Rights groups call on Laos to release lawyer held after fleeing China

Sixty-eight organisations sign letter amid fears Lu Siwei could be deported at request of Chinese authorities

Sixty-eight human rights groups have signed an open letter calling on the Laos government to release Lu Siwei, a Chinese former human rights lawyer detained by Laotian police near Vientiane last week.

Lu was seized by police on Friday as he attempted to board a train from Laos to Thailand, where he planned to catch a flight to the US to join his wife and daughter. Nearly one week later, he appears to still be held in Laotian immigration detention, despite reportedly being told that he would be deported to China.

Peter Dahlin, the director of Safeguard Defenders, a human rights group and one of the letter’s signatories, said: “The prolonged period of Lu being held at the immigration department is a clear sign the [Laotian] government is unsure of how to proceed. A deportation like this would otherwise have been completed rather fast, based on prior cases.”

As a rights lawyer in China, Lu had a history of taking on sensitive cases. He defended some of the people arrested in the “709 crackdown” on activists and rights lawyers in 2015 – an event so called because of date on which the crackdown was launched, 9 July.

More recently, in 2020 he was hired to defend one of the 12 Hong Kong youth activists who had been intercepted by Chinese authorities while trying to flee from Hong Kong to Taiwan by boat. After being repeatedly denied access to his client, he was stripped of his licence in 2021. Later that year he was prevented from travelling to the US to take up a fellowship, having been placed under an exit ban.

Lu managed to get to Laos this year. Laos, like many south-east Asian countries, has a history of cooperating with China to detain people wanted by the authorities.

Yang Zewei, an exiled dissident who campaigned against internet censorship in China, disappeared from his home in Vientiane in June. According to Safeguard Defenders, neighbours saw him being taken away by Laotian and Chinese police officers. Yang has not been seen since, but a police officer in his home town in China’s Hunan province confirmed to a friend of Yang’s that his case was being handled by a special taskforce.

Lu is thought to still be in detention in Laos. The open letter’s signatories, which include Amnesty International and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said: “We are gravely concerned that [Lu] is at serious risk of forced repatriation to China where he faces the high likelihood of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Human rights lawyers in China operate in an increasingly challenging environment, with many being charged with criminal offences or stripped of their licences in retaliation for taking on cases the government deems sensitive. On 18 July, Lawyers for Lawyers, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and the 29 Principles, three lawyers’ rights groups, submitted evidence to the UN about the “ongoing and systematic criminal prosecution of lawyers in China”.

On Wednesday, a small group of protesters gathered outside the Laotian embassy in Washington DC to call for Lu’s release and deliver the letter to the Laotian authorities. Vientiane has not responded to the demands.

Calls to the Chinese embassy in Laos, China’s foreign ministry, and Laos’s foreign ministry went unanswered.

In April 2020, Lu posted a photo on Instagram of a letter from fellow human rights lawyer Chen Jiahong, firing Lu as his lawyer. Many believed Chen was pressured into the decision. The “human rights situation is getting worse and worse”, Lu wrote. “Disgraceful!”


Amy Hawkins Senior China correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China 'bars lawyer from going home' after prison release
Wang Quanzhang’s wife fears Covid-19 may be used as pretext to keep him under house arrest

Guardian reporter in Hong Kong

19, Apr, 2020 @9:54 AM

Article image
Rights groups call for inquiries into Uyghur abuses in China after damning UN report
Governments urged to launch formal investigations after UN findings on treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang

Helen Davidson in Taipei and Julian Borger in Washington

01, Sep, 2022 @3:50 PM

Article image
China puts human rights activists on trial
Prominent rights lawyer filmed denouncing campaigners and blaming ‘foreign forces’ for law firm’s activities

Stuart Leavenworth in Beijing

02, Aug, 2016 @8:18 AM

Article image
'Emaciated, unrecognisable': China releases human rights lawyer from custody
Li Heping was held in secret for two years and tried in a court but is now back with his family

Tom Phillips in Beijing

10, May, 2017 @5:08 AM

Article image
Wang Quanzhang: China sentences human rights lawyer to four years in prison
Lawyer who defended activists, victims of land seizures, and members of Falun Gong found guilty of ‘subversion of state power’

Lily Kuo in Beijing

28, Jan, 2019 @3:49 AM

Death penalty reprieve for pregnant Briton held in Laos
Trial of Oraobator, 20, held in Laos on drug trafficking charges, has been delayed so an 'appropriate lawyer' can be appointed

Duncan Campbell

05, May, 2009 @9:49 PM

Article image
Beijing 2022: 180 human rights groups call for Winter Olympics boycott
More than 180 organisations want countries to skip event as a way of demonstrating their opposition to China’s rights record

Helen Davidson in Taipei

04, Feb, 2021 @5:32 AM

Article image
UN tells China to release human rights activists and pay them compensation
Exclusive Document given to the Guardian rejects Chinese government claims that activists voluntarily confessed to their crimes at trials

Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

20, Oct, 2017 @3:14 AM

Article image
US urges China to let lawyer return home after 'unjust detention'
Wang Quanzhang has been barred from reuniting with his family after serving nearly five years in prison for ‘subversion’

Helen Davidson and Guardian reporter

21, Apr, 2020 @7:35 AM

Article image
China to release human rights worker Zhao Wei on bail after a year of detention
Twenty-four-year-old legal assistant was taken away as part of nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers

Tom Phillips in Beijing

07, Jul, 2016 @8:04 AM