China has now formally arrested and charged some of the rights protestors detained during the last six months.

The serious charges of subverting state power caught many observers off guard; the maximum penalty is life in prison. For the lawyers, this would “end their careers”, reports The Guardian.

Among those detained during the “709 crackdown” – so named because of the 9 July date of the first arrest six months ago – are a number of Christians. They include the Christian lawyer, Lee Heping, who is still missing. Other Christians thought to be still detained include church leader Hu Shigen and activists Liu Yongping and Gou Hongguo. Shigen has already spent more than 16 years in prison for trying to found an opposition political party.

Leading human rights lawyers from Europe, North America and Australia have called on Chinese president Xi Jinping to end an unprecedented crackdown by his security forces, which has seen hundreds of attorneys and their relatives intimidated, interrogated, detained and forcibly disappeared.