Posts tagged: lawyers

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.

What is Up with Chen Guangcheng?

Chen Guangcheng, entering a Beijing Hospital with US Ambassaor Gary Locke and State Dep't Legal Advisor Harold Koh

More often than not, I am my friends’ go-to China person; something in the news pops up with China, I get the questions.  So I wasn’t surprised on Saturday when over some carrot cake at the Chelsea Market a friend of mine had questions about Chen Guangcheng: if he cared so much about human rights in China, why would he leave?  What is up with the Chinese government, keeping a blind man trapped in his own home?  How did things get so messy between the U.S. government and Chen?

It’s been almost a month since Chen fled the home that illegally became his prison. So what exactly is up with Chen’s escape and to answer some questions – what does it all mean?

Chen’s Escape Has Propelled Human Rights to the Top of the US-China Agenda

My friend’s question on Saturday caught me off guard – does Chen really care about human rights in China if he fled to the protection of the U.S. Embassy, ostensibly to seek asylum and leave China.

To ask a man with a wife and two children to be a martyr for his cause is asking too much.  As this blog has recounted previously, since Chen’s release from prison (oddly convicted of a traffic disturbance) did not result in freedom.  Instead, for the past year and a half, Chen and his family have been subjected to illegal house arrest and at times, physical torture by his captures.

It is true that by departing China, Chen’s ability to change China’s current system will be much reduced if not extinguished.  But his heroic flight has perhaps done more to highlight the Chinese government’s recent illegal oppression of dissent than anything else.  Over the past year and a half, this blog has increasingly written about the Chinese government’s crackdown on China’s nascent rights defending (weiquan) lawyers. Aside from people already interested in the issues, these posts – and the acts of repression which they have focused on – have received little attention.

Chen’s escape and his subsequent stay at the U.S. Embassy  altered this focus. With Hillary Clinton arriving for the Strategic and Economic

Inspiring Architecture? The US Embassy in Beijing

Dialogue (S&ED), the focus of U.S.-China relations shifted to human rights.  For one week, as the world watched, the U.S. and China’s relationship was thrown back to a 1980s-Cold War paradigm, when ideology played a more governing role.  For one week, the Western media’s attention finally focused on the repression of rights defending lawyers, and the lip service the Chinese government gives “rule of law” when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties.

It is amazing that a single man’s act, that one blind man’s heroic act, can still change the dialogue in U.S.-China relations.  It is a hopeful reminder that in this globalized world, individuals still matter; that one man’s quest for freedom is still “news.”  And don’t think Chen’s act was not a heroic one.  Not only was a blind man able to find his way to Beijing, but imagine if he wasn’t; imagine if he was caught.  Likely his fate would match that of Gao Zhisheng, a rights defending lawyer who, while in government custody, remains missing.

The U.S. Government’s Actions Supported Human Rights

Some have criticized the U.S. government – or more aptly, the Obama Administration – for its dealings with the Chinese government over Chen.  Initially, the U.S. Embassy worked out a deal with the Chinese government whereby Chen would stay in China, study law at a university in a coastal city away from the thugs of his hometown, and be left alone with his family.  This was what Chen initially wanted.

But once he left the safety of the embassy for a Beijing hospital, Chen began to reconsider his options.  As Prof. Jerome A. Cohen recounted to CNN, the promised U.S. Embassy official was unable to stay with Chen at the hospital and once he began speaking other rights defending lawyers – friends he hadn’t been able to speak to for a year – he began to more clearly understand the increased oppression of rights defending lawyers in China.  Chen was scared; Chen realized that without full information, he misjudged the situation.  That’s when he vocally requested that he be able to leave China for the United States.

Were some in the U.S. Embassy a touch too naive to rely on the Chinese government’s promises?  Most likely.  But being naive is not the same as turning one’s back to human rights.  It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to allow Chen into the U.S. Embassy in the first place.  Chinese citizens cannot just willy-nilly enter the U.S. Embassy; even American citizens are allowed limited access to their embassy (which resembles a high-security prison).  As the N.Y. Times has recounted, embassy officials were notified of Chen’s flight to Beijing and on April 25, Secretary Clinton gave the authorization to sneak Chen into the embassy compound.  Secretary Clinton knew full well that by providing that approval, a throw-down with the Chinese government on the issue of human rights was certain and the ultimate outcome unclear. It is unfortunate – although not all together shocking given the current acrimonious status of politics – that Washington D.C. cannot view this moment as a proud one for America and its ideals; that the web of support that both parties have built for a human rights network in China over the years enabled Chen to come to our door.   Instead, it appears that what could otherwise be a proud moment for Americans, is becoming a political tug-of-war.

Who is Driving the Bus? The Chinese Central Government’s Lack of Control

Beep Beep! Who drives this bus??

What is perhaps the most shocking of all from this whole situation is the Chinese central government’s lack of control of local governments. Chen’s persecution has largely been conducted by the local government in his hometown, with local government officials still seething after his attempt to bring a lawsuit against them for forced abortions.  But even when Chen fled to Beijing, his safety could not be guaranteed, hence his changed desire to leave for the United States.  Many of his relatives left in their villages are being persecuted by local officials.  It makes one wonder – who really drives the bus in China?

Imagine a United States where Governor George Wallace could ignore federal law, have his way and continue segregation in his home state of Alabama.  Likely you can’t.  It’s unfathomable to think that a national government is unable to enforce its own laws, and in the case of China, that a supposed authoritarian dictatorship cannot control lower level party members.

Chen’s case reflects a center weaker than anyone previously thought.  And that is what is most frightening and should give people pause.  Does China really have the power to become a rising superpower or will it revert to its warlord past, where each city is governed by its own power broker and the central government remains impotent?

While China’s weakness appears to manifest itself often in human rights issues, it should not be just a concern for human rights advocates.  Anyone working in or with China – business people, government officials – should be troubled.  A weak center, especially as China undergoes an important leadership transition this year, does not bode well for China.

Prof. Jerome Cohen – The Fixer

On a final note, I want to focus on Prof. Jerome Cohen and his role in all of this.  As a research fellow for two years, I had the privilege of working

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

with Prof. Cohen at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.  In that time, I got to know a kind, brilliant man who never ceased to amaze me.  It was Prof. Cohen who first identified the ingenuity and necessity of Chen’s unschooled, “barefoot lawyer” approach in 2003 and deservedly catapulted him to the world stage.

While my two years with Prof. Cohen were filled with inspiring moments, I have never been more proud of him than I was with his handling of the Chen Guangcheng situation.  While this is all purely based on hearsay, it appears that it was Prof.  Cohen who got the U.S. and China out of what was becoming a crisis situation.  Prof. Cohen’s lifetime of experience with China, including high-level delegations soon after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, allowed him to realize that all that was needed was a practical solution where everyone could save face: a scholarship for Chen to study law at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute and invitation for his wife and children to join him.

Now we wait and see.  The United States has approved Chen’s visa application and just yesterday he applied for his Chinese passport.  Although the Chinese government could renege on the deal, that looks increasingly less likely and ultimately not in their best interest.  It’s never a satisfying moment when one of your citizens essentially seeks protection from a foreign government for human rights abuses, but on some level, the Chinese government is likely happy that Chen, who has long been a rabble rouser and a cause célèbre for other Chinese rights defenders and foreign friends, is leaving the country.  Unfortunately for Chen and his family, he will likely never be able to return to his home country.

I Pledge Allegiance to the CCP….Chinese Lawyers’ New Oath Requirements

By , March 22, 2012

I Pledge Allegiance....

In its ongoing efforts to tie the Chinese legal profession as tight as possible to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the government agency that oversees the legal profession, announced its new initiative on Wednesday: every new lawyer in China must pledge allegiance to the CCP.

Lawyers’ oaths are not unique to China: almost every state in the United States requires newly-admitted attorneys to recite an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the state.  And this is not the first time that a lawyers’ oath has been required in China.  In 2000, the All China Lawyer’s Association (ACLA), the national bar association that all lawyers must be members of, first instituted an oath of office for all lawyers.  But in a Wednesday Legal Daily interview with an unnamed MOJ official, the MOJ determined that the ACLA oath was too general and ineffective.  As a result, the MOJ issued a new oath that must be sworn to in a formal ceremony (translation courtesy of Siweiluozi Blog):

I volunteer to become a practicing lawyer of the People’s Republic of China and promise to faithfully perform the sacred duties of a socialist-with-Chinese-characteristics legal worker (中国特色社会主义法律工作者); to be faithful to the motherland and the people; to uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the socialist system; to safeguard the dignity of the constitution and the law; to practice on behalf of the people; to be diligent, professional honest, and corruption-free; to protect the legitimate rights and interests of clients, the correct implementation of the law, and social fairness and justice; and diligently strive for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics!

Compare this with the New York State oath taken by newly-admitted lawyers:

I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the New York Constitution, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of attorney and counselor at law of the Supreme Court of the state of New York according to the best of my ability.”

There are aspects of the Chinese oath that are laudable: to be professionally honest, to be corruption-free, to serve the people, and to properly implement the law.  All of these requirements are ostensibly value-neutral and are good for the profession.  But what is decidedly different between the New York oath and the China one is that allegiance to the CCP is required.  According to the MOJ official, this was intentional.  One of the major reasons that the MOJ issued the new oath was to increase the quality of lawyers’ political thought as well as their professionalism.

That alone would not necessarily be problematic in a country where the Party is the State and let’s face it, people take oaths all the time and rarely listen to or abide by their words.  But this new oath comes in the midst of a major crackdown on China’s public interest lawyers and presumably will be used as a warning signal to this portion of the profession.

The CCP’s Increased Use of Socialist Rhetoric to Police Lawyers

Last fall, I published a law review article discussing the use of increased socialist rhetoric to step up the CCP’s control of China’s growing public

The Three Supremes

interest lawyers (China’s Rule of Law Mirage: The Regression of the Legal Profession Since the Adoption of the 2007 Lawyers Law).  The beefed-up socialist rhetoric began quietly with a speech given by President Hu Jintao at a Chinese Communist Party conference in December 2007.  In his speech, Hu announced the doctrine of “the Three Supremes:” “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 and if the doctrine was even applicable to lawyers, Justice Minister Wu Aiying addressed the issue in August 2009.  Calling upon lawyers to “above all obey the Communist Party and help foster a harmonious society”(emphasis added),Wu stressed the need for lawyers to “pay attention to politics, take into consideration the big picture, and observe proper discipline.” Absent is any mention of “law” or the need to develop the institutions—such as an independent judiciary or a competent legal profession—integral to a rule of law society.

Further confirmation of this shift in rhetoric is found in the October 2008 MOJ pronouncement opening the new government-sponsored campaign of lawyers as “Chinese-style socialist legal professionals.”  In 2010, the MOJ went further with its rhetoric by directly stating the need for greater Party leadership of the legal profession.  In an interview with an unnamed MOJ official, the Legal Daily reported the forthcoming pronouncement of MOJ “Opinion Regarding the Further Strengthening and Improvement of Lawyers’ Work.” Like prior pronouncements, the 2010 MOJ Opinion contains flowery language detailing the need for lawyers to “always hold high the banner of socialism” and to “strengthen [their] political thought.”  But unlike previous statements, the 2010 MOJ Opinion candidly states the role that the Party will play in leading the legal profession.

Through the Party and the MOJ, the 2010 MOJ Opinion states the need for daily supervision and management of the profession, the need for standardization in how cases are handled, and the need to consider “political quality,” “professional quality,” and “ethical quality” in the yearly license renewal procedures

The CCP Re-institutes Party Cells

Party Cells in Law Firms....How Retro!

Finally, the CCP – as reported in a Legal Daily article – has successfully infiltrated most law firms, instituting Party cells in a throwback to the Cultural Revolution days when loyal party members set up “cells” within each work unit to guarantee the proper political ideology of the workers and to report any infractions in thought to the local Party.  While the 1980s saw a decline in Party cells, a 1995 Party Opinion called for the creation of more Party organizations within law firms.   In 2002, President Hu Jintao stressed that the legal profession could only become strong through Party leadership.  But in general, such efforts were met with strong resistance from the profession and law firms largely ignored the directives. However, all of that changed in 2008.

In March 2008, the CCP’s Organization Department and the MOJ’s corresponding Party organization issued a joint opinion announcing the need to improve and strengthen the Party apparatus in the legal profession. As if to indicate to the legal profession that this time the Party was serious about a greater Party presence in law firm life, Justice Minister Wu Aiying declared in July 2008 that more Party cells needed to be created within law firms as a way to better indoctrinate the profession.  This effort has largely succeeded.  Between April 2008 and April 2009, the number of Party cells found in law firms more than doubled.  Today, over 90 percent of all law firms in China maintain a Party cell.(all information can be found in the Legal Daily article).

The Oath Fits the Pattern of Greater CCP Control Over the Legal Profession

In 2007, China amended its Law on Lawyers, ostensibly to give greater independence to the profession.  As my article China’s Rule of Law Mirage points out, on paper, the amendments did in fact give the profession greater control and reduced the supervision of the MOJ.  However, as the article goes on to demonstrate, as public interest lawyers have had more success in their cases, the CCP has exerted greater control of the profession, undermining whatever promises of greater professional independence that is found in the 2007 Law on Lawyers.

Ironically, and as if to give the new oath requirement some sort of semblance of legality, the unnamed MOJ official in Wednesday’s Legal Daily interview attempts to argue that the new oath requirement is in-line with the edicts of the 2007’s amended Law on Lawyers.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Compared to recent CCP pronouncements, the 2007 Law on Layers is largely devoid of Party allegiance.  Article 1 does require a commitment to a “building of a socialist legal system” but that is sort of like requiring U.S. lawyers to assist in building a democratic legal system.  Additionally, the new structure of law firms and the establishment of solo practitioners were both perceived as an effort of MOJ to relinquish some of its supervisory role in exchange for greater supervision by the bar associations (see China’s Rule of Law Mirage for a more detailed explanation of these provisions).

But MOJ’s new oath, which overrides ACLA’s oath, reflects its effort to maintain control of the profession.  And its requirement that lawyers pledge allegiance to the CCP is eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany where lawyers took a similar Party allegiance oath: “I swear to remain loyal to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Adolf Hitler, and to fulfill conscientiously the duties of a German attorney, so help me God” (See Matthew Lippman, Law, Lawyers, and Legality in the Third Reich: The Perversion of Principle and Professionalism, 11 Temp. Int’l & Comp. L.J. 199, 218 n. 185 (1997)).

Ultimately, the oath won’t impact the daily work of most of China’s lawyers.  In fact, it is only applicable to new lawyers or those who are re-applying for their licenses (首次取 得或者重新申请取得律师执业证书的人员); MOJ’s announcement makes no mention of its applicability to current lawyers at their yearly re-registration (年度注册); presumably current lawyers will not be subject to the oath.  But in a society where rhetoric has served as important signaling device as to what behavior is politically acceptable, the new oath could potentially have a chilling effect on current public interest lawyer’s work and could discourage new lawyers from representing individuals and issues that are perceived as politically dangerous.  It’s this chilling effect of the new oath that is the greatest threat to a rule of law in China.

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.

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