The Law Council of Australia is asking for more action from the Australian government on what it says is a targeting of lawyers and their families in China
In a statement, the Law Council urged the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to redouble efforts with the Chinese government specifically on “securing the release of the 23 lawyers and activists still in detention, ending torture and ill-treatment of those detained, removing travel bans against 39, and stopping the harassment of the families of lawyers.”
According to the organisation, at least 319 lawyers, law firm staff, activists and their family members have been targeted since the start of the “709 crackdown” which has been named after the day and month it began last year.
The Council expressed its continued concerns with China’s respect for the rule of law and a rules-based international order as it marked the anniversary of the crackdown with the International Bar Association.
It also expressed alarm at alleged reports that some of the detained have been tortured or have been sexually abused.
The organisation also encourages further multilateral efforts and calls for a joint statement by like-minded governments condemning the attacks on the legal profession in China and requesting the release of those still detained.
“Both the Australian legal profession and the Australian community as a whole has an interest in ensuring that the Chinese legal system is robust, fair and impartial,” said Law Council of Australia President Stuart Clark AM.
He explained that there are concerns of “sudden and arbitrary retribution” for lawyers practicing in China, Australia’s top bilateral trading partner.
To maintain confidence in the service sector and sustain robust trade relations, there must be adherence to rules-based international order, he said.
“The 709 crackdown is a clear violation of human rights and the Law Council of Australia will continue to be active in international efforts to redress the situation,” said Clark.
“The scale of this crackdown is larger than any other targeting the legal profession in China in recent years. Consistent with the Basic Principles on the Role of the Lawyers, it is vital for every nation to have an independent legal profession which can practice without fear of reprisal.”
The Law Council said that it appreciates the Australian Government’s advocacy to date, particularly a joint statement with 11 other countries at the 31st Session of the Human Rights Council on 10 March 2016 expressing concerns about China’s deteriorating human rights record, which referred to the arrests and detention of lawyers.
The organisation said that it has met with senior DFAT officials and senior advisers to the Prime Minister since the “709 crackdown” began.