The International Bar Association has denounced the abuse of human rights lawyers in China, citing torture, imprisonment, surveillance and harassment.

In a joint letter, the IBA’s Human Rights Institute states that lawyers are being ‘forcefully “disappeared”’, incarcerated and tortured by Chinese authorities. It added that lawyers who are freed from prison are often monitored, deprived of the right to vote and the right to travel abroad. Their families are also mistreated.

The letter, sent to Beijing's Ministry of Justice and the All China Lawyers Association, was signed by more than 20 international human rights organisations. It said: ‘Over the past 40 years, China has repeatedly promised to reform the Chinese legal system. While there has been much modernisation on mechanisms pertaining to civil and commercial law, the current legal system has yet to meet the minimum standards of international human rights law; in fact, during this period, China’s human rights record has significantly deteriorated.’

The letter referred to the 2015 ‘709 crackdown’, during which lawyers were targeted, questioned and detained by state security agents. Some victims of the crackdown are believed to still be in prison.

The IBA urges China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to restore the freedom of all lawyers that have been imprisoned or detained for political reasons. It also told China to ban all forms of torture in detention and incarceration.

The Global Lawyers Forum, hosted by the All China Lawyers Association, was held earlier this week and was meant to be an opportunity for China to review its legal and judicial system. Some 600 international guests were invited and the chair of the Bar Council, Richard Atkins QC, attended the event.