Crime & Justice

5 years since ‘709’, systemic oppression of rights defenders continues

By Javier Triana

Beijing, July 9 (efe-epa).- Chinese lawyers say the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated further since what is known as the “709 crackdown”, when many of the rights defenders were detained on July 9 five years ago.

On the fifth anniversary of the crackdown, lawyers told EFE that the authorities continue to intimidate and silence them for speaking about the cases of jailed activists.

On July 9, 2015, at least 321 lawyers, law-firm employees, activists, and their family members were arrested, according to figures by an organization working to protect these people.

The organization is based in Hong Kong and asked to remain anonymous due to fears of repercussions under the recently approved security law in the semi-autonomous city.

The first person to be arrested on that day was Wang Yu, a feisty lawyer who had been defending persecuted Christian groups, dissidents, and members of Falun Gong, a spiritual sect banned in China since 1999.

“In China, we have a saying: ‘Killing the chicken to scare the monkeys’,” Wang told EFE, adding that she believed her prominent position in the bar made her a suitable candidate as the sacrificial “chicken.”

During her 13 months in jail, the lawyer alleged, she was subjected to physical and psychological torture, while her family was threatened.

“Before 709, there had been hopes, even though China wasn’t (exactly) a society governed by the law. But after 709, we are going backward,” she said.

The practices used during the crackdown, such as arbitrary detention, have now become a “standard operating procedure,” Wang said.

“Normally, the police require a process before arresting people, but now they don’t produce documents or carry out legal procedures. They make you disappear directly. It has happened to many of us.”

Since being released in August 2016, Wang has not only lived under surveillance and faced harassment, she has also been a witness to the deteriorating legal framework under which lawyers have to work.

Between 2007 and 2018, China has amended several times the Law on Lawyers, the administrative regulations for lawyers exercising law, and the administrative regulations for law offices.

A clear example, out of many such available, is the restrictions on lawyers’ freedoms stipulated in the regulations for law firms.

In the original draft, the regulations stated: “A law office should act according to the law, tighten its internal management and supervision over the lawyers’ practice and assume the corresponding legal responsibilities. No organization or individual should illegally interfere with the practice or impair the legitimate rights and interests of any law office.”

However, after amendments in 2016 and 2018, the text begins with the paragraph: “The law offices should adhere to the guidance of (President) Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era, defending and strengthening the general leadership of the party (Communist Party of China), firmly maintaining the authority and centralized leadership of the Central Committee of the CPC with Comrade Xi Jinping as the nucleus and supporting China.”

“The CPC’s leadership and the support for the socialist rule of law are basic requisites for the operation (of the law offices),” it adds.

Nonprofits have alleged that such amendments violate the international principles on the role of lawyers and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by China.

However, despite the decline, Wang Yu can talk even if she risks facing problems in continuing her practice.

Another lawyer, Yu Wensheng, has not been so lucky.

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