BEIJING (AP) — Overseas bar associations and lawyers' groups issued an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday criticizing China's detention of lawyers and activists exactly one year after the crackdown was launched. The letter adds to international expressions of concern over the unprecedented sweep.
The letter called on Xi to release all lawyers and others it said were unlawfully detained, and ensure that the detainees can pick the lawyers who represent them and are provided medical treatment and visitation rights.
Saturday marked the first anniversary of a crackdown in China on human rights lawyers and activists in which more than 200 were detained or questioned. Around two dozen are still detained, including several who could face life imprisonment after being charged with subverting state power.
The open letter said the lawyers' groups sought to improve the situation for Chinese lawyers and human rights defenders.
"It is in this light that we wish to remind you of your continuous pledges, Mr. President, to uphold the rule of law in China," the letter said.
The letter was signed by more than a dozen groups, including the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, the Amsterdam Bar Association, the Australian branch of the International Association of People's Lawyers and the International Commission of Jurists. It was posted on the Facebook page of the Hong Kong group.
Separately, the American Bar Association, or ABA, said in a statement that it has named a Chinese human rights lawyer, Wang Yu, recipient of a newly created "ABA International Human Rights Award."
The ABA said Wang, who is among the lawyers and activists currently held in the crackdown, was being honored for "her dedication to human rights, justice and the rule of law in China." The lawyers' association had come under pressure in the past year from critics for not being as strident as other lawyers' groups in its criticism of the crackdown.
The ministries of justice and public security did not immediately respond to faxed requests for comment.
State media have accused the lawyers and activists of disrupting public order. Rights groups say the lawyers are being targeted for waging social media campaigns and organizing protests outside courthouses to draw attention to cases involving hot-button social issues.
On Friday, the German Embassy in China issued a statement on its website saying "the situation of the persons affected by the crackdown remains an issue of grave concern."
It reissued an earlier European Union statement calling for China to act with greater transparency and observe due process in handling these cases. It said that the embassy's frequent attempts to "gain clarity on these issues" through diplomatic channels have remained unanswered.
Earlier in the week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on one of his last visits to Beijing as U.N. leader told China's leaders that a flourishing civil society and free media are key to the country's development.