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Lawyers’ associations accused of ‘whitewashing’ China’s human rights record

Delegates attending an international meeting of lawyers in China this week have been accused of helping the host country ‘whitewash’ its human rights record.

About 800 legal professionals, including those from the International Bar Association and the International Association of Lawyers, are attending the Global Lawyers Forum in Xinhua.

According to local news agencies, China’s justice minister, Fu Zhenghua, said the forum was, ‘an opportunity for China to draw on global experience in developing the rule of law’.

But human rights advocates have criticised the event as ‘a mockery’, claiming dozens of prominent rights lawyers in the country have been detained or put under house arrest.

“To this day, there are still human rights lawyers who are forcefully ‘disappeared’,” the China human rights lawyer concern group wrote in an open letter on Friday.

“Most endured torture during incarceration; some still suffer from psychological trauma because of the untold horrors they experienced while detained or jailed,” such as sleep deprivation, forced medication, and being forced to sit in a contraption known as the ‘tiger bench’.

Among those detained are four lawyers who have been declared ‘arbitrarily detained’ by the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention,  the Guardian newspaper reports, including Wang Quanzhang, who was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for subversion after a secret trial.

Wang’s defence lawyer, Yu Wensheng was also detained and tried in a closed door trial. His wife, Xu Yan, (pictured) has implored lawyers attending the forum to raise Wensheng’s case with the Chinese government and launch an ‘emergency rescue action’.

“Chinese judicial authorities hosting a global lawyers event while imprisoning and disbarring Chinese human rights lawyers makes a mockery of international cooperation on rule of law,” said Frances Eve, the deputy director of research at the NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders. “It is being held over international human rights day, when bar associations should be standing up for the rights of lawyers, not helping the Chinese government try and whitewash its egregious human rights abuses.”

The Bar Council of England and Wales said in a statement before the event that it, ‘repeats its calls to the Chinese authorities to release any lawyers arrested in the legitimate pursuit of their practice, which includes the right to advocate freely and fearlessly in the best interests of their lay clients’.