Wives of the detained lawyers
Wives of human rights lawyers detained almost a year ago wearing the names of their husbands in a file photoGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

An open letter has been released by the wives of civil rights lawyers, who were seized in 2015 on charges of political subversion under a major government offensive against the country's human rights activists. The letter was released on Saturday (9 July) marking the first year anniversary of their detention.

Through their letter, they have asked the government to release all the lawyers detained in the "709 crackdown" and end the harassment and discrimination of their families.

"As a citizen, asking for the legitimate rights and interests of your family to be protected is the most basic requirement. He who plays with fire will get burnt. One day you reap what you sow for the various illegal methods you are today using," read the letter.

Activists allege that President Xi Jinping is trying to silence his opponents and human rights activists through these crackdowns.

"I really do think that we are moving into the end of China's reform era. China's reform era was characterised by a degree of ideological openness, a degree of political stability and rapid economic growth. And those are all beginning to end," Carl Minzner, a professor of Chinese law and politics at New York's Fordham law school, said.

"China is now beginning to move in a more ideologically closed, more politically unstable [direction] and the economy is slowing. It is moving in a much more uncertain, and increasingly worrying, direction," he said.

Veteran China expert Jerome Cohen has also shown support to lawyers' families and posted on his blog: "[But] it is discouraging to realise how little impact all these efforts will have on Xi Jinping and his spear carriers or even on the Chinese people, most of whom are deprived of their right under China's constitution to know about such efforts.

"How long can we expect even the bravest and most dedicated human rights advocates to endure in the cruelly punishing conditions that Xi Jinping has imposed upon them?"

Meanwhile, on Thursday (7 July), police officials in the Chinese port city of Tianjin released Zhao Wei, one of more than 20 human rights lawyers detained last year, on bail. Her release came as a ray of hope for others.

Wang Qiaoling, wife of Li Heping, one of the most prominent civil rights lawyers of China and Wei's co-worker said, "We cannot ask them to be Iron Man, Spider-Man or Superman.

"It is very scary. All I know is that God is in control of everything. Otherwise we would not be able to carry on."