Flying Against the Wind Amid a Grim Situation — China Human Rights Lawyers Group’s Statement on the 5th Anniversary of the “709” Crackdown

China Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 9, 2020

Neither remorseful nor boastful in the past, human rights lawyers will not be so today, nor in the future.  

Five years ago, beginning with the seizure of Lawyer Wang Yu and her husband, the Chinese government launched a campaign to wipe out human rights defenders. Human rights lawyers bore the brunt of the attack, and so this day, July 9, is regarded as “China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day.”  That a calamitous day is treated as a holiday reflects, and is highly compatible with, the spirit and temperament of human rights lawyers’ as a group, their inherent tenacity and optimism, and conscious assumption of responsibility.

The course of these five years can be described as a journey through thistles and thorns–– treacherous and dangerous.  Many people were taken into custody and sentenced; many people experienced long-term detention, and the licenses of many human rights lawyers were permanently revoked or canceled. As for being harassed by the authorities through summons for “chats” and the obstruction by various entities of lawyers’ normal professional practice–– these tactics were even more commonplace.  

There are some people did not lose their personal freedom, yet they’ve lived for a long time in constant fear of losing their freedom at any moment. This is a group of dancers on the edge of a precipice.

During the past five years, they have sailed against the wind; the more repression they face, the more resolute they’ve become. Due to their suffering and unyielding resistance, human rights lawyers as a group have emerged and become known to the world and received much acclaim. They did not actively seek this; originally, they were like a farmer who only thinks about tilling their land and growing their crops; it’s the persecutors who put a crown of righteousness on them. So, these five years, for human rights lawyers, have been a kind of forging, a difficult coming-of-age ceremony.

Prior to this, some lawyers harbored a little excitement and curiosity when they participated in human rights defense, embracing the cause with romantic ideals. By the time a torrential storm struck, however, some people weighed their fear and interests, and left the scene midway.  It may also have been a temporary departure, and they can’t be criticized for this. But most of them persisted. Those who never departed in body and mind have gone through many trials and experiences; they’ve become like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  

The storm experienced by human rights lawyers was ordained from the day the overseas edition of the People’s Daily put forward five categories of people who the government determined posed a threat to the regime. Immediately dubbed by netizens as the “new black five categories,” the ‘rights defense lawyers’ (weiquan lüshi) category was listed first among the five. ‘Rights defense lawyers’ can be viewed as a subset of the group ‘human rights lawyers’ (renquan lüshi); in the official characterization of the political spectrum, rights defense lawyers may be those among the human rights lawyers who have a stronger interest in social movements and have had more connection with citizen activists; the purpose and model of their representation also has a stronger public quality.

The establishment of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group [in 2013], a platform for human rights lawyers to join forces for warmth and succor, has irked the authorities who are hyper-sensitive about civil society’s ability to self-organize. Looking back over the past few years, almost all of the persecuted and suppressed lawyers belong to the Human Rights Lawyers Group.

However, no matter how the authorities might crack down, and despite the endless stream of human rights cases and the continuously grave professional risks still faced by human rights lawyers, the awareness among human rights lawyers to huddle together for succor will not diminish, and this loose platform will not be taken apart.

Although we have been repeatedly oppressed and persecuted, we have no hatred or resentment in our hearts. We are willing to examine the difficult situations we’ve suffered from the position of a longer historical perspective, so as to come to peace with inner grievances, and even to regard the difficulties with joy.

As human rights lawyers, we have never concealed our longing for a beautiful future for China. She must be a country with constitutional democracy, which respects individual rights and fundamental freedoms; she should be a land of happiness in which all ethnic groups are equal and get along with each other. But the natural conservative tendency of the lawyers’ profession determines that, although we have ideals, we do not act as idealists.  We will persist in looking at various issues through the lens of realism.  Perhaps we often stand on the side of the weak, but we will not, consequently, beautify the weak, nor do we think that the weak necessarily represent justice. We have never dared to believe that we ourselves necessarily represent justice.  We have always been vigilant against populism and rationalism. Humility, maturity, rationality, and moderation are still the basic approaches of our work.

We have suffered a great deal of persecution, but we have also received a lot of praise. There are many people who like us, but there is also no shortage of people who loathe us. But what we want to say is that we will not be constrained because of other people’s favor, nor will we hang back because of other people’s hatred. We will not deliberately please anyone, nor do we have any intention of challenging anyone, let alone subverting anyone.

Justice is what we value, and rights are what we seek to defend.  The justice we value is not abstract justice, however. It is justice attached to concrete rights and concrete freedoms.

We will, as always, maintain a moderate and rational, not radical, posture in our work. This is not a strategy based on fearful opportunism, rather it is based on our convictions and our own orientation. We are a group of human rights defenders, promoters and midwives of the rule of law. 

We will always be present in the field of human rights and the rule of law.

For those like-minded lawyers who are still detained, we will not give up; for those citizens who have lost their freedom because they exercised their rights guaranteed by the Constitution, we will not give up; we will unceasingly pay attention until they have gained their freedom.

Because of its scale, because of its cruelty, and because of the dauntless struggle of those human rights defenders, the 709 Crackdown has already become a historic monument to human rights defenders. It is destined to be included in the annals of legal history.

The China Human Rights Lawyers Group

July 9, 2020

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.


Like-minded lawyers who are still imprisoned: Lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世锋律师), Lawyer Li Yuhan (李昱函律师), Lawyer Yu Wensheng (余文生律师), Lawyer Chen Wuquan (陈武权律师), Lawyer Xia Lin (夏霖律师), Lawyer Chen Jiahong (陈家鸿律师), Lawyer Qin Yongpei (覃永沛律师), Lawyer Zhang Zhan (张展律师), legal activist Hao Jinsong (郝劲松), etc.

Citizens who have lost their freedom due to the exercise of rights guaranteed by the Constitution: including, but not limited to, Chen Shuqing (陈树庆), Lü Gengsong (吕耿松), Qin Yongmin (秦永敏), Wu Gan (吴淦), Elder Hu Shigen (胡石根长老), Ge Jueping (戈觉平), Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永博士), Lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜律师), Pastor Wang Yi (王怡牧师), Cheng Yuan (程渊), Wu Gejianxiong (吴葛健雄), Li Yufeng (李玉凤), Lu Yang (鲁扬), Wang Mo (王默), Liu Yanli (刘艳丽), Shen Liangqing (沈良庆), Lawyer Chen Qiushi (陈秋实律师), Fang Bin (方斌), Deng Chuanbin (邓传彬), Ling Haobo (凌浩波), Wang Zang (王藏), Liu Jinxing (刘进兴, 追魂), Yin Xu’an (尹旭安), Wu Qihe (吴其和), Sun Qian (孙茜), Zhang Haitao (张海涛), Xie Wenfei (谢文飞), etc.

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