The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 1, 2019
2018, the year of Wuxu (戊戌), is slipping into history. Over the past 120 years, Wuxu has always been an eventful year. In 1898, four years after China had lost the First Sino-Japanese War, the Hundred Days’ Reform failed, and six of its chief advocates, among them Tan Sitong (谭嗣同), paid the price in blood at their public beheading. In 1958, another year of Wuxu, the Great Leap Forward and the people’s communes was to bring on the world’s greatest famine that would result in tens of millions of deaths.
Indeed, China in the year 2018 bears little resemblance to the China of 1958 and 1898. Four decades of economic reform have seen China’s GDP rise to second place among the world’s nations. At the same time, there are many deeper issues and structural challenges to face. The Sino-U.S. trade war, coming as an onslaught from without, represents the conflict of universal values in China’s troubled integration with international society. Internally, China has been plagued by serious and chronic social ills — forced demolition, widespread petitioning, “stability maintenance,” wrongful charges, and judicial corruption — at the heart of which lie the inescapable questions concerning rule of law, constitutional government, freedom, and democracy.
Though the circumstances differ, the three years of Wuxu in the last 120 years share one common trait: societal change. And the underlying change is one of transition, from the closed society and “rule by man” (人治, as opposed to rule of law) to an open society, governed by law, that respects the rights of its citizens.
The process of taming power with rights is a long and painful one. Indeed, China has yet to complete its “great shift unseen over the past 3,000 years” (三千年来未有之大变局) described by the late-Qing minister Li Hongzhang (李鸿章) in his desperate attempts to right the ship of state.
2018 saw the outbreak of the Changsheng vaccine scandal, which once again tested the deteriorating moral of Chinese society. We loathe unscrupulous corporations that sacrifice everything for profit, even at the cost of endangering public safety; we abhor even more the authorities, who take taxpayers’ money but fail to perform their duties. The vaccine scandal is the latest of many chilling reminders that we are still far, far away from efficient and uncorrupt administration; and that a comprehensive market economy governed by law has continued to elude us.
This year, we have witnessed a number of laws drafted or amended, including the Constitution, Supervision Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Police Law, Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs, Regulation on Religious Affairs, and the like. Put together, they evidence an alarming trend: the government continues to expand its power and suppressing individual rights.
This year, human rights lawyers have suffered another wave of crackdown following the 709 mass arrests of 2015. This time, the crackdown has been more deceptive and underhanded, making use of administrative channels to restrain practitioners of law. Lawyers saw their licenses suspended or revoked. Some were forced to temporarily discontinue their legal practices, submit to investigation, experienced troubles in their annual administrative inspections, or met with interference from the judicial and administrative authorities that prevented their re-employment by other law firms.
From the brazen arrest of lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生) earlier in the year, to the court hearing at year’s end that saw the revocation of Liu Zhengqing’s practicing license, 2018 has seen a long list of human rights lawyers being disbarred or soon to be disbarred, or otherwise suspended, including Yu Wensheng , Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Wen Donghai (文东海), Ma Lianshun (马连顺), Qin Yongpei (覃永沛), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Chen Keyun (陈科云), Li Heping (李和平), Wang Yu (王宇), Zhang Kai (张凯), Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原), Zhou Lixin (周立新), Cheng Hai (程海), Hu Linzheng (胡林政), Zeng Wu (曾武), Chang Weiping (常玮平), He Wei (何伟), Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿), Li Jinxing (李金星), Yu Pinjian (玉品健), Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), Yang Jinzhu (杨金柱), and more.
In 2018, we have seen increases in willful use of police summons and arbitrary disappearances.
Dong Yaoqiong (董瑶琼), a woman from Hunan, disappeared without a trace and later ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Another three young women — Shen Mengyu (沈梦雨), a master’s graduate at Zhongshan University who participated in the Jasic labor rights protest; Yue Xin (岳昕), a graduating senior at the Peking University who also voiced her support for Jasic workers, and Yang Shuhan (杨舒涵), a current student at the Renmin University — have been either disappeared or silenced. These young women have stood out with their kindheartedness, determination, independence and courage.
The “re-education centers” in Xinjiang have attracted international condemnation. Without any doubt, these mass violations of personal freedom fly in the face of the human rights guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution. They must be ended.
We have observed more and more incidents of police checking identification or phones at will, or engaging in other so called “law enforcement” activities that are in fact gross violations of human rights. We have also seen police carry out illegal acts, such as breaking into residents’ homes for inspection, summoning individuals on an arbitrary basis, or violently dispersing migrant workers. These acts have left us feeling fearful and apprehensive.
Renowned dissident Qin Yongmin (秦永敏) was given yet another severe sentence, and Ms. Xu Qin (徐秦) was unlawfully detained for months. We have also seen a deluge of farcical trials in the cities of Suzhou and Fuzhou against citizens who sought to defend their rights, and reprisals or abuse against civil rights activists who refused to plead guilty, such as Ge Jueping (戈觉平), Wu Qihe (吴其和), and Zhu Chengzhi (朱承志).
Following the terror of 709 crackdown, Mr. Xu Lin (徐琳) in Guangzhou wrote songs to rally morale and has been imprisoned since; Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃), Zhen Jianghua (甄江华), and Sun Lin (孙林) were punished for citizen journalism. We saw how the 85-year-old mother of another citizen journalist Huang Qi (黄琦) desperately sought support far and near after her son was framed and charged with “provoking quarrels,” and how Zhang Pancheng (张盼成), a security guard at Peking University who came from a humble family, began to speak of an awareness of rights that few students seem to care about or dare to voice.
We have borne witness to the abhorrent behavior of a policeman surnamed Chen working at the Hualin Police Station in Guangzhou, who stripped the clothes off female lawyer Sun Shihua (孙世华) under the pretext of “law enforcement.” We have seen the incident treated with the cover-ups typical of bureaucracies such as the procuratorate, supervision commission, disciplinary inspection, judicial administration, and lawyers’ association, as well as the arrogance of the Liwan police, who instead of going after the culprit, issued administrative penalties to Sun Shihua the victim. We feel pain and helplessness at her plight, yet deep in our hearts is the firm belief that Chen and the officials shielding him will eventually have their shameful acts recorded in the annals of China’s legal history.
At year’s end, WeChat accounts were deleted en masse, Twitter users were forced to delete their feeds and accounts, and freedom of speech in general is coming under more vicious attacks in China. Religious freedom has also suffered, as most recently evidenced by the sudden arrests of Early Rain Covenant Church members in Chengdu, Sichuan, among many other incidents.
The day after Christmas, Tianjin No.2 Intermediate People’s Court held a closed trial of lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋) citing state secrets, eschewing all pretenses of law. This forms a sharp contrast to the creative protest of the 709 wives—Li Wenzu (李文足), Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊), and Xu Yan (许艳). Their slogan “We can be hairless, but you can’t be lawless” will become a legal maxim for the ages. [发, hair, has a similar sound to 法, law]
2018, this year of Wuxu, was a year filled with extreme challenges.
What’s to be done? Shall we cower the corner and find solace in temporary efforts, or shall we confront the reality and pursue the rule of law regardless how the storm of tyranny rages? We are faulted and accused at every turn, thwarted before even taking a single step. Yet as pioneers of our time, we must march on, making the best of the situation. Like the sun and moon moving on their celestial courses, like rivers flowing to the ocean, we stand firm in our conviction that constitutional government, democracy and human rights will become reality in the face of adversity. The ideal of rule of law is our motivation and what keeps us from despair.
Because of our ideals, human rights lawyers didn’t shy away from pressure and continued to defend Qin Yongmin,Tashi Wangchuk (扎西文色), Huang Qi, Jin Zhehong (金哲宏) and other cases deemed politically sensitive. For us human rights lawyers, there are only legal cases, and there are no such thing as “sensitive cases.”
In 2019, four years after the 709 crackdown, we will welcome the release from prison of two human rights lawyers, Tang Jingling (唐荆陵) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇).
In 2019, we hope to see the freedom of another four human rights lawyers: Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, Li Yuhan (李昱函), and Chen Wuquan (陈武权). Whether in terms of Chinese law or international conventions, there’s no legal ground for the accusations they face.
We hope that the laws on the books can be followed, and not manipulated by those in power.
We hope that no more human rights lawyers find their practicing licenses revoked for any excuse.
We hope to put an end to the arbitrary summons, detentions, forcible disappearances, and other gangster tactics employed by the authorities. We hope that police can exercise self-control and refrain from acting on their whims. We request that police officer Chen at Hualin Police Station turn himself in, that the Guangzhou police remove him from his post, and that he face a penalty appropriate to his misdeed.
Going into 2019, we look forward to the vindication of moe, and hopefully all wrongful charges. We hope that an effective mechanism can be established to eliminate and correct unjust rulings. We hope that “picking quarrels” and “extorting government” will no longer be used as grounds for prosecuting petitioners and human rights activists. These charges are absurd, unreasonable, and an assault on the rule of law. While these actions of the authorities may have some immediate suppressive effect, in the long run it will serve only to intensify conflicts between the government and the governed. The consequences will be disastrous.
The life mission of any lawyers is to uphold justice in their cases. We as human rights lawyers will continue to practice, representing all kinds of clients, including those deemed politically sensitive. We will use our work to promote the causes of constitutional government and rule of law. We face many storms ahead and the path is fraught with peril and uncertainty. Yet we forge on, duty-bound to the mission of justice. There is no going back! Our determination in the face of impossible odds will drive us forward, persevere through the storm for the sake of a better China. This is the choice we made, our predestination and mission.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
December 31, 2018
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group was founded on September 13, 2013. It is an open platform for cooperation. Since its founding, members of the group have worked together to protect human rights and promote the rule of law in China through issuing joint statements and representing human rights cases. Any Chinese lawyer who shares our human rights principles and is willing to defend the basic rights of citizens is welcome to join. We look forward to working with you.
Lawyer He Wei (何伟), Tel: 18523069266
Lawyer Lin Qilei (蔺其磊), Tel: 13366227598
Lawyer Shi Ping (施平), Tel: 15515694755
Lawyer Wang Qingpeng (王清鹏), Tel: +1 (425)7329584
Lawyer Xie Yang (谢阳), Tel: 18673190911