Beijing: Lawyers who defend human rights activists and dissidents targeted by China's communist government have increasingly themselves become subject to political prosecutions, violence and other means of suppression, according to a report released on Thursday.
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of groups working within and outside China, identified six occasions last year that lawyers were beaten by plaintiffs, police officers or assailants likely hired by authorities.
In more than a dozen cases, the report found, detainees were pressured to fire their own lawyers and accept government-supplied attorneys.
"The government is trying to give this impression that it's abiding by the rule of law," said Frances Eve, a researcher for the network. "In fact, it's just legalizing repressive measures."
Under President Xi Jinping, China has widely suppressed independent organizations and dissenters, as well as lawyers defending people caught in its crackdown. The report says 22 people have been convicted since 2014 of subversion or other crimes against state security, including 16 last year alone.
Dozens of lawyers have been questioned or detained in an ongoing campaign against dissident lawyers known as the 709 crackdown launched in July 2015.
Wang Quanzhang, who defended members of the Falun Gong meditation sect banned by China, was charged with subversion of state power in January 2016 after previously being beaten and detained. His wife, Li Wenzu, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Wang is now under indictment and being held without access to family or lawyers.
"We have to wait until the sentencing to see him in jail," she said.
Four people associated with Wang's law firm, Fengrui, were convicted in August of charges that they incited protests and took funding from foreign groups.
China last year also passed a law tightening controls over foreign non-governmental organizations by subjecting them to close police supervision, a move critics called a new attempt by authorities to clamp down on perceived threats to the ruling Communist Party's control.