February 13, 2017
As families in Hong Kong gathered to celebrate the Lantern Festival on Sunday, our thoughts were on civil rights activists and rights lawyers who are still behind bars or under house arrest in the mainland since the so-called “709 crackdown on dissent” that took place in July 2015.
In May 2015, more than 600 mainland lawyers petitioned the authorities to release 20 civil rights activists who were arrested after they rallied to the defense of the family of Xu Chunhe, a civilian man who had fallen victim to the excessive force used by mainland police and died in Heilongjiang province.
However, rather than addressing their demand, the mainland authorities used their petition as a pretext to mount an all-out crackdown on dissent from July 9 2015.
Within two months, more than 300 mainland rights lawyers, law firm staffers and human rights activists who had been committed to defending the rights of dissidents were rounded up and detained by the police on charges ranging from instigating subversion and endangering national security to disturbing public order. They were held without a proper trial.
To make things worse, many detainees were subjected to inhumane treatment in jail such as torture or solitary confinement.
Almost two years on, many of them have either remained in custody or virtually become unaccounted for. As a result, hundreds of families are separated. Many of the victims’ families are tormented by the fact that they might not be able to see their loved ones again.