Citizen (公民), formerly known as Gong Meng or Open Constitution Initiative, and founded by some of China’s preeminent rights lawyers, is a NGO based in Beijing that provides legal assistance to the disempowered and promotes the New Cititzens’ Movement. Read the original here.
From what we know and have learned, we believe that Yuan Dong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing and the seven others who demanded public disclosure of officials’ personal wealth are innocent. In recent days, however, the Chinese authorities have announced the formal arrest of the ten one after another. With astonishment, we state:
1. The Personal Expressions of the Ten Citizens Do Not Constitute a Criminal Offense
On March 31, 2013, Yuan Dong, Zhang Baocheng, Ma Xinli, Hou Xin and two others unfurled banners in downtown Xidan plaza, Beijing, calling for officials to publicly disclose their personal assets. Ten or so minutes later, they were taken away by police, and later, four of them were criminally detained on charges of “illegal assembly.” According to Article Two of the Law of the People of the People’s Republic of China on Assemblies, Processions and Demonstrations, “assembly” refers to “an activity in which people meet at a public place in the open air to express views or aspirations.” Assembly differs from average expressions in that assembly must be a collective expression through a gathering of a certain number of people. For example, Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance stipulates that collective expression of views by more than 50 people require a notice of intention. On that day, only four people were there holding the banners while Yuan Dong gave a speech. The others on the scene were onlookers, not participants of an organized event. The five were simply expressing their personal views by exercising their right to free expression and right to “criticize and make suggestions regarding any state organ or functionary” conferred by Article 35 and Article 41, respectively, of the Constitution. Their action does not constitute an assembly in legal term, and there were no such things to speak of as “disobeying an order of dismissal” and “seriously undermining the social order,” elements of the offense of illegal assembly as defined by Article 296 of the Criminal Law.
Of the ten arrested for advocating asset disclosure by officials, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Sun Hanhui, Wang Yonghong, Li Wei, Qi Yueying didn’t appear on the Xidan scene on March 31, nor were any of them the person-in-charge of that event or directly responsible for it. Some of them had similarly expressed their personal views in other locations in Beijing, but again, none had “disobeyed an order of dismissal” or “seriously undermined the social order,” elements constituting a criminal offence, nor had they been stopped or penalized by the Public Security officers. Their actions cannot possibly constitute illegal assembly or the offence of “provocation and disruption.”
2. The Ten Advocates’ Call for Asset Disclosure by Officials Also Reflects the Universal Norm and the Will of the People
Fighting corruption is every government’s responsibility. Mr. Xi Jinping has also vowed to “shut power in the cage of regulation.” Although Chinese government has been talking about fighting corruption every year, and has indeed punished many corrupt officials, corruption is becoming more rampant than ever. Everyone recognizes that corruption is a malignant cancer of contemporary China. The root of the problem is the absence of a system capable of checking it. Public disclosure of officials’ personal assets is an effective anti-corruption mechanism, and 137 countries and areas around the world have established or implemented asset disclosure policies.
Out of their sense of responsibility as citizens, the ten advocates stood up to call for asset disclosure by officials. In March they held a discussion to draft a proposal for related laws, hoping to promote the establishment of a mechanism in an incremental way. Unfortunately, instead of adopting their suggestions, the government put them in jail. On the one hand, this is persecution of the healthy elements that work to build a civil society, and on the other it discredits the anti-corruption promises made by China’s top leaders.
3. We Therefore Make the Following Appeals:
We first appeal to the Chinese authorities: Please mend this mistake by respecting the rule of law in this case, recognize the innocence of the ten men and return their freedom through proper legal procedures, and provide necessary compensation to them. Mr. Xi Jinping once pledged to “carry out judiciary justice in each and every individual case,” and we hold him to his word. We will watch every detail in the development of this case concerning the ten men arrested for advocating asset disclosure by officials to see if that pledge was made in good faith. We will then decide whether we can pay any respect at all to the relevant authorities. We thereby urge the relevant authorities: The trial of the ten citizens must be independent, public, fair, and meeting all the requirements of judiciary justice.
We also appeal to the public: Please pay close attention to the ten citizens’ case. Rights exist for all or for none. Violating one citizen’s rights violates every citizen’s rights; those whose rights are trampled are not far away from us, and their fate is closely related to our own fate.
Finally, we must appeal to both Chinese and foreign media: Please fulfill your obligation as reporters, zoom in on the case of the ten citizens, ask questions about every detail and every procedure, and report the truth without trepidation.
We solemnly promise: We stand together with Yuan Dong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing and rest of the ten citizens to continue to push for asset disclosure by officials. At the same time, we will hold ourselves to our aspiration of being a real citizen, and we will begin to change our country and society by changing ourselves for the better. We will not give up no matter what difficulties await.
Citizen Xu Zhiyong (许志永)
Citizen Xiao Shu (笑蜀)
Citizen Wang Gongquan (王功权)
Citizen Teng Biao (滕彪)
Citizen Liu Weiguo (刘卫国)
Citizen Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵)
Citizen Liang Xiaojun (梁小军)
Citizen Li Fangping (李方平)
Citizen Xiao Guozhen (肖国珍)
May 25, 2013