Posts tagged: Jasmine Revolution

Don Clarke & Li Tiantian: Two Takes on the Jasmine Revolution in China

China's Jasmine Revolution?

In February 2011, the Chinese government began a quick and widespread crackdown on Chinese rights-defending (“weiquan”) lawyers and activists, abducting many for days to months on end, some subject to torture while in government custody.  The general narrative that has emerged to explain this recent crackdown is the Chinese government’s fear that an Egypt-like democratic revolution could occur in China, overturning the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule.

Make no mistake these extrajudicial abductions are not permissible under Chinese criminal law and like other countries, there are laws in China that restrict the government.  Under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), a detention warrant issued by a public security organ must be presented when an individual is taken into custody (CPL Art. 64); either the family members or the employer of the detained individual must be informed of the reasons for the detention within 24 hours (CPL Art. 64); the first interrogation of the detained person must be conducted within the first 24 hours (CPL Art. 65); after the first interrogation, the detained person has the right to retain a lawyer and the lawyer has a right to meet with his or her client (CPL Art. 96 – note that this provision makes it legal for the first interrogation to be conducted without a lawyer present); and after 37 days in custody, the detained individual must either be arrested or released (CPL Art. 69).  Additionally, Article 238 of the Chinese Criminal Law criminalizes any unlawful detention or deprivation of personal liberty, imposing a harsher criminal sanction on state functionaries.

So the question remains, if the Chinese government just flouts these laws, why does it bother?

Rule of Law in China?

And what does this say about its progression toward a rule of law, a progression the Chinese government maintains is its goal?

Prof. Donald Clarke of George Washington University Law School came out with a rather thought-provoking essay last Thursday, seeking to answer some of these questions, and put China’s ‘rule of law’ development in some sort of perspective.  In “China’s Jasmine Crackdown and the Legal System,” Prof. Clarke dispenses with the conventional idea that China was ever on the path toward a rule of law.  Defining a rule of law as a system “where there are meaningful restraints on the powers of government” and that “those in power cannot do simply as they please,” Prof. Clarke maintains that the Chinese government never had the intention to be held accountable; its quest toward a “rule of law” for the past 30-odd years has just been about creating government efficiencies.  In 1978, to become a successful market economy, the Chinese leadership had to create some legal system since Mao had all but dispensed with law by the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  But while these developments in the economic-legal sphere might have the looks of a rule of law, scholars are wrong to think that it was ever the government’s intention to be held accountable under a true rule of law system.  Many of the Chinese government’s recent actions, including the crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, exemplify the leadership’s anti-commitment to a rule of law.

Rights-defending Lawyer Li Tiantian

There is something to be said for Prof. Clarke’s assessment and in many ways it is accurate: the leadership appears unwilling to allow anything it deems “political” to be handled by the legal system and this appears to explain its harsh assault the past few years on rights-defending lawyers.  It’s commitment to a “rule of law,” a commitment it repeatedly states in various US-China dialogues, seems specious if it does not allow a space for rights-defending lawyers.  But Prof. Clarke’s analysis is very top-down and doesn’t take into effect the rights-defending lawyers themselves.  And this is where the other fascinating essay from last Thursday comes into play, Li Tiantian’s blog post “I was Discharged from the Hospital” (translation courtesy of Siweiliozi’s Blog).  Li Tiantian is a Shanghai-based rights-defending lawyer, taken into custody on February 19, 2011 and held incommunicado for three months, finally released on May 24, 2011.  In a highly allegorical essay, Li Tiantian recounts her captivity:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch. First, let me tell you a story.

One day, a hornet worried unreasonably that a little bird would stir up its nest. (As it happened, some distant hornet nests had recently been stirred up.) The hornet grabbed the little bird and began stinging it frenziedly. Unable to bear the hornet’s stings and thinking there was no point to suffering this ordeal, the bird realized that no one would gain anything and that there was no way to change the hornet’s ways. So, the bird kneeled down to the hornet and kowtowed in order to extricate itself. The hornet, knowing that the force of justice was on the increase in the animal world, didn’t dare do anything rash to the bird and came up with a plan that would satisfy everyone. It agreed to release the little bird, but only if the bird promised: (1) not to speak of the past few months; (2) not to damage the hornet’s reputation; and (3) not to urge other animals to stir up the hornet’s nest. Finally the bird was free. (…read more here…)

Li Tiantian’s publication of this blog post soon after her release belies her commitment to any kind of silence concerning her unlawful detention.  The fact that her blog post was pulled – likely by the Chinese government – a few days later is not surprising.  But her brazenness is.  After three months in custody, unable to communicate to the outside world, and subject to heaven’s knows what, Li still feels the need to speak; still feels the need to give push back to the government.

Prof. Clarke presents a government that doesn’t want to give people like Li Tiantian any space; but Li Tiantian has no plans to give up that easily.  True that since many of the lawyers’ release, most have kept out of the spotlight, but will they continue to do so?  And how can the Chinese government expect them to?

Prof. Clarke is right to contend that the Chinese Communist Party is not interested in a “rule of law” if it means that it will contain the Party.  But after 30 years of constantly reiterating – both domestically and abroad – the idea of a rule of law, sending lawyers, judges, and academics abroad to study Western countries’ legal systems, and inviting various foreign legal NGOs to establish offices in China and work with Chinese layers, some belief in a rule of law must have permeated  society, especially for academics and rights-defending lawyers, the beneficiaries of much of China’s rule of law programs.

Prof. Clarke compares the Chinese government to a well organized army: sure there are lots of bureaucratic rules that must be followed, but those rules are not intended to be followed by the commander.  For Prof. Clarke, an army, with all the rules that help it function, is in no way a rule of law society.

But running a society is different from running an army; unquestionable allegiance to hierarchy is not naturally found in society like it is among foot soldiers in an army.  Ultimately, Prof. Clarke’s essay raises another question: while the Chinese government has little interest in rule of law, will these rights-defending lawyers succumb and just disappear?  Li Tiantian’s essay upon her release heavily implies that the answer is no and that among some in China, there is a true commitment to a greater rule of law, even if not found within the ruling party.

Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s Wife on His Abduction

By , March 28, 2011

Gao Zhisheng is perhaps the most well-known of China’s rights-defending lawyers.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gao began successfully representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers denied just compensation for their land.  In fact, in 2001, Gao was named by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of China’s most influential lawyers.  Spurred by his success and what appeared to be a Chinese government welcoming a stronger public interest law bar, Gao expanded his work to included practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious organization which the Chinese government has long feared as a threat to its one-party rule and has declared a cult.  Gao’s representation of Falun Gong practitioners did not just highlight the baseless accusations of “using superstitious sects [cults] to undermine the implementation of the law” (China’s Criminal Law, art. 300), but also the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while in police custody (for a seminal article on Gao’s work, see Eva Pils, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China, Fordham International Law Journal 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563706).

Gao’s zealous advocacy of Falun Gong practitioners did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, and his status as a lawyer to be celebrated for representing society’s most vulnerable, quickly changed.  Gao was now viewed as a piranha of the state. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

Gao’s whereabouts, like recently abducted rights defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Teng Biao, and Jiang Tianyong, remain unknown.  In a plea for the world to pay attention to these random and lawless detentions, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who was able to flee to the United States with their two children in January 2009, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article.  Geng begs that if her husband has been killed, that the Chinese government have the dignity to return his body so that his family can lay him to rest.

The Dissident’s Wife

By Geng He

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

San Francisco – WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.

Click here for full article

Reality or Myth: China’s Rule of Law & Its Recent Assault on Lawyers

By , February 21, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Rights-Defending Lawyer, Tang Jitian

The Chinese government has tried to break Tang Jitian’s spirit.  Failing, it now seeks to break his body.  Tang, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was forcibly abducted from his home on Wednesday, February 16 by the Beijing police.  Five days later, in contravention of Chinese law, Tang’s whereabouts remain unknown to his family, friends, and other human rights lawyers who desperately await some news of him.  Tang’s wife, after waiting at the police station for over four hours, was not permitted to see her husband and not informed of his whereabouts.  Tang’s “crime” in all of this: seeking to uphold individual’s legally-guaranteed rights and hold the State to its promise of a rule of law.

When Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee Tea-ann) emerges from this unlawful and forced seclusion, he may be badly beaten, tortured and abused.  Soon after his abduction on Wednesday, Tang was transferred to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB), an outfit that has been assigned the task of suppressing China’s nascent human rights movement.  Violence is a necessary part of the PSB’s mandate: it provides a very physical signal to other human rights lawyers what awaits them if they become too vocal, organized, or, ironically, too successful in bringing cases to protect citizen’s rights.  But this State-sanctioned violence is outside the limits of the law, and makes one wonder that if, by attacking these rights-defending lawyers (in Chinese, weiquan lawyers), the Chinese government is really committed to a “rule of law” society or if the use of such language by Chinese officials is a mere mirage.

The Breaking of a Body: Tang Jitian’s Potential Fate While in PSB Custody

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (pronounced Gao Zhi-sheng) likely serves as the most potent reminder of the

Human Rights Attorney, Gao Zhisheng

lawlessness of the PSB.  In 2001, Gao was listed by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of the country’s top-ten lawyers for his work representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers who were denied just compensation for their land.  But as Gao took on more controversial cases – particularly defending Falun Gong practitioners, a quasi-religious organization that the Chinese government perceives as a real threat to its power – government respect for his work quickly faded.   In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  This was the second time he was abducted, the first in 2007 where he was tortured for over 50 days.  But this time, Gao’s abduction would be for much longer.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

What awaits Tang may be similar – 48 hours of continuous beatings, various forms of physiological torture, wet towels over one’s face to give the feeling of suffocation – or even worse.  Unlike Gao Zhisheng, who is well known in the international community, or Teng Biao, a famous Chinese law professor and human rights activist who, because of his status, experienced a less violent beating when he was taken into custody for a few hours by police last December, Tang does not have such connections to protect him.  Without such an international cache like Teng Biao, Tang is an easy target for the Chinese security apparatus and will likely be used to violently symbolize the PSB’s power over the human rights lawyers.

Trying to Break a Spirit: Tang Jitian’s Disbarment

Wednesday’s abduction was not the first time that Tang has been on the Chinese government’s radar.  In May 2010, because of his defense of a Falun Gong practitioner in Sichuan province, the Beijing Bureau of Justice – the government body that manages the legal profession in Beijing – disbarred Tang from the practice of law.  Ostensibly arguing that Tang violated courtroom rules, the Beijing Bureau of Justice’s decision was largely seen as political.  Similar to the United States, disbarment in China is reserved for those lawyers who commit a crime.  Tang was the first lawyer to be disbarred for what merely appeared to be zealous advocacy.

Since his disbarment, Tang has had no way to economically support himself, relying solely on the kindness of other human rights lawyers.  Such a blow has had its impact and more recently, Tang had become depressed about his situation, although still very active in the human rights movement.  One would have thought that this would have been sufficient for the Chinese government – that by taking away Tang’s livelihood, it would not seek to detain him.  One would also think that such action would be unnecessary: Tang’s disbarment was a clear signal to other human rights lawyers that the State could use vague provisions of the law to disbar them and deny them their raison d’etre.  But it appears that disbarment was not punishment enough for the PSB.

Why Abduct Tang Jitian Now? China’s Rule of Law Regression

The immediate cause of Tang’s abduction relates to the recent house arrest and abuse of another human rights lawyer,

Human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong

Chen Guangcheng (pronounced Chen Gwang-chung).  Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer who represented women forced into abortions by their village government, has been under house arrest since he was freed from prison in September 2010.  Last week, Chen and his wife were reportedly beaten after they leaked an hour-long video of their daily surveillance to the U.S.-based human rights and religious group, China Aid (for the video, click here).  On Wednesday afternoon, Tang Jitian had lunch with a group of Beijing human rights lawyers to discuss what the group could do to support Chen.  Soon after this brain-storming session, Tang was abducted.  Additionally, another participant of the Wednesday lunch group has also been abducted.  On Saturday, February 20, 2011, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounced Gee-ong Tea-ann young) was taken away in an unmarked van, only days after he was roughed up while in police custody.

But Tang and Jiang’s belief that the law should be followed and individuals’ rights should not be trampled on by the State is the real reason for his abduction and likely abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Over the past few years, China’s human rights attorneys have become more organized, using modern technology to quickly communicate with each other, and increasingly vocal, demanding that  the government abide by its own laws when it comes to the people’s civil rights and civil liberties.  Instead of responding positively to these developments – developments that largely symbolize a growing rule of law society and an emerging civil society  – the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has further entrenched its authoritarian rule and has used increasingly sever measures to break these human rights lawyers. While Chinese human rights lawyers’ cases would be everyday affairs for public interest lawyers elsewhere in the world, the CCP views these lawyers as a threat to their one-party rule and the PSB views them as a threat to its all-inclusive, and many times illegal, policing methods.  Based upon the recent abduction of Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, the PSB and the CCP will do whatever it takes to suppress these human rights lawyers.

On Saturday, while rumors were circulating on the internet that China itself was to have a “Jasmine Revolution” following the events in the Middle East, a Chinese rights activist tweeted that the Chinese government detained twenty-one other human rights attorneys: Zhu Yufu, Liao Shuangyuan, Huang Yanming, Teng Biao, Ran Yunfei, Li Tiantian, Liu Guohui, Ding Mao, Lu Yongxiang, Xiao Yong, Zhang Jianping, Shi Yulin, She Wanbao, Li Yu, Lou Baosheng, Wei Shuishan, Zhang Shanguang, Li Xiongbing, Xu Zhiyong, Huang Yaling, and Li Bo.  Many may suffer physical abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Some already have.

Why Should Anyone Care?

I met Tang Jitian when I was last in China and was impressed, not just with his bravery, but also with understanding of his role in pushing the Chinese government to truly commit to a rule of law.  If human rights lawyers are suppressed now he told me, there will be no one to take over the movement.  Tang is right and breaking the movement appears to be one of the goals of the Chinese government.  By openly subjecting human rights attorneys to constant surveillance, disbarment, psychological threats, and physical abuse, the Chinese government hopes that once this generation of human right lawyers pass, no younger lawyers will dare to take up the mantle; the repercussions are too severe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a hard line on human rights

But the question remains, will the rest of the world allow this?  Last month, the Obama Administration impressed many by repeatedly raising the issue of human rights with Chinese President Hu Jintao.  Just days before Hu’s arrival in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly discussed the plight of China’s human rights lawyers, stating that the United States will expect China to fulfill its own promise of rule of law: “America will continue to speak out and to press China…when lawyers and legal advocates are sent to prison simply for representing clients who challenge the government’s positions….”  The time has come for the United States to back-up that statement.

The Obama Administration has already expressed its concern with the treatment of Chen Guangcheng.  But it cannot forget the less known advocates like Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong – without some form of international recognition of his situation the PSB will believe it has the cover to do with Tang and Jiang what it wants.  Furthermore, the Obama Administration needs to see the Chinese government’s recent reaction as an affront to a “rule of law” and also needs to comment on the importance of not just a “rule of law” in China but on the existence of a vibrant public interest law bar.  Human rights lawyers directly challenge the State in order to protect individual’s legally-guaranteed rights; only when these lawyers are able to more freely function in society will China have any meaningful rule of law.

A meaningful rule of law in China is not just an abstract principle for Americans.  As more Americans do business in China and as the U.S. government seeks to increase the number of students studying in China to over 100,000, rule of law in China will become an everyday concern.  Last year’s arrest and prosecution of Australian citizen and Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu and the recent conviction of U.S. citizen and geologist Xue Feng embody the importance of China’s rule of law development for Americans.  The Obama Administration needs to publicly condemn the Chinese government’s recent suppression of human rights lawyers, call for the release of Tang Jitian, and frankly question the Chinese government’s commitment to a rule of law.  Tang and Jiang’s safety depends on it.

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