The United Nations’ human rights office condemned Friday the detention of a Chinese attorney while he was vacationing with his family, calling it part of an “ongoing crackdown” against lawyers.
“We are deeply troubled that on Wednesday May 3, defence lawyer Chen Jiangang and his family were reportedly taken by police while they were travelling in Yunnan province,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.
“We are dismayed by this continuing pattern of harassment of lawyers, through continued detention, without full due process guarantees and with alleged exposure to ill-treatment,” it added.
Beijing has come under increased fire from the international community as it tightens the screws on the country’s civil society in a clampdown that is said to have relied on torture and illegal detentions to punish critics of the government.
While the government initially targeted political activists and human rights campaigners, it has increasingly turned its attention to lawyers who represent them. Chen was travelling with his wife, their children, aged six and three, and two friends in the remote southwestern province when they were taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon told AFP, citing sources close to Chen.
His family was released Thursday morning and permitted to take a flight back to Beijing, but Chen was forced to start the 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) journey driving to Beijing with three police escorts, Poon said.
The whereabouts of their friends, Zhang Baocheng and his wife, is unclear. Calls to police in Yunnan by AFP went unanswered. Although the UN office said Chen’s whereabouts remained unclear, AFP was able to contact him.
“I am driving back to Beijing, along with three other people. … I will not forget the grievances suffered by my wife and sons in the police station,” Chen told AFP in a text message Thursday, without giving details about his companions.
On Friday, Chen texted that he was “still on the road, driving through Yongshan County in Yunnan”.
Chen also sent a photo of his handwritten note saying police did not present any legal warrants, and that his family’s belongings were confiscated. Poon said Chen’s drive back with police escort was unusual and exposes him “to the risk of being taken to unknown places during his journey back to Beijing.”
Chen was a former defence lawyer for Xie Yang, who was detained during the so-called “709 crackdown” in the summer of 2015, when authorities rounded up some 200 legal staff and activists.
Chen remained vocal on Xie’s case, drawing attention to his former client’s allegations of torture in police custody, even after a court in the central city of Changsha denied Xie his pick of defence and provided a court-appointed lawyer instead.
The Changsha Intermediate People’s Court has indefinitely postponed Xie’s trial.
Eleven countries, including Canada, Australia and Switzerland, have cited Xie’s case in a letter to Beijing criticising China’s detention practices.