United Nations Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra-ad al Hussein, expressed his concern over Chinese authorities’ crackdown against lawyers, human rights advocates and journalists, urging the release of detainees sanctioned for their work.
“That has a[n] implication for civil society and the important work they do across the country,” the High Commissioner said.
“Civil society actors, from lawyers and journalists to NGO workers, have the right to carry out their work, and it is the States’ duty to support and protect them.”
Zeid also called on Beijing to proceed a fair and transparent procedure over the cases for the five booksellers from Hong Kong who have gone missing, saying that there is a worrying pattern in China for civil society.
Five people from “Causeway Bay Book,” a publishing company, critical for the Chinese government, disappeared. Two of the booksellers disappeared after they “confessed” to breaching Chinses law on the state television.
“I find this method of ‘confession,’ extracted during incommunicado detention and publicized on national television, very worrying. It is a clear violation of the right to fair trial,” Zeid said.
The statement indicated that the High Commissioner’s raise the issue in Geneva with Chinese officials.
However, the statement said that the response he received was “too often reflexively confuse the legitimate role of lawyers and activists with threats to public order and security.”
In the past two years, China has launched a nationwide crackdown on rights lawyers, advocates and journalists, and went as far as jailing hundreds of them.
Since July, approximately 200 attorneys or activists have been jailed, including 28 people who are still missing or in police custody.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group -a Hong Kong-based rights group- says that Chinese authorities have formally arrested 19 lawyers and activists, and that 266 have been temporarily detained and questioned in the crackdown.
Last month, 15 more human rights lawyers were formally arrested, 10 of them face 15 years in prison, as they have been accused of “subversion of state power” and “inciting ethnic hatred.”
Lawyers who face more than a decade in prison include Li Heping and Wang Yu, leading human rights figures.
Zeid, who drew attention to freedom of expression in his latest statement, stated the importance of proper use of security measures, said that measures should not be used as a tool to target human rights defenders and silence critics.
“Security and human rights do not contradict each other. On the contrary they are complementary and mutually reinforcing,” Zeid said.
“Respect for human rights and public participation are key to ensuring rule of law and national security.”