China publishes “confession” of law firm director, arrests continue

Beijing (dpa) – Chinese state media has published an alleged confession from the director of a law firm that has been a focus of a nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers.

“I plead guilty,” Zhou Shifeng was quoted as saying in an article published by the official Xinhua news agency late Saturday.

Zhou’s Fengrui law firm in Beijing is known for taking on politically sensitive cases.

“That the firm has breached the law is beyond doubt. [We] have committed illegal behaviour and even criminal behaviour,” Zhou was quoted as saying.

Zhou said he had “wanted to be famous” and now takes responsibility forthe damage to social stability caused by the firm, according to Xinhua.

China’s state broadcaster China Central Television had earlier aired alleged confessions from another lawyer and employees at the firm.

Video footage of Zhou’s alleged confession has not been made available.

Meanwhile, dozens more lawyers and activists were arrested in recent days.

The wave of arrests began after Wang Yu, a lawyer at the firm which had defended prominent dissidents such as Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, went missing on June 9.

By June 10, Zhou and three employees of the law firm had gone missing.

As of Sunday, at least 233 human rights lawyers and activists from across China have been detained, summoned by police or have disappeared nationwide, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group.

Some 213 people, from over 20 cities and provinces, have since been released, the group said.

Fourteen are still in detention and could face criminal charges, while six others are missing, according to the group.

China’s Ministry of Public Security accused the detained lawyers of being part of a “major criminal gang” who had “seriously disturbed order.”

Most of those detained and questioned were lawyers, while the others were activists or other law firm employees, according to Amnesty International.

It the largest crackdown on lawyers since 2011, Amnesty said.

Lawyers in Hong Kong have expressed “deep concern” over the arrests.

A group of prominent barristers in the city on Sunday launched an international signature campaign over the crackdown.

Prosecutors in China rely heavily on confessions rather than evidence, according to human rights groups.

Televised confessions from high-profile suspects including business executives, journalists and activists, have become more common in the past two years.

China has a 99.9 per cent conviction rate. In 2013, just 825 out of an estimated 1.16 million defendants were acquitted, according to Human Rights Watch.

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