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China: lawyer Li Yuhan arbitrarily detained in dreadful conditions

18 October 2023


Human rights lawyer Li Yuhan has been arbitrarily detained by the Chinese authorities since 2017. Aged over 70, the lawyer was representing the families of victims of enforced disappearance.


After being abducted by the Chinese authorities in October 2017, Li Yuhan was officially arrested on 15 November 2017. Her trial, initially scheduled for April 2019, was postponed several times. It was not until 2021 that the first hearing was held; no lawyer was allowed to attend, and no verdict was reached.

Accused of “quarrels and disturbances” and “fraud”, Li Yuhan has been subjected to threats, harassment, violence and personal attacks on several occasions in connection with the exercise of her profession.

Li Yuhan’s lawyer has been informed that his client is being mistreated. Indeed, her ability to walk has been seriously affected, forcing her to use crutches to move around. Li Yuhan has also suffered several heart attacks, damaging her sight and hearing.

The authorities deliberately refuse to give her any medication and sometimes even urinate in her food.

Despite denunciations by the UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, the Chinese government has not taken any significant action towards the lawyer. However, her treatment seems to have slightly improved, following numerous complaints from her lawyer.

Unfortunately, Li Yuhan’s case is far from isolated: the practice of enforced disappearance is common in China, as are torture and incommunicado detention.


The Observatory strongly condemns the treatment inflicted on the lawyer Li Yuhan by the Chinese authorities.

The Observatory is gravely concerned by the recurrent practice of enforced disappearance, torture and incommunicado detention in China.

The Observatory condemns the systematic violations of lawyers’ rights in China.

The Observatory reminds the Chinese authorities that in accordance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17 and 27:

Principle 16: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (…).”

Principle 17: “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”

Principle 27: Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice.”