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12 Jul 2015

Jennifer Duggan, Guardian (UK)

China targets lawyers in new human rights crackdown

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More than 100 human rights lawyers and activists have been detained or questioned by Chinese police and denounced in state media as a “criminal gang” in recent days, raising fears of an unprecedented crackdown by the Chinese authorities.

According to human rights groups, a total of 106 lawyers [later increased to 183], other staff at legal firms and human rights activists have been detained or questioned and at least three law firms have been searched. Six lawyers from the law firm Fengrui, which has handled a number of high-profile human rights cases [including the case on tainted milk poweder in 2008], have been detained. Another 17 lawyers and rights activists are missing…

...Zhou Shifeng, who has also been detained, had represented...[victims of the contaminated milk powder to sue against the Sanlu Group in 2008]...Li Heping...who...helped victims of forced evictions, is among those who have not been heard from since being detained…

There have been previous government crackdowns on human rights activists and lawyers…However, analysts believe this crackdown is unprecedented in terms of its scope. Maya Wang, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the detention of activists and lawyers was worrying as it was not in response to “any kind of perceivable threat”…William Nee, from Amnesty International, said Fengrui’s effectiveness in highlighting cases of injustice worried the government. “…I think they are worried because they don’t want to lose their grip on public opinion.” Protests outside courts by activists had unnerved the government, he added…