Families of detainees seek their release

Ms Wang Qiaoling (left) and Ms Li Wenzu with their mobile phones showing photos of their husbands, human rights lawyers Wang Quangzhang and Li Heping, who were arrested last year.
Ms Wang Qiaoling (left) and Ms Li Wenzu with their mobile phones showing photos of their husbands, human rights lawyers Wang Quangzhang and Li Heping, who were arrested last year.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BEIJING • Families of lawyers and rights activists detained by China's communist government a year ago have urged the authorities to stop harassing them, as they repeated calls for the release of their relatives.

More than 200 attorneys and rights campaigners were held in a huge operation launched on July 9 last year known as the 709 crackdown - named after the date of the first disappearance.

"We strongly demand that the Chinese government release all the detainees involved in the 709 crackdown... Stop all the monitoring, harassment, shadowing and persecution towards all the detainees' families," the relatives said in a statement.

They added that they were tightly monitored by the police on a "24-hour basis". "We are tailed, forced to move out of our house, harassed at midnight, obstructed from work and there are children who can hardly enter a school. We can no longer continue our normal life," they said.

In total, 23 lawyers and rights activists held during the 709 crackdown are still in detention, according to the document's signatories, all but one of whom are the wives of the detainees. The other is a sister.

"Over the past year... our efforts were always in vain as we were greeted by the officials with indifference and rejections."

Under President Xi Jinping, who came to power in 2012, China has tightened controls on civil society, and the 709 crackdown represents its largest-scale operation in years.

Last week, five spouses of the detained men donned dresses emblazoned with their husbands' names and marched to a national prosecutors' office in Beijing - surrounded by dozens of police.

Beijing law firm Fengrui, which has defended victims of sexual abuse, members of banned religious groups and dissident scholars, was at the centre of the 709 crackdown, with five of its staff still held. The detainees have been denied access to their families or independent defence lawyers.

Ms Li Wenzu, wife of Fengrui lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had a security camera installed outside her front door and volunteers on constant watch outside.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the detentions as "worrying", but Beijing routinely dismisses such complaints as interference in its internal affairs.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2016, with the headline 'Families of detainees seek their release'. Print Edition | Subscribe