China steps up crackdown on civil society, rights advocates


Chinese authorities have formally arrested China‘s most prominent woman human rights lawyer, Wang Yu, accusing her of subversion, as part of a crackdown on activists who have helped people fight for their legal rights, Reuters reports.

China has also detained a Swedish human rights worker, Peter Dahlin, amid a crackdown on defense lawyers, the BBC reports:

His group, China Action, describes itself as a legal aid organization. It provides assistance to uncertified lawyers who provide legal aid in rural areas, as well as directly aids disadvantaged groups and individuals who have experienced rights violations.

The Swedish human rights campaigner appears to be the first foreigner to become entangled in a Communist party crackdown on Chinese civil society, The Guardian adds:

Such work has become increasingly dangerous since the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, took power in late 2012.  Xi, who is widely viewed as the country’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has overseen what activists have described as an unprecedented crackdown on civil society defenders and those viewed as possible political opponents.

Dahlin’s detention signaled that, having attacked domestic civil society, Beijing was now setting its sights on foreign individuals or groups it believed were attempting to “undermine the one-party system”, said Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based human rights expert.

“It is going to raise a red flag for all foreigners and all foreign entities who are at all interested in trying to engage with Chinese social actors to try to build capacity for the development of civil society and for the development of rule of law,” he added.

Totalitarian perspective

“The government is likely trying to send a signal with Peter’s detention,” said Michael Caster, a spokesman for the group. “With the size and severity of the crackdown on lawyers and their assistants it only makes sense from a totalitarian perspective to go after anyone who has provided them support or is actively sympathetic to their cause of promoting human rights. It is a startling reminder of what Xi Jinping’s China looks like.”

The Communist authorities also arrested four human rights advocates in the last week on charges of subverting state power after detaining them for the last six months, The New York Times adds:

The families of two lawyers, Zhou Shifeng and Wang Quanzhang, both of the Fengrui Law Firm in Beijing, received letters on Tuesday notifying them of the formal arrests of their relatives, the lawyers’ colleague, Liu Xiaoyuan, said by telephone. Mr. Zhou is the director of the firm. Mr. Liu said that Li Shuyun, an intern at the firm, was also arrested, as was Zhao Wei, an assistant to another human rights lawyer.

The four rights advocates were part of what was, until last year, a flourishing group of legal experts who represented prominent Chinese clients, including the artist Ai Weiwei, the activist Chen Guangcheng and the Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, as well as people seeking justice through the Communist Party-controlled court system. In July, more than 200 of these lawyers were rounded up in a nationwide sweep and pilloried by the state-run news media as swindlers. Many were detained at an undisclosed location in the port city of Tianjin, China.

“The secret detention of dozens of lawyers makes a mockery of President Xi Jinping’s claims that China is governed by the rule of law,” said Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson.

“The failure to release all 38 by the six-month legal deadline would shred any credibility the government has on upholding its own laws,” she said.

The regime should immediately release four labor rights activists – including Zeng Feiyang, director of Panyu Workers Center – who were formally arrested in Guangdong province on apparent politically motivated grounds, Human Rights Watch said today.

“These formal arrests of labor activists signify a significant escalation in the Chinese government’s assault on civil society since President Xi Jinping came to power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Under Xi, the authorities are showing increasing hostility toward those whose activism wasn’t considered a threat just a few years ago.”

Eva Pils, the King’s College London-based author of “China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance,” discussed the rights defense movement and the campaign against it at ChinaChange, notes China Digital Times, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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