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Human rights in China

Hong Kong legal groups add voices to global calls for China to release human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang

  • Wang was swept up in 2015 crackdown and has not been seen since
  • The Chinese lawyer was accused of being a threat to national security by Beijing
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 7:33am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 2:24pm

Two groups representing lawyers in Hong Kong have expressed concern over the fate of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been detained for more than three years on accusations of threatening national security.

The Bar Association, and the Law Society, which represent the city’s barristers and solicitors, echoed the appeal of more than 20 groups around the world for Wang’s immediate release.

But, China’s Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua previously told the Law Society that certain lawyers had been colluding with arrested activists, and denied suggestions of procedural unfairness, the Post has learned.

Wang, who previously defended the outlawed Falun Gong religious sect, has been held in custody on the mainland since the “709” crackdown in 2015.

The operation, which was named after the date it began, July 9, involved the arrest of about 300 lawyers and human rights activists.

Wang was later charged with subversion of state power, but has yet to face trial. He was reportedly denied the right to seek legal representation, while his wife, Li Wenzu, has not been allowed to see him despite repeated attempts.

Last week, lawyers’ groups around the world issued a joint letter to President Xi Jinping calling for the release of Wang, and other human rights lawyers, and an end to the harassment on Li, who said she had been barred from travelling on occasion.

Wang Quanzhang: the last ‘709’ lawyer left in China’s legal limbo

The co-signatories included the International Association for Lawyers, the New York City Bar, the Law Society of England & Wales, and the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Bar Association joined other lawyers and called on mainland prosecutors and judges to institute the full and proper implementation of “due process and human rights enjoyed by Chinese legal professions and citizens”.

“Given the length of detention of Mr Wang, the Bar Association urges that Mr Wang be released as soon as possible pending trial,” the association said.

Former Law Society president Thomas So Shiu-tsung also told the Post the professional body expressed great concern over Wang’s detention to Fu, the Minister of Justice, and the head of the Chinese lawyers’ association during an annual visit to Beijing in April.

“We have directly raised the point that our practitioners have great concerns over the environment in which mainland human rights lawyers practise,” So said. “The lawyers were only protecting their clients’ rights, but were being targeted by relevant authorities.”

The crackdown, as So described, was designed to force lawyers to stop defending mainland activists.

According to So, officials dismissed concerns over Wang’s detention, and the arrest of other mainland lawyers, and said defendants accused of violating national security could be detained for longer to assist with an investigation.

“Each and every case was done in accordance with the mainland legal system,” officials reportedly told So.

The mainland officials, according to So, conceded there could be room for improvement, but said the accused lawyers had overstepped the boundaries of what that entailed.

‘Shackled, isolated and beaten’: how one child became a victim of ‘709’ crackdown

“[They told us] it was perfectly fine for lawyers to defend their clients, but it’s different when lawyers themselves were involved in criminal acts, such as forging evidence.”

While the Law Society has not directly called for the release of Wang, So has called for the “strict adherence” to the criminal justice system.

“If mainland China is to advocate for the rule of law, it should review its criminal system, or check whether someone has not implemented the law.”