Search: Xu Zhiyong

Fuzzy Jurisdiction & Four Years: The Xu Zhiyong Verdict

By , January 28, 2014
Fuzzy Jurisdiction

Fuzzy Jurisdiction

On Sunday, in a verdict that surprised no one,  the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court found human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong guilty of gathering crowds to disrupt public order (Criminal Law Article 296).  The Court sentenced Xu to four years, only one year shy of the maximum.

The Court’s verdict which runs close to twenty pages when converted to a word document, details the prosecutor’s evidence that formed the basis of the Court’s decision.  The length of the document itself belies a Court confident in its decision on a case that they know the world was watching.

There is certainly much to be parsed out in the decision but one thing that is interesting are the jurisdictional issues that China Law & Policy raised last week prior to Xu’s trial.  Namely, why Xu – who is being accused of the same crimes as many of the other defendants – was being tried in an higher level court, Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate Court, while his compatriots are being tried in the lower level Haidian People’s Court.

The verdict attempts directly answers this question and in doing so present a frightening future for defendants:

对于被告人及其辩护人在庭前及庭审中对管辖及分案审理所提的异议,经查,本案事实涉及北京市海淀区、朝阳区及西城区等属于不同法院管辖的区域,北京市人民检察院第一分院对许志永一案向我院提起公诉后,北京市高级人民法院依照《中华人民共和国刑事诉讼法》第二十六条之规定,指定由我院管辖。鉴于公诉机关在起诉书中明确指控了犯罪事实,并附有案卷材料及证据,符合《中华人民共和国刑事诉讼法》第一百八十一条的规定,我院依法应当受理并开庭审判。对于共同犯罪案件是否并案审理,人民法院、人民检察院、公安机关依法均可以在各自职责范围内决定。被告人及其辩护人所提上述异议不能成立,本院不予支持。

The Court acknowledges defense counsel’s two jurisdictional-based objections: (1) that the Intermediate Court should not hear the case and (2)

Xu Zhiyong, awaiting trial in the detention center

Xu Zhiyong, awaiting trial in the detention center

Xu’s case should be tried with the other defendants.   According to the Court, its jurisdiction is based upon Article 26 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), a provision that permits a higher level court to re-assign cases to other courts when jurisdiction is unclear.  According to the Court, because the Haidian District, the Chaoyang District and the Xidan District People’s courts all had jurisdiction over the case (presumably because some of the public demonstrations accorded in each of those districts), the prosecutor filed his case with the Intermediate Court and the Beijing Municipal Higher People’s Court determined that the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court could hear the case, thus giving it jurisdiction.

The verdict pays no mind to defense counsel’s objections; it does not explain what these objections were let alone why the Court rejected them. By flat out ignoring these objections, the Court seems to imply that as long as the law was followed by the prosecutor and the courts, then the decision will be permitted regardless of defense counsel’s arguments.  Unfortunately, this does seem to be what Article 26 says although neither the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on the Implementation of the CPL (“SPC Interpretation”) nor the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on the Implementation of the CPL (“SPP Interpretation”)  explicitly permit the prosecutor to file a criminal case with a higher level court.  Although at the same time, it does not forbid it.

It doesn't matter how loud defense counsel gets, his objection is never heard

It doesn’t matter how loud defense counsel gets, his objection is never heard

While there might be a basis in law to permit the Intermediate Court to have jurisdiction, what there appears no basis for is the Court’s cursory denial of defense counsel’s request to try the other defendants with Xu.  In a two sentence analysis, the Court states that under the law it is within the discretion of either the Court, the prosecutor or the public security organs to decide whether joint defendants should be tried separately.  The Court fails to cite any provision of any law or regulation that states that premise.

As for defense counsel’s objection – which convincingly cited to Article 13 of the SPP Interpretation requiring all cases to be joined before a higher court if one is to be heard there – the Court conclusory stated that defense counsel’s objection was “untenable” (不能成立) and therefore the Court was right to reject it.  The verdict provides no reason or explanation as to why the objection was untenable.  Given that defense counsel was able to sight to regulation for its argument and the Court here cites to no law, defense counsel’s objection seems worlds more tenable than anything the Court provided.

But that would be for a trial that was based on rule of law, something that is missing here where the Court rules by executive fiat regardless of laws of regulations.  For all the Chinese Communist Party’s recent rhetoric about the need to have a “strict adherence to legal procedure,” the CCP again chose to ignore that procedure in the one case where it felt like its power was being threatened.

 

Jumping the Shark? Xu Zhiyong’s Closing Statement to the Court & the CCP Reaction

By , January 23, 2014
Xu Zhiyong

Xu Zhiyong

On Wednesday, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court concluded the trial of Xu Zhiyong on the charge of disrupting public order, a crime that can carry up to 5 years in jail.  At the conclusion of the trial, Xu was invited to make a final statement, a right afforded to him by Article 193 of the amended Criminal Procedure Law.  According to his attorneys, ten minutes into his closing statement, Xu was shutdown by the judge.  According to Article 235 of the Supreme People’s Court Interpretation on the Application of the Criminal Procedure Law, the Court is permitted to stop a closing statement:

“After the chief judge announces the conclusion of courtroom debate, the collegial panel shall ensure the defendant’s full exercise of the right to a final statement. Where the defendant in his final statement repeats his opinions several times, the chief judge may stop it. Where the final statement is contemptuous of the court or public prosecutor, harms others or the common interests of society, or are irrelevant to the case, they shall be stopped.” – translation courtesy of China Law Translate

Fortunately, Xu’s lawyers have released his closing statement in its entirety and Yaxue Cao over at the blog Change China has posted the English translation.  The document is an important read in understanding the New Citizens Movement, its principles, and why the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) is so afraid:

“While on the face of it, this appears to be an issue of the boundary between a citizen’s right to free speech and public order, what this is, in fact, is the issue of whether or not you recognize a citizen’s constitutional rights.

On a still deeper level, this is actually an issue of fears you all carry within: fear of a public trial, fear of a citizen’s freedom to observe a trial, fear of my name appearing online, and fear of the free society nearly upon us….” – Read the Full Translation Here Courtesy of Change China.

While this drama was unfolding in the courtroom, a separate drama was unfolding outside with various foreign journalists being physically harassed by both Chinese police and plain-clothed thugs likely hired by the Chinese police.  All of it caught on camera.  Here is Martin Patience of the BBC first harassed by police then by a group of thugs:

And here is Mark Stone of Sky News being manhandled:
Finally, CNN’s David McKenzie pushed into a police van and taken away against his will:

 

On some level, this is comical.  Harassing foreign journalists from filming outside of a courthouse?  The police had already cordoned off the perimeter of Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate Court.  These guys were going to get no where near the courthouse in the first place.  All they wanted was just a backdrop of the courthouse for their story on the trial of Xu Zhiyong.

 

But instead, they got a whole other story – how the thug-like police state is willing to go on camera and push around foreign journalists with impunity.  Granted, with the Chinese government’s fairly strong control of the internet and its ability to prevent videos from getting through firewall, very few Chinese will see these videos.  But the rest of the world will.  The rest of the world will witness the mafioso-mentality, with hooded, hidden thugs, carrying out what are likely the orders from a high-level Public Security Bureau (PSB) official.  Was the trade-off worth it?  I would say no.

 

But does the CCP care what the rest of the world thinks of it?  Is this an arm-flexing exercise of the CCP?  That international opinion does not matter to them?  Certainly these videos are not ones the Chinese tourist industry wants potential tourists to see, but what about Western businesses?  Will they think twice now about betting on China?  If the past is to provide an answer, Western businesses will continue to look to China for their profits.

 

Or does it show a CCP that has jumped the shark?  That its grip on power is so feeble that it will go to any lengths, including ordering thugs to harass foreign journalists?  In his closing statement, Xu Zhiyong seems to think so – that a free society is nearly upon China.  But if history is to serve as any guide, the CCP has an uncanny talent of retaining power even when it looks like it is at its weakest.  This June will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests.  Twenty-five years later, the Party that ordered the massacre is still in control.  And the people’s protests are still the same.

Why an Intermediate Court? The Impending Criminal Trial of Activist Xu Zhiyong

By , January 21, 2014
Xu Zhiyong in better days - on the cover of Chinese Esquire in 2009

Xu Zhiyong in better days – on the cover of Chinese Esquire in 2009

On Wednesday, the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court will hear the trial of rights-defending lawyer Xu Zhiyong (pronounced Sue Zhi-young).  His alleged crime?  Disturbing public order, a charge that the Chinese government has used with abandon since China’s new president Xi Jinping rose to power at the end of 2012

Xu was not always the Chinese government’s Enemy No. 1.   Early in his career, Xu was celebrated for his ground-breaking work.  In 2003, Xu, along with rights-defending attorneys Teng Biao and Yu Jiang, successfully pushed for the abolishment of China’s custody and repatriation system, a form of extrajudicial detention that resulted in abuse and on one occasion the death of a college student.   In 2008, Xu, through his legal assistance organization the Open Constitution Initiative (“OCI” or in Chinese “Gongmeng”) represented parents whose children were poisoned by contaminated powdered milk, keeping the issue in the press and obtaining some form of justice for the parents.  These cases, in addition to investigations into the use China’s “black jails” – extrajudicial, ad hoc and secretive holding cells used to house government-defined trouble makers – brought both domestic and international fame.  In 2008, Xu was featured in China’s Economic Observer and by 2009, he would grace the cover of China’s Esquire magazine.

But Xu’s success also brought the attention of the Chinese government at a time when it was beginning to look less and less favorably upon the rights-defending movement.  In July 2009, Xu was detained on charges of tax evasion.  After being held for almost a month, Xu was freed on bail and his organization was fined a stunning 1.46 million RMB.  Such was the end of OCI.

Fortunately for the Chinese people it was not the end of Xu Zhiyong or his rights-defending work.  Instead, Xu looked to take his ideas and create

Emblem of the New Citizens Movement - calligraphy of Sun Yatsen

Emblem of the New Citizens Movement – calligraphy of Sun Yatsen

a more organized grassroots movement.  Working with other rights-defending lawyers, journalists, activists and average citizens, the movement called on the Chinese people to uphold the rule of law and seek to protect their civil rights.  By May 2012, Xu named this movement “New Citizens Movement” (in Chinese, Xin Gongmin Yundong) and called upon the new citizens to unite and help to establish a rule of law, protect constitutionally-guaranteed rights, end corruption in government and change the role of the Chinese people from subjects to full-functioning citizens.  Xu’s essay describing the movement was quickly removed from the internet.

Although many describe Xu’s approach as moderate, it is still too radical for the Chinese government, especially a Chinese government with a new president eager to solidify his power.  Over the past year, the Chinese government has detained over 100 activists, many of whom are New Citizens.

In July 2013, Xu’s time had come; the police detained him and various other activists and in August 2013, formally arrested him for disturbing public order.   In its December 2013 indictment, the Beijing police charged Xu with organizing and being the ringleader of protests held in Beijing calling on the government to require that senior government officials disclose their financial holdings and assets (see video below of one of the protests).

The fact that the Chinese Communist Party has recently initiated such a pilot program of asset disclosure is irrelevant.  Last Friday, Xu appeared before the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate Court where he learned that his trial is set for Wednesday, that he will not be permitted to call witnesses, and will not be permitted to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.  As protest, Xu will remain silent during Wednesday’s trial.

There are many things to question about Xu’s impending trial, but one aspect that jumps out as out of the ordinary is the fact that Xu’s trial will not be held in a basic trial court.  Instead, the intermediate court has jurisdiction; many of the other defendants arrested and charged for the same crimes will have their case heard in the Haidian Basic People’s Court.   Why is Xu different?  Why is his case being heard by a higher court?

Beijing's No. 1 Intermediate Court

Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate Court

According to the China’s amended Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), an intermediate court automatically has jurisdiction if the case involves charges of endangering state security or involves terrorist activities, or if the case has a penalty of life imprisonment or death  (see CPL, Article 20).  Here, the charges do not involve state security or terrorism and the penalty is a maximum of five years imprisonment.

However, according to the Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation on the Implementation of the Amended CPL (“SPC Interpretations”), even when a case does not involve state security, terrorism, a life sentence or the death penalty, the lower court can ask the intermediate court to hear the trial if (1) the case is large or complex, (2) is a novel and difficult case, or (3) is a case that is significant and thus would provide general guidance to other case (see SPC Interpretations, Article 15).

If Article 15 of the SPC Interpretations is the basis of the Intermediate Court’s jurisdiction, then the Intermediate Court must issue a written decision accepting the transfer and submit that decision to the lower court and the prosecutor.  Article 15 does not require that the written decision be provided to defendant or his attorney (see also SPC Interpretations, Article 14: Higher people’s courts deciding to try a first-instance case within the jurisdiction of a lower people’s court, should send down a written decision to change jurisdiction to the court below, and notify the procuratorate at the same level in writing”).

Unfortunately, none of the articles about Xu trial – either in Chinese or English – explain why his case is being heard by the Intermediate Court and not, like the other defendants accused of the same crimes, by the Haidian Basic Court.

But regardless of the reason why the Intermediate Court is hearing Xu’s case, the SPC Interpretations are fairly clear that where a case involves

Xu Zhiyong, awaiting trial in the detention center

Xu Zhiyong, awaiting trial in the detention center

multiple defendants and the case is elevated to a higher court for one defendant, then all defendants should be tried by the higher court (see SPC Interpretations, Article 13: “For multiple crimes by a single person, joint crimes or other cases that need to be joined for trial, if one person or crime belongs to the jurisdiction of the higher level court, the higher level court has jurisdiction of the entire case”).

New Citizens activist and rights-defending lawyer Xiao Guozhen speculates that the police and prosecutors sought to separate the trials so that the statements of the other participants can be used against Xu in his trial.  According to Xiao, in a trial with multiple defendants, one co-defendant cannot serve as a witness.  But when the trials are separated, the other defendant’s statements and confessions can be used in the trial against Xu.  But this all supposes that the other accused will speak out against Xu.

Hopefully Wednesday we will know although as Prof. Jerome Cohen points out, the authorities has done all that it can, such as using one of the smallest courtrooms in the courthouse for Xu’s trial to guarantee that the trial is all but closed to the public.  Another violation of the amended CPL.

Xu Zhiyong on the Disappearance of His Volunteer Song Ze

By , July 23, 2012

Seeing Red in China, a blog that often posts translations of Chinese activists’ work, has just posted two must read translations (see hereand

Beds in a vacant black jail - Caijing investigation.

here).

Both concern the recent abduction and detention of Song Ze, a volunteer attorney at the Open Constitution Initiative.  Like most recent college graduates, Song Ze is an idealist young man who wants to use his education to better society.  That is what brought him to the Open Constitution Intiative and helped him to become an advocate to those petitioners illegally subjected to one of China’s black jails.  As Xu Zhiyong recollects in his essay exclusively written for Seeing Red in China, Song Ze’s advocacy brought him to the cries of Hu Yufu, an 80 year old petitioner desperate for medical attention but denied access to a hospital by his jailers.  Hu Yufu died only a few days after Song Ze first heard his story.  Relying on China’s rule of law, Song Ze assisted the family in bringing a lawsuit against the local Party for their father’s death.

As with all stories where a young idealist lawyer relies on the Chinese government’s promises of rule of law, it was that advocacy that caused Song Ze to be abducted and detained for “provoking disturbances.”  As recounted by his lawyer, Liang Xiaojun, Song Ze has been detained beyond the 37 days allowed by law and has yet to be charged or arrested.  Liang’s account demonstrates a criminal justice system that still has a long way to go before it follows its own laws.  Even citation to the law does not matter:

The officer in charge of the case was there. Upon hearing my request to meet Song Ze, he asked who had sent me and how, while recording information about me on a notepad. Then he left the room with the approval form. When he returned shortly, he told me the lieutenant, whose signature was required, was unavailable, and I couldn’t meet Song Ze on that day. He told me to come back tomorrow.

I argued that, according to China’s Lawyers Law, meeting with client required no approval. He said, the new criminal procedure law wouldn’t take effect until next year, and it was good for a lawyer to obtain approval

Song Ze’s current whereabouts are now unknown.  As Liang points out in his essay, this has become permissible under Article 73 of China’s amended Criminal Procedure Law.  Liang suspects that “residential surveillance” in an undisclosed location will become the tool of choice of the police so as to avoid even the limited protections afforded criminal defendants.

Xu Zhiyong and Liang Xiaojun‘s essays not only reflect the absurdity of China’s legal system where the police do as they please, but they also reveal what is becoming a battle for China’s future.  When the heavy hand of the Party falls on a young, idealistic volunteer, the Chinese Communist Party sends a strong warning signal to China’s other Song Zes: your idealism could silence you and cause you to become a case in and of yourself.

Huntsman Arrives in China; Xu Zhiyong, Zhang Lu & Ilham Tohti are Released

By , August 25, 2009

A day after Ambassador Huntsman’s arrival in Beijing, Chinese authorities released three prominent activists on

Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

Sunday: Xu Zhiyong, founder of Gongmeng, a public interest law organization, Xu’s assistant Zhang Lu, and economics professor and Uighur Online founder, Ilham Tohti.

Both Xu and Zhang were released on bail, a very rare occurrence under Chinese law, signifying that higher authorities likely gave approval to release the two.  Although bail is theoretically available, in the vast majority of criminal cases, the suspect remains in custody until trial.

The circumstances surrounding Tohti’s release are much less clear, but it appears that charges against him are no longer pending.

Was it U.S. pressure on the Chinese government that secured the release of these three activists?  While it likely played a role, there are other important factors that influenced the Chinese government.  First, there was significant domestic pressure, especially for the release of Xu and Zhang.  Through small donations, some as little as five or one yuan, Gongmeng was able to raise over 800,000 yuan (over $115,000) to pay the fine imposed by the tax courts.   Additionally, a group of well-regarded academics and professionals issued an open letter to the Chinese government requesting the release of Xu and Zhang.

In addition to the domestic support for Xu and Zhang’s release, a second factor that likely played a part is that their actions are viewed as less threatening to the Chinese government.  Xu’s organization, Gongmeng, worked within the

Activist, Gao Zhisheng

Activist, Gao Zhisheng

legal system, using the very laws passed by the National People’s Congress to protect the rights of vulnerable individuals.  Other activists who have taken a more strident approach to the Chinese government have not been released.  Gao Zhisheng, an attorney who has ardently represented members of the religious organization Falun Gong and who also openly called on western nations to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was taken into custody in February 2009 and has not been heard from since.

Although Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xiaobo and many others remain in Chinese police custody, the release of Xu, Zhang and Tohti should still be viewed with guarded optimism.  Evidently, for those activists who do not go too far, the Chinese government does respond to domestic and international pressure.  However, what it means to “go too far” is still unclear and detention of activist attorneys will likely continue.

But Ambassador Huntsman and President Obama should see the release of these three activists as a positive sign, and should continue with the dialogue they have evidently already started with the Chinese government.

News Alert: Xu Zhiyong Formally Arrested

By , August 19, 2009

Chinese Human Rights Defenders reported yesterday that Xu Zhiyong was formally arrested on August 18, 2009 at 11:50 AM.

Holding a person in detention for many days prior to arrest is not uncommon.  While the norm is three days before a request for an arrest, in political cases it is not uncommon to hold an individual for up to 30 days before a formal arrest.  For a great summary on the multiple ways that a person can be held by the police without an arrest in China, see this post on China Law Prof Blog.

The charge against Xu Zhiyong – tax evasion.

Xu Zhiyong and What his Detention Means for Rule of Law in China

By , August 17, 2009

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Just before dawn on July 29, 2009, the Beijing police apprehended leading Chinese public interest lawyer, Xu Zhiyong, allegedly to question him about possible tax evasion.  He has not been heard from since.  In an increasingly conservative political environment in China, Mr. Xu’s detention is far from an anomaly.  Many speculate that the Chinese government’s recent crackdown on public interest lawyers is merely a part of the preparations for the 60th

Xu Zhiyong; Photo by Shizhao

Xu Zhiyong; Photo by Shizhao

Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China this fall.  But in looking beneath the surface of the government’s recent actions, a different narrative emerges.

The apprehension of Mr. Xu, the forced closure of his legal assistance organization, Gongmeng (in English the Open Constitution Initiative), the investigation of Yi Ren Ping, a non-profit law center that assists AIDS and hepatitis patients with anti-discrimination actions, the recent disbarment of over 20 public interest lawyers, the professional “exile” of a leading legal scholar and outspoken critic to a remote region of China, all of these actions paint the picture of a government that has become increasingly more alarmed by a more vocal and organized group of lawyers.  The government, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which ultimately controls all governmental bodies, has begun to view the development of these non-profit lawyers and legal reform as a threat to its authority and to the one-party rule of the CCP.  Recent governmental assaults on the public interest law field are not just a one-off affair.  Rather, they show a CCP not looking to embrace the “rule of law,” but instead seeking to contain it.

Development of Rule of Law in China from the US & Chinese Perspectives

Both China and the U.S. agree that greater rule of law in China is needed and can benefit China.  Virtually every conference between the two nations mentions the need for rule of law development. But what is never articulated is what each means by “rule of law.”  Many Western scholars claim that rule of law is value-neutral; it is merely a system where laws are enforced in a transparent manner by an independent judiciary and that rule of law can exist regardless of the political system of the country.

And while this is likely true, the U.S. government still largely views rule of law within the rubric of democracy; as the rule of law develops so does democracy and greater protection for human rights.  Of the $27 million the government appropriated to rule of law projects in China in 2008, $15 million were administered by the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and another $2 million was designated for non-State Department rule of law projects (see CSR report, p. 2).

China, however, takes a different perspective.  While seeing the benefits of rule of law in terms of economic development, international acceptance and respect, and the ability for the central government to have greater control over the provinces, China has largely limited rule of law to the economic sphere and at times, a few other select areas.  If a case involves a politically sensitive issue, involves an organized group of plaintiffs, or could unmask government malfeasance, the government will either not allow a case to proceed or will determine the ultimate outcome.

Even with this limited development toward legal reform, many U.S. policymakers believe that rule of law will continue to spread and permeate lawyers’, judges’ and society’s consciousness.  This Trojan horse strategy assumes that legal reform in the economic sphere will inevitably spread to all areas of the law and to Chinese civil society.  Government will be held more accountable to the people, laws will be administered transparently and all rights, political, economic and social, will be able to be vindicated.  But proponents of this theory offer little to no evidence as to why.  Why is this inevitable? Why can’t China succeed in limiting legal reform to the economic sphere?  Why can’t rule of law be contained?

In other words, what if China is the black swan in the whole rule of law theory?

Emergence of a More Conservative Legal Ideology in China

Theory of the Three Supremes

The detention of Xu Zhiyong comes amid an increasing conservative political environment in China, at least in terms of legal reform.  In December 2007, President Hu Jintao attempted to reassert the importance of the CCP in legal interpretation and reform by announcing his theory of  “The Three Supremes:” judges and prosecutors should “always regard as supreme the Party’s cause, the people’s interest, and the Constitution and laws.”   Although initially unclear if the Three Supremes were listed in hierarchical order, a recent announcement in July 2009 by a justice minister confirmed the hierarchical nature of the Three Supremes and the preeminence of the CCP when he called upon lawyers to “above all obey the Communist Party and help foster a harmonious society.”

Wang Shengjun, President of the Supreme People's Court

Wang Shengjun, President of the Supreme People's Court

The Three Supremes is not just rhetoric.  In March 2008, the National People’s Congress named Wang Shengjun, a Party insider without any legal training, as head of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), replacing reform-minded and trained lawyer Xiao Yang.  Upon taking his position Wang has worked ardently to have the courts conform to the Three Supremes.

A More Organized Public Interest Law Movement

While the government expounds the Three Supremes and imposes this conservative ideology on the legal system, public interest lawyers have become increasingly organized and vocal.  In August 2008, a group of 35 public interest lawyers in Beijing issued an internet appeal that requested that the government-controlled Beijing Lawyers’ Association (BLA) to conduct free and direct elections of governing officials of the BLA.  In December 2008, human rights activists, many of whom are lawyers, signed Charter 08, a petition to the Chinese government calling for greater human rights, the end of one-party rule and an independent legal system.  In addition, many of the non-profit lawyers, including Xu Zhiyong, have represented plaintiffs in politically sensitive cases, including cases pertaining to the Sichuan earthquake and the melamine milk scandal.  Last year, Xu’s organization issued a report blaming Chinese policies in Tibet for the 2008 uprising in that region.

China’s Recent Response

Under the doctrine of the Three Supremes, China has not responded kindly to these public interest lawyers.  Although the BLA slightly altered its voting rules by allowing for the direct election of representatives who then in-turn elected the governing officials, in February 2009, the local Judicial Bureau sought its revenge.  After withholding a license from Li Subin, one of the advocates of the new voting procedures at the BLA, the Bureau issued an order for Yitong Law Firm, which employed Li, to shut down for six months for permitting a non-licensed attorney to practice law.

Liu Xiaobo, a leading human rights activist in China and signatory to Charter 08 was detained by police just hours before the publication of Charter 08.  He remains in police custody.  He Weifang, a well-known law scholar at the prestigious Peking University has been sent into professional exile and now teaches law in China’s most western region, Xinjiang.

Xu Zhiyong has faced a similar fate.  In May 2009, tax authorities began to investigate Xu’s non-profit legal center, Gongmeng.  On July 14, the Beijing office of the National Tax Bureau and the Beijing Local Tax Bureau each issued a notice to Gongmeng for non-payment of taxes on funds donated by Yale University and levied the maximum penalty of five-times the amount owed, or $208,000.  On July 17, twenty officials from the Beijing Office of Civil Affairs barged into the Gongmeng offices, confiscating all materials including computers, case files, and furniture, and shut down Gongmeng.  On July 29, Xu was apprehended by police for suspicion of tax evasion; he remains in custody.

In a Kafkaesque turn of events, on August 5, after raising at least some funds to pay its fine, the Beijing Public Security Bureau froze all of Gongmeng’s accounts.  On August 10, in an attempt to discuss this matter with tax officials at the Beijing Local Tax Bureau and the National Tax Bureau, Gongmeng officials were escorted out.   Authorities have informed Gongmeng that their recently filed paperwork is invalid because it does not contain the signature of Gongmeng’s legal representative, Xu Zhiyong. As this back-and-forth continues, Xu Zhiyong remains in police custody and the fine of $208,000 accrues daily compounded interest of 3%.

Also on July 29, officials from Beijing Cultural Market Administrative Enforcement Unit inspected the offices of Yi Ren

Click on image to open a PDF version of the Timeline of Events

Click on image to open a PDF version of the Timeline of Events

Ping, a non-profit organization that files anti-discrimination lawsuits on behalf of people AIDS or hepatitis.  Claiming that their search was being conducted under the Measures to Manage Internal Material Publications, a law that was repealed in 2001, the officials seized 90 copies of Yi Ren Ping’s newsletter.

China’s Containment of Rule of Law

The Chinese Communist Party is unified by one principle – to remain in power.  Any organized effort, even if within the confines of the law, will be viewed as a threat to the CCP’s authority.  In recent months, Chinese public interest lawyers have been effectively organizing themselves, especially through the internet, to challenge the current system.  However, these lawyers are far from what the rest of the world would deem radical.  They are merely using the laws passed by the National People’s Congress to protect people, especially those in disadvantaged groups like rural parents in Sichuan or people with AIDS.  They are not looking to overturn underlying constitutional principles; they just want to enforce the law as written.

Even though these lawyers work within the system to improve Chinese society in a way that the law permits, as soon as they amass sufficient numbers, in the minds of the CCP, they are no longer operating within the legal system, but within the political one.  In these situations, the CCP will abandon the legal system in favor of the political one.

But this is not to say that rule of law has not taken hold in China.  Today, foreign corporations usually receive a fair hearing before arbitration commissions and the majority of cases handled by the courts are ordinary cases that involve little to no Party interference.  There has been a marked increase in the professionalism of many judges and lawyers, and there is a sincere effort by many in the profession to develop greater rule of law.

However, those few cases that involve large groups of people or involve issues sensitive to the CCP, often do not receive the same transparent and independent judgment.  In these situations, the outcome is ultimately determined by the CCP.

Thus far, China has been successful at confining rule of law development to non-political cases.  The actions that have been taken against public interest lawyers in the past two years show China’s commitment to maintaining this separation.  The government’s harassment and detention of public interest lawyers is intended to have a chilling effect on the profession.  The low numbers of lawyers who seek a career in the public interest can be seen as a reflection of this impact.

But can China succeed in containing rule of law to certain areas?  Many look to Taiwan and South Korea as an example of the inevitability of legal reform and democracy in an East Asian society.  Both were under authoritarian regimes but eventually developed vibrant legal systems.  However, China is in a very different place.  Taiwan and South Korea were still dependent on the U.S. for trade and for military protection, and thus heavily influenced by the U.S.  China, on the other hand, has become an economic and military powerhouse, beholden to few other nations.  One of those countries is, of course, the United States, but China has gained significant leverage in this bilateral relationship by stocking up over $700 billion in US treasury bonds. All the while, it has been able to develop its economy while limiting legal development in the political and human rights spheres.  Its continued rise only solidifies the need for this separation in the minds of the CCP leadership.

China’s future remains uncertain and only time will tell if rule of law does in fact permeate other areas of Chinese society.  However, at this juncture, where China has become an important global power, it is important for U.S. policymakers to re-evaluate their assumptions of the rule of law landscape in China; and to ask themselves, what if China is successful in containing rule of law to certain segments?  Can the U.S. live with that reality?  Will it have a choice?

China Law & Policy Turns 10!

By , July 15, 2019

Today marks China Law & Policy’s (“CL&P”) tenth anniversary.  And like any good anniversary, it’s an opportunity to look back at where we started, where we have been and where we would like to go.

On July 15, 2009, we published our first post, a simple two-part piece to explain the riots that had recently engulfed Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang province.  Ten years and 374 posts later, we are back where we started as Xinjiang continues to fill the news.  This time for the Chinese government’s unlawful internment of 1.5 million Uighur and Kazak Muslims, perhaps the world’s greatest human rights violation perpetrated by a current superpower (although the United States doesn’t have a firm leg to stand on right now given its inhuman treatment of undocumented immigrants).

Similarly, since CL&P’s inception, we have covered the Chinese government’s increasing suppression of human rights advocates and civil society.  No doubt that the suppression has become more severe since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, with his passage of restrictive laws on civil society and his July 2015 nationwide crackdown on human rights advocates.  But our posts show that the Chinese government had already moved in this direction even before Xi took power.  Posts from 2009, when Hu Jintao was still president, called on the Obama Administration to raise the issue of the Chinese government’s harrassment of human rights lawyers and discussed the unlawful detention – and the eventual release – of key activists including Xu Zhiyong and Ilham Tohti.  Both would again be arrested under Xi and be given harsh prison sentences in 2014: Xu, a four year sentence for disturbing public order and Tohti given life for separatism.

Another constant during the life of this blog has been the Chinese government’s use of the visa process to try to censor foreign journalists.  We first covered this issue back in 2012, with the what was effectively an expulsion from China of Al Jazeera reporter Melissa Chan.  Since then we have written about the denial of a visa to veteran China journalist Paul Mooney in 2013, the forced departure of New York Times journalist Austin Ramzy in 2014, the effective expulsion of L’Orbs reporter Ursula Gauthier in 2015 and the effective expulsion of Buzzfeed’s Megha Rajagopalan in 2017.  In fact, three posts concerning foreign journalists’ visas rounded out our top five most read pieces, including Self-Censorship or Survival? If so, Bloomberg is Not Alone, Late to the Party? The U.S. Government’s Response to China’s Censorship, and the post about Gauthier.

But our most popular post by far was Parallels in Authoritarianism: Trump and the Chinese Communist Party, a post written only a few weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration that compared his leadership style to those of authoritarian rulers like Mao Zedong.  Over the past two years, these parallels have only become more apparent.  Our second most popular piece was one that took me a long time to come to terms with and write, Chen Guangcheng and the Commandeering of Our China Human Rights Policy, but I am glad that I did.

Oddly, our most read posts are not necessarily our most commented.  Those all happen to be some of our “lighter” pieces and posts from our “Just For Fun” category.  Our most commented post was our movie review of Zhao Liang’s “Petition: The Court of Complaints,” with many commenting on China’s unique petitioning system as a away of handling disputes.  Another heavily commented post was my critique of Maureen Dowd’s criticism of Bob Dylan performing in China, with many noting that I was too harsh on Dylan’s Christmas album by calling it “abysmally bad.” Since I have written that post, I have listened to Dylan’s Christmas album and it is surprisingly endearing; I now no longer skip it in my Christmas playlist and find myself singing along.  Thank you to those who raised this issue in the comments and forced me to change my view.

And that is what has been great about this blog for the past ten years.  It has forced me to more carefully analyze a country that I care deeply about and that has seen seismic change in this past decade.  Additionally, I hope that my passion for understanding China has been communicated to our readers.  CL&P was created to overcome simplistic views of China and to explain, in easy to understand terms, why non-China people should care about some of the underlying issues about China’s rule of law development.  Since its inception, I have strived to ensure that our analysis is always well-documented and informed.  With Trump as president and the fact that he has few China experts working for him as he deals with a more powerful China, understanding the country now is more important than ever.  And we will continue to blog and offer our perspective on US-China relations as well as the continued rise of China in a world where the U.S. seeks to exit the world stage.

In closing, I want to note that this blog would not be successful – and been able to continue for ten years – without the support of many friends and family and the readers who have emailed me to correct a fact or just to give me encouragement.  Your support has been instrumental to me over the years.  For my Chinese friends who have often provided me with a more nuanced understanding of what is happening on the ground in China, I want to say thank you for that and all that you do in China.

So join me in wishing a happy birthday to China Law & Policy!

China Attempts Economic Globalization Without Human Rights

By , March 14, 2017

In July 2015, the Chinese government detained close to 250 lawyers, paralegals and activist in a nationwide crackdown on China’s nascent civil rights movement.  The crackdown was unprecedented in its scope, with lawyers and activists simultaneously abducted from their homes and often in the dead of night.  It seemed to signal the nadir for China’s rights activists but, as China Human Rights Defenders‘ (“CHRD”) Annual Report reflects, it was far from rock bottom.  In 2016, the world witnessed the fallout from these arrests and a regime even more intent than ever on stamping out China’s civil rights movement.  But while that fallout continues domestically, internationally, China is seeking to play a more important role and reshape the current global order.  But the United States and western Europe – intent on pursuing more isolationist policies – ignores China’s domestic turmoil at its peril.

Map reflecting the national crackdown of Lawyers and support staff, July 2015 – October 2015 (courtesy of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group)

2016: Things Just Got More Serious – Rights Lawyers & Activists Charged with National Security Crimes

As CHRD’s 2016 Annual Report demonstrates, the Chinese government  views these civil rights activists’ work – even activities as seemingly innocuous as bringing a lawsuit to test China’s commitment to its own laws – as a threat to its power.  In 2016, these activists were not detained nor charged with the relatively minor crimes such as disturbing public order or unlawfully organizing a protest; instead, these arrested activist were charged with the more serious crimes that implicate national security issues and carry much heavier sentences.  Look at what happened two years prior.  In January 2014, Xu Zhiyong, an influential civil rights lawyer and activist, was convicted of  “gathering crowds to disturb public order” (Criminal Law (“CL”), Art. 296)and sentenced to a prison term that was considered extreme at the time: four years.  Fast forward to 2016 and  Zhou Shifeng, one of the alleged “ringleaders” of the lawyers detained in July 2015, was convicted of subversion of state power (CL, Art. 105) and sentenced to seven years in prison.

And Zhou is not the only one.  As CHRD portrays in a powerful chart in its Annual Report, in 2016, 16 rights activist were convicted of crimes relating to national security.  Compare this to only three in 2015.

Graphic courtesy of CHRD’s Annual Report

These more drastic charges of national security means that the police and prosecutors can all but abandon most due process rights enshrined in the amended Chinese Criminal Procedure Law.  As the CHRD Annual Report notes, a national security investigation allows the police to unilaterally hold a suspect under “residential surveillance in a designated location.”  With residential surveillance in a designated location, a location that is often unknown to the person’s family and lawyers, the police can legally hold a suspect for six months and, because the person is being investigated for a national security crime, the police can also lawfully deny access to an attorney.  (For a case analysis of the laws surrounding residential surveillance in a designated location, see Codifying Illegality? The Case of Jiang Tianyong).  Without access to a lawyer, contact with the outside world and likely subject to torture, CHRD’s 2016 Annual Report notes an uptick in a disturbing trend: televised forced “confessions” of rights activists before any trial.

2016: The Passage of Laws that Specifically Target Civil Society

China’s Foreign NGO Law is no lighthearted 1940s Hollywood movie.

But if these long prison sentences are not enough to squelch future rights activists, the Chinese government has adopted a series of laws to further restrict civil society.  China’s Foreign NGO Law, passed in 2016 and went into effect on January 1, 2017, is an attempt to cut civil rights activists from contact with international civil rights organizations, especially those that provide financial support.  In fact, as CHRD notes, in many of the recent prosecutions of  rights activists, accepting foreign funding has been used as evidence of the activists’ subversion of state power.  Foreign NGOs that the police believe engage in behavior that “endangers national security” are blacklisted.  Presumably any Chinese person who interacts with these blacklisted foreign NGOs will likely be suspected of national security violations.

Similarly, the Charity Law makes it near impossible for many Chinese civil rights organizations to raise money domestically if they are not officially registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.  Most likely those organic civil society groups that have been most effective but also have been viewed by the Chinese government – or more aptly the Chinese Communist Party – as a threat to its rule, will not receive permission to register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.  As the stakes get higher, these organizations will likely cease to exist, eliminating an important channel that exposes societal discontent in an authoritarian regime.

(image courtesy of WCCF Tech)

But if those laws prove insufficient to completely eradicate any form of civil society not controlled by the government, in November 2016, the Chinese government passed its National Cyber Security Law which will provide for unprecedented surveillance of its citizens.  Under the Cyber Security Law, the government has the right to restrict the internet to protect national security and social public order (Art. 58).  Although implementation of the law has yet to be seen, presumably it can be used to shut down any online communication the Chinese government deems a security or public order threat. And as its recent prosecution on national security charges show, the Chinese government will likely view any efforts for civil rights activists to organize over social media to be a national security threat.

China’s Domestic Human Rights Conflicts With its Idea of “Economic Globalization”

President Xi at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (photo courtesy of Forbes)

While CHRD’s Annual Report reflects a deteriorating human rights situation, China’s star on the global stage has only risen, especially as the United States has elected an isolationist president.  China’s most recent zenith came on January 17, 2017, when President Xi Jinping was granted the honor of delivering opening remarks at the Davos World Economic Forum, the world’s orgy to capitalism and globalization.  In his speech, Xi  called on the world to maintain its longstanding policies of “economic globalization,” implicitly distinguishing this concept from the liberal world order that created it.

For sure, Xi’s speech, calling on continued free trade, a policy that allowed China to quickly develop as an economic power, was a success at Davos.  Especially as the United States and some parts of Europe retreat in their commitment to the world order they helped to put in place after World War II.  But what Xi misses in his exclusive focus on “economic globalization” is that it does not exist in a vacuum.  Economic globalization is only one aspect of the current liberal world order.  Liberal political systems,  liberal economics, more inter-connectedness among people of different countries cannot be eliminated from the post-World War II world order that brought the free trade Xi celebrates.  All of these elements together is what has brought peace to much of the Western World and East Asia for close to 65 years, a peace that has been essential to China’s economic rise.

Setting up the post World War II order at Yalta in 1945

But Xi’s assault on Chinese civil society undermines these other essential elements  of the world order.  With the Chinese government’s constant attack on civil rights activists, this aspect of Chinese society lose the ability to impact China’s policy.  Some of the issue Xi raised in his Davos speech – environmental protection and income inequality – are issues that the Chinese government was forced to confront because of pressure from its domestic civil society. But the Chinese government now seeks to cut off that important channel  of protest.

But perhaps most dangerous is the Chinese government’s current vilification of anything foreign and its intent to keep its people separate from the rest of the world.  The peace that much of the West and East Asia has experienced can be traced to the interconnectedness among people.  But the Foreign NGO Law and the Chinese government’s persecution of activist who are connected to foreign organizations destroys that vital connection.  The National Cyber Security Law only further exacerbates the internationally-isolated internet that already exists in China, keeping Chinese netizens separate from their compatriots in other countries.

Captain America, time to go back in your box! (image courtesy of Marvel Comics)

As the United States and some of Western Europe recede from the liberal world order to deal with their own domestic political turmoil, there will be space for other countries to step into positions of greater leadership on the global stage.  China has demonstrated that it wants to.  But with its continued assault on civil society and its increased xenophobia, are we sure this is what we really want?

************************************************************************************

China Human Rights Defenders’ 2016 Annual Report, entitled “They Target My Human Rights Work as a Crime,” can be found on their website here.

ABA’s International Human Rights Award – What Does it Mean?

By , July 12, 2016

Lawyer Wang Yu, ABA’s inaugural International Human Rights Award recipient.

On the one-year anniversary of the Chinese government’s widespread crackdown of the country’s civil rights attorneys, the American Bar Association (ABA) finally made good.  After its tepid response last summer to the Chinese government’s detention of over 300 lawyers and advocates, on Friday, the ABA boldly awarded its inaugural International Human Rights Award to Chinese civil rights attorney Wang Yu (pronounced Wong U).

But Wang Yu won’t be in San Francisco on August 6 to accept her award.  For Wang Yu and 23 other advocates are still being held by the Chinese government, many charged with the very serious crime of subverting state power, which can carry a life sentence.  All because of their representation of some of society’s most vulnerable: the poor, religious minorities, child sex victims, intellectuals that the state has deemed an enemy such as Ilham Tohti.  In other countries, this type of representation would be celebrated.  But in China, it is seen as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rule.  Ironically, the rights these advocates fought for on behalf of their clients – the right to meet with their attorney (only 6 of the 24 have had access to an attorney), the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial in accordance with Chinese law – are being denied to them as they are isolated in prison.

Wang Yu, in front of a Chinese court, with a sign stating “Return my right to see my clients”

Arrests and persecution of China’s civil rights lawyers have been ongoing since Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012.  But what makes the July 9 Crackdown unprecedented is its scope and its public nature.  Prior arrests and prosecutions, such as that of Xu Zhiyong, have not received the public attention and the vilification that the July 9 Crackdown has received.  Soon after the mass round-up of advocates, the state-run Legal Daily ran an infographic calling these lawyers a “criminal syndicate” and heavily suggesting that these lawyers are mere conduits of foreign money and ideas as opposed to their motivation coming from their own intrinsic sense of justice. (Translation of the infographic courtesy of China Law Translate)

But what the Chinese government doesn’t get with its July 9 Crackdown is that it is its own lack of transparency, unbridled corruption and squelching of citizens’ rights that ensures that this movement will continue.  Chinese civil rights advocates might be weakened but they are far from dead; to think otherwise does not give these advocates the credit they are due.  As long as the CCP continues on its course of one-party rule with little space for public disagreement, their rise is inevitable.  Wang Yu became a civil rights lawyer after the police mistreated her in a railway station and then bizarrely charged her with “intentional assault.”  Cao Shunli (pronounced Tsao Shun-lee) was just a civil servant until she was fired from her job for alerting her supervisors to the corruption of the local housing lottery.  After that, she became a rights activists only to die in police captivity in 2014.  Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee Tea-an) was a prosecutor for seven years before he could no longer stand the daily injustice and corruption endemic in the system.  He then took the test to become a criminal defense lawyer to represent those whose rights were being trampled by the state.

For sure the ABA’s awarding of its International Human Rights prize falls on the CCP’s increasingly deaf ears.  But that doesn’t mean we should remain silent as the CCP dismantles a rule of law society.  For Wang Yu, and the advocates imprisoned with her, the ABA’s award is important recognition of their work, recognition that their own government refuses to bestow even as it adopts a few of the changes they have called for to make China a more just society.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: