Category: Human Rights

Two More Civil Rights Activists to Be Sentenced on Tuesday; Lawyer Wang Quanzhang still MIA

By , December 25, 2017

UPDATE – Dec. 26 @ 10:00 AM, EST – As expected, Wu Gan was found guilty of subverting state power.  He was given one of the harshest sentences yet – 8 years (with about 2 and a half already served).  His release date is May 18, 2023.  Xie Yang escaped any prison time, with his court noting that he plead guilty to the charge of inciting subversion and his actions did not cause severe damage to national security.  Xie also again publicly withdrew his claims of torture while in custody.

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China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group announcement about the upcoming court appearances in Wu Gan’s (R) case and Xie Yang’s (L) case

As the sun sets on Christmas 2017, China will awake on Tuesday to two more civil rights activists being convicted for seeking to end injustice in their country.  According to lawyer Liang Xiaojun, the courts will finally issue verdicts – and possibly sentences – in the cases against advocate Wu Gan and lawyer Xie Yang, two civil rights activists arrested and charged in the wake of the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 250 civil rights lawyers and activists (“the 709 Crackdown”).  Although both had their trials months ago – Wu Gan on August 17, 2017 at a closed-door trial at the Tianjin Intermediate Court and Xie Yang on May 8, 2017 at the Changsha Intermediate Court – verdicts, and in the case of Xie Yang, a possible re-trial, will be announced tomorrow morning at each of the respective courts.  Wu’s verdict will be handed down at 8:30 AM local time and Xie’s court will deal with his case an hour later.

While both have undergone severe treatment in custody, with allegations of torture, expect a much harsher sentence for Wu Gan.  First, Wu Gan has been charged with the more severe crime of “subversion of state power,” a charge that, if he is determined to be a ringleader, carries a sentence of no less than 10 years under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law.  If he is considered a mere participant, the law still requires a sentence of no less than five years.  Xie Yang has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”  It’s the verb of inciting that will inevitably lead to a lesser sentence under Article 105 of five years or less (unless of course he is considered a “ringleader; then five years minimum).  Further, since his trial, Xie Yang has been out on bail.  Although constantly surveilled  by police, it provides a touch more freedom than being trapped in a Chinese detention facility.

A female character who stabs to death a government official after he assumes she is a prostitute and tries to rape her in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin.

Second, Wu Gan – who often uses the online pen name of Super Vulgar Butcher – is the activist that defies the Chinese government’s current narrative – a narrative that believes that middle class, intellectual lawyers have become entrapped by “foreign forces,” forces like George Soros and the U.S. government that funds Chinese civil rights non-profits.  But that is not Wu Gan.  Instead, for the first 35 years of his life, Wu Gan was just an average Chinese citizen.  A former soldier, Wu Gan was a security guard at the Xiamen Gaoji International Airport until he resigned in 2008 to work full-time on his online activism, wanting to expose the everyday injustices that frustrated him.  In 2009, Wu Gan brought societal attention to the case of Deng Yujiao, a waitress who stabbed to death a government official who attempted to rape her.  While her story would eventually appear in Jia Zhangke’s internationally-acclaimed film, A Touch of Sin, it was Wu Gan who brought the injustice of her case to light.  His activism around the case sparked an online debate about rampant government corruption, the flagrant abuse of prostitutes by government officials as well as the right of women to defend themselves.  It was also successful, resulting in Deng Yujiao being convicted of the much lesser crime of “causing injury with intent” as opposed to the original murder charge.

Photo of Wu Gan at his May 2015 protest outside the courthouse. Photo courtesy of Change China

Further, Wu Gan’s strategies just get under the skin more.  Wu’s advocacy includes using online humor, satire, crowdfunding and street performances to draw attention to the Chinese government’s abuse of people’s rights.  In 2011, Wu published a series of online “How To” pamphlets: Guide to Butchering Pigs (strategies on how to conduct a campaign to protect human rights); Guide to Drinking Tea (how to deal with the police during interrogations); and Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolitions (instruction manual on how individuals can fight to protect their home from force demolition).  Each are widely popular in China and not just for their fun titles but because they are effective teaching tools.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Wu Gan’s May 2015 street protest to overturn the death sentence of four criminal defendants who had been convicted of capital murder even though each was tortured while in custody.  Wu stood outside the courthouse with two handmade signs – one with a picture of the chief judge with a Hitler moustache and one with the tombstone of the chief judge with an engraving highlighting his lack of integrity and ignorance of justice.  Situated between the signs was Wu, with his middle fingers up on each hand.  While that kind of protest elicits chuckles in the West, in China it is not tolerated.  Wu Gan was detained and has been in custody since.  Regardless of the fact that the four criminal defendants were exonerated in 2016, Wu Gan will still likely see a prison sentence as a result of his advocacy for justice.

Xie Yang in happier times with his daughter. Xie’s wife and two daughters were able to flee China earlier this year and now are in the United States.

But make no mistake, lawyer Xie Yang’s detention has been no walk in the park.  While being held incommunicado, Xie was physically tortured according to his lawyers who eventually got access to him.  And like Wu Gan, Xie’s crime has been his advocacy on behalf of others.  Xie Yang has long represented China’s most vulnerable: Christians; members of China’s Democratic Party; petitioners whose land was unlawfully seized by the government; and other activists.  In May 2015, Xie had been retained by the family of Xu Chunhe after the police officer who killed him was found not guilty of any crime.  Although Xu Chunhe, unarmed, was with his three young children and his 81 year-old mother in a crowded train station, the officer still shot and killed Xu Chunhe.  According to the officer, his act was one of self-defense; but for for most Chinese people, Xu Chunhe’s case was yet another example of police acting with impunity.  Thus, Xie Yang’s advocacy in bringing a wrongful death case on behalf of the family would go to the heart of the Chinese government’s police state.  And for that, he is now facing the charge of inciting subversion of state power.

But while Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s cases will finally be dealt with tomorrow, there is still one activist that has disappeared completely, lawyer Wang Quanzhang.  Another victim of the 709 Crackdown, Wang has not been heard from since August 4, 2015, when he was detained for “inciting subversion of state power.”  Neither his wife, family, nor the lawyers hired by his family have been able to meet with him and no trial has been set for Wang even though it has been more than two years since he was first taken into custody.  While Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s fates will be known tomorrow, it is the unknown of what is happening to Wang Quanzhang – and why – that is most alarming.  Denied access to lawyers, unable to meet with family, no speedy trial, how is this a country with a rule of law?

The Sentencing of Jiang Tianyong: What it Means for China & the World

By , December 3, 2017

Civil rights activist, Jiang Tianyong, sitting in the courtroom awaiting his sentence on Nov. 21, 2017

Last month, and three months after civil rights activist Jiang Tianyong pled guilty to “inciting subversion of state power,” the Changsha Intermediate Court finally issued its sentence: two years in prison (much of it already served) and the deprivation of Jiang’s political rights for three years.

As far as the crime of subverting state power goes, a crime the Chinese government has increasingly used to silence its civil rights activists, things could have been worse.  Jiang is seen as a leader in China’s civil rights circles, a lawyer who has daringly taken on some of China’s most politically sensitive cases, such as representing Falun Gong practitioners as well as ethnic Tibetans in the aftermath of the 2008 Tibetan riots.  As a result of his zealous advocacy in these cases, in 2009, the Chinese government denied the renewal of his law license.  But lack of a law license did not stopped Jiang from continuing his work.  Ironically, much of his advocacy began to focus on a new vulnerable group: China’s civil rights lawyers.  In 2011, Jiang played an active role in ensuring that blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s cruel house arrest remained in the public eye.  More recently, Jiang was important in supporting many of his colleagues who were caught up in the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 200 civil rights lawyers and activists (“709 Crackdown”). Through blog posts, tweets, calls for protests and interviews with foreign media as well as with Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Jiang effectively kept the 709 Crackdown visible.  It is this type of ardent support for his colleagues that has made him the him the soul of the movement.

Civil rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng at his sentencing. August 4, 2016

And in a legal system where the Chinese government essentially determines the crime and sentence of any activist regardless of evidence, such a leadership role would result in a charge that could lead to a substantial prison term.  But Jiang was only charged with – and pled guilty to – the lowest level of subversion under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law: inciting subversion of state power; a crime that carries a prison term of three years maximum.  Some of Jiang’s colleagues – those caught up in the 709 Crackdown – received harsher sentences for actually subverting state power under Article 105, not just inciting it: Zhou Shifeng received seven years, Hu Shigen seven and a half years.  And more recently, two other activists, Lee Ming-che and Peng Yuhua, both arrested after the 709 Crackdown but still part of the Chinese government’s attack on free speech, were each charged with – and pled guilty – to Article 105’s subversion of state power and were sentenced to five years and seven years, respectively.

Jiang Tianyong, second from left, and proudly standing with other activists outside of a detention center.

But make no mistake, Jiang has suffered just as much as these other activists while in detention.  According to the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, Jiang was repeatedly denied access to his own lawyers and allegations of torture have emerged.    He was demonized in the state-run press and social media outlets, and, although his own lawyers could never gain access to Jiang, the state-run CCTV was able to interview him in which he “admitted” to fabricating allegations of torture of his colleague Xie Yang.  After being held incommunicado for over nine months and under who knows what kinds of conditions, on August 22, 2017, Jiang pled guilty to the crime of inciting subversion.  In his televised, in-court confession, Jiang called upon his fellow rights defenders and rights lawyers to learn from his experiences.  A shockingly far cry from Jiang’s Twitter description“A lawyer who was born at just the right time; a lawyer who’s willing to take any case; a lawyer hated by a small political clique; a lawyer who wants to win the respect of regular folk; a lawyer who kept going even after being stripped of his law license.” (translation courtesy of China Change) – causing many, including his wife, to strongly believe that his confession was forced.

Cultural Revolution Poster: “Imperialists and reactionaries are all paper tigers”

Although much of Jiang’s ordeal calls into question the Chinese government’s commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights and why it must continue to abuse its own people, another deeply troubling trend has emerged: the Chinese government’s anti-foreign rhetoric.  In reporting on the Jiang’s sentencing last month, the state-run Legal Daily blamed the “foreign, anti-China” forces influencing Jiang for much of his behavior.  It is that paranoia of anything foreign that is the most dangerous to the current world order.  With the U.S. retreating from its position of global, moral leader, China is seeking to rise and promote its type of leadership.  From the trial of Jiang Tianyong, that moral leadership model seeks to create societies that are not just unresponsive to its own people, but shut off from connections with the rest of the world.  But it is those connections between cultures and people that have long been a driving force of the post-WWII model and have helped to maintain the peace in much of the world these last 75 years.

But in blaming these elusive, foreign, anti-China forces, the Chinese government ignores the real reason why these civil rights activists exist: the injustices in Chinese society.  It is Jiang’s own life that is a testament as to why the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress these civil rights activists will ultimately fail.  For a long time Jiang was just an ordinary guy; after graduating from college, Jiang was a teacher for almost 10 years. But in 2004, wanting to pursue greater justice for others, he gave up teaching to become a civil rights lawyer, passing the bar exam in 2005.  People like Jiang are not motivated by foreign forces or other entities; they are motivated to correct the injustices and sufferings of others to make their society better.  The Chinese government cannot stop people from feeling that way and the real question is – why would they want to.

How Many Times Can the World Turn its Head…..The Case for Wang Quanzhang

By , August 30, 2017

To call China’s human rights lawyers “battered” is an understatement.  These lawyers are victims of the Chinese government’s deliberate and brutal pursuit to render them extinct.  And that is why the nomination of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip award is so significant and why readers should vote for him (public voting is open here until September 6, 2017).

Wang is perhaps the quintessential human rights lawyer.  Even before graduating from Shandong University Law School in 2000, he was already representing some of Chinese society’s most vulnerable: members of the banned spiritual sect of Falun Gong.  From there, he extended his practice to assist farmers whose land was being confiscated, criminal defendants and other civil rights activist.  Throughout, he received constant pressure from the Chinese government to discontinue his practice and in 2013 was taken into custody by Chinese police merely for defending his client in court.  But instead of ending his advocacy, the Chinese government’s pressure only emboldened him. Wang criticized the Chinese government in a series of blog posts under the pen name Gao Feng and in 2014, traveled to Heilongjiang to protest the illegal detention of other human rights lawyers.  But for Wang, practicing law was not enough.  He also sought to elevate the legal profession in China and joined forces with a small foreign NGO in Beijing – Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (“China Action”) – to teach and support other human rights lawyers throughout China on how to effectively advocate in a one-party dictatorship.

Photo courtesy of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, July 4, 2016

While the rest of the world might celebrate Wang’s commitment to justice, in China, Wang is considered a villain – at least according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  It is his work that the CCP fears as a threat to its one-party rule and is intent on destroying.  On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government launched a national offensive against its human rights lawyers, simultaneously detaining over 300 lawyers and activist across the country (known colloquially as the “709 Crackdown”).  Wang was caught up in the persecution and on August 4, 2015 was detained for suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion of state power.”  Since then – for over two years – he has been held incommunicado, with his lawyers and his wife denied any access to him.  Ironically, the rights that Wang has long sought for his own clients – the right to meet with an attorney, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial in accordance with Chinese law – is being denied to him as he remains isolated in prison.

For sure, China’s human rights lawyers have been under assault for close to a decade now.  But as Professor Eva Pils notes in a recent article, the 709 Crackdown is much more severe, with new and frightening measures taken by the Chinese government.  From the inception of the Crackdown, the Chinese government has vilified these lawyers by name in the press (including naming Wang as a ringleader) and refer to them as a “criminal syndicate.” It has also changed its rhetoric – no longer are human rights lawyers a threat to social stability; instead, because of the influence of “foreign forces,” specifically the use of foreign NGO funds, the Chinese government presents these lawyers as a national security risk. And more recently, Pils notes that there appears to be at least six detained human rights lawyers who have been forced to take medication while in detention.  But not for any current medical condition.  Instead, it appears to Pils that the Chinese government’s use of forced medication has had a physiological impact on the detainees and is being used more to alter the personalities of the human rights defenders with the hope that they do not continue to practice once they are released.

Wang Quanzhang’s wife and son. Neither has seen Wang for the last two years,. Photo courtesy of RFA

And this is another reason why Wang Quanzhuang should be awarded the Human Rights Tulip.  China – the world’s second largest economy – offers another way by which to order society.  A world where human rights take a back seat to economics and alleged national security issues.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world appears to be largely playing along.  As Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo laid unnecessarily dying in a Chinese prison hospital, imprisoned for his speech, not a single world leader made a public peep about it at the G20 Summit that was happening at the same time.  As Beijing dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy, Western democracies largely remain quiet.  In May 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignorantly stated that promoting human rights “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”   In June 2017, Greece – which has been able to economically recover largely through the support of China – vetoed the European Union’s condemnation of China’s human rights record.  And this has only been the last four months.  With the nomination of Wang Quanzhuang for the Human Rights Tulip, the question arises – how many times can the world turn its head and pretend that it just doesn’t see?   Is this who we really are?  If the answer is no, then please vote for Wang Quanzhuang here.  From the top three, the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Government will choose a winner.

Without A Tomb To Sweep: The Death of Liu Xiaobo

By , July 16, 2017

2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo

This past Saturday, China Law & Policy marked the 8th anniversary of its founding.  But a commemorative birthday piece seemed inappropriate with the news that a few days earlier China’s only Noble Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, died in police custody.

Since the founding of this blog, Liu Xiaobo has been in jail. His crime?  His speech.  And in examining the Chinese government’s cruel response to Liu’s death, it is this speech that this aspiring superpower continues to fear.  Liu Xiaobo was not a murderer, a terrorist, and or even a revolutionary.  He was merely a Chinese activist, academic and public intellectual that for close to 30 years, used his pen to call upon the Chinese government to live up to its commitment to human rights; a commitment that China has agreed to by signing on to certain international treaties; a commitment that was written into the amended Chinese Constitution in 2004.

Liu’s most recent prison sentence wasn’t his first.  In 1989, Liu, who came back to China from a prestigious fellowship at Columbia University to support the students in Tiananmen Square, was sentenced to almost two years in jail for partaking in the movement.  When he was released, Liu lost his university position and his writings were

Liu Xiaobo (with megaphone) at the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square. Later, Liu would be credited with brokering a peace with the troops to allow the couple of hundred of students left on the Square on June 4 to leave without bloodshed.

banned in China.  In 1996 Liu was  imprisoned for three years, this time in a Re-Education Through Labor camp, for a series of essays criticizing the Chinese government and calling for greater democracy for the Chinese people.  Then, in late 2008, Liu co-drafted a document known as “Charter 08.”  Modeled after Charter 77, the document that sparked the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Charter 08, called for greater human rights in China, the end of one-party rule and an independent legal system.  Nothing terribly revolutionary. But for that, Liu was arrested, tried for inciting subversion of state power and, on Christmas Day 2009, sentenced to a harsh term of 11 years.  When he died last Thursday, Liu had only had about two years left on his sentence.  He hadn’t been heard from since his 2009 conviction.

But the silencing of Liu Xiaobo for the past eight years was not enough for the current regime.  When he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2010, the Chinese government vehemently criticized the choice and placed his wife, Liu Xia, under unlawful house arrest, house arrest that continues to today.  The Chinese internet was censored for any mention of Liu and the state-controlled media was not allowed to report on his prize.

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in happier times.

And even though, according to his wife, Liu was diagnosed by prison doctors with hepatitis B as early as 2010, his hepatitis was allowed to fester into liver cancer.  It appears that that Liu was only given proper medical treatment when it was too late – when the antiviral drugs that slows down hepatitis B from becoming liver cancer would no longer work, when embolization of the tumor would no longer be effective and when surgery could no longer be used to save a life.  It was only when the cancer became truly incurable that the Chinese government permitted Liu Xiaobo to go to a hospital – under constant guard – and die with his wife by his side. But even in his dying days, he was still denied dignity; the state-controlled media released pictures of Liu in the hospital, maintaining that the state had only given him the best care.  They would not let him go abroad as he requested, likely fearing that he would use his final breaths to criticize the Chinese government.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the empty chair where Liu Xiaobo was to sit.

With his death on Thursday, the Chinese regime rushed to hold a funeral so that Liu’s friends and admirers could not make it.  By Saturday morning, Liu Xiaobo’s wife buried his ashes at sea, likely at the demand of the Chinese government so that it could ensure that a tombstone would not be erected and potentially serve as a pilgrimage site. Liu’s brother was paraded on state-run TV stating that the quick sea burial was the family’s wishes. Even in his death, Liu was used as a propaganda tool, with pictures of his shell-shocked wife standing by the coffin and mechanically lowering his ashes into the ocean.  Since Thursday, 1.4 billion Chinese people have experienced a news blackout on anything related to Liu Xiaobo. International news channels were pulled from the air, the state-run media has been ordered not to report on Liu’s passing and Chinese censors have been in overdrive, taking down posts with RIP and candle emojis as the Chinese people attempt to publicly show their respect to their countryman.

Thousands of mourners in Hong Kong hold a march in honor of Liu Xiaobo. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

China is the second largest economy in the world and most believe that it will soon supplant the United States as the Asia regional superpower.  But yet this is how it responds to the death of one critique in its midst.  A man whose only weapons were words and thoughts.  If China still wonders why it can’t successfully project soft power internationally, this is it.  While the Chinese government protests that it treated Liu with utmost care in prison, provided as much medical care as possible at the end, and permitted his family to hold a funeral, it still can’t ignore the fact that it imprisoned – and essentially killed – a man for his thoughts.  The last Noble Peace Prize winner to die in state custody was Carl von Ossietky, the 1935 winner who, in 1938, died in a Nazi concentration camp.  It’s never a good thing to be compared to the Nazi regime.

But even more troubling is that the Chinese regime’s suppression of Liu Xiaobo’s speech – both in life and in death – reflects a government that does not trust its own people.  Is Liu’s words going to cause revolution in the streets?  Probably not.  But yet they cannot be heard.  And in recent years, that distrust has only worsened.  Two years ago, the Chinese government conducted a nationwide crackdown on China’s civil rights lawyers, lawyers who use the legal system to protect people’s legal rights; nothing particularly revolutionary about that tactic.  And any civil society organization that becomes too successful, is shut down.  The Chinese people are left with no outlet to shape their own society and demand that their government live up to its ideals. Instead, the Chinese government distrusts anyone who it believes dissents.  But as Liu Xiaobo noted in the speech that was read at his Noble Prize ceremony, that enemy mentality will be a setback to progress:

Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. . . . Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

Impromptu memorial for Liu Xiaobo in Flushing, Queens, NYC (Courtesy of Facebook)

And Liu’s words and thoughts are not just ripe for the Chinese government right now but for all of us.  Especially as the current United States Administration focuses less on human rights.  On Thursday, President Trump issued a pathetic statement on Liu’s death through his press secretary. And only after he gushed about the greatness of China’s president Xi Jinping a mere hours after Liu’s passing.  It wasn’t just China who lost a hero on Thursday, but the world.  And the world needs the ideals of Liu Xiaobo now more than ever.  May you rest in peace Liu Xiaobo and may we find the courage to continue your struggle both in China and in the world at large.

As the Sun Rises on Tiananmen

Bird’s eye view of Tiananmen Square

On Sunday, the sun will rise once again on Tiananmen Square, much like it did on the same Sunday 28 years ago.  But unlike that Sunday – June 4, 1989 – Beijing will not awaken to its city occupied by the Chinese military nor the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square littered with the dead bodies of unarmed civilians.

Instead, life will go on in China with no official acknowledgement of the anniversary of that fateful day 28 years ago when the Chinese government ordered its military to open fire on its own people. The exact number of people killed the night of June 3, 1989 into the early morning hours of June 4 is only known to the perpetrators of the massacre: the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”). But whether it was a few hundred or a few thousand does not diminish the fact that peaceful protests were squashed with such a violent – and unnecessary – crackdown.

Hundreds of thousands gather on Tiananmen Square, June 2, 1989 (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Contrary to the CCP’s interpretation of events, the protests in Beijing were not counter-revolutionary attempts to undermine the CCP. And contrary to the Western media’s perceptions at the time, it was not an effort to bring Western democracy to China.  Instead, the protests were deeply rooted in China’s own history and tradition, a tradition of students conducting patriotic demonstrations in an effort to strengthen their country.

In 1989, those efforts were directed at the nepotism and corruption that was beginning to plague the CCP, the economic turmoil brought on by inflation, the lack of personal freedoms and government censorship.  While students started the protests, eventually, much of the populace joined in, with workers going on strike to support the movement.  By mid-May, the protests would draw over a million people on a daily basis. Neither the May 19 declaration of martial law nor the pleading by sympathetic leaders for protesters to clear the square stopped the protests.  And on June 3, 1989, Deng Xiaoping gave the order for the army to fire on the civilians.

Tanks roll onto Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

For a brief time after the crackdown, the CCP did acknowledge the event. Not to celebrate the brave men and women who gave their lives to better their country, but to condemn them. Slowly, however, the CCP’s policy changed and instead of trying to change the narrative of that night, the CCP chose to forget it.  Today, the Tiananmen massacre is largely scrubbed from the Chinese internet, it is not allowed to be discussed openly and many of the children born after 1989 do not know of the truth of that night.

But every year, there are still those in China willing to risk their freedom to commemorate the violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square.  A few years ago it was Chinese netizens reposting the image of the Tank Man – the Chinese citizen stopping a line of tanks, a banned picture on the Chinese internet – standing in front of a line of large, yellow rubber ducks.  The picture spread on the Chinese internet until the Chinese authorities got wind, and censored “yellow rubber duck.”  This year, it is four men who produced a Chinese rice wine with a label that references “6*4”, a shorthand for the June 4 crackdown, and calls on people to “never forget.”  While the bottle has been smuggled out of China by a sympathetic Chinese official, those four men are currently facing charges of inciting subversion of state power.

As much as the CCP may try, China will not forget the brave men and women who lost their lives on June 4, 1989.  For there are still enough Chinese people who are willing to put their safety on the line to ensure that that does not happen.

Who Is the Hooligan? A Review of Wang Nanfu’s New Documentary

By , June 19, 2016

Director Wang Nanfu did not intend to make the movie that became Hooligan Sparrow, the opening feature at this year’s Human Rights Watch film festival.  But it’s hard to avoid creating such a tour de force when you become enmeshed in the absurdity that is the life of a Chinese rights activist.

In spring 2013, Wang Nanfu (pronounced Wong Nan-foo) returned to her homeland of China to make a documentary about women’s rights activist Ye Haiyan, also known by her online name “Hooligan Sparrow.”  Since 2006, Sparrow has worked with China’s sex workers, providing educational materials on safe sex and advocating on their behalf, particularly for those who work in low-cost brothels that charge only a few U.S. dollars.  To bring greater exposure to sex workers’ plights, in 2012, Sparrow engaged in a bold campaign: working for a day in one of these low-cost brothels and providing sex for free.  Her campaign worked and soon she was on TV talk shows, explaining to Chinese society the discrimination that these sex workers face.  This is what Wang Nanfu intended to cover.  But when she arrived in China, Sparrow was on to a new justice campaign: ensuring that the pimping of schoolgirls to government officials on Hainan Island would be prosecuted.

In early May 2013, the principal of a local school on Hainan Island took six of his female students – ages 11 to 14 – to hotels where they were forced into sex with him as well as with a government official.  Although the story sparked outrage online, the local police initially claimed that the two men did not have sex with the girls, even though the parents uploaded pictures to the web which provided ample evidence that the two men did.

Sparrow with her sign: Principal: Get a room with me, leave the schoolchildren alone!

Sparrow and a group of other activists, including noted human rights lawyer, Wang Yu, leapt into action, immediately traveling to Hainan to protest outside of the girls’ school and demand the arrest of the principal and the government official on charges of rape.  Realizing that a trial in the media – especially the social media – is increasingly the only way to achieve justice in China, Wang captures Sparrow’s genius as Sparrow comes up with a slogan that she knows will go viral: “Principal, get a room with me, spare the schoolchildren!”  Almost immediately the picture of Sparrow holding that sign gets picked up by hundreds of netizens, and in a show of solidarity, many post selfies holding signs with the same slogan.  By the end of May, Sparrow’s campaign finds success and the two men are charged with “sex with underage prostitutes,” a charge though that is less severe than the crime of rape. For Sparrow, that charge is not enough, and she and Wang Yu continue their fight to eradicate the lesser crime of “sex with underage prostitutes,” arguing what people in China and the rest of the world know to be true: that any sex with a minor – be it paid or not paid – is not consensual and is rape.

This intense incident, with plainclothes police physically jostling the protesters, is only the start of what becomes an increasingly powerful condemnation of the current Chinese Communist regime.  Although Sparrow was successful in her protest – with the legal system prosecuting the principal and the government officials – the Chinese government, as Wang Nanfu skillfully documents, views Sparrow as anything but a success.  Instead, the full power of the regime comes down on Sparrow, and hard.  But, as Wang Nanfu beautifully captures, Sparrow is more than an activist.  She is also a single mother to a 12 year old daughter.  It is watching Sparrow’s relationship with her daughter – and the concern any mother would have for her child – that makes Hooligan Sparrow into more than a documentary about a rights activist and her movement.  It captures the human toll that such advocacy has on both the activist and her family. When Sparrow is unlawfully detained on trumped up charges in what appears to be a way to punish her for her Hainan protests, her daughter is largely left to fend for herself.  Once freed, government-hired thugs hold a protest outside of Sparrow’s home, calling her a prostitute and demanding that such a loose woman move from their neighborhood.  Sparrow’s daughter hears all of this.

Sparrow’s daughter, trying to get homework done while her mother gets arrested.

But slander against her mother is not the end.  Sparrow is eventually evicted from her apartment, a tactic that Chinese authorities increasingly use against human rights activist.  Why detain activists in violation of the law when you can put pressure on landlords to evict them and make their life one on the run?

What Wang Nanfu documents next is Sparrow and her daughter’s constant movement, looking for a place to live.  In one city, Sparrow is able to rent an apartment but the local school will not accept her daughter because of Sparrow’s activism.  Yet again, Sparrow is forced to move.  With each move their possessions become less and less until all they have is one backpack each.

The next city Sparrow moves to, the authorities already know she is coming, and in one of the movie’s most harrowing scenes, the film goes dark and only confused sound is heard as Wang Nanfu and Sparrow’s daughter run up the stairs to try to get into the apartment before their pursuers  can capture them.  In the black background, you hear Sparrow yelling at the authorities, unclear if there has already been a physical altercation but knowing if there was one, Sparrow was not going to win.

Sparrow can never win and that is one of the absurdities about the current regime that Hooligan Sparrow captures perfectly.  In any other society, Sparrow’s successful advocacy would be celebrated.  But in China, even when the regime adopts the exact measures advocated for, the rights advocate must still be persecuted.  In other words, if your cause is successful, it is that success that will be your downfall.  Which makes one wonder, how will Chinese society ever become more just if this is the catch-22 that rights advocates constantly find themselves in?  The Chinese Communist Party’s mantra is largely maintaining the status quo; reform that brings greater justice to society’s vulnerable is hardly a priority.  Even President Xi Jinping’s campaign against official corruption did not capture the corrupt government officials having sex with minors, a much more common occurrence than just an isolated incident in Hainan.

Director Wang Nanfu

But it is Hooligan Sparrow‘s poignant portrayal of the unnecessary suffering of Sparrow’s brave daughter that resonates the most.  How can a government do this to an innocent child?  To be on the run, to be rejected from schools, to be a social outcast at the age of 12?  It isn’t Sparrow that is the hooligan in all of this.  That title clearly belongs to the current regime.

To understand China today, Hooligan Sparrow is a must see.  Wang Nanfu has created a master documentary, one that rejects the staid interviews of the past and instead gets in the center of the action.  It is through her own brave film making that we can begin to understand the trauma of being a rights activists in China.  But it is also through Wang’s artful storytelling that one can also see their humanity, providing hope that Sparrow – and all the activists like her – will continue to go on.

Rating: ★★★★★

Next Showing: Washington, D.C. – June 23 & 26, 2016 at the AFI Docs Film Festival; showing in New York again in July and to be shown on PBS’ POV on  October 17, 2016.  Coming to a theater near you before then?  Check the film’s website here.

To Never Forget? China’s Cultural Revolution

Public struggle session during the Cultural Revolution

Public struggle session during the Cultural Revolution

Tomorrow will mark an important anniversary in China, an anniversary that will neither be celebrated nor condemned by the Chinese Communist Party; an anniversary that can only be acknowledged privately, by the millions who lost much; an anniversary that is not admitted to by the perpetrators who destroyed so many.  For May 16, 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the start of China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a decade-long, and ultimately senseless, political movement that shutdown Chinese society and resulted in the deaths of at least 1.5 million people, with tens of millions more publicly persecuted.

The Cultural Revolution began as a way for Mao Zedong to re-assert his leadership and consolidate his power.   Only eight years prior, in 1958, Mao launched what history would also determine a worthless campaign – the Great Leap Forward. Less than 10 years after establishing the People’s Republic of China, Mao was gung-ho to move China to the next stage of communism – complete collectivization of farming and industry.  China was nowhere near ready, resulting in one of the worst man-made famines of the 20th century, with over 30 million dying of starvation and other related disease.  With that debacle,  Mao, and with him, Mao Zedong Thought, were marginalized.  For a brief period in the early 1960s, more pragmatic communist leaders like Liu Shaoqi (pronounced Leo Sh-ao Chee) and Deng Xiaoping, took control.  Under their leadership, China pulled back from complete collectivization and permitted some economic liberalization, allowing society to get back on its feet.

Mao Zedong uses the Cultural Revolution to regain power and legitimize his ideology

Mao Zedong uses the Cultural Revolution to regain power and legitimize his ideology

But China’s development was short-lived.  On May 16, 1966, Mao, at a Party meeting, came out of his semi-retirement and announced the start of the Cultural Revolution.  In a notice to the Party – as well as to the Chinese people – Mao warned:

Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through; others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khruschev for example, who are still nestling beside us.

What ensued were ten years of political purges, including the mysterious deaths of two of Mao’s rivals – Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao (pronounce Leen Bee-ow), as well as criticisms, abuse and murder of millions of innocent Chinese people as Mao sought to rid China of its “bourgeoisie” elements.  Mao permitted Chinese society to resort to violence, carte blanche, to achieve his objectives.  Anyone who had a family history of privilege, no matter how far back or how minor, was a target.  As were intellectuals or anyone who did not appropriately parrot the words of Mao.  These “counter-revolutionaries” would be subject to public humiliation, physical abuse and, at times, death by the hands of their families, neighbors and fellow countrymen.  Many would also take their own lives.  Schools were disbanded, work was minimal and “struggle sessions” constant.  While the most violence erupted in the late 60s to early 70s, the Cultural Revolution was not over until Mao died on September 9, 1976.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although the Cultural Revolution is not fully taught in schools in China and government-supported amnesia is the status quo, stories of that bleak time still emerge.  The author Yu Hua has probably done the most to keep these memories alive.  “To Live,” one of his many books about ordinary people trying to get through the insanity of the Cultural Revolution, is a best seller in China and was made into a celebrated motion picture by the famed director Zhang Yimou.

But more recently, ordinary citizens are demanding that the Cultural Revolution not be forgotten.  Last month, on the eve of the Tomb Sweeping holiday in China, where families return to grave sites to pay their respect to their dead relatives, retired Chinese Supreme People’s Court judge, Cai Xiaoxue, explained in a blog post that he cannot.  During the onset of the Cultural Revolution, his mother, a teacher, was constantly interrogated by her colleagues, not permitted to return home and in June 1966, died in their custody.  Judge Cai’s family did not find out about her death until a month later, by which time her ashes were nowhere to be found.  In 1969, after undergoing constant and public humiliations, writing various self-criticisms, and being fired from his post at the publishing house because he was a “capitalist roader,” Judge Cai’s father took his own life.  Fifteen-year old Cai is the one who discovered the body and who, the next day, was required to attend a struggle session against his dead father.  He was forced to sit in the front row.

Today, Judge Cai has no ashes to honor on Tomb Sweeping Day.  His father’s ashes also were never returned.  But he has purchased a plot where all he was able to bury were his father’s writings and his mother’s clothes.  On the tombstone are carved only two words: Never Forget (勿忘).  According to Judge Cai, only by remembering the horror can China ensure that that nothing like the Cultural Revolution happens again.

President Xi Jinping, trying to be more Mao than Mao?

President Xi Jinping, trying to be more Mao than Mao?

What makes Judge Cai’s story – and this 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution – particularly significant is that the current leadership has recently resorted to some of the methods used by Mao and the Red Guards.  Like Mao, current Chinese President and General Party Secretary, Xi Jinping, is intent on consolidating his power to a single man rule.  Through a campaign against corruption, Xi has rid the leadership of those he perceives as major threats (think Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang).  And these officials are dealt with outside of the legal system, through the Party disciplinary committee, with a court of law merely an afterthought and rubberstamp.  Public, forced confessions and self-criticisms – now on TV – have made a comeback.  And, for the past few years, deaths of dissidents while in police custody appear to be a yearly occurrence – Cao Shunli in 2014, Zhang Liumao in 2015, and now, this Friday, environmentalist Lei Yang (although he likely could not be called a dissident).

Never forget the horror of the Cultural Revolution

Never forget the horror of the Cultural Revolution

Will Xi Jinping return to the levels of violence that existed during the Cultural Revolution?  Likely not.  But even some regression, no matter how small, is a dangerous step.  As Judge Cai’s blog post reveals, the Chinese people suffered tremendously during the Cultural Revolution.  They do not need to do so again.

For another poignant story similar to Judge Cai’s, see the New York Times’ re-telling of the loss of Chen Shuxiang’s father and the mere $380 he received in compensation for his death.

The Anatomy of a Crackdown: China’s Assault on its Human Rights Lawyers

By , October 18, 2015

PlightandprospectscoverWhen the Chinese government detained, harassed and disappeared over 280 human rights lawyers and legal activists in July 2015, the international community took notice. These simultaneous, country-wide, nighttime and early morning raids made front page news in the United States, often described as the Chinese government’s attempts to eradicate cause lawyering from its shores.

But as the Leitner Center and the Committee To Support Chinese Lawyers‘ new and seminal report Plight and Prospects: The Landscape for Cause Lawyers in China reveals, in some ways, these arrests and detentions are the least of the human rights lawyers’ worries. Instead, Plight and Prospects makes clear that over the past five years, the Chinese government has quietly and methodically used a more effective means to limit the space for cause lawyers: the law.

Although the Chinese government still relies on extra-judicial measures such a illegal detentions, torture, constant surveillance when “free,” and pressures on families, employers and even landlords in an attempt to destroy the lawyer’s life, Plight and Prospects underscores that soon these extra-judicial methods will be unnecessary. Through amendments to the Lawyers Law (amended 2007), the Criminal Law (amended 2015), the Criminal Procedure Law (amended 2012), the National Security Law (passed 2015) and through the annual lawyer licensing procedure, the Chinese government can limit the ability of cause lawyers to practice and still pay lip service to “the rule of law.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping

As Plight and Prospects points out, under President Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) there has been a stepped-up effort to enshrine in law methods that will effectively break the cause lawyering movement. But even before Xi took power in 2012, there were already concrete efforts in the Chinese government to use the law to limit human rights lawyers’ advocacy.

Take for example, the Lawyers Law. Amended in 2007 and believed to provide the profession with greater protection to practice law, it has proven to be a double-edged sword. Sure Articles 36 and 37 of the Lawyers Law maintain that the lawyers “rights to debate or a defense shall be protected in accordance with the law,” but Article 49, which lists the examples of lawyers’ conduct subject to punishment, increased the number of categories from four to nine with the 2007 amendments. Added to the Lawyers Law as Article 49(6) was instances where a lawyers “disrupts the order of a court . . . or interferes with the normal conduct of litigation or arbitration.” Vague and unclear, this provision could be used to limit the courtroom advocacy of lawyers who take cases the government just does not like.

Lawyers Liu Wei and Tang Jitian review papers in April 2010

Lawyers Liu Wei and Tang Jitian review papers in April 2010

And in 2010, it was. In April 2010, Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee-tee’an) and Liu Wei (pronounced Leo Way), two cause lawyers who had represented a practitioner of the spiritual movement Falun Gong and who both quietly left the courtroom in protest when they were unable to present their client’s defense, were hauled before the Beijing Bureau of Justice for a hearing concerning whether they should be disbarred (see China’s Rule of Law Mirage: The Regression of the Legal Profession Since the Adoption of the 2007 Lawyers Law). While Tang and Liu both raised Article 37 – that their ability to practice law was being infringed upon – as a defense, both were permanently disbarred under Article 49(6) for “disrupting the courtroom.” (Id.).

Further attempts to limit the advocacy of human rights attorneys have been proposed more recently by the All China’s Lawyers Association (ACLA), the national bar association that operates under the guidance of the Ministry of Justice.  ACLA’s draft revisions to the Lawyers Code of Conduct (proposed in 2014), if adopted, could limit methods of advocacy that lawyers must use when representing vulnerable populations, including the use of the media and internet (draft Article 9), organizing demonstrations or “inflaming” public opinion (draft Article 11), or supporting organizations that do cause lawyering (draft Article 13).  These draft provisions are in contravention of Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution which provides for freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

When your home becomes your prison: residential survellience

When your home becomes your prison: residential surveillance

The Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) provides another example. Amended in 2012, it was hoped that the amendments would better protect suspects’ rights and ensure a more fair system. But, as Yaqiu Wang at China Change has pointed out, it left one gaping loophole: “residential surveillance at a designated place.” Articles 72 through 77 of the CPL deal with residential surveillance. Although this sounds like a more mellow way to be detained than at a detention center, for those investigations that might involve crimes of “endangering state security,” “terrorism” or “serious crimes of bribery,” residential surveillance does not occur at one’s home. (CPL, Art. 73) Instead, it occurs at an undisclosed location – the family is informed of the fact that the person is being detained under residential surveillance (required by CPL, Art. 73), but not necessarily of the location of the residential surveillance. The suspect has a right to retain a lawyer (see CPL, Art. 73, applying CPL, Art. 33).  But because “residential surveillance in a designated place” presupposes a possible state security, terrorist, or serious bribery charge, the requirement that a meeting with the lawyer take place within 48 hours (CPL, Art. 37) is suspended for those possible charges.  (CPL, Art. 37).  Instead, any meeting must be approved by the police. (CPL, Art. 37).   Which fits with the rules that the suspect must follow when in residential surveillance: only with permission of the public security agency can the suspect meet or correspond with someone else. (CPL, Art.75(2)). And it is not hard to place someone under residential surveillance at a designated place. All that the police need is approval from the chief of public security above the county level. (see Ministry of Public Security Implementing Regulations of the CPL, Art. 106). Residential surveillance pending investigation is permitted for up to six months. (CPL, Art. 77).

Whereabouts Unknown: Lawyer Wang Yu

Whereabouts Unknown: Lawyer Wang Yu

As Plight and Prospects points out, the use of residential surveillance at a designated place has been used with abandon in the current crackdown. The section entitled “Whereabouts Unknown” highlights that eight of the suspects still being held as a result of the July crackdown are held under residential surveillance at a designated place but no one outside of the police, not even their lawyers, know where. Amnesty International researcher William Nee has pointed out that although a legally-authorized form of detention under the amended CPL, it still carries with it the dangers associated with enforced disappearances: held secretly and without access to a lawyer, these suspects in residential surveillance are vulnerable to torture to force a confession.

By being able to point to the law it is using to crackdown on cause lawyers, the Chinese government likely aspires to punt the international critique of a failure to follow a rule of law. It is following a rule of law, it will say. But as Plight and Prospects notes, it is a hollow one where the Chinese government undermines its own Constitution, other provisions of many of the laws it has used in the crackdown, its international treaty obligations as well as the desires of its own people.

 

CL&P on the BBC Discussing China’ Rights-Defending Lawyers

By , August 14, 2015

BBC_News.svgOwen Bennett Jones, on his new and insightful BBC radio show, NewsHour Extra, discussed the recent assault on China’s rights-defending lawyers.  Featuring Dr. Li Ling of NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, Prof. James Feinerman of Georgetown Law School, Prof. Eva Pils of Kings College London, barrister Philip Riches, and yours truly, the discussion proved lively if slightly pessimistic regarding the current crackdown on China’s rights-defending activists and their future under the current Chinese Communist regime.

Rights-defending lawyers Yu Wensheng and Teng Biao both give their assessments of the recent crackdown.

To listen to the show (55 minutes total), please click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02yg6z4

Obama, China & Lawyers: Xi’s Visit Must Go Forward

By , August 4, 2015
China's President Xi Jinping, leading a major crackdown on China's human rights attorneys.

China’s President Xi Jinping, leading a major crackdown on China’s human rights attorneys.

For the past few years, the Chinese government – under the leadership of Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) – has methodically targeted China’s human rights lawyers and advocates.  On a yearly basis, dozens of human rights lawyers, known in Chinese as weiquan (pronounced way-choo-ann) lawyers, are detained, some disappeared, and a few tried and convicted usually on the trumped up and amorphous charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (Art. 293 of China’s Criminal Law).  By focusing its energy on key civil rights advocates such as Xu Zhiyong (currently serving a four-year prison term for picking quarrels), Pu Zhiqiang (currently awaiting trial on picking quarrels) and Cao Shunli (died in police custody on a charge of picking quarrels), the Chinese government hoped the weiquan movement would cease from growing.

But it did not.  By the beginning of 2014, the number of Chinese lawyers who self-identified as part of the weiquan movement number around 200 (see Eva Pils, China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance).  And this number does not include non-lawyer advocates.  These lawyers and advocates have taken on a variety of issues: disability discrimination, sexual harassment in public places, product safety, persecution of the religious group Falun Gong, and official corruption just to name a few.  While their causes are broad, their approaches are similar: use of the weiquan lawyers’ network; bold courtroom tactics; and use of the media – both traditional and social – to call on the government to abide by its own laws and protect individual rights.  It is these tactics and this message that the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) considers a threat to its rule.

Attorney Wang Yu

Attorney Wang Yu

In the early hours of July 9, 2015, the Chinese government tried a new approach to rid itself of the weiquan movement.  Beginning with the detention of Wang Yu, a weiquan lawyer known for representing persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, public security authorities instituted a well-orchestrated, nationwide campaign where over 200 weiquan lawyers and advocates were apprehended and brought to various police stations throughout the country for interrogation.  According to Amnesty International, as of August 3, 2015, 232 advocates had been targeted in the past month with 27 still in police custody or just “missing.”  Their transgressions?  Zealously advocating for China’s most vulnerable.  Likely though the police will charge them with “picking quarrels” or “inciting subversion of state power.”

Not only is this crackdown unrivaled in its scale, it is also filled with a vitriol not seen since the days of the Cultural Revolution or the weeks after the Tian’anmen massacre. Wang Yu and her law firm, the Fengrui Law Firm, have been lambasted in the state-controlled media with the claims that Fengrui is nothing more than a “criminal gang” in “serious violation of the law (see also China Law Translate‘s translation of the infographic appearing in China’s Legal Daily).  Never before has a group of lawyers received such a public and broad rebuke.

Obama & Xi to meet in DC in September.

Obama & Xi to meet in DC in September.

The Chinese government’s unprecedented and alarming attack on its weiquan lawyers comes only weeks before President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States.  Many have called on President Obama to cancel the visit because of the detention of these lawyers.  But that would be a mistake.  Instead, President Obama should take Xi’s visit as an opportunity to highlight the United States’ commitment to public interest lawyering by inviting many of the country’s various public interest lawyers to a meeting with President Xi.  And not just the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, two organizations that repeatedly sue the federal government for its civil rights transgressions.

human_rights_firstEveryday throughout the United States, legal services attorneys challenge the power of the state while simultaneously accepting the state’s funding.  In New York, to advance the rights of individuals with disabilities, MFY Legal Services, Inc. sued New York State for warehousing adults with mental disabilities in adult homes instead of integrating them in the larger community as demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In California, the Public Interest Law Project, working with local legal services organizations, has repeatedly sued various city governments for their failure to zone for  and finance the development of affordable housing, a requirement under California law.  The National Center for Law and Economic Justice sued various New York City agencies for failing to ensure that public benefits information was accessible to the visually-impaired.

Affordable housing, mental health issues, disability discrimination, these are all issues that China is currently grappling with and is why President Obama should highlighting the role that United States legal services attorneys have played in bringing these issues to the forefront and protecting these individuals’ rights in this country.  Even though these cases appear to challenge the government’s authority, in the end this approach is necessary to provide an escape valve for growing societal pressures.

800px-The_Association_of_Bar_of_New_York_EntranceFinally, if China wants to ensure that it remains hospitable to international business, it cannot round up weiquan lawyers, refer to them as a criminal gang, deny them access to lawyers (even though such a right is guaranteed by China’s Criminal Procedure Law), and detain them on trumped up charges. A functional legal system cannot be limited to just to business disputes.  A  legal system is only as strong as the protections it affords society’s weakest.  It is part of the reason why some of the legal services cases mentioned above were co-counseled with corporate law firms.  It is why the recent letter from New York City Bar Association President, Debra Raskin, to President Xi condemning his government’s recent round-up of public interest lawyers is essential.

State visits are highly choreographed affairs where words and actions matter.  Too often this means that words that directly criticize are not said.  But here, by inviting Xi Jinping to a session with U.S. public interest lawyers and their supportive corporate law brethren, such as Ms. Raskin, President Obama could get the message across that the Chinese government’s current behavior is not just in violation of its own law and international law, but is also self-defeating.  Individual claims must be heard; this is why the United States and every state government continues to fund legal services organizations that directly challenge them.

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