel, friends or family, and they are effectively disappeared. In some cases including that of Lawyer Zhou Shifeng, there is good reason to fear that they were put under pressure to ‘dismiss’ their previously appointed lawyers. Some of the abovementioned individuals, such as Li Chunfu, are not known to be suspected of any crime at all; and in the case of Li Heping 李和平, lawyer and Li Chunfu’s elder brother, your government has so far declined to admit that he is being held at all.

We fear that without legal representation of their own free choice or other legal protections, the thirteen persons above are at high risk of torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment; and we are especially concerned about those who have been detained and/or disappeared and tortured on similar past occasions, including Li Heping, his brother Li Chunfu and Wang Quanzhang. Our concern is heightened by the findings of the Committee against Torture, which has stated on 9 December 2015 that it ‘remains seriously concerned over consistent reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment is still deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system, which overly relies on confessions as the basis for convictions.’ Moreover, the state-controlled Chinese media have in a series of broadcasts denounced a number of detained ‘suspects’ as members of a crime syndicate engaging in ‘“rights-defence-style” trouble-making’ (‘维权式’滋事), and paraded some of those detained ‘confessing’ to wrongdoing before they have even been publicly indicted.

You have repeatedly stated that ‘China is a country ruled by law’ and that ‘every individual Party organisation and Party member must abide by the country’s constitution and laws and must not take the Party’s leadership as a privilege to violate them.’ Yet the events just described appear entirely contrary to those commitments.

Further, in the past two years, other notable lawyers, renowned for their criminal defence and human rights practices, have been convicted or detained, notably, Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang 浦志强 (convicted in December 2015), Lawyer Tang Jingling唐荆陵 (in pre-trial detention since May 2014), and Lawyer Zhang Kai张凯 (held under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ since August 2015).

May we respectfully remind you that China has signed and ratified the Convention against Torture and signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. By detaining and disappearing these lawyers and law firm staff, China is in breach of its international obligations as well as Chinese domestic criminal law and constitutional principles. It is also violating the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of all Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.

In order to vindicate its claim to be a responsible stakeholder in the international community and to be a respected global superpower, it is imperative that China honour its international commitments to international conventions and human rights. Therefore, we respectfully urge you to:

  • Ensure the release of the detained or arrested lawyers and others held with them without legal basis,
  • Ensure access to counsel for all those detained, arrested or otherwise held as a criminal suspect
  • Confirm the whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared.
  • Ensure that the rights of those detained, including their right to adequate medical treatment, are safeguarded
  • Ensure that those detained and their colleagues will be protected from any future control measures such as: tracking and following, violent attacks, soft detention, ‘being travelled’, being asked to have ‘chats’, criminal, administrative, judicial detention, forced disappearance, torture and psychiatric incarceration.

We will continue to monitor the fate of the lawyers and staff concerned closely.  

Yours sincerely,

Dominique ATTIAS, Vice-President of the Paris Bar, France

Robert BADINTER, Former French Minister of Justice and former President of the French Constitutional Council, France

Michel BENICHOU, President of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe

Gill H. BOEHRINGER, Coordinator of the International Association of People’s Lawyers, former Dean of the Macquarie University Law School, Australia

Kirsty BRIMELOW QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), UK

Hon. Elizabeth EVATT, Companion of the Order of Australia; former President, Australian Law Reform Commission, and member of the UN Human Rights Committee; currently, Commissioner, International Commission of Jurists, Australia

Tony FISHER, Partner Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP, UK

Patrick HENRY, President of the Belgium Bar Association, Belgium

Asma JAHANGIR, Jurist, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Michael MANSFIELD QC, Barrister and Professor at Law at City University, London, UK

Andrea MASCHERIN, President of the Italian National Bar Council, Italy

Manfred NOWAK, Lawyer, Former Special Rapporteur on Torture, Austria

Christophe PETTITI, General Secretary of the Paris Bar Human Rights Institute, France

Stuart RUSSELL, Former administrative judge, Canada

Clive Adrian STAFFORD SMITH, OBE Human Rights Lawyer, UK

William SCHABAS, Professor of international law, Director of the Middlesex University London’s Doctoral Institute, UK

Hon. David J. SCHEFFER, Former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues; Professor and Director, Center for International Human Rights, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, USA

Rechtsanwalt und Notar Ulrich SCHELLENBERG, President of the German Bar Association (Deutscher Anwaltverein), Germany

Jean-Jacques UETTWILLER, President of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA)