The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, January 1, 2020
One hundred years ago, when the New Culture Movement sang the praises of democracy” and science, nobody could have imagined that a century later, in the China of today, democracy has failed to flourish, while science has become a powerful tool aiding a totalitarian dictatorship.
Seventy years ago, a new political order rose amidst the struggles and ravages of war that had been visited upon the great East Asian land and its people. Yet the people’s hopes for peace were quickly dashed: what lay in store for the Chinese were still greater human tragedies in an unending chain of cataclysmic political campaigns: The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the sent-down of youth, and more.
Thirty years ago, thousands of students and intellectuals spilled their hot blood on Tiananmen Square, giving up their young lives for the sake of the great Chinese land. Another 30 years passed, yet we now find that the spirit of their sacrifice is being scrubbed away with the same violent impulse that was used to destroy their physical bodies. Material temptations and continuous indoctrination have made so many Chinese forget the value of freedom and idealism.
2019 was a year defined by much tumult, from the swine fever epidemic and the Sino-U.S. trade war to the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement. Faced with the sudden arrival of these Black Swan events, China is at a crossroads: will it follow the tide of history and embrace universal values? Or will it clutch to the past, taking the civilized world as its enemy and making the 1.4 billion Chinese people pay for this stubbornness?
In 2019, we have suddenly found ourselves in a China where the width and breadth of the country is under surveillance. From the avenues to the neighborhoods, from the doors of public restrooms to the entrances of shopping centers, nowhere is free from the artificial gaze of security cameras — Big Brother of 1984 has stepped into our world, watching our every move.
We have also observed the increasing frequency of public security incidents: the industrial explosion in Xiangshui (响水), the moldy food in Chengdu schools, the collapse of the subway tunnels in Guangzhou and the highway bridge in Wuxi. Air pollution, toxic food staples, contaminated medicine — all this fills us with anxiety and uncertainty about the state of our society. People live in dread and doubt.
On top of this are the omnipresent security checks that strip people of their basic dignity, while consuming a huge amount of state resources and manpower. Whatever sense of rights the people still had, is no more.
Meanwhile, the power of the police has only continued to increase. In the name of “counter-terrorism,” “maintaining public security,” and “mantaining social order,” officers wield loaded firearms and set up up checkpoints wherever they please, creating much inconvenience for the people they are supposed to serve and protect.
In the last year, the “Surveillance Law” (《监察法》) has been used for the violation of human rights on a monstrous scale, confirming the fear we expressed in our last New Year’s message. It has severely jeopardized the safety of civil servants, and twisted the basic principles of criminal procedure (《刑事诉讼法》) beyond recognition. The new round of “sweeping away evil” seems in fact to more resemble a festive division of private property by the authorities, who target and victimize hapless individuals. Protocols, truth, justice, and hope are nowhere to be found.
The current authorities play games with semantics, brazenly promoting a self-serving standard of human rights throughout the international community. Such arrogance has given China an infamous reputation, and stirred resentment from countries around the world.
It feels as though the Cultural Cultural is returning in covert form. Basic freedom of speech is being suppressed, sensitive news is prohibited, ideological discussions in universities are being shut down. Many matters of societal welfare are politicized, and internet censorship is the norm. The state of human rights in China is in rapid decline.
Human rights violations in the Chinese frontier are being roundly criticized and condemned by many countries. China’s leaders seem to have become the enemies of civilized countries overnight.
China’s human rights lawyers, working on the front line to defend human rights, have become the focus of suppression and surveillance by judicial authorities and bar associations throughout the country. These extraordinary crackdowns have prevented human rights defenders everywhere from hiring suitable defense attorneys. Instead, officially appointed lawyers raise the big stick of “making confessions in exchange for lighter punishment” before the prosecution. Defendants’ basic human rights have been thus infringed, while criminal proceedings were reduced to formality, bureaucracy, and transactionalization, devoid of fairness and justice that society so badly needs.
By the looks of things, there is really no reason to be optimistic as we look at the festering regression of China’s human rights situation throughout 2019. However, the development of human history has always followed a certain law that things must turn around when they reach an extreme. We believe that after over 10 years of experiencing continuous decline, human rights in China are sure to improve in the not-so-distant future. The more difficult the circumstances are that face China’s human rights lawyers, the more they must maintain high spirits in their work. We must renew our inspiration and know always that what we have been doing is right, noble, and meaningful. We have no reason to back down and cower from adversity.
We know not what fate awaits us in 2020. But China, this ancient nation of East Asia, will not stay locked out of the civilized world forever. At an unexpected moment, history will shine its light on China. The day will come that every Chinese is liberated, and the people will become masters of their own nation.
In 2020, we must not let ourselves lose spirit. On the contrary, we should become closer with the people, listen carefully to their voices, and devise actionable steps to prepare for improvements in human rights.
In 2020, we must enthusiastically involve ourselves in human rights work by propagating, advocating how, guaranteeing, and implementing these rights. Working in the realm of the law, we shall make the most fundamental efforts for the sake of advancing the cause of human rights in China.
Friends, 2020 is now here. Please keep faith that history will not ignore our work. History has never let down those who truly struggle. When, one day in the future, we look back at the work we did today, we will marvel at how each small act, little by little, contributed to the final result. We will all be grateful that we persevered, and did not give up in the face of the bitter winter.
Let us welcome 2020, prepare for 2020!
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
December 31, 2019
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.