Chinese police have detained at least five human rights lawyers in Beijing, the New York Times reported.
The lawyers have been accused of running a criminal syndicate to smear the Communist Party and “create social chaos” through their litigation, the newspaper said, citing state-run media reports.
On Thursday and Friday, nearly 60 other lawyers and activists had also been detained or went out of contact, a sign that they may have been detained, the newspaper said, citing the Chinese Human Rights Defenders.
Amnesty International said the crackdown targeted lawyers across the country including in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.
“Their objective was to win fame and profit and to create social chaos,” according to a report carried by People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency.
“These no-holds-barred lawyers staged open defiance inside the courtroom and on the internet, and behind the scenes instructed their key troublemakers to organize petitioners,” the report said.
“Zhou Shifeng and the others are suspected of other serious crimes and the case is still under investigation,” it added.
According to experts and rights advocates cited by the New York Times, the latest detentions appear to be an aggressive attempt to discredit all rights lawyers and activists as threats to social order.
“It reflects the Xi Jinping approach — bold and neo-totalitarian — but then it also reflects the strength of the movement,” Eva Pils, a law scholar at Kings College London, was quoted as saying. “They see a need to delegitimize it, to officially declare the human rights lawyers enemies of the state.”
Other suspects under criminal detention for further investigation included Wang Yu, Liu Sixin, Wang Quanzhang and Huang Liqun, all lawyers working along with Zhou at the Fengrui Law Firm, the Times said. Wang Yu’s husband, Bao Longjun, was also detained.
Police earlier arrested Zhai Yanmin and Wu Gan, two activists who advised aggrieved citizens and helped publicize their demands.
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