China | Despite Government's bold claims of progress, human rights defenders are still suffering


Recent reports that human rights lawyers in China are being tortured make a mockery of the Government's superficial anti-torture reforms and undermine its efforts to position itself on the world stage as a ‘responsible leader’.

Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Geneva and the UN, delivering a speech that emphasised the need for multilateralism - characterised by 'cooperation and dialogue' - in the development of a 'shared future for mankind'. But his message has been severely tarnished by fresh examples of China’s ongoing failures to respect the human rights of its own citizens.

ISHR's Asia programme manager, Sarah M. Brooks, said it was impossible for China to lead on human rights while it is torturing human rights lawyers.

‘There is a massive gap between the reality of Chinese policies at home, and their positioning at the UN, especially within the human rights system’, said Ms Brooks.

This week, in another bid to be seen as a legitimate actor in the international community, the UN made public the Chinese government's official response to recommendations from the UN Committee Against Torture. Ms Brooks said the document, totaling a mere seven pages, was a 'red herring'. The document addresses so-called progress on due process rights, the process for investigating deaths in detention, and the misuse of national security and State Secrets crimes to punish peaceful dissent. The response to a fourth Committee recommendation – one of central importance for ISHR and its partners – is entitled The “crackdown” on so-called “rights defence lawyers” and “activists”.

‘On the surface, this official response meets the minimum requirements of the Committee to report back, but it really casts doubt over how seriously China takes these requirements – it’s hard to believe China is engaging in good faith. The document gives a series of perfunctory and frankly laughable answers to deadly serious concerns,’ said Ms Brooks.

In the last week there have been disturbing reports made public that demonstrate the government's practices lag far behind its rhetoric.

  • Xie Yang, who was taken on 11 July, as part of the country’s largest concerted crackdown on human rights lawyers, has begun to describe, among other practices, constant interrogation and sleep deprivation during his detention.
  • Family members worry that Li Heping, who worked to defend activists and to end the practice of torture through education and awareness raising, has suffered more torture himself. Starting from 2007 he endured repeated threats, harassment and physical abuse at the hands of security authorities, and family member.
  • So has his brother Li Chunfu, who was released on bail after 530 days with severe mental and physical health issues, rendering him potentially violent toward family and friends.
  • Wang Quanzhang has been kept for over 18 months without trial, and is now in ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ – where his lawyers report he has been subject to electrical shocks.
  • Wang Yu, a woman human rights defender and first lawyer to be detained, was reported to be released on bail in August 2016; she has not been heard from since. Before her release, she appeared in two 'confessions' on state-run media which friends and colleagues suspect were forced, including through threats to her son.

'ISHR is committed to using our voice to support those working on the ground and to raising in the UN the concerns of Chinese human rights defenders, including the 709 lawyers. It has now been 18 months since the crackdown began, and despite the risks of torture, they still speak out,' says Ms Brooks.

ISHR's November 2015 submission to the Committee Against Torture regarding China can be found here.

Please check the petition letter to Chinese government for the Day of Endanger Lawyers at

For more information, please contact:
Sarah M Brooks at s.brooks[at]
You can also follow her on Twitter @sarahmcneer


  • Asia
  • Human rights defenders
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • China