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Statement on the third anniversary of the “709 lawyers”

Today marks the third anniversary of the disappearance of hundreds of human rights defenders, lawyers, and activists collectively known as the “709 lawyers,” after the date the crackdown began (July 9, or 7/09, 2015).  Although some of the individuals detained three years ago have now been released without charge, others have been tried and sentenced.  In many cases, contrary to China’s own Criminal Procedure Law, individuals were not granted access to a lawyer of their own choice, nor were their families permitted to attend the trails.  Perhaps most troubling is the case of Wang Quanzhang, a lawyer who disappeared three years ago.  Wang has not had access to lawyers of his choosing, nor to his family, for the entirety of this time.

Canada calls on China to immediately release all human rights defenders who have been sentenced or unjustly detained for peacefully exercising their legal rights.  We call on China to guarantee the independence of the legal profession to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of intimidation, harassment, or interference, in accordance with international human rights standards, and to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and the Beijing Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.

Canada recognizes the key role played by human rights defenders such as the 709 lawyers in promoting human rights and strengthening the rule of law, in particular this year, which will see the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. We strongly believe that freedom of opinion and expression remains a cornerstone of secure and prosperous societies, and essential to the realisation of individuals’ human rights.

While we continue to witness improvements in some economic and social rights in China, including significant improvements in the Chinese people’s standard of living and in access to services such as health and education, we remain extremely concerned about China’s ongoing denial to its citizens of other fundamental human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Chinese authorities have made commitments to promote law-based governance and the creation of a modern and prosperous society.  The respect and promotion of the full range of human rights is not only consistent with these aims, but in our view necessary for their full achievement.  As it has in the past, a core part of Canada’s engagement here will continue to include working with China to promote all of the human rights under the Universal Declaration.


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