A prominent Chinese lawyer has made a complaint to Beijing's mayoral hotline about a nationwide police operation targeting the country's human rights lawyers beginning on July 9, 2015, likening it to the political violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Liu Xiaoyuan, a partner at the now-shuttered Fengrui law firm that was the first target of police raids and detentions, made the complaint on Wednesday, saying that he and other lawyers had lost their business licenses as a result.
Liu said the crackdown, which was to target more than 300 lawyers, law firm staff and associated rights activists in the months to come for detention, professional sanctions, house arrest and travel bans, including for family members, had had a devastating impact on China's legal profession.
"These were tactics that were very similar to the campaigns of the Cultural Revolution," Liu told RFA. "But we are not in the Cultural Revolution any more, so they shouldn't be using such methods."
"[It's because] everyone just does what their bosses tell them, so we have the rule of personalities instead of the rule of law," he said.
Liu warned that allowing a legal professional to do his job is a crucial part of the rule of law, and of human rights protection.
Meanwhile, there are no signs that government pressure on lawyers is easing.
Fellow rights lawyer Chen Jiangang said on Wednesday that the Beijing government judicial affairs bureau and its Chaoyang district sub-bureau would be running inspections of law firms in Beijing starting on Thursday.
Chen hit out at government judicial affairs officials at every level, for colluding in a continuing attack on lawyers.
"They have acted as accomplices in the July 2015 crackdown from the outset," Chen told RFA. "All of the lawyers who had agreed to act as lawyers or defense attorneys for the detained lawyers have since been forced to withdraw [amid huge official pressure]."
"In China, there is a single, unified source of power. This is a highly politicized police state," he said.
"That's why we saw the state prosecution departments, the judiciary and even the state security police all colluding to target lawyers in the July 2015 crackdown," Chen said.
Investigations by RFA revealed that while Beijing Fengrui is still listed as a law firm on the official website of the Beijing judicial affairs bureau, the firm's former premises in the capital are now occupied by a commercial company.
And Fengrui cases continue to be cited in the education and information section of the bureau's website.
However, an official who answered the phone at the bureau declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.
The complaints come amid reports that eleven governments have jointly urged the ruling Chinese Communist Party to investigate reports of torture of detained rights lawyers, and to end a controversial system of secret detention for up to six months in cases allegedly involving "national security."
The Feb. 27 letter, reported in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, was addressed to China's police chief Guo Shengkun and signed by diplomats from Australia, Canada, Japan and Switzerland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The letter indicated "growing concern over recent claims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in cases concerning detained human rights lawyers and other human rights defenders."
It also called on Beijing to end the recently legalized practice of "resident surveillance in a designated location," which it said amounts to "incommunicado detention in secret places, putting detainees at a high risk of torture or ill-treatment," according to the Globe and Mail.
It calls on the government to end the practice and repeal the relevant legislation.
"Detaining people without any contact with the outside world for long periods of time is contrary to China’s international human rights obligations," the paper quoted the letter as saying.
It also called for investigation of "credible" claims that lawyers Xie Yang, Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang and Li Chunfu and activist Wu Gan have been tortured in detention.
Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon said he was very disappointed that the United States hadn't signed the letter.
Speaking as China's official media hailed the "cooperation" signaled by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a brief trip to Beijing last weekend, Poon said something has changed in the international community when it comes to standing up for human rights.
"The United States is one of those countries that would previously have taken part in such calls [for rights protections]," Poon said. "The fact that we didn't see U.S. participation in this is a bit disappointing."
"Amnesty International calls on all countries to bring up issues with human rights violations in other countries," he said. "This is their responsibility and their duty, not from a diplomatic point of view, but from a human rights point of view."
"It is best if such issues can be aired in public," he added.
Earlier this month, the head of China's Supreme People's Court, Zhou Qiang, hailed the jailing of former Fengrui boss Zhou Shifeng and others as a notable success during his annual work report to the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing.
Zhou Shifeng and others had "attacked the socialist system" and "incited confrontations," the Global Times newspaper reported at the time.
Last week, fellow rights lawyer Xia Jun also made comparisons with the legal crackdown and the Cultural Revolution.
"It's like back in the Cultural Revolution when the army was in charge of politics, and what they said, went," Xia said. "Neither the courts, the prosecutors or the police upheld the law or due process, and they would just kill people at will."
He said it took years to undo all of the miscarriages of justice committed by kangaroo courts during the years of political turmoil and violence.
"Zhou Qiang spoke against the rule of law because he wants a promotion," Xia said.
Reported by Ng Yik-tung, Sing Man and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by CK for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.