Chinese Gov't Cracks Down on Human Rights Attorneys

( [email protected] ) Jun 17, 2009 02:37 PM EDT

The Chinese government is cracking down on at least 21 other lawyers even as one prominent human rights attorney remains missing after more than 130 days, a persecution watchdog reports.

U.S.-based ChinaAid Association has been contacted by three Chinese lawyers requesting help amid the crackdown.

"These human rights lawyers should be rewarded for their brave active efforts in promoting rule of law and advancing citizens' civil and human rights according to both the international standard and China's own Constitution,” said Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, in a statement Monday. "Ironically, the rights of the rights attorneys are now in jeopardy."

According to ChinaAid, the Chinese government is canceling or refusing to renew the licenses of at least 21 attorneys who have challenged the government's abuse of citizens and worked to defend religious freedom.

One lawyer told ChinaAid, a nonprofit Christian organization, that the government is forcing the human rights lawyers to "fight to survive to earn a living."

The nonprofit has received reports of abuse and kidnappings committed by Chinese officials. The most prominent abduction involves Gao Zhisheng, who had reported to the U.S. Congress about widespread human rights abuses in China, including the persecution of house church Christians.

Gao, an outspoken Christian human rights attorney, was imprisoned in 2007 following his open letter to Congress. He was then kidnapped and held for over 50 days during which he endured extreme forms of torture.

The human rights lawyer was last seen on Feb. 4.

Last month, after being pressured by U.S. senators and rights groups, Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong issued a letter stating that Gao received a three-year sentence, with five years probation, and one-year deprivation of political rights on Dec. 26, 2006 for violation of the Criminal Law. The ambassador added, "He is currently serving probation" and "the public security authority has not taken any mandatory measure against him."

But Fu, whose nonprofit organization monitors persecution in China, called the ambassador's statement "a blatant attempt to cover up the truth of Gao’s kidnapping."

The Chinese government has also failed to release Gao's whereabouts or condition.

Rights groups believe that Gao is likely being tortured again as he is presently being held by the Chinese authorities.