China detains prominent human rights lawyer

Chinese human rights group Gongmeng announced July 30 that its co-founder, prominent attorney Xu Zhiyong, was arrested at his home the previous morning and has not been heard from since. The group has also been unable to reach a second staff member, Zhuang Lu. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over the detentions of Xu and Zhuang, calling for their immediate release. China’s recent measures against human rights lawyers are viewed by many as an attempt to quash dissidence as the 60th anniversary of Communist rule approaches in October.

Zhiyong’s arrest comes less than two weeks after Chinese officials from Beijing’s Civil Affairs Bureau shut down Gongmeng’s legal research center. Officials confiscated computers and other equipment, telling staff that the center was not properly registered. A lawyer for Gongmeng said that the research center was part of Gongmeng, which is properly registered. A statement from Gongmeng called the Civil Affairs Bureau’s actions “illegal.” Gongmeng had recently gained notoriety by representing the families of children who were sickened by tainted milk. Earlier this month, the Chinese government suspended the licenses of 53 lawyers in Beijing, including prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, for failing to pass an assessment or failing to register. (Jurist, July 30)

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  1. China executes two in tainted milk scandal
    China announced Nov. 24 that two people had been executed for their roles in last year’s melamine tainted milk scandal, in which almost 300,000 children were sickened and at least six were killed. The two men, Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping, were found responsible for selling at least three million pounds of the tainted milk powder, and were executed for the crimes of endangering public safety by dangerous means and for producing and selling toxic food. The men were originally sentenced to death in January, but appealed their sentences. The Hebei Provincial Higher People’s Court upheld the convictions in March. To date a total of 21 people have been tried and sentenced for their involvement in the milk scandal. Of the 21, two were sentenced to death, one received a suspended death sentence, three were jailed for life, with the other 15 imprisoned for terms ranging from two to 15 years. Among those sentenced to life imprisonment is the former chairwoman for the Chinese dairy company at the heart of the scandal, who has since appealed.

    In January, lawyers for the families of 213 Chinese children sickened or killed by melamine-contaminated milk petitioned the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest court, to hear a class action lawsuit against 22 dairy companies involved in the contamination. The petition seeks more than $5 million in compensation from the companies, including individual amounts more than double those provided for in a government-sanctioned payout plan. (Jurist, Nov. 24)