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US Concerned by Harassment of Lawyers in China

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski (VOA photo - N. Ching).

A senior U.S. official said he “did not see any progress” on the worrying trend of harassment that Chinese human rights lawyers face, referring to mass detentions and crackdowns against rights defenders since July.

Speaking with VOA this week, Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said he raised U.S. concerns in Beijing during the just concluded 7th U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue.

“I did not see any progress on this front [treatment of rights lawyers], I think it’s still good we are able to have an in-depth conversation with the Chinese government,” he said.

The annual dialogue was one of the mechanisms reached under U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue to bring together government and non-government experts from both countries to discuss legal issues of mutual concern.

One of the high-profile cases raised by the U.S. was the continuing imprisonment of Wang Yu, a 44-year-old female lawyer who took on cases including Ilham Tohti, a prominent Uighur scholar who was sentenced to life in prison.

Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were among the first of hundreds taken away in a sweeping crackdown against rights lawyers this summer.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement calling on its American counterparts to view China’s progress objectively and with “full respect to China’s judicial sovereignty”.

China defended its achievements in rule of law, citing legislation to deepen judicial reforms and to strengthen human rights protection.

However, Malinowski said he saw “a very big contradiction between the very strong emphasis on the rule of law that [Chinese President] Xi Jinping projected to his people and to the world since the Fourth Plenum in particular, and this attack on the legal professionals.”

In September, Wang Yu was featured as the first among twenty female political prisoners that the State Department had recognized and called for release in its Campaign of Free the 20 Women Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Concern.