The United Nations, European Union, the French and Canadian government as well as law societies in the UK and Australia have spoken out against China’s ongoing crackdown on human rights lawyers.

china crackdown on human rights lawyers

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on Thursday calling on the Chinese authorities to stop “what appears to be targeted police harassment and intimidation of lawyers and those working closely with them.”

“Lawyers are essential to ensure the rule of law, they need to be protected not harassed,” the statement quoted rights experts as saying.

The European Union said the “systematic arrest” of lawyers and human rights activists “raises serious questions about China’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law.”

The Canadian government is “gravely concerned” about the detention, interrogation and disappearance of lawyers and activists who defend people’s legal rights in China,  the Canadian Ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said in a statement on the embassy’s website.

The French embassy to China reposted the EU’s statement through its official account on Weibo, China’s Twitter. But the social media platform has banned users from reposting the message, saying it “violates relevant regulations and policies.”

china crackdown on human rights lawyers
Weibo users banned from reposting French embassy to China’s message.

The Law Society of England and Wales said it has written to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to raise concerns about the recent arrests of lawyers. “Lawyers and judges should not face intimidation or physical attack for carrying out their legitimate professional duties,” the organisation said.

The Law Council of Australia expressed “deep concern” at the mass arrest and detainment of legal professionals and activists.

In a public letter, the Council’s President-elect Stuart Clark said: “Lawyers must be able to practice without fear of retribution for carrying out their professional duties.”

William Nee, the Amnesty International’s China Researcher, said the statements will help put pressure on Beijing.

“Since the Chinese government is trying to legitimise its crackdown by cloaking it in the ‘rule of law’, foreign governments and bar associations are in a unique position to point out that the Chinese government’s actions are incompatible with the international laws and standards. This can put tremendous pressure on the government because it de-legitimizes its actions and shows that its ‘power running rampant outside of a cage’, rather than ‘power in a cage’,” Nee said in an email to HKFP.

The Foreign Correspondence Club in Hong Kong issued a statement on Friday saying the crackdown is “undermining the rule of law and sending a very chilling message to both journalists and lawyers working in China.”

The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, which is in contact with many lawyers in mainland China, said at least 220 legal professionals, their families, and activists have been affected in the crackdown as of 11am on Friday.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.