Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Harder to Defend

Don't mess with Zhongnanhai, as the government cracks down on lawyers
It is troubling to read more than 100 people were detained by police on the mainland over the weekend, from human rights advocates to lawyers in an unprecedented crackdown that state media are calling a nationwide operation to smash a "criminal gang".

The People's Daily claims the operation launched by the Ministry of Public Security was to "smash a major criminal gang that had used the Beijing Fengrui law firm as a platform since July 2012 to draw attention to sensitive cases, seriously disturbing social order".

The article said the firm's director, lawyers and one of the lawyer's husbands were detained for "seriously violating the law", though the exact charge was not given.

It also claimed the group was "colluding with petitioners to disturb social order".

In the article it claimed high profile activist Wu Gan was "a key player" in stirring up a public outcry over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Xu Chunhe, by a policeman in Qingan, Heilongjiang in May, while the lawyers were accused of being involved.

"These lawyers publicly challenged the court... and mobilized troublemakers to rally petitioners... outside the court," the story said.

Teng Biao says the campaign mocks China's "rule of law"
As of yesterday evening, 106 people from 15 cities and provinces have been detained, summoned, questioned or were missing, according to Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group; 82 have been released.

However, of those released, at least three were taken away for a second time, says a lawyer who did not want to be named. Two were known to be released again.

Former human rights lawyer Teng Biao who is now a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, says the Qingan incident was only a pretext to clampdown on rights activists and lawyers, who have been critical of the government over the years.

He said the crackdown made a mockery of the authorities' claim to "rule the country by law".

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch finds the latest development alarming, as it showed the Ministry of Public Security's interpretation of "disturbing public order" as ever expanding.

"That these lawyers are a 'major criminal gang' is a new and serious allegation, one that demonstrates the authorities' willingness to warp the law beyond all recognition," she said.

China has always claimed it has followed "rule of law", but the Party is consistently above the law. As a result, the rules keep changing to suit its goals.

On the outside the government claims it has a constitution, and a just legal system, but in reality it is becoming, as Richardson says, more and more warped.

Foreign companies have seen they are not able to do business on equal footing in China, and will get punished for corruption, even though every other firm has to grease a few palms to get things moving.

And for years we have seen activists forced to become silent, and now the next step is to detain their legal representatives, their lawyers, who will find it harder to defend clients because they themselves are on precarious ground.

This sends a frightening chill in the human rights activist community -- it forces them to either retreat or continue their work with the utmost courage. Either way we salute them for doing their best in such a difficult environment.

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