Hong Kong activists have called for the immediate release of Chinese human rights lawyers and activists ahead of the third anniversary of Beijing’s wide-reaching crackdown. During a march to the China Liaison Office in Sai Wan, they called upon the mainland authorities to reinstate the lawyers’ licenses to practice law.

Former lawmaker Albert Ho led the event, urging people to protest against the Chinese government’s “scornful and contemptuous” attitude towards the law.

709 human rights lawyers protest
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The march – organised by the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group (CHRLCG) and a coalition of rights groups – came a day before the third-year anniversary of “709 crackdown,” which saw around 300 dissidents and their legal aides across the country rounded up.

Activists marched from the Western Police Station to Beijing’s office in Hong Kong chanting: “709 crackdown, shameful” and “release the imprisoned lawyers.” Afterwards, they threw paper planes over the gates in protest and plastered an open letter on the front of the office reiterating their demands.

709 human rights lawyers protest
Activists threw paper planes across the gate of the China Liason Office. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The event was also attended by lawmaker Tanya Chan from the Civic Party, ex-lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats and activist Tam Leung-ying from the Labour Party.

A ‘violation of human rights’

Activists held up signs calling for the release of Wang Quanzhang, a Beijing human rights lawyer detained during the crackdown. His family has not been in contact with him for over three years and fear that he has been tortured, or even died in custody.’

709 human rights lawyers protest
Photo: PH Yang.

Ho told HKFP: “Why has he been detained and for what charges? Why has he been denied visits from his family; making him disappear is a blatant violation of human rights?”

“The fact that the communist government deprives people of the freedom to speak out anything, to criticise them, is very clear that they lack total confidence.”

Other detainees include lawyers Zhou Shifeng, Jiang Tianyong and Yu Wensheng; and activists Hu Shigen, and Wu Gan, all of whom have been convicted of “subversion of state power” – a common charge used against dissidents.

wang quanzhang
Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang. Photo: RFA.

According to the Hong Kong-based CHRLCG, 16 human rights lawyers and three law firms in China have received notifications that their practice licenses are to be revoked and invalidated since the 19th Party Congress in October. The group said half of the lawyers and law firms were connected to victims of the 709 crackdown.

Several other lawyers have been unable to find work due to policy pressure on employers, according to rights groups.

Darkening stain

In a public statement, Sophie Richardson from NGO Human Rights Watch echoed the call for the release of lawyers and for their practising licences to be restored in a public statement: “Each day lawyers are unjustly jailed darkens the stain on Beijing’s already poor rights record.”

“The Chinese government sees the role of lawyers as advancing the interests of the Communist Party, not upholding their clients’ rights. The licenses of mistreated lawyers should be restored immediately.”

709 human rights lawyers protest
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Another protest will be held on Monday outside the Court of Final Appeal from 6pm to 6.30pm against the revocation of the lawyer’s practising licenses.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.