This article was first published in China Change website
The fifth China Human Rights Lawyers Day will be held virtually on July 9, 2021.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Day was created on July 9, 2017 in acknowledgement of the tireless efforts of Chinese human rights lawyers in their struggle for justice and the rule of law. It commemorates the mass arrest of lawyers that occured on July 9, 2015, and celebrates the ideals, courage, and tenacity of human rights lawyers in China.
Most human rights lawyers are not famous, nor are they wealthy, but they have irrefutably stood out in the Chinese legal community, elevating the profession to a worthier height. Over the past two decades, they have represented clients in all aspects of human rights and public interest, including but not limited to freedom of speech, freedom of belief, political dissent, property rights, women’s rights, labor rights, minority rights, anti-discrimination, food safety, and redress of wrongful convictions and other grievances. Their clients are from all walks of Chinese society, including political dissidents, religious believers (among them Falun Gong practitioners and Christians) human rights defenders, civil society activists, farmers who lost land to illegal appropriation, factory workers, NGO practitioners, private entrepreneurs, writers, journalists, ordinary netizens, street vendors, victims of miscarriage of justice, and even Chinese Communist Party officials who have become prisoners in the so-called anti-corruption campaign. Their clients are often either opponents of the authoritarian regime or those whose rights and dignity are trampled.
Human rights lawyers have performed their duties in the process of defending their clients under the law, but precisely because they take both the law and their duties seriously, they have been subject to increasingly strong hostility from the authorities. Since the emergence of the legal rights defense movement in the early 2000s, these lawyers have only faced worse repercussions for their work; many have been arrested and tortured, suspended and disbarred. But the mass arrests on July 9, 2015, marked the beginning of a broader persecution of human rights lawyers by the Chinese authorities. Dozens of human rights lawyers and their assistants were suddenly arrested and hundreds of lawyers were threatened across the country. The jailed lawyers were subjected to harrowing physical and mental abuse. They were deprived of legal representation, forcibly injected with unknown drugs, forced to make confessions. Over the past two decades, more than 70 human rights lawyers have been disbarred, and about 40 of them have had their licenses revoked or cancelled in the past five years. At least 50 human rights lawyers have been illegally barred from leaving the country.
Even though most of the 709 detainees have been released, imprisonment of human rights lawyers has not ceased. Today, 13 human rights lawyers remain in prison in China, and one has been missing for more than three years.
Although human rights lawyers are a small group among China’s half-million lawyers, they are among those holding a torch lighting the road to rule of law and freedom for the Chinese people. They emerged during the most dynamic period of China’s reform and opening up, and now face hardship and great danger. In a totalitarian state in possession of an overwhelming state apparatus, they have opted for a challenge that few of their peers would be willing to take, but they have no regrets and hold their heads high in their vocation. They and their families have endured sufferings and setbacks, but have remained resilient and steadfast. They have been writing history and they are paving the road to the future.
For this special day, we call upon members of the public, whoever and wherever you are, to send a message of appreciation and encouragement to human rights lawyers in China by:
· Printing or handwriting your message on a sheet of paper (or displaying it on your laptop screen);
· Taking a photo of yourself with your message (group photo is welcome); and
· Sending it to [email protected] with your name, profession, and location. Your email address will be carefully guarded and not shared or used for any other purposes.
Deadline: June 10, 2021
We will play your message in a video collage called “Messages to Human Rights Lawyers in China.”
We hope you join us in our celebration of China’s human rights lawyers.
Humanitarian China (U.S.), ChinaAid (U.S.), China Change (U.S.), Judicial Reform Foundation (Taiwan), New School for Democracy (Taiwan), Taiwan Support China Human Rights Lawyers Network