China: In the Eye of the Storm: Being a Rights Lawyer in China Today

July 12, 2016

July is often Beijing’s hottest month. The humidity is draining. Sometimes a thunderstorm breaks through the oppressive heat, for a while.


This time last year, lawyers across China found themselves at the eye of a different kind of storm. They were part of a community of ‘rights lawyers’, so-called because they work on ‘sensitive’ cases defending the rights of petitioners and victims of police abuse, for example.


By 12 July 2015, over a hundred had been detained, interrogated, or forcibly disappeared. Law firms were searched and shut down. Friends and relatives desperately tried to reach lawyers who had been summoned by the police. The Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group posted updates every day, sometimes every few hours, as the number of lawyers detained continued to rise. The crackdown was not confined to Beijing: it stretched across the country, sweeping up not only rights lawyers but activists, family members and colleagues.


The crackdown has been criticised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a joint statement signed by 12-UN member states, and the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, as well as numerous non-governmental organisations.


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