NEW YORK—A string of disappearances and arrests of over 100 human rights lawyers in China in the past week is the boldest move yet in Beijing’s sprawling campaign to destroy China’s human rights movement, PEN American Center said today.

On Friday, authorities in Beijing detained Li Heping, one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers who represents activists like Chen Guangcheng, after police entered and searched his house, seizing his computers and documents. Li is one of 106 lawyers, legal staff, and human rights defenders to be detained, questioned, or reported missing over the weekend, according to The Guardian. Among the worst hit is Fengrui, a law firm known for its human rights lawyers, from which six attorneys have been criminally detained since July 9.

The arrests and disappearances of these lawyers appear to be part of a large-scale, well-coordinated effort by President Xi Jinping’s government to crush the human rights movement in China and intimidate lawyers and other professionals who offer help to Chinese dissidents and human rights defenders. Coming amid a steep sell-off in the Chinese markets, the crackdown is a disturbing signal that as the Chinese economy slows down, rights advocates may pay the price at the hands of a government fearful that economic downturn may sow unrest.

“First they came after the dissidents and now, increasingly, the Chinese government is coming after the lawyers and, in some cases, the lawyers’ lawyers. We are witnessing a troubling trend of rippling accusations and persecution of ever-widening circles of those who stand in support and defense of those who dissent,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center.

Also among those questioned this weekend, reports The South China Morning Post, is Li Fangping, attorney for imprisoned Uyghur academic Ilham Tohti. Winner of the 2014 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, Tohti is currently serving a life sentence after a show trial last September on trumped up charges of separatism.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director: snossel@pen.org, (646) 779.4811
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: sedkins@pen.org, (646) 779.4830