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LCA calls for detained lawyers’ release

user iconLara Bullock 14 July 2016 NewLaw
Stuart Clark

One year on from the ‘709 crackdown’, the Law Council of Australia has urged the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to increase its efforts to convince the Chinese government to release detained lawyers.

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) and the International Bar Association continue to be concerned with China’s respect for the rule of law and a rules-based international order.

Since the 709 crackdown commenced on 9 July 2015, at least 319 lawyers, law firm staff, activists and their family members have been targeted.

The LCA has continued to urge the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to negotiate with the Chinese government to release the 23 lawyers and activists still in detention, end the torture and mistreatment of those detained, remove the travel bans against 39 people and stop the harassment of the families of lawyers.

“The 709 crackdown is a clear violation of human rights and the Law Council of Australia will continue to be active in international efforts to redress the situation,” said Stuart Clark AM, president of the LCA.

“The scale of this crackdown is larger than any other targeting the legal profession in China in recent years. Consistent with the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, it is vital for every nation to have an independent legal profession which can practise without fear of reprisal.”

Mr Clark emphasised that since China is Australia’s top bilateral trading partner, the crackdown raised concerns that sudden and arbitrary retribution exists for lawyers practising in China.

“Adherence to a rules-based international order is essential for retaining confidence in the service sector, which in turn sustains robust trade relations,” he said.

“Attacking lawyers, regardless of what field they practise in, creates uncertainty and threatens those relationships.”

The LCA has said it appreciates the Australian government’s advocacy to date, in particular a joint statement with 11 other countries at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council on 10 March 2016, which expressed concerns about China’s deteriorating human rights record, with reference to the arrests and detention of lawyers.

The LCA has encouraged further multilateral efforts and called for a joint statement by like-minded governments condemning the attacks on the legal profession in China and requesting the release of those still detained.

“Both the Australian legal profession and the Australian community as a whole have an interest in ensuring that the Chinese legal system is robust, fair and impartial,” Mr Clark said.

In an interview with Lawyers Weekly earlier this year, Mr Clark said Australia’s relationship with China is a delicate one, but that issues must be raised in order to bring about change.

The LCA also raised concerns over the proposed Australia-China Extradition Treaty earlier this year.