On Tuesday 8 March 2016, BHRC and the Law Society organised a round-table discussion with three Chinese human rights lawyers visiting the UK. They talked about the escalating repression of lawyers and human rights defenders in China, and the risks and challenges facing lawyers in defending their clients.

Last year, BHRC and the Law Society held a similar event with another group of visiting human rights lawyers, which included Ms Wang Yu. She has subsequently been detained since the summer and has recently been charged with subversion. She and her husband were the first targets in the July 2015 crackdown on lawyers, their families and colleagues. Around 220 lawyers were arrested over the course of a few days (see our statements here). Although many were released, thirteen lawyers and law firm staff were charged in January, following six months in undisclosed locations without access to family or legal assistance.

The discussion this year focussed on what happened during the recent crackdown, the ongoing repression of lawyers , and why the situation escalated so seriously last summer. One of the reasons given for the extreme actions of the Chinese authorities was a sense that the Chinese public is becoming increasingly aware of its’ civil rights and that this could be seen as undermining Government authority.

The lawyers explained that the judiciary is not only employed by the State, but also seen as an arm of the Government.  This situation makes it very difficult to seek redress through the courts or uphold the rule of law effectively. The experience of the lawyers was that judges are often dismissive of lawyers’ arguments, not allowing them to explain their cases or make their submissions.

Despite this climate, the number of human rights or ‘weiquan’ lawyers continues to grow and they provide support for one another to help endure the pressure put on them by the authorities.

The chairs of the event, Jodie Blackstock (BHRC) and Tony Fisher (Law Society Human Rights Committee) reiterated the support of British lawyers for their courageous Chinese counterparts. Each organisation committed to continue monitoring the situation for lawyers in China and act in solidarity through statements of concern when considered appropriate.