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China called to release rights lawyers jailed since 2015

As part of its legal crackdown, the communist government has also disbarred others

China called to release rights lawyers jailed since 2015

In this file photo taken on Jan. 4, 2016, Chinese human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng poses for a photograph in Beijing. Last month Yu was detained by police, just days after his license to practice law was revoked. For his criticism of the state, he has subsequently been charged with subversion. (Photo by Fred Dufour/AFP)

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Published: February 19, 2018 05:21 AM GMT

Updated: February 19, 2018 05:32 AM GMT

A prominent rights watchdog has again called on the Chinese government to release human rights lawyers rounded up and detained in July 2015 for alleged subversion.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) put out a statement Feb. 15 insisting the lawyers be released, as well as condemning the government’s practice of arbitrarily taking away licenses away from lawyers and law firms.  

HRW also noted that since the incident in 2015, known as the "709" crackdown — when some 300 lawyers were rounded up — there have been multiple major infractions to the rule of law, with several human rights lawyers and their firms having had their licenses revoked.

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Just this month, the government stripped the license of human rights lawyer Sui Muqing for a violation of "courtroom etiquette," and subsequently the Wutian Law Firm, according to HRW.

"Not only is the Chinese government still holding some rights lawyers and activists rounded up in the July 2015 crackdown, it’s disbarring others as a crude way to intimidate the group," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

Since August last year, the licenses of human rights lawyers Zhu Shengwu, Wang Liqian, Wang Delong and Yu Wensheng have also been revoked.

Several of the lawyers detained during the 709 crackdown still remain in detention or prison, according to HRW.

Wang Quanzhang, who was detained during the crackdown, was denied a lawyer and still awaits trial.

Human rights lawyers Zhou Shifeng and Jiang Tianyoung were both sentenced to prison for subversion charges, in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

According to a laws revised by the Chinese Ministry of Justice in 2016, lawyers and their law firms must support the Communist Party and may not express opinions that go against them. 

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