Over a dozen human rights lawyers and activists detained in China are at risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday as legal professionals in Taiwan rallied to support their counterparts across the Taiwan Strait.

china lawyers crackdown
Protest in Taiwan against China’s lawyers crackdown.

Twelve lawyers and two others remain in police custody in China almost two weeks after the crackdown on the rights defense community began on July 9. Only one has so far been allowed to see his lawyer while the rest have been denied legal representation or communication with their families, according to the China Human Rights Watch Concern Group.

“Detaining anyone incommunicado and in secret leaves them at high risk of torture or ill-treatment, especially when they are detained on politicised charges,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “Beijing’s blatant failure to guarantee even basic protections for these individuals demonstrates the government’s extraordinary disdain for rule of law.”

Human Rights Watch said Chinese security forces have used hanging, beatings and sleep deprivation against detainees in the past.

Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer and visiting scholar at Harvard University and New York University, said he had been “abducted, locked up and tortured” by security forces before.

china lawyers crackdown
Chinese lawyer Teng Biao. Photo: Wikipedia

In an op-ed published in Washington Post, Teng said Chinese human rights lawyers will not be frightened by the authorities’ repression.

“In the courts, on the Internet and in the streets, China’s human rights lawyers remain active. Since the rights defense movement emerged in 2003, their numbers have grown from dozens to a thousand. They use the legal system to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, and wield the Internet and media to expose abuses of power and the justice system. There is little doubt that they have become one of the most spirited and active civil forces in China,” Teng said.

In Taiwan, the Judicial Reform Foundation, a lawyers group, staged a demonstration outside the presidential office in Taipei on Monday calling upon Beijing to release the detained legal professionals and activists. The group’s leader Kao Jung-chih said over 1,000 people have signed a petition to support China’s detained lawyers.

china lawyers crackdown
Protest in Taiwan against China’s lawyers crackdown.

Dozens of Hong Kong legal heavyweights signed a petition on Sunday denouncing China’s “intimidating harassment” of over 200 individuals who have been targeted in the crackdown.

Meanwhile, state media said the detained lawyers should not be granted “impunity privilege.” State-run Xinhua News Agency said China is “cleaning up the black sheep” among lawyers who “obstructed justice” rather than defending it.

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Vivienne Zeng

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.