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Wang Dan, July 20, 2017
“Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party.”
When I heard that Liu Xiaobo had died, I quickly posted the news on Facebook. So many online friends shared their condolences. One message among them struck me as particularly incisive and worthy of our consideration — this friend said that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei (康有为), and spilled his blood like Tan Sitong (谭嗣同).”
Of course, to say that Liu Xiaobo “walked the path of Kang Youwei” is not to say that Liu advocated for constitutional monarchy, but rather that his political position and basic viewpoint were actually quite moderate, just as were those of Kang Youwei in his day. Liu Xiaobo never called for revolution, to the point that he maintained “I have no enemies.” But like Tan Sitong, Liu came to a violent end: persecuted to death for the sake of advancing reform. Sometimes, history does repeat itself.
But Liu Xiaobo’s death also lays bare a reality we sometimes are reluctant to acknowledge: even the most moderate position, so long as it is premised on constitutional democracy, cannot be accepted by the Chinese Communist Party. No matter how moderate the view, no matter how much goodwill its proponents convey, to the CCP he is an “enemy of the state” and must be eliminated as soon as possible. Within and without the system, from former General Secretary Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳) to the dissident Liu Xiaobo, it has always been thus.
What does this tell us? It tells us that all those who abide in the hope that the CCP will initiate political reform, all those who believe that the CCP will move toward democracy once a certain stage of economic development has been reached, all those who wait on the chance that Xi Jinping will turn out to be an enlightened autocrat—are all wrong, naive, even ignorant. Liu Xiaobo’s death has proven this once again.
This point has profound implications as to whether China’s future transition will bode well for its neighbors and for the world. If China’s ruling party is willing to permit moderate opposition, the transition may be smooth and peaceful; but if the CCP cannot even admit moderate opposition like Liu Xiaobo’s, then the only option is to break away from the moderates, and for hatred to accumulate in society.
If the path to reform is cut off, China will be left with opposition between state and society, and the only way out will be bloody revolution. We certainly don’t want this, but once it happens, China will inevitably plunge into chaos, and that internal chaos will impact neighboring countries and the whole world. This is the profound fear that Liu Xiaobo’s death has given us.
No doubt Liu Xiaobo’s horrific end is the result of the CCP’s total lack of humanity. But as New York University Law Professor Jerome Cohen has pointed out, Western countries are increasingly indifferent to human rights in China, so much so that they have nearly abandoned the issue. This conniving and appeasement is also to blame. Liu Xiaobo’s death will reverberate throughout the international community, emboldening the call to reckon with its policy towards the human rights of the Chinese people. The tragic death of a Nobel Peace laureate, we hope, will prompt those parties and politicians who have cozied back up to China to rethink their relationship.
In other words, Liu Xiaobo’s passing could become a turning point in China’s rise: the CCP, which continues to buy global support with the image of rapid economic growth, must bear the burden of Liu Xiaobo’s death for a long time to come. It will deal a blow to that image and an immense setback for the CCP’s arrogance. We will be glad to see this change, but the price we paid for it was Liu Xiaobo’s life. It is a tragedy of our time.
With his life, with his final breath, Liu Xiaobo gave us this truth—the CPP is the new Nazi Party. I hope this will make the world think.
Wang Dan (王丹) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, and was one of the most visible student leaders during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and has been teaching in Taiwan until recently.
More articles on the passing of Liu Xiaobo:
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
As Liu Xiaobo Dies in Isolation, It’s Time to Abandon ‘Quiet Diplomacy’, Chang Ping, July 18, 2017.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.
By Chang Ping, July 18, 2017
On July 7, the German professor Markus W Büchler, Chairman of the Department of Surgery, University of Heidelberg, traveled to Shenyang to take part in diagnosing the condition of Liu Xiaobo. Media reports noted that it was the first time in almost a decade that Liu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had seen a foreigner. When I read this line I felt full of grief. The visit of a doctor isn’t anything like that of a friend calling in. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for his speech and thought, and apart from the small number of family members who’ve long been under house arrest, no one has been able to see him for all these years. Until he got late-stage liver cancer, when his days on earth were numbered, the only people he was able to see — apart from the doctors, nurses, and a few family members — were the police who had been ordered to keep him under close guard. On July 13, he left the world completely cut off from it.
A group of 154 Nobel Prize laureates signed a joint statement hoping that the Chinese authorities would let Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia freely see their family, and that Liu be allowed to receive treatment anywhere he wished. UN human rights officials, politicians from around the world, human rights organizations and numerous Chinese citizens have said the same thing. The Chinese government pretends they don’t hear it — like a black hole that swallows everything that enters.
While silencing dissidents and shutting up their supporters, the Chinese government has also started projecting its voice on the international scene. Xi Jinping has been more assertive and bolder than any previous leader in boasting in international fora; Chinese state media has even suggested that he’s going to point toward the future direction of mankind. Buying up media, suppressing foreign journalists, and changing global public opinion have become the Chinese government’s undisguised combat strategies. Angela Merkel is content to chat with Xi Jinping for a long while about pandas at the zoo, but when it comes to a dying Liu Xiaobo, she won’t say a word in public. It’s clearly not that she doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care for Liu Xiaobo, but that she’s being stifled by the Chinese government.
Publicly humiliate the Communist Party, or let the Party publicly humiliate you?
Last week, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a hearing on human rights conditions in China, which included the remarks of Terence Halliday, co-director of the Center on Law & Globalization at the American Bar Foundation. Halliday said that “At this moment from our longstanding research I have no doubt that when the world speaks out loud and publicly, China listens. China has a very thin skin” (video, 1’33”). Some may see this as publicly shaming to China — but in fact, it’s the Communist Party that has been shaming human rights and democracy. The most Western nations can do is stop or lessen this dishonor.
Would publicly criticizing China have any use? Some would defend Merkel’s failure to publicly mention Liu Xiaobo — that she is making a compromise and getting things done in a low-key manner. Whether it’s getting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on the brink of death released, or changing China’s authoritarian political system, many people think that “private dialogue” is the most effective path. They even suppose that public pressure will have the opposite of the result intended. Over the past twenty years, the European Union has been holding dialogues on human rights with China quietly, and it is termed “quiet diplomacy.”
But in fact, those who are provided succor are those who have been reported on in the media the most — those who make dictators truly feel the pressure of international public opinion. There are countless unknown victims who have received no lenience since they are so “low key.” In fact, they’re often subject to the most cruel and brutal treatment.
This is not limited to only individual cases. The German scholar Katrin Kinzelbach’s 2014 book “The EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with China: Quiet Diplomacy and its Limits,” traced the development of the EU’s rights dialogue with China from its founding in 1995 until 2010, relying on internal memoranda, a vast array of documents, and extensive interviews with officials from over 20 member states. She spoke with former chairpersons of the dialogue committees and traced the institutional changes in the process. The conclusion of her research was that “quiet diplomacy” exerts almost no positive impact at all on human rights in China. Not only did the dialogue fail to achieve the hoped-for outcome, but it led to the Chinese government holding human rights in more contempt, turning the dialogue into a perfunctory affair and an occasion for them to rebut all questions, criticisms, and suggestions.
China points the world in a dark direction
Two weeks ago Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Initiatives for China, International Campaign for Tibet, Human Rights in China, International Society for Human Rights, and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) made a joint statement calling on the European Union to suspend human rights dialogues with China. Their reasoning was that this sort of quiet diplomacy, on a particularly low-level this year, hasn’t improved the circumstances of China’s human rights in China, but instead has become a shield for the EU to avoid a thorny issue.
In her book, Kinzelbach writes that the “quiet diplomacy” strategy of human rights dialogues has shown itself to be weak and ineffectual, and that the only effective policy that Europe had on the issue was the prohibition of weapons sales to China after the June 4 massacre. If it wants to change human rights in China, the EU needs to summon up the courage, truly persevere, and support the immense significance of the human rights cause.
When politicians are laughing together about how cute the pandas are, and silent and unmoved while China’s most prominent dissident is dying in isolation, perhaps what China’s official propaganda mouthpieces have said is entirely accurate: In fact, Xi Jinping is pointing to a new direction for mankind, that is, abandoning the painful development of a political culture that safeguards human rights, democracy and liberty, and instead focusing on success in advanced economics and high technology, establishing an even more barbaric, darker, and despicable society that operates according to the law of the jungle.
Chang Ping is a Chinese media veteran and current events commentator now living in political exile in Germany.
The Path Forward in the Wake of Liu Xiaobo’s Passing, Yaxue Cao, July 16, 2017.
Liu Xiaobo: The Founder of China’s Political Opposition Movements, Wu Qiang, June 30, 2017.
Also by Chang Ping:
One Belt, One Road, Total Corruption, May 18, 2017.
China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.
We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.
A China Change interview with Chang Ping:
China Change, July 15, 2017
Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永), leader of the New Citizens Movement, was released from prison on July 15, after serving a 4-year sentence.
Xu Zhiyong’s defense lawyer Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) confirmed that Dr. Xu has returned home in Beijing. He was picked up earlier by the security police, a source said.
Yesterday, scores of citizens traveled to the vicinity of Kenhua Prison in Ninghe District in Tianjin where Xu Zhiyong had been imprisoned since he was sentenced in February 2014. Dr. Xu, 44 years old, is a legal scholar and the founder of Gongmeng, a civil society group that pioneered China’s “rights defense movement” and in recent years campaigned for equal education rights for migrant workers’ children in large cities, and engaged in citizen activism under the banner “Freedom, Justice, and Love.”
The crackdown on the New Citizens Movement began in April 2013. Xu Zhiyong was arrested in July 2013.
Friends who tried to visit Xu this morning were blocked by three plainclothes security agents at the entrance of his residential compound. It’s unclear whether Dr. Xu will be placed under some kind of restriction in his movement and communications — illegal but common practices used by the Chinese government against leading dissidents.
Yesterday, activists who went to the prison to welcome Dr. Xu found that the roads around the prison were closed, allowing only inbound traffic. During the night, police raided the guest rooms of the activists. On the morning of the 15th, police stopped activists approaching the prison, telling them that Xu Zhiyong had been released already.
On July 13, Liu Xiaobo, the founder of China’s political opposition movements and the only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate in the world, died in custody from liver cancer, marking, some say, the end of an era and with it the hope of a gradual transition to democracy in China.
Dr. Xu is a leader of the younger generation of Chinese activists; he returns, four years later, to a much harsher environment for political opposition.
The China Manifesto – detained activist Xu Zhiyong calls for end to ‘barbaric’ one party rule, The Telegraph, January 23, 2014.
Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part One, April 10, 2014.
Who Is Xu Zhiyong — An Interview with Dr. Teng Biao, Part Two, April 13, 2014.
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group, July 9, 2017
In the early hours of the morning on July 9, 2015, the Beijing-based lawyer Wang Yu and her husband and son, Bao Longjun (包龙军) and Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓轩), were suddenly illegally arrested by the police. Before long, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋), Xie Yang (谢阳), Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Li Chunfu (李春富), Xie Yuandong (谢远东), Liu Sixin (刘四新), Gao Yue (高月), Zhao Wei (赵威), Li Shuyun (李姝云) and dozens of other lawyers and their assistants were also arrested. At around the same time, Wu Gan (吴淦 known online as “The Butcher”), an activist who was in Nanchang protesting the Jiangxi High Court’s refusal to allow a lawyer to examine the case files surrounding the “Leping Wrongful Imprisonment” case, was arrested, along with Li Yanjun (李燕军), Liu Xing (刘星), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Wang Su’e (王素娥), and others, a total of 17 citizen activists in Weifang, Shandong Province. This was a prelude to the mass arrests of the July 9 sweep. Later, there were also the arrests, one after another, of Hu Shigen (胡石根), Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Wang Fang (王芳), Yin Xu’an (尹旭安) and other rights defenders. After July 9, over 360 lawyers and citizens around the country were summoned and subjected to coercive, high-pressure interrogations. The family members of lawyers and rights activists were also implicated and subjected to constant threats and intimidation. About 40 lawyers were prevented from leaving China.
This campaign of mass arrests of lawyers began on July 9, 2015, and so is known as the “709 Incident.” After it began, those detained have for the most part been disappeared — held in secret detention (officially known as “residential surveillance at a designated place”). In January 2016, when the term of “residential surveillance at a designated place” expired, the majority of the lawyers were then formally arrested on the criminal charge of subverting, or inciting subversion of, state power. The authorities attempted to forcibly sever the legal contracts between those arrested and their own lawyers and then, entirely exceeding any legitimate power they held, assigned lawyers they controlled to the cases. In early August 2016, the Tianjin Second Intermediate Court began rapidly prosecuting and pronouncing pro forma sentences against Hu Shigen, Zhou Shifeng, Gou Hongguo, and Zhai Yanmin on charges of “subversion of state power.” The four were given prison sentences of between three and seven years. In November 2016 lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), who had been working indefatigably to try to rescue the 709 detainees, was himself put under secret detention in the Changsha 1st Detention Center.
Separately, beginning in September 2016, but particularly from February to May 2017, mass arrests of citizens in Shenzhen began. Those targeted included Gu Yimin (顾义民), Ge Jueping (戈觉平), Lu Guoying (陆国英), Hu Cheng (胡诚), Wang Jun (王军), Ding Yan (丁岩), Ma Zhiquan (马志权), Li Nanhai (李南海) and others. Their arrests was said to have been connected with their advocacy on behalf of 709 victims — a continuation and escalation of the campaign.
In January 2017, lawyer Li Chunfu (李春富) was released on probation. The long-term torture and abuse he was subjected to in custody, however, left him mentally broken. Only through the care, company, and guidance of his family did he gradually begin returning to health. Xie Yang’s lawyer Chen Jiangang (陈建刚), after visiting him in custody, published the inside details of the extreme torture that Xie Yang was subjected to. In April 2017, Li Heping (李和平) was given a suspended sentence for “subversion of state power”; when he returned home, his face was thin and pallid. He explained that he had suffered systematic, long-term psychological and physical torture in custody. The Chinese phrase “nine deaths and still alive” (九死一生) would describe it. In May 2017, Xie Yang was released on probation. When in the detention center, Wu Gan wrote a letter of complaint against the authorities, describing the torture he was put through. Nothing at all has been heard from Wang Quanzhang since his arrest two years ago; the lawyers hired by his family have yet to see him, and no one knows whether he’s even dead or alive.
In the post 709 Crackdown period, some people believe that the community of human rights lawyers had been dealt with a destructive blow. Some have been delighted at that prospect, some withdrew, and others have changed course. The 709 incident itself, however, has become the occasion for a number of human rights lawyers to shine through. Those who stuck through when besieged with crisis and danger on all sides are benchmarks for legal professionals in China — they’re the group who most care, most pursue, and are most willing to exert themselves for freedom, democracy, rule of law, fairness, and justice in China.
The 709 incident has also revealed a number of legal scholars and professionals, both embedded in the state system and outside it, who wear the garb of “men of the law” but who in fact trample the rule of law, helping to suppress democracy activists, and who hamper China’s democratization. Doing so, they’ve now become obstacles, trying to block up the wheels of history’s progress. Among them are some “experts,” “professors,” and “scholars” who, in their ivory tower, act like kept propagandists for those in power, defending the Party’s anti-democratic, anti-liberty, and anti-rule of law behavior. They sell out their consciences for money; they’ve abandoned the basic ethics of human beings, and they’re simply washing up after the evildoers. There are also a group of official lawyers who work at the command of the security apparatus. They too cloak themselves as “men of the law,” but the role they play is that of the stability maintenance agent, defending those trampling on the rule of law. History will testify the truth about them, and their names will put to shame in the course of China’s democratization.
History will also remember another group of people from the 709 incident: the family members of 709 victims. Especially the wives of Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yang, Xie Yanyi, Gou Hongguo, Zhai Yanmin and others. Their images of carrying bright red buckets with names of their husbands impressed all of us. The work of these wives on behalf of their husbands persisted throughout the 709 crackdown.
The 709 incident was a premeditated, large-scale, coordinated attack by the authorities on the human rights defense movement, the most severe over the last several years. The daily withering of civil society in China under such repression is a fact — but as long as there are abuses of human rights, human rights lawyers will not be absent. We believe that those who’ve been through the 709 test won’t give up on defending human rights. Instead, they will more tenaciously, wisely, and fearlessly assume the mission that the era demands of them.
The 709 incident shows that when the ignorant and powerful come to confront human rights defenders, they act without mercy or feeling or any restraint. The forced confessions they extract simply reflect their apprehension and guilty conscience in the face of the law, and in the face of a citizenry that is waking up every day. They desperately need human rights lawyers to acknowledge allegiance and openly confess guilt so they can then use that to further repress the rest of the citizenry.
The international community, lawyers, the family members of victims, citizens, and people of conscience throughout society, have always been supporters of 709 victims. Those ensnared by the 709 crackdown have borne witness to the false promise of the rule of law in China with their suffering. The awakening of citizen consciousness and the development of civil society are inevitable parts of the road to a modern democratic civilization; lawyers are a crucial force on this path toward the rule of law. They should not become the targets of attack, elimination, and persecution.
The human rights lawyers who have been arrested are not the troublemakers in Chinese society, but instead the people who seek out solutions. They assume it upon themselves, and they summon up their own courage, to put the questions that plague Chinese society on the table and hope for a lawful path to their resolution. History makes clear that liberty, democracy, and the rule of law don’t fall from the sky; those in power won’t limit it of their own accord, nor will they proactively let go of their own vested interests. Using the law to resist, to strive for freedom, promote democracy, and realize the rule of law is an effective path. In this process, the sacrifices and exertions of the resistors are worth it.
Upon the second anniversary of the 709 incident, we thank the attention of everyone on the 709 incident, and we thank everyone who has worked to free the persecuted. We won’t be discouraged; we’ll continue striving to defend human rights. We hope that everyone continues to pay attention to the cases of Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, and Wu Gan, among others. We also express our concern over the condition of Liu Xiaobo. Constitutional democracy has not yet been realized, and citizens must continue to strive. Before the arrival of dawn, there will be harsher suppression and worse persecution, but they will not stop the sun from rising, and the light of constitutional democracy will radiate everywhere in China and heal this wounded land.
July 9, 2017
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.
Chang Boyang (常伯阳) 18837183338
Liu Shihui (刘士辉) 18516638964
Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) 18639228639
Tang Ji Tian (唐吉田) 13161302848
Yu Wensheng (余文生) 13910033651
China Change, July 7, 2017
“Wang Yu (王宇) was at home by herself that night, having just seen off at the airport her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军), and their son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓軒). A group of men began idling about outside her home, and when she yelled out asking who they were, they shrank away and kept quiet. About an hour later, when she was unable to raise her husband and son on the phone, and just beginning to get anxious, the lights in her apartment suddenly went out. Her internet was also cut. The harsh buzz of an electric drill shattered the silent darkness and within a few minutes the lock had been drilled out, falling to the ground. A gang of men rushed in, shoved her onto the bed, and snapped a cold pair of handcuffs on her hands, twisted behind her back. She was hooded and hauled out into a waiting vehicle, then taken to a facility whose location is unknown to this day. There, they drew a circle around Wang Yu’s spot on the bed: for several weeks, she had to sit with her legs crossed in the circle, and if she left it would be screamed at or beaten.”
— Lawyer Wen Donghai describes how Wang Yu was taken away on July 9, 2015.
When China Change reported lawyer Wang Yu’s disappearance in the small hours on July 9, 2015, two years ago, little did we know what was to follow. She was the first of over 300 human rights lawyers and activists across China who, in the coming days, would be detained, disappeared, temporarily rounded up, and interrogated. Eventually more than two dozen were placed under the notorious “residential surveillance at a designated place,” (指定居所监视居住) and over the last two years they have gone through torture and family trauma, and some have been released. At least three more — Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Wu Gan (吴淦) and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) — remain in custody. None, whether released or not, have been truly free. The campaign is known as the 709 Crackdown.
Wang Yu and her husband Bao Longjun were released on probation in August 2016. They live in Beijing, but they’ve now been sequestered in a public housing block in Ulan Hot, Inner Mongolia, and are being held under tight control. For nearly a year, until recently, no one has seen Wang Yu or her husband in public. It’s like they’ve disappeared from the face of the earth.
In late June, Wang Yu’s defense lawyers Wen Donghai (文东海) and Li Yuhan (李昱函) were able to visit Wang Yu and Bao Longjun, along with their son, in Inner Mongolia. After of nearly a year of probation, the whole family’s freedom is still severely restricted. There are three surveillance cameras set up in the corridor outside their door, and bugs have been planted throughout their apartment (they’re aware of this because the Security Police immediately know what they’ve been saying to one another). There are also guards on duty outside their building, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whenever they leave home, at least two security agents follow them. Their range of activities in Ulan Hot is highly limited — they leave home either to buy groceries and basic supplies, or else to visit Wang Yu’s parents who also live in Ulan Hot.
If they want to go to Beijing (where they actually live) or Tianjin (where Bao Longjun’s parents live), they have to submit an application to the Security Police. When they get there, the local Security Police follow them around, and keep them under extremely tight control.
Legally, Wang Yu and Bao Longjun are still on “probation”; Wang Yu’s probationary period ends on July 22, while Bao Longjun’s expires on August 5. The law states that during the period of probation they are required to report to the local public security bureau to account for their movements. The measures taken against them, however — house arrest, 24 hour surveillance, being followed wherever they go — are all illegal.
Neither Wang or Bao are currently allowed to work, and their subsistence is paid by the Security Police.
Their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, was a high schooler in Beijing when his parents were detained. Over the past two years, he was also put under short-term house arrest and long-term surveillance, and forced to live with his maternal grandmother in Inner Mongolia. In October 2015, after two family friends tried and failed to spirit him out of China, the young man was put under even tighter control. Bao is 18 this year and still in senior high-school. His parents still hope he can go overseas to study, but they are not sure how long their son will continue to be barred from moving freely. This is notwithstanding the fact that all the measures taken against him are simply illegal and immoral.
In their meeting with Wang Yu, both lawyers secured a new signature from her authorizing them as her official legal representatives.
On March 30, 2016 when she was in prison, Wang Yu underwent surgery for breast cancer. Last August she was awarded the inaugural International Human Rights Award given by the American Bar Association.
We are certain that Wang Yu, like many others ensnared in the 709 Crackdown, was tortured in custody, and we have yet to hear the details of the horror.
A Human Rights Lawyer’s Notes on the ‘709 Incident,’ Two Years on, Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, July 27, 2015.
She was a quiet commercial lawyer. Then China turned against her. Washington Post, July 18, 2015
Wen Donghai, July 6, 2017
With the second anniversary of July 9, 2015 approaching, and as someone who has witnessed it first hand and served as the defense lawyer for one of the prominent 709 detainees, I’ve racked my brains about what to say. I feel that I have so much to say — but at the same time, it seems that only being as quiet and still as a mountain could truly encompass the full meaning of the 709 Crackdown.
Naturally, the first people I was worried about when the crackdown began were my client Wang Yu (王宇) and her family. Prior to 709, she was extremely active as a human rights lawyer, gaining the nickname “Goddess of War” (战神) for her fearlessness. The 709 incident seemed designed to shatter this legend, and so in the early hours of July 9, 2015, the shocking, flagrant conspiracy that was the 709 incident began to unfold, with Wang Yu bearing the brunt of the impact as the first to be snatched away. Wang Yu was at home by herself that night, having just seen off at the airport her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军), and their son Bao Zhuoxuan (包卓軒). A group of men began idling about outside her home, and when she yelled out asking who they were, they shrank away and kept quiet. About an hour later, when she was unable to raise her husband and son on the phone, and just beginning to get anxious, the lights in her apartment suddenly went out. Her internet was also cut. The harsh buzz of an electric drill shattered the silent darkness and within a few minutes the lock had been drilled out, falling to the ground. A gang of men rushed in, shoved her onto the bed, and snapped a cold pair of handcuffs on her hands, twisted behind her back. She was hooded and hauled out into a waiting vehicle, then taken to a facility whose location is unknown to this day. There, they drew a circle around Wang Yu’s spot on the bed: for several weeks, she had to sit with her legs crossed in the circle, and if she left it would be screamed at or beaten.
In the month that followed, Zhou Shifeng (周世峰), Li Heping (李和平), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Xie Yang (谢阳), Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Sui Muqing (隋牧青) and another few dozen human rights lawyers lost their freedom one after another. I myself was one of the 300 or so lawyers and activists around China who were summoned, interrogated, and temporarily detained. I was warned away from paying any attention to what happened to Wang Yu, Zhou Shifeng, or anyone else.
Fortunately, after the majority of the lawyers overcame the initial sense of terror, they bravely announced that they wouldn’t be cowed. Other lawyers also began joining the ranks of those willing to defend their persecuted colleagues, and thus began the tenacious work of rescuing detainees. The obstacles facing the lawyers were formidable: many were unable to even see their clients from beginning to end; they were illegally told by police that they’d been fired; the atmosphere of terror was constant and nagging; the 709 defense work required groping in the dark given that little information about the detentions was available; and the 709 detainees’ wives and children were swallowed in anxiety by the unfathomable unknown. But despite all this, the 709 defense lawyers and their families didn’t shrink from the fight. From the beginning they were awaiting the arrival of dawn. It’s this persistence that will stand as a monument to the honor of China’s human rights lawyers as a whole.
Every step in the resistance of 709 lawyers and activists has been a trial, and it’s far from over. There is still no news about Wang Quanzhang, and his safety is now our greatest concern; Jiang Tianyong has been given a brutal lesson: the mercy he hoped to receive from the police through a confession led instead to harsher criminal charges, again proving that it’s futile to harbor any illusions about the authorities. Wu Gan (吴淦) set a courageous precedent by refusing to give quarter, adding more dignity to the last part of the 709 resistance. Then there is the long list of others – Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhai Yanmin (翟岩民), Gou Hongguo (勾洪国), Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, Zhang Kai (张凯) — who have either been sentenced to actual prison, or been given suspended sentences under strict control, or been let out on a “probation” that amounts in fact to house arrest…
Although there’s often a great deal of disagreement in the Chinese legal field about how to categorize a human rights lawyer, there is simply no doubt that 709 lawyers are the true heirs to this title. Their efforts give real meaning to to the vocation of a human rights lawyer, and their comportment in the face of power shows the strength of character of those in their field. Because of the 709 lawyers, China’s human rights lawyers now have clear values to pursue.
With this understanding in mind, I begin to imagine that, in the years to come, there won’t be such a thing in China as a “human rights lawyer,” because as soon as the values pursued by human rights lawyers are internalized by China’s legal community as the universal standard of professional conduct, every lawyer will have become a human rights lawyer. The only distinction will be whether or not a lawyer has the fortune of coming across a case in which rights must be safeguarded, and whether they discharge their responsibility to see it to the end.
Human rights lawyers are guardians of fairness and justice. Their success in this role comes for their proactive involvement in public affairs and the positive leadership role they play. Some people have said that lawyers are manufacturers of public incidents — but I disagree. Public incidents don’t need lawyers to manufacture them; they arise naturally in society. The key is that lawyers can get involved in public affairs, and through their professional activities, knowledge, and experience, to a certain extent guide public discussions. Or to put it another way, lawyers are creators of public discourse — but they don’t manufacture public incidents. It’s precisely through participating in matters of public interest that they’re able to guide the discourse, and thus truly safeguard fairness and justice.
To an extent, human rights lawyers are dispute resolvers; strictly speaking, however, the resolution of disputes should ultimately rely upon the healthy operations of an independent judicial system — not merely the skill of lawyers. In actuality, the correct designation for lawyers is “a defender of the interest of the client,” and in this regard human rights lawyers are no different. There are particular circumstances under which lawyers, in order to safeguard the interests of their client, are forced to create a certain level of dispute so that the process of resolving the dispute results in a reparation to the party whose interests were harmed.
Human rights lawyers are entirely worthy of the title of human rights defenders. The rights of the lawyer, indeed, come from the basic rights accorded to any specific individual; and if the fundamental rights of the individual aren’t protected, the rights of the lawyer won’t be respected. But the defense of human rights is the responsibility of all people; lawyers are at the forefront of this defense of rights, as a result of the nature of the profession itself. Just as in the realm of environmental protection, which in the same fashion requires a group of experts getting involved to protect the environment.
Mostly, human rights lawyers defend personal rights, so they are inevitably on guard against the power of the state. Most of the attacks against human rights come from the abuse of state power. The 709 lawyers are worthy of the title of human rights lawyers because of their fearless exertions in balancing against the power of the state, and for their attempts to establish anew the proper balance between the state’s rights and individual rights in China.
Human rights lawyers should be the advocates of policies and the proponents of democracy. If they do so, of course, they will have entered the realm of politics — at which point they won’t merely be lawyers. This is just the same as how many social activists are also journalists, writers, scholars, or even regular citizens, simply adopting different roles in different contexts. In the case of lawyers, however, the law in which they believe and the political system are necessarily connected, making them natural-born politicians. Lawyers are often more apt than other professionals to take an interest in political affairs, and to use their knowledge and natural political acuity to get involved in public and political matters.
China’s human rights lawyers have gone through a stage of significant growth and transformation in the roles they play. Before the 709 incident, the majority of them avoided from commenting on political affairs, or kept away from them, whether deliberately or subconsciously. Indeed, lawyers would often try to turn political questions into legal ones, legal questions into professional ones, professional questions into procedural ones, and then engage in the minute analysis of procedure.
The initial form of human rights lawyers in China was the “diehard lawyer” (死磕律师). Even though the majority of “diehard” lawyers didn’t particularly want to touch cases that officialdom had designated “politically sensitive,” they were willing to walk into the Communist Party’s courts and use the Communist Party’s laws to hold forth a robust and courageous resistance. Through this, they won widespread social approbation. This circumstance was possible because at the time there was still a limited space for legal resistance. But after the 18th Party Congress, and in particular in the post-709 China, the Communist Party has severely rescinded the space for so-called “legal resistance,” replacing it instead with violent repression and power. This, conversely, led more lawyers to see clearly for themselves the true face of the slogan that the Party is “ruling the country according to the law.” They began to think over the root cause of all this. And as this took place, human rights lawyers began to slowly emerge into the view of the public. While the Party tried to besmirch their reputations and persecute them, they won the recognition of a wider and wider swathe of the public, and the number of supporters continued to swell. Even though the activities of human rights lawyers have been severely restricted by the authorities, the persecution has helped them reach a far greater audience, and has enhanced their reputations across society.
The direction taken by human rights lawyers in China will test how civilized the country becomes. If China undergoes a democratic transition in the near future, a portion of these lawyers will inevitably be set on the path of professional politicians, while others will continue in their role as lawyers, becoming even more professional. Moreover, they’ll increasing depart from being “human rights lawyers,” because a truly civilized country doesn’t require that many rights lawyers — only a country that engages in constant human rights abuses, and which also maintains a minimal degree of social openness, leads to the proliferation of human rights lawyers as a professional group.
Upon the occasion of the second anniversary of the 709 crackdown, this article is offered merely as a call to remember. I continue to believe that the steadfast pursuit of values will become the direction towards which China’s lawyers develop, and only that attitude is appropriate to lawyers in a civilized country.
I give my respect to Wang Quanzhang, Jiang Tianyong, Wu Gan, and the many, many other 709 lawyers and activists, as well as all the older generation of human rights lawyers!
Wen Donghai (文东海)
July 6, 2017
Wen Donghai is a human rights lawyer based in Changsha, Hunan province.
The Vilification of Lawyer Wang Yu and Violence By Other Means, July 27, 2015.
Translated from Chinese by China Change.