'A blast of commentaries in newspapers run by the Communist Party accused them of subversion and scams.
'In what lawyers call the most withering political assault on their profession in decades, the Chinese government is mounting a broad crackdown on rights attorneys, contending that they have exploited contentious cases to enrich themselves and attack the party.
'The beleaguered lawyers say the government’s real goal is to discredit and dismantle the “rights defense” movement, a small but audacious group of people who have used the law and public pressure to defend clients in a system stacked against them.
'“This feels like the biggest attack we’ve ever experienced,” said Zhang Lei, a lawyer in southern China who was among those questioned and released by the police. “It looks like they’re acting by the law, but hardly any of the lawyers who disappeared have been allowed to see their own lawyers. Over 200 brought in for questioning and warnings — I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
'Yet, in a telling sign of how much Chinese society has changed in the four decades since Mao’s death, the lawyers are not retreating. Despite the intense police pressure, and the previous imprisonment of lawyers under President Xi Jinping, dozens have organized petitions denouncing the detentions and volunteered to defend those held by the police.
'“I used to think being a lawyer was just a tool to make money,” said Yu Wensheng, 48, a commercial lawyer whose recent arrest nudged him into the ranks of human rights defenders. “But now I believe we have a greater mission to change a broken system. The crackdown is fierce, but we rights defense lawyers will fight back.”'