Beijing: China's state media today accused more than two dozen human rights lawyers rounded up in recent days of being troublemakers intent on illegal activism, as foreign governments and rights groups expressed growing concern over the crackdown.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International said 25 human rights lawyers and civil activists have been detained or have disappeared since last Thursday. Another 123 people mostly lawyers and activists have been warned not to speak out or act on behalf of those detained, it said. Many of those warned were detained briefly themselves.
The crackdown targets Chinese lawyers who have joined with civil activists in publicizing alleged unlawful practices by police and courts, drawing public attention to unjust cases, disputing official descriptions of controversial events and challenging authorities to follow the letter of the law.
Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang said the human rights lawyers had helped build a civil society in China over the past decade to hold authorities accountable, and that the crackdown was part of a "methodological dismantling" of that civil society since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power.
The US State Department condemned the detentions earlier this week and called for the release of the lawyers, who it said were "seeking to protect the rights of Chinese citizens."
The nationalist newspaper Global Times responded today by calling the US criticism uncomfortable but inconsequential like having "chewing gum stuck to your shoe" and said it was up to Chinese courts to decide whether the lawyers acted illegally.
State media reports have depicted the lawyers as self-promoters intent on spreading half-truths and arranging illegal protests outside court venues. The official Xinhua News Agency said lawyers should uphold the law, not engage in "rabble-rousing" and "mob rule."
Many of the detained lawyers belong to Beijing law firm Fengrui, which has defended human rights activists and practitioners of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. Its office was raided by police on Friday.
The Public Security Ministry accused the lawyers of disrupting public order, seeking illicit profits, illegally hiring protesters and trying to unfairly influence the courts, Xinhua said, saying more than 40 such incidents had occurred since July 2012.