A group of activists held a silent protest in Central on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of the beginning of a crackdown on hundreds of legal staff and activists in China.

Around thirty politicians, lawyers, and members of the public dressed in black and stood in silence for seven minutes and nine seconds outside the Court of Final Appeal in Statue Square, Central. The first lawyer disappeared on July 9, 2015, in what became known as the “709 crackdown.”

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The silent standing protest took place outside the Court of Final Appeal. Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

The protest was organised by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG), to “show our solidarity and to show our commitment to support the lawyers, who… stand for justice,” said chairman Albert Ho.

Three additional minutes were added to the original duration of the standing protest in honour of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is gravely ill on medical parole.

We all know that his days are limited, but still he is very courageous, he is still very hopeful to see the realisation of his dream: namely, democracy, freedom, constitutionalism to be realised in China,” said Ho. “We stand to give our blessing to him, to give blessing to his wife, Liu Xia, who has been deprived of freedom for many years, and [is] suffering from severe depression.”

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Democratic politician and chairman of CHRLCG Albert Ho. Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

The “Standing in Silence” gathering was one of three activities held in Hong Kong as July 9 was inaugurated as China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day by a group of international organisations, including China Change and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. Also in attendance were barrister Martin Lee, legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok and democracy activist Joshua Wong, among others.

According to CHRLCG, at least 320 lawyers, law firm staff, rights activists and family members have been questioned, summoned, forbidden to leave the country, held under house arrest or residential surveillance, criminally detained, arrested or known to be missing as of July 6 this year.

Ho told HKFP that the protest sought to show “continued support to the human rights lawyers, and to the movement in China. Because [they] stand for justice, they stand for the conscience of the Chinese people. And they have been very courageous in continuing to defend those who are helpless, those who are being victimised in an authoritarian system. ”

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A photo of Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, believed to have been taken recently. Photo: Activists.

Local lawyers

Kit Chan, director of CHRLCG, told HKFP that the standing protest was unique because it included local lawyers.

“[W]e are really glad to see there are legal academics, there are barristers, there are solicitors, and then locals as well as foreigners to really step out and express themselves. So I think this is important, especially on the second anniversary.”

Legal sector representative Dennis Kwok echoed the sentiments at the end of the protest: “The Hong Kong legal sector has a duty to support individuals in the legal sector on the mainland. In reality, the work of human rights lawyers in China and that of lawyers in Hong Kong is one and the same: to defend and the rights of litigants. The work is the same. But they show great levels of courage in bearing that responsibility.”

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Wang Quanzhang. Photo: RFA.

Among the lawyers who were detained and are now pending trial is Wang Quanzhang, a lawyer who had worked on the cases of Falun Gong practitioners, investigative journalists and democracy advocates. Wang has not been heard from since he disappeared on July 10, 2015. His wife, Li Wenzu, told HKFP in May that he had not been allowed to meet the lawyers hired by his family or even to see his family.

See also: Video: Cops track family of Chinese rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang as they try to sue authorities

Attorney Jiang Tianyong disappeared in November 2016 while trying to visit the wife of a detained lawyer. Like Wang, Jiang has not been heard from by his relatives. Police say he is under residential surveillance.

Also highlighted in the protest was the plight of legal activist Wu Gan. Chan told HKFP that while Wu had “managed to see his lawyers” in December 2016, describing torture he suffered in custody, these visits were halted by the authorities in April.

Wu was again allowed to see his lawyers from June 12. Chan said that CHRLCG believes that this is a sign that Wu’s trial may begin soon. Chan said that the Concern Group will continue to call for a “fair trial, [an] open trial,” in light of the experiences of Li Heping and Xie Yang, among others, last August.

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A ‘Free Wu Gan’ poster. Photo: HKFP/Jun Pang

See also: Chinese court says prominent rights lawyer Xie Yang admits to crimes

The protest was followed by the screening of 709 Fellows, a documentary by director Lo King-wah, at Hong Kong University. The screening was co-organised with Amnesty International Hong Kong.

Earlier that morning, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese ran a street both with CHRLCG at Jardine’s Crescent in Causeway Bay.

Commemorative activities were also held in Washington and Taipei.

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.