China: End restrictions on free media and lawyers | Joint oral statement at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Full PDF (ENG)

Link to full oral statement at Chapter 65 at 02:02:28

Statement at 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression

Speaker: Salma El Hosseiny, International Service for Human Rights

Thank you, Madame President.

ISHR delivers this statement on behalf of a group of NGOs dedicated to safeguarding lawyers and upholding free media.

Mr Special Rapporteur, thank you for your clear and unequivocal work to insist that freedom of expression rights are critical to ‘empowering individuals and communities, human development and democratic self-governance’ – and, more recently, to meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the elements of your report focuses on threats to journalism, including ‘disabling independent journalists’ and failing to release journalists subject to arbitrary and unlawful detention and, in times of pandemic, serious health risks. Both of these are deeply relevant to the work of human rights advocates and citizen journalists in China, such as Chen Qiushi and Huang Qi. You also specifically cite the Chinese government’s moves to silence and expel foreign journalists, such as reporters from The New York Times.

Your report makes clear the need for continuous monitoring and assessment of restrictions on free expression against benchmarks of legality, necessity and proportionality. This *would be* a role for Chinese lawyers, but they, too, have been silenced.

This [Last] week marked five years since the beginning of the so-called ‘709 crackdown’, a sweeping dragnet which targeted more than 300 lawyers and legal activists. Although most have been released – including Wang Quanzhang, who rejoined his family in April 2020 after being held some four years incommunicado – the repression continues. Lawyer Yu Wensheng was convicted in a secret trial in 2019 to four years’ prison – news his wife received last month, nearly a year later.

Rather than law enforcement stings, the Chinese authorities have evolved to use more subtle tactics to undermine the legal profession. These include sanctioning online and private speech by lawyers with disbarment and revocation of their licenses; harassment of family members and colleagues for publicly calling for justice; and restricting access to critical information held by law enforcement, to family and legal counsel.

They also stigmatize lawyers in media – that is, state-run media – outlets, calling them ‘opponents of China’, ‘radical activists’ and ‘black sheep’ and airing coerced confessions which discredit this important human rights work.

Mr Special Rapporteur, in light of limits to open and independent media in China, and targeting of lawyers who may seek to defend those criminalized for their speech, what steps would you recommend the international community, and specifically this Council, take to obtain credible, actionable information on the human rights situation in China, including Uyghur and Tibetan regions and Hong Kong?