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Chinese human rights lawyers: the story behind those who keep human rights alive

In China like everywhere else, people want to live in dignity and be able not only to meet their basic needs and care for their families, but also to express themselves freely and treat each other fairly and with respect. Unfortunately, the government perceives efforts to create a more inclusive, vibrant and just Chinese society as a threat to its power. China's human rights lawyers provide hope for a fairer future.

In a highly restrictive environment such as China, human rights lawyers’ advocacy to uphold rights guaranteed by Chinese laws has become a form of political resistance. Also known as weiquan lawyers (维权律师: ‘rights defense lawyers’), human rights lawyers play a vital role in using the system to push for change, calling for a more transparent government, free speech, a self-governed and autonomous legal profession, and an independent judiciary. Despite being exposed to great risk and obstacles under the Party-State’s increasingly tight grip, human rights lawyers continue to represent victims of abuses and vulnerable groups, searching for ways to protect basic rights and promote incremental rule of law reform in China.

For a long time, human rights lawyers have been praised as heroes and endured the shackles of repression, yet their lived experiences as flesh and blood persons have often been overlooked. Their stories, from young students and citizens to fearless advocates, are a source of inspiration for younger generations of lawyers to come.

They show the power of acts of resistance and enduring, as well as sparks of hope. Acts of resistance might start small; even just the refusal to stay silent when ordered to do so can be an act of resistance, and such small acts can be contagious and inspire others.

Discover our new featured series on China’s human rights lawyers:
Albert Ho Chun-yan, human rights lawyer and pro-democracy leader in Hong Kong
– Yu Wensheng, the man who never yields
– Chow Hang-tung, a barrister-turned-defendant who knows the legal system better than the judge
– Qin Yongpei, a lawyer on a mission to give a voice to the voiceless

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