by Tom Phillips at The Guardian
Beijing’s security forces are transforming China into a place of “fear and panic”, the families of 12 attorneys and activists who disappeared during a crackdown on human rights lawyers have claimed.
In an open letter to Guo Shengkun, the minister of public security, the families said they had heard nothing from their relatives since they were detained during a roundup of government critics nearly two months ago.
“Words fail to express our anxiety and helplessness,” they wrote, according to a translation by China Change, a human rights website.
“When a terrorist attack is perpetrated, a terrorist group will come out and claim responsibility for it. When the police system of the People’s Republic of China disappears its citizens, shouldn’t it make a statement and say something?”
On 9 July Chinese security services launched what observers describe as an unprecedented offensive against the country’s outspoken “rights defence” movement, a network of lawyers known for taking on politically sensitive cases.
Scores of lawyers and their associates were detained or interrogated in what activists believe is a coordinated attempt to stamp out opposition to the Communist party.
Many were subsequently released after being warned not to speak out, but more than 20 activists, lawyers and legal staff remain in detention, with some being held in undisclosed locations.
Those whose whereabouts remain unknown include Wang Yu, a 44-year-old human rights lawyer who disappeared from her home in the early hours of 9 July, and Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang, two Beijing-based attorneys who vanished the following day.
“Why is Daddy still not home?” Li Heping’s five-year-old daughter has asked relatives, according to the open letter, which was released to coincide with theInternational Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
Maya Wang, the Hong Kong-based China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that under Chinese law police had 37 days to formally arrest those they detained before having to release them.
The ongoing detention of these activists and lawyers was therefore now unlawful under both international and Chinese law.
In the open letter – whose signatories include the mother of Wang Yu and the wives of Li Heping and Wang Quanzhang – relatives voice concerns over the treatment their loved ones might be receiving.
“Over the years, Chinese police are known to the world for extracting confessions through torture in the investigation stage,” they write. “We have little faith that the law will protect the safety of our loved ones when the authorities would not even acknowledge their whereabouts.”
Cai Ying, a lawyer for Li Heping who has been unsuccessfully searching for his client since 16 July, said police were still refusing him information about the missing attorney’s whereabouts.
“The families were forced to publish that open letter – they have no other channel for getting their voice heard,” Cai said. “It really is an act of helplessness.”
In a statement marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said: “Victims of enforced disappearances are deprived of their liberty, kept in secret detention and seldom released. Often their fate remains unknown; they are frequently tortured and in constant fear of being killed.”
Ban, who will visit Beijing this week to watch a massive military parade commemorating the end of the second world war, added: “Even if they are eventually set free, the physical and psychological scars stay with them for the rest of their lives. The victims’ families and loved ones also suffer immense anguish.”