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“Lawyers need to be protected not harassed” – UN experts urge China to halt detentions

GENEVA (16 July 2015) – United Nations human rights experts* today called on the Chinese authorities to stop what appears to be targeted police harassment and intimidation of lawyers and those working closely with them. “Lawyers are essential to ensure the rule of law; they need to be protected not harassed,” they said.

The independent experts expressed dismay at the ever growing number of lawyers and persons associated with their work, including law firm personnel, legal assistants and human rights defenders, who have been arrested and detained, including incommunicado, or summoned and questioned since 9 July 2015.

More than 100 lawyers have been arrested and detained or interrogated over the last few days in direct connection with their professional activities, according to the information received by the experts. Most of the lawyers are believed to have been working on human rights-related cases, in particular cases where they represented well known political dissidents, journalists and artists.

“If no charges are pressed, the authorities should immediately release all persons detained; alternatively, if they are officially charged with criminal offences, all due process guarantees should be provided, in particular the immediate and adequate access to an independent legal counsel,” they stressed.

“We are particularly concerned about the physical and mental integrity of 10 individuals, including 6 lawyers, who are currently held in police custody or under ‘residential surveillance’ in unknown locations, in most cases incommunicado since their arrests,” they said.

The experts expressed further concern that these persons may have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in contravention of not only the UN Basic Principles of the Role of Lawyers and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also the Chinese Criminal Procedure Code.

“The fate and whereabouts of another 12 persons, including 3 lawyers, who have disappeared in unknown circumstances, are also worrying,” they noted.  “We call on the Chinese authorities to investigate these cases urgently and provide full disclosure on the results.”

“In societies governed by the rule of law, lawyers advocate within the legal system on behalf of clients, even where their personal views may differ from the clients’ views,” the independent experts stated. “Lawyers should never have to suffer prosecution or any other kind of sanctions or intimidation for discharging their professional duties.”

The experts underscored that, “as one of the three main actors of an independent justice system, lawyers have an essential role to play in protecting human rights, in particular due process and fair trial guarantees, and ultimately contribute greatly to ensuring respect for the rule of law.”

The experts are in contact with the Chinese authorities to clarify the issues in question.

(*) The experts: Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Michel Forst; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Learn more, log on to:
Independence of the judiciary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/IDPIndex.aspx
Human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx
Freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspxTorture: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Torture/SRTorture/Pages/SRTortureIndex.aspx

Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/IndependenceJudiciary.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Amanda Flores (+41 22 917 9186 / aflores@ohchr.org) or write to srindependencejl@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en