Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (5 August):
I am very concerned by the sentences that have been handed to the lawyers of the Fengrui law firm and to human rights activists for subversion in Tianjin this week, as well as by the house arrest of a number of their relatives on 1 August.
These trials raise doubts as to the Chinese Government’s stated objective to strengthen the rule of law. Through their work, the lawyers sought to defend their clients’ rights and to uphold the rule of law. According to our understanding of the law, there is no evidence of subversion or anti-government activities arising from this.
The accusations of alleged incitement and manipulation of the lawyers and activists by foreign actors also fill me with concern. Such unjustified allegations can lead to prejudice and resentment and are not conducive to the continued development of a cosmopolitan society in China.
From 9 July 2015, more than 300 lawyers and other human rights defenders were temporarily arrested and interrogated throughout China. Subsequently, around 30 of them were taken to unknown locations for six months and then transferred to prison in January 2016. The start of their trials was delayed for months and they were refused all contact with their lawyers and families. The first sentences against four of the lawyers and activists were handed down before the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court from 2 to 8 August 2016 and were characterised by a massive disregard for rule-of-law principles. The lawyers chosen by the defendants themselves were denied access to their clients both prior to and during the trial and were replaced by lawyers determined by the state. Moreover, the defendants’ wives and other relatives were not given the opportunity to talk to the accused either prior to or during the trial. Despite official assurances that the trial would be public and accessible to everyone, neither relatives nor diplomats were given permission to attend and observe the proceedings. While attempting to enquire as to the defendants’ well-being, several wives were temporarily arrested; they have now been freed, but remain under house arrest.
The 16-year-old son of one of the lawyers has been under house arrest since October 2015 after he was detained in Myanmar while attempting to leave the country. A number of other children of persons connected to the “709 crackdown” have also been denied permission to leave the country since last year.