Statement of New York City Bar Association Marking “709 Crackdown” on Chinese Human Rights Defenders

Sunday, July 9, 2017 marks the first-ever international China Human Rights Lawyers Day and the second anniversary of the beginning of President Xi Jinping’s infamous “709 Crackdown,” a period of intimidation, arrest, detention, and enforced disappearance of an unprecedented number of Chinese lawyers, lawyers’ family members, support staff, and human rights and legal activists.[1] The Association has closely monitored relevant developments in China, and previously issued a call to release lawyers caught up in the early throes of the “709 Crackdown”.[2] In all, the “709 Crackdown” ensnared more than 320 human rights lawyers and activists throughout China, and continues to this day – a methodical, systematic campaign by the Chinese state to control and silence lawyers and others who advocate for politically-sensitive clients and causes.[3]

In what amounts to nothing less than a “war on law” that is unprecedented in its scale and severity, Chinese human rights lawyers and activists have been summoned for questioning, kidnapped by secret police, detained incommunicado in “black jails” and other prisons, humiliated, and subjected to marathon interrogation sessions and other forms of sadistic psychological and physical torture, including sleep deprivation, forced medication (often with grave consequences for mental and physical health), brutal beatings, electric shocks, prolonged submersion in water, death threats, and months of solitary confinement.[4]

Many of these human rights lawyers and activists have been held for months (even years) without being charged and with no access to defense counsel.  Those who are charged are often tried and sentenced in closed-door proceedings, many without access to counsel of their choice, on vague, trumped-up charges.[5]  Some of the most prominent figures have been paraded before cameras and forced into humiliating, televised confessions, disavowing their life’s work under coercion, as part of the biggest state media propaganda “smear campaign” in recent history.[6]  Those who are fortunate enough not to be sentenced to prison (which often means forced labor) are given suspended sentences, allowing them some semblance of freedom, but, as a practical matter, subjecting them to constant state surveillance, severely constraining their actions and movement, and preventing them from practicing law in China ever again.[7]

Human rights defenders are by no means the only victims of the “709 Crackdown” and its aftermath.  Chinese officials also have targeted the defenders’ families, friends, and colleagues (including defenders’ defense counsel) with threats, intimidation, harassment, monitoring, intrusive state surveillance, travel bans, and worse, reviving the “collective punishment” of China’s past.[8]

President Xi Jinping may have intended the “709 Crackdown” and its aftermath to mute the Chinese human rights defenders and to have a chilling effect on prospective activists. Instead, those targeted by the crackdown have refused to go quietly, and the repressive actions of the state have emboldened a new generation, who are taking up the mantle of advocacy and swelling the ranks of the human rights defenders.[9]

The harassment, intimidation, disappearance, detention, and prosecution of Chinese human rights lawyers undermine China’s legal reform and deter the development of a professional and independent bar. The “709 Crackdown” further violates international standards.  In particular, the Chinese government’s actions violate Article 16 of the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which provides that, “[g]overnments shall ensure that lawyers . . . are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”[10]  Nor can such persecution be squared with President Xi Jinping’s professed commitment to the establishment of the rule of law in China. Article 37 of the Lawyers Law of the People’s Republic of China specifically provides that “a lawyer’s right of the person is inviolable” and affirms that a lawyer is not legally liable for the opinions he or she presents on behalf of clients.[11] The New York City Bar Association stands with China’s courageous human rights defenders and all of those in China who serve and champion justice and the rule of law.

As a matter of the utmost urgency, we call on President Xi Jinping for the immediate and unconditional release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has been diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer[12], to allow him and his family to travel to seek medical treatment by the physicians, and in the location, of his choice.

We also call on President Xi to: (1) provide a prompt and full accounting of all human rights defenders who are subject to any form of state detention, including their status and location; (2) immediately release all human rights defenders who are currently detained; (3) cease all intimidation, harassment, monitoring, and surveillance of human rights defenders’ families, friends, and colleagues; (4) abide by China’s own domestic criminal laws and Constitution; (5) honor China’s international commitments to fundamental principles of human rights (including the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), and respect the provisions of the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (which provide specific safeguards for lawyers in discharging their professional obligations), the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.

In addition, we call on President Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as other appropriate U.S. authorities, to: (1) enforce the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act[13] against all Chinese officials who are engaged or complicit in the persecution of human rights defenders, to bar those officials from entering the United States; (2) use U.S. foreign policy and trade policy to link China’s record on respect for international human rights to international trade, foreign investment, development, and other issues important to China; and (3) give serious consideration to (and, if appropriate, pursue) the suspension of China’s membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council until the gross violations of human rights in China cease.

As Secretary Tillerson recently noted, commemorating the 28th anniversary of Tiananmen Square, “[t]he United States views the protection of human rights as a fundamental duty of all countries” and “urge[s] the Chinese government to respect the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.”[14]

Further, we call on His Excellency the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, to renew the Special Rapporteur’s request (made in 2011, with reminders in 2013, 2014, and 2015) that China extend an official invitation to the Special Rapporteur to make an official country visit to assess the independence of the legal profession in China and to offer appropriate recommendations.  If such an invitation is not forthcoming, we urge the Special Rapporteur to make China the subject of its annual thematic report or a special report.

On this second anniversary of the “709 Crackdown,” the New York City Bar Association is united in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in law, the human rights defenders in China.  You will not be forgotten.  You are an inspiration to the world.




[1] Human Rights Watch, China: On “709” Anniversary, Legal Crackdown Continues (July 7, 2017),; U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016,

[2] NEW YORK CITY BAR ASS’N, Letter to His Excellency Mr. Xi Jinping (July 28, 2015),

[3] See e.g. China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, [‘709 Crackdown’] Latest data and development of cases as of 1800 6 July 2017 (July 6, 2017),

[4] Human Rights Watch Report supra note 1; Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, PLIGHT AND PROSPECTS: The Landscape for Cause Lawyers in China, (2015)

[5] Id.

[6] See e.g. James Griffiths, China Human Rights Lawyer Wang Yu Released After Confession, CNN; Human Rights in China, Statement by Lawyer Tang Jingling on Why He Refuses to Appeal His Conviction,

[7] See e.g. China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, supra note 2; Human Rights Watch Report supra note 1m Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers supra note 3.

[8] See e.g, Human Rights in China, Wife of 709 Lawyer Fears Arrest,; Human Rights in China, My Husband Li Heping Part 1: Excerpts,; Human Rights in China, My Husband Li Heping Part 2: I have No Choice But to Send the Children Away,;

[9] See e.g. Human Rights in China, Open Letter to Ji Jinping from the Families of the 709 Crackdown,; Human Rights in China, Why I set off firecrackers,

[10] United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers,

[11] New York City Bar Association Letter to President Xi Jinping,

[12] Human Rights in China, Late Diagnosis of Liu Xiaobo an Outrage,

[13] This Act allows the President to impose sanctions on foreign persons or entities for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights norms, committed against individuals in any foreign country who seek to protect international human rights or to otherwise expose illegal activity carried out by government officials.

[14] Statement by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Commemorating the 28th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square,