China Arrests Human Rights Lawyers to Crack Down on Dissent

China arrested human rights lawyers on suspicion of subverting state power after months of secret detention.

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Pro-democracy protesters demanding the release of mainland activists take part in a rally in Hong Kong on 23 July  2015. (Photo: Reuters)

China formally arrested several Chinese human rights lawyers on suspicion of subverting state power after months of secret detention on Tuesday.

This is the latest move by authorities to crack down on dissent. President Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability.

According to Human Rights Watch, as many as 38 lawyers and activists associated with the Beijing Fengrui law firm have been swept up in the crackdown and held in detension since July under. According to a Chinese Criminal Procedure law, police can hold criminal suspects in detention anywhere, for upto six months outside the formal detention system

The firm has represented several high profile clients, such as the ethnic Uighur dissident, Ilham Tohti. The state media has accused the firm and its associates of orchestrating protests outside courts and politicizing ordinary legal cases in order to attract international attention.

Zhou Shifeng, the firm’s director, was among those whose families were notified by police in the northern city of Tianjin on Tuesday of their arrest on January 8.

“For the crime to become as serious as state subversion, it’s a completely political charge”, said Liu Shuyun who is an apprentice lawyer.

Calls to Tianjin police seeking comments went unanswered.

From July through September, authorities detained or questioned about 300 hundred human rights lawyers and activists, rights groups have said, in the government’s most severe clampdown on dissent in the last two decades.

China has been consistently rejecting any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law.

Nonetheless, the crackdown has alarmed Western governments. US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus has called on China to recognise several detained rights lawyers as “partners, not enemies of the government”.

Chinese authorities have also detained a Swedish national who worked on legal aid and rule of law, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.

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