Human Rights Lawyers in China Face Growing Threats


A new report conducted and released by Amnesty International announced that China has tightened its crackdown on human-rights activists, particularly lawyers.

In the report, it said that there has been a disregard of national laws, citing at least four cases this year where lawyers were threated by violence from authorities.

Lawyer Yan Yiming was called to his law firm’s conference room in Shanghai in order to relay some advice to three young men. Instead, when he turned around to write on the whiteboard, he was attacked with a hammer and iron bars.

During the April attack, Yan thought: “I’ve been a rights defender for 10 years, and many different people have threatened me many different times. Now, finally, those threats had become a reality.”

Yan was left with a broken right shoulder and a fractured left shoulder. Within a week the police detained the four people in connection with the attack. Yan is unsure of what the motive was for his attack, or who was behind it. He realizes that he has made various enemies throughout the years because of his work in environmental protection, defending shareholders and pushing for government transparency. He said he was aware of the risks.

“China is changing from a society ruled by men to one ruled by laws, but we’re not even halfway yet. Rule of man is much stronger. Eight of the top 10 whistleblowers have been arrested. Those who fight corruption get caught,” he says.

Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law at New York University, says that the rule of law in China has suffered a setback following changes in the leadership of the Supreme People’s Court.

“For 10 years, there was a movement to improve the professionalism of judges, to give them more scope to try to make independent decisions more frequently. Under the new leadership for the last year or more, that line seems to have been reversed. This is a shift in emphasis,” Cohen says.

The new Supreme Court president, Wang Shengjun, introduced a doctrine that places the first party, then the people, and lastly, the law, as an order of importance. This is known at the Three Supremes, and leaves the legal system open to abuse.

Corrupt officials could use the excuse of defending the interests of the party or the people to interfere to subvert the intent of the law. Cohen believes it sends a clear message from the top leadership.

“They don’t want autonomous judges or courts, because you can’t guarantee the will of the party will be implemented if judges aren’t listening to the party but following the law,” he says.


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