Over 50 Chinese lawyers have issued a joint declaration condemning the Tianjin police for denying human rights lawyers access to their own defence lawyers. The lawyers were detained in the so-called “709 crackdown.”

The statement asserts that family-assigned counsel have been denied access to meetings with their clients at the detention centres where they are being held, as the Tianjin police claimed that the arrested lawyers had already entrusted other people to be their defence representatives. The statement also said the police have assigned defence lawyers, whose identities were concealed from the arrested lawyers’ family members, and these assigned counsel have never reported back to the families.

“In our opinion, the practice of the Tianjin police has trampled upon the principle of justice that humanity has evolved, the basic human rights of defendants, as well as the existing domestic laws,” it read.

A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.
A poster calling for the release of the arrested lawyers. Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group via Facebook.

In an operation dubbed the “709 crackdown”, China detained and formally arrested many human rights lawyers for “subversion of state power” in early July last year.

According to the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, at least 319 lawyers, law firm staff, human rights activists and family members have been questioned, summoned, forbidden to leave the country, held under house arrest, residential surveillance, criminally detained, arrested or are missing, as of May 6th this year.

poster of data on 709 crackdown
Photo: China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG).

One of the signatories of the statement, Yu Wensheng, told the US-backed Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Tuesday that they had issued the statement because they have to verify rumours regarding maltreatment and sexual abuse of arrested lawyers in detention centres.

Defence lawyer Liu Shuqing told RFA that the arrested lawyers’ relatives have the right to hire legal representatives.

“The relatives have already appointed their own counsel. In this situation, the authority’s designation of legal representatives for defendants was definitely wrong. It totally violated the Criminal Procedure Law as well as the basic principles of justice,” he said.

Koel Chu is a second-year journalism and fine arts student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Koel is interested in the arts and urban design. She interned at China Radio International in Beijing and, at her university, she also works as Vice-President of Branding and Marketing in AIESEC, the largest youth-run organisation in the world.