[JURIST] Chinese authorities on Monday formally charged at least seven human rights lawyers who have been secretly detained for months, the lawyers' family members said. The Chinese government believes that the individuals charged are linked to events that have disrupted the public order, including a police shooting. The lawyers charged are of the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm and have been held in "designated residential surveillance" since July. Designated Residential Surveillance allows legal incommunicado solitary detention in secret locations for up to six months. Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the release of 38 lawyers and activists arguing that the the legal detainment time frame would lapse on January 9. The lawyers will now await trial, where they face sentences up to 15 years to life in prison. It is reported [BBC report] that most of the detained individuals who have not been charged have been released.
Chinese state media recently criticized [JURIST report] detained human rights lawyers for undermining the rule of law. Last month prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was released [JURIST report] after receiving a suspended sentence. Pu was detained in 2014 on a charge of "causing a disturbance" after he attended a weekend meeting that urged an investigation into the 1989 crackdown of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and was subsequently denied [JURIST reports] bail. The Tiananmen protests began in April 1989 with mainly students and laborers protesting the Communist Party of China. The Chinese government declared martial law in May and initiated the violent dispersal of protesters by the People's Liberation Army on June 4. The Chinese government has never publicized official figures, but the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy [advocacy website] reported last year that unnamed sources had estimated 600 people were killed [ICHR report, in Chinese].