Breaking the law

It is not often that people feel sorry for lawyers. But a new Amnesty report, made public today, details the concerted campaign in China to break the law; to suppress, intimidate and persecute lawyers who take up human rights cases. 

It is not often that we hear of a lawyer who is herself the victim, and indeed all too often lawyers are vilified in the UK and other such societies, so much so, that we forget their originally conceived purpose as the last line of defence between a citizen and the state. Lawyers true to that original purpose provide recourse when an individuals rights have been ignored or abused.  

Lawyers such as Ni Yulan who has been detained by Beijing police and charged with "picking quarrels and provoking trouble. She has been arrested and tortured several times since defending people forcibly evicted from their homes in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. 

For engaging in her legitimate professional advocacy on behalf of people made homeless by their own government, Ni has been permanently disbarred and frequently detained. While in custody in 2002, she was beaten so badly that she is now wheelchair bound. 

Human rights lawyers have long been regarded as the enemy of the state by officials in China, but this latest crackdown, which has seen an alarming increase in the number of lawyers detained, tortured or disappeared, is part of a wider unease. Lawyers are just one of the groups that have been the focus of a backlash against perceived dissent, since February 2011. Scores of government critics, activists, and "netizens" (activists who take to the web) have been arrested, amid government fears of a "Jasmine Revolution" inspired by the Arab Spring. 

The lawyers featured in the report, are the defenders of the weak, and the adversaries of the powerful. Without human rights lawyers officials would be free to act with impunity, without fear of being held to account.  It is hardly surprising then, that the Chinese government has decided to rein in this group and to do away with such a nuisance. And in a reversal of the status quo, it is the lawyers themselves who pay a high price.  Read our full news report.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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