IBAHRI marks International Human Rights Day with joint statement urging China to respect rights of lawyers

Thursday 14 December 2023

As the world marks International Human Rights Day this week, The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, The 29 Principles, Hong Kong Watch, The Rights Practice, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, Lawyers for Lawyers, Free Tibet and Tibetan Community in Britain, urge the People’s Republic of China (‘China’) to take urgent action to ensure respect for human rights and observe the rule of law.

The undersigned organisations are gravely concerned about ongoing, widespread violations of the rights of lawyers by the authorities in China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (‘Hong Kong’). This includes arbitrary detention, illegitimate criminal prosecution, unfair trials, enforced disappearance, torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In China, the legislative and regulatory framework governing the professional duties of lawyers and law firms systematically undermines their independence and represses activities perceived to support political dissent. We are concerned that lawyers have been punished under the Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers for simply conducting their professional services. This includes challenging the lawfulness of court proceedings in court or online, publicising accusations that their client had been tortured or criticising the government’s persecution of lawyers. Lawyers have also been accused of ‘hyping a case’ when they dispute the government’s case or allege that the case is politically motivated or contrary to the rule of law.

Not only does this impact the rights of lawyers, but it also prevents them from providing essential legal services to defend the rights of all individuals. This has a particular impact on individuals and groups who face widespread discrimination within China, such as persons from the Uyghur and Tibetan communities. Interference with the legal profession has led to individuals from these communities being denied access to a lawyer or the opportunity to prepare an adequate defence, leading to arbitrary detention, unfair trials, torture and other rights violations.

We also deplore the fact that detained lawyers in China are routinely subjected to Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), which involves incommunicado detention prior to arrest for up to six months in an undisclosed location. UN experts have stated that RSDL is ‘tantamount to enforced disappearance’. Lawyers held in RSDL have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation, loud noise harassment, being bound to an iron ‘tiger chair’ for days at a time, and a lack of adequate food and hygiene facilities.

We are also deeply concerned about the repressive use of the National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong and the renewed use of the Sedition Law. The NSL contains restrictions on defence lawyers that may not be compatible with a defendant’s right to prepare an adequate defence. To the extent that the law allows for undue restriction of other procedural guarantees, this violates the internationally recognised right of a fair trial.

The risks faced by lawyers, simply for practising their profession, are illustrated by the following cases:

  1. Ding Jiaxi was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and three years deprivation of political rights. On 23 April 2023, he was found guilty on charges of ‘subverting state power’ after he was tried in a closed-door trial in June 2022. Ding Jiaxi was detained by Shandong police on 26 December 2019 as part of a mass arrest known as the ‘1226 Crackdown’. Mr Ding had already been held in pretrial detention for more than two years and has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment during his arbitrary detention. On 24 November 2023, the Shandong Provincial High Court upheld this earlier verdict.
  2. Li Yuhan was sentenced on 25 October 2023 to six and half years in prison, after being held in detention for more than 6 years. In October 2017, Li Yuhan was taken into custody and held incommunicado for a month. At the time of her detention, the charges she faced were unknown, but it was later revealed that she was accused of ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and ‘fraud’. It is reported that Li Yuhan has been subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in detention, including a denial of adequate food and drinking water.
  3. Chang Weiping was sentenced to three and half years on 8 June 2023, for ‘subversion of state power’. The verdict was announced almost one year after Chang Weiping was tried behind closed doors at Feng County People’s Court on 26 July 2022, in a trial that lasted less than two hours. Chang Weiping was subjected to torture during his pre-trial detention. He was subjected to prolonged interrogations, sleep deprivation and bound to an iron ‘tiger chair’ for up to six days at a time, as well as a lack of adequate food and hygiene facilities. He was also denied access to a lawyer for almost a year.
  4. Yu Wensheng and his wife were criminally detained by the Beijing police on April 13 2023. They were on their way to the EU embassy in Beijing when they were intercepted by police officers who told them they had been summoned to a police station. It is reported that they have been charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Yu Wensheng had been released from prison just over a year before on 1 March 2022 after serving a four-year prison sentence in retaliation for his human rights efforts..
  5. Xu Zhiyong was arrested on 15 February 2020 by police officers from the Beijing Municipal Police Security Bureau. During his detention, Xu Zhiyong was denied access to his family and lawyers for four months and was subjected to torture. Between 22-24 June 2022, Xu Zhiyong was subject to a closed trial at the Linshu County Court, in Shangdong province, reportedly on the charge of ‘subversion of state power’. Xu Zhiyong was subsequently sentenced, almost a year later, on 11 April 2023 to serve 14 years in prison.
  6. Hao Jinsong was sentenced in July 2023 to nine years in prison. The specific details of the charges against him have not been made public, but he is believed to have been charged with ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’ and ‘fraud’. Hao Jinsong was arrested in May 2020 and this sentence follows an unduly lengthy period of pre-trial detention.
  7. Dennis Kwok and Kevin Yam, lawyers residing outside of China and Hong Kong, were named in arrest warrants on 3 July 2023 for charges under the National Security Law, including ‘foreign collusion’ and ‘incitement to secession’.

We urge the authorities in China and Hong Kong to abide by their obligations under national and international law to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, and call on them to take the following action:

  • to respect the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and ensure that lawyers can practice their profession without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;
  • to immediately and unconditionally release all the lawyers named above, as well as other individuals, who have been arbitrarily detained and sentenced following unfair trials;
  • conduct full, prompt and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture or other ill-treatment perpetrated by state officials;
  • ensure that persons are only deprived of their liberty on grounds established by laws that are sufficiently precise and in conformity with international law; and
  • ensure that pre-trial detention is only used as an exceptional measure and that persons are brought to trial without undue delay and in proceedings that comply with fair trial rights.


For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous entity working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  2. Find the IBAHRI on social media here:
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, with the aim of protecting and promoting the rule of law globally, the IBA was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

Website link for this news release:

Short link: www.tinyurl.com/3dvttkcd

Full link: www.ibanet.org/IBAHRI-marks-International-Human-Rights-Day-with-joint-statement-urging-China-to-respect-rights-of-lawyers