The European Union urged China to free dozens of activists during a human rights meeting in Beijing this week, three years after a crackdown that jailed scores of lawyers and activists.
The EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which ended on Tuesday, came at a sensitive time for China, as families and activists marked the detention of hundreds of people in what has become known as the 709 incident on July 9, 2015.
Since taking office in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards dissent, tightened the party’s grip over the legal profession and overseen the jailing of dozens of rights activists.
The EU delegation said late on Tuesday it raised nearly 30 cases with their Chinese counterparts, from Muslim minority Uygurs “detained in violation of their fundamental human rights” to Tibetan religious figures jailed for speaking out.
Chinese officials tend to bristle at the mention of individual cases and prefer to discuss only the principles of human rights issues, Beijing-based Western diplomats say.
Among those singled out by the EU were Gui Minhai, a Swedish national and Hong Kong-based bookseller who was abducted while on holiday in Thailand in 2015, and Wang Quanzhang, a rights lawyer held incommunicado for three years.
“The EU also stated its expectation that all detained individuals be allowed to be represented by a lawyer of their choosing … and have allegations of their torture and mistreatment promptly investigated,” the EU statement said.
China rejects foreign criticism of its human rights record and points to its successes in pulling millions of people out of poverty as proof of human rights progress in China.
China asked the EU to view China’s rights achievements objectively and raised the issues of immigrant protection and sexual discrimination in the EU, China’s foreign ministry said.
Yu Wensheng, a rights lawyer who defended colleagues arrested in the crackdown, was also on the EU’s list.
Yu was stripped of his legal license and arrested on charges of subversion in January, after he circulated a letter calling for the revision of China’s constitution.
“They keep extending the detention period and I’m really worried that they will just keep on extending it without reason,” said Yu’s wife, Xu Yan, who has been advocating on behalf of her husband.
“It’s inhumane the way that they keep us in the dark,” she said.