U.N. Rights Official Urges China to Release Detained Lawyers

Comments Off on U.N. Rights Official Urges China to Release Detained Lawyers

Originally published by New York Times on February 16, 2016

GENEVA — The United Nations’ top human rights official called on China on Tuesday to immediately and unconditionally release a group of lawyers detained starting last summer, and he expressed concern over a “very worrying pattern” of arrests and disappearances.

The Chinese authorities have arrested more than 250 lawyers, legal assistants and activists in a crackdown that began in July. Although many have been released, 15 human rights lawyers were arrested last month, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement. They included 10 charged with “subversion of state power,” he said, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

The Chinese authorities “too often reflexively confuse the legitimate role of lawyers and activists with threats to public order and security,” he said.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of Chinese and international nongovernmental organizations, reported on Monday that 22 lawyers and activists were under detention, of whom 16 had been charged with subversion or inciting subversion of state power.

Last year “will go down in history as the year that Chinese authorities launched an unprecedented attack on China’s human rights lawyers,” the group said in an annual report published online.

“We are seeing a very worrying pattern in China,” Mr. al-Hussein said on Tuesday, drawing particular attention to the rights lawyers Li Heping and Wang Yu, who disappeared from their homes in Beijing on July 9 and 10.

“Lawyers should never have to suffer prosecution or any other kind of sanctions or intimidation for discharging their professional duties,” Mr. al-Hussein said.

Lawyers play an essential role in protecting human rights and the rule of law, he said, adding, “I urge the government of China to release all of them immediately and without conditions.”

The high commissioner and his staff have been in contact with the Chinese authorities for several months, but a letter he received from China over the weekend suggested that not all the individuals whose cases were raised by the United Nations were “guilty of criminal activities,” said a spokesman for the commission, Rupert Colville. He said the letter “did not address core issues.”

Mr. al-Hussein also expressed concern about five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared beginning in October. Among the five, Lee Bo, a British citizen, vanished from Hong Kong at the end of December, and Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, disappeared in Thailand in October.

Both men later reappeared on the Chinese mainland. Mr. Lee was seen by his wife, whom he told that he was assisting a police investigation. Mr. Gui appeared on state television confessing to violating his probation in connection with a crime in 2003.

Mr. al-Hussein also took issue with the Chinese authorities over their treatment of a Swedish human rights activist, Peter Dahlin, who was the first foreigner to be detained in China on charges of endangering state security and who was later expelled after making a confession on state television.

“I find this method of ‘confession,’ extracted during incommunicado detention and publicized on national television, very worrying,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “It is a clear violation of the right to fair trial.”

Back to Top