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UN experts gravely concerned by enforced disappearance of three human rights lawyers

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Bangkok--23 Mar--OHCHR-Bangkok
UN human rights experts* expressed their grave concern about the welfare of three human rights lawyers who were forcibly disappeared by the Chinese authorities shortly after their arrest in December 2019.

Three Chinese human rights lawyers, Mr. Ding Jiaxi, Mr. Zhang Zhongshun and Mr. Dai Zhenya, have been held by authorities in a form of detention called Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL) since they were arrested for attending an informal weekend gathering in the city of Xiamen. At the gathering, they   discussed the situation of civil society and politics in China with other lawyers and activists.

“We see parallels between this recent crackdown and previous attempts to silence dissenting voices in China. Nine other human rights defenders who attended the event have also been summoned for questioning or detained in what has been a cross-provincial operation led by a special taskforce of Yantai City police,” the UN experts said.

“It has also unfortunately become common practice for Chinese authorities to provide limited or conflicting information on the victims and the charges they face. The families are often kept in the dark about the well-being of their loved ones.”

The experts expressed their alarm at the ongoing use of RSDL in China, despite having for many years reiterated the position that RSDL is not compatible with international human rights law. As a form of enforced disappearance, RSDL allows authorities to circumvent ordinary processes provided for by the criminal law, and detain individuals in an undisclosed location for up to six months, without trial or access to a lawyer. This puts individuals at heightened risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

“While certain provisions in international law allow exceptional measures to be taken for the protection of public order or national security, enforced disappearance is a grave and flagrant violation of human rights and is unacceptable in all circumstances,” the experts said. “We are dismayed that national security provisions are used to target human rights defenders who meet peacefully and exercise their right to free speech - even if such speech is critical of the State.”

The experts feared that the arrest and detention of Mr. Ding, Mr. Dai and Mr. Zhang could have a chilling effect on the defence of human rights in China.

“When the authorities in any country systemically charge human rights defenders with 'subversion of state power’ or other terror-related charges without clearly communicating the factual basis for such accusations, we worry that these defenders are just being persecuted for the exercise of their most basic human rights,” the UN experts concluded.

The experts are in a dialogue with Chinese authorities on this issue and will continue to closely monitor the situation.

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