As the United Nations urged Beijing to release prominent detained rights lawyers, authorities in China's southwestern region of Guangxi raided a legal consultancy set up by attorneys struck off by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, RFA has learned.
Human rights experts at the U.N. currently reviewing Beijing's rights record found that "the deprivation of liberty of Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong and Li Yuhan, being in contravention of articles 9, 10, 11 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is arbitrary."
"The appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Wang, Mr. Jiang and Ms. Li immediately and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law," the working group on human rights said in a draft statement issued on Wednesday.
It called on the Chinese government to investigate their detention and to take "appropriate measures against those responsible," and said it had referred their cases to the U.N.'s Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
International rights groups have repeatedly called on China to release all human rights lawyers who remain behind bars, after more than 300 lawyers, law firm employees and activists were detained and questioned in the crackdown.
While many were released from immediate detention, some lost their license to practice, while others found themselves and loved ones subjected to round-the-clock police surveillance and travel bans.
Human rights lawyers, who frequently represent vulnerable clients or cases deemed politically sensitive by the authorities, continue to be targeted under the administration of President Xi Jinping.
Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for the past three years on subversion charges, while rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on subversion charges in November 2017. His family say Jiang has been force-fed unidentified medication and now suffers from memory loss.
Meanwhile, concerns are growing over the health of detained Chinese rights lawyer Li Yuhan, who is suffering from multiple health problems amid a current heat-wave after months of pretrial detention in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
But as the U.N. Human Rights Council carried out its four-yearly review into China's rights record, authorities in the southwestern region of Guangxi were raiding the premises of a legal consultancy set up by rights lawyers deprived by the government of their licenses in a nationwide crackdown targeted hundreds of lawyers and activists starting in July 2015.
Police raided the China Lawyers' Club in the regional capital Nanning, which was set up on Sept. 29 to find employment and income for dozens of experienced litigators who are no longer earning money in the wake of the crackdown.
The club is a legal services company, and signs lawyers in a manner similar to the way sports teams sign big stars, its founders said at the time.
"Five police officers came by yesterday morning along with the head and vice-head of the local civil affairs bureau and more than a dozen neighborhood committee officials, and said that we couldn't hang our sign up," founder member Tan Yongpei told RFA on Wednesday. "They said we hadn't registered with the authorities."
"They went over the whole property ... taking photos and videos of everything, and collecting evidence and issued a verbal warning that our sign was illegal," Tan said. "I have already conceded to their demands and covered it up."
"Then, this morning, the state security police came by for a chat, trying to find out my view, so I told them that I wouldn't be backing down on substantive issues, and that I had a right to display the sign," he said.
A police officer who answered the phone at the Tangshan police station near the club's premises declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.
"I wasn't on duty yesterday, so I don't know about this," the officer said.
Tan said he believes the raid was linked to the club's involvement in a campaign to support Chen Keyun, whose license to practice law was recently canceled by his local justice bureau.
"I wrote a letter using the club's name in support of Chen Keyun, so the police probably sent people round here to cause trouble when they saw that," he said.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.