Human Rights Commissioner Strässer condemns the arrest of scores of lawyers in China
- date of issue
Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, issued the following statement yesterday (13 July) regarding the ongoing crackdown under which large numbers of lawyers have been arrested since 10 July:
"I condemn the arrest of up to 100 lawyers and staff from law firms in China. The scale of the detentions and the state media’s efforts to publicly discredit the lawyers are without precedent. The Chinese Government is sending a clear message through these coordinated arrests – criticism of the system will be silenced, and even lawyers must expect severe punishment for performing their most basic duty, that of defending their clients. This crackdown is in dramatic contrast to the Chinese Government’s declared intention to promote the rule of law.
I am furthermore most profoundly concerned by the fact that the new national security law has been cited in justification of the actions taken by the security authorities. Given its vague language and the broad definition of the term “national security”, measures taken by the security agencies are protected by the law, without any provision being made for the independent review of such measures or any correctives thereto.
I call on the Chinese leadership to release the lawyers who have been arrested and to refrain from any further action to restrict them in the exercise of the profession and the defence of their clients. I moreover call on the Chinese Government to stand and be judged by its self-professed desire to strengthen the rule of law. The national security law in its current form is not compatible with rule‑of‑law principles. Laws that permit civil rights to be curtailed in response to threats to national security must be clearly defined and subject to independent review."
In a nationwide sweep starting on 10 July, numerous lawyers who had previously defended human rights activists in criminal cases have been arrested across China. Nothing is yet known about the whereabouts of many lawyers; it is likely that they will be charged and sentenced to long terms in prison. The security agencies have claimed their actions were taken in response to potential threats to national security. The national security law was passed by the National People’s Congress on 1 July. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has already criticised the law.