The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) [advocacy website] released its annual report [text, PDF] on Thursday, highlighting intensified crackdowns on human rights defenders in China. According to the CHRD report, human rights activities are being criminalized as “‘political’ threats to ‘national security.'” [press release] The report further highlights a number of practices used by the government, such as enforced disappearances [UN backgrounder], arbitrary detention, and acts of torture against human rights defenders, pointing particularly to those secretly detained in the July 2015 crackdown on lawyers, known as the “709 Crackdown.” CHRD also stated: “Not only have authorities denied detainees access to counsel, they have increasingly pressured detainees to dismiss their own lawyers or those hired by their families, and use government appointed lawyers instead.” Fifteen such cases were reported, and the police denied access to the detainee’s families or lawyers of choice to verify such dismissals were made voluntarily. For lawyers who get detained by the government, it has reportedly often led to torture and abuse at the hands of the police, as in the case of Li Chunfu [ChinaChange report]. CHRD also claims the government has cracked down on the development of civil society groups by passing the Law on the Management of Overseas NGO Activities in Mainland China [text] which imposes strict control over the funding, staffing, and other activities of NGOs.
China has faced continued international criticism for its treatment of human rights defenders, ranging from filing of arbitrary criminal charges, suspension or dismissal of law licenses, and disappearances. In December the UN called on China to investigate the disappearance of human rights lawyer [JURIST report] Jiang Tianyong, after he had been missing for two months. The same month China suspended the law license [JURIST report] of prominent human rights lawyer Li Jinxing, over his apparent allegedly unacceptable behavior in court while defending a client. In September China handed down a 12 year sentence [JURIST report] to prominent human rights lawyer Xia Lin. In July China announced plans to prosecute [JURIST report] prominent human rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng on charges of subverting state power, furthering its recent crackdown on political dissidents. In April a civil rights lawyer was arrested and released [JURIST report] for posting an image online mocking Xi Jinping in relation to the Panama Papers release