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Make Sacrifices to Illuminate the Future: Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 2018
On September 13, 2013, lawyers Wang Cheng (王成), Tang Jitian (唐吉田), and Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) announced the establishment of the China Human Rights Lawyers Group (中国人权律师团). All three had been disbarred by the Chinese authorities because of their commitment to defending the rights of the Chinese people. In just one year, more than 300 Chinese lawyers joined the Group. Many seasons later, the Human Rights Lawyers Group now marks the fifth anniversary of its founding. On this otherwise ordinary day, we will take inventory of what we have done over the last five years, reiterate the basic principles of the group, and plan our steps for the future.
In the past five years, we have gone through hardships and sadness; we have seen our hopes dashed. We struggle to improve the human rights situation in our country, only to see it worsen progressively.
In the past five years, Chinese human rights lawyers have been demonized by the authorities and smeared by people who harbor ulterior motives. Our members have endured persecution of a severity seldom seen, stunning the international community.
In the past five years, many Chinese human rights lawyers have been imprisoned or disappeared. Since the “709” crackdown of July 2015 that shocked people in China and abroad, human rights lawyers have sustained heavy blows to the point of near destruction.
But even in the face of these cruel realities, members of the Human Rights Lawyers Group have continued their fruitful work. They issued joint statements to express their solidarity and expose human rights violations. It is an endeavor fraught with hardship that is difficult to imagine. They defended political dissidents until they themselves were labeled as dissidents; they defended people of faith until they themselves became the target of the authorities’ “stability maintenance;” they defended the petitioners and the victims of forced demolition, until the day they were disbarred by the judicial establishment under orders from the Party. They defended the ethnic minorities until the day they themselves were denounced as traitors; they defended the workers until they themselves were deprived of their right to practice. Their sacrifices are too numerous to list.
We cannot help but ask why the human rights lawyers, passionate for justice, should be targeted for political persecution. Why do the judicial authorities restrict human rights lawyers from working on their cases? Why does the judiciary use sly tricks to revoke or suspend their right to practice?
The answer is simple: it is because human rights lawyers pursue justice, and their persecutors represent darkness and evil.
Today, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Lawyers Group, we reaffirm our mission to advance human rights in China. We shall continue to uphold the values we cherish through the practice of law.
We yearn for freedom, but we know the importance of order; we pursue justice, but we do not subscribe to self-righteousness; we emphasize basic human rights, but we will honor the principle of gradual progress through proper procedures; as human rights lawyers, we insist on the right of independent judgment, but respect the different perspectives and views held by others.
Once again, we announce to the world that we are not this country’s enemy. We are a group of true patriots. We know that we must transcend class, nationality, and faith in order to work for the dignity and basic human rights of all Chinese. Regardless of how others perceive and label us and attempt to discredit our work, we will stand by our principles as we strive to improve human rights in China.
At the same time, we look forward to healthy cooperation and dialogue with the authorities to find a feasible path to furthering and improving human rights. We want everyone to know that human rights lawyers regaining their own rights is a victory for everyone, regardless of occupation, social status, economic background, or ethnicity.
We are aware that the effort of human rights lawyers alone cannot change the human rights situation in this country. We are ready to work with all people and groups that pursue freedom, justice, and the rule of law, and to take a stand for the beautiful goals to which we all aspire.
In the next five years, we must first and foremost fight for the freedom of every citizen to be free from fear. We demand the repeal of the provision in the Supervision Act that affords law enforcement officials the power of wanton detention, as well as the provisions in the Criminal Procedure Law that allow for secret detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated place.”
We vow to fight for victims who have been forcefully disappeared and tortured by the authorities, and we will not tolerate the illegal detention and disappearance, in the name of the state, of anyone living on this land, be they officials or ordinary citizens. Everyone has basic rights, including the right to litigation.
We will advocate to establish open records of human rights violations committed by public officials. This lists will record the deeds of all, from leaders at the highest levels down to infractions committed by local level of guobao, or political security police. If they do not rein themselves in, they will one day stand trial to face justice in court.
We will offer strong and unconditional support for citizens’ freedom of speech. We will never tolerate the administrative detention or legal punishment of a citizen simply for criticizing the government or the party. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of all other freedoms. If no one dares speak out against abuse, all of society will taste the bitter consequences.
We love blue skies and green hills, and we will not turn a blind eye to the environmental pollution or tainted food and drugs. We will urge governments at all levels to take effective measures to reduce pollution, improve the environment, and enforce regulations over the food and drug industry so that everyone can have safe food, medicine, air, and water. We want to tell citizens who have suffered persecution for their efforts to improve the environment or expose the safety hazards posed by tainted food and medicine: you have our full support.
We are extremely concerned about the friction between police and civilians. We call on law enforcement throughout the country to act in strict accordance with the law, to explain the law in good faith, exercise restraint, respect and protect human rights, and not act as accomplices to brutal “stability maintenance.”
It’s been more than three years since the 709 crackdown, we exhort the authorities to carefully review their attitude and policy towards human rights lawyers, and to treat properly these conscientious and responsible professionals. We ask the authorities to immediately release Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Jiang Tianyong, Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), Yu Wensheng (余文生), Li Yuhan (李昱函), and other lawyers. It is important for everyone to enjoy a more civilized society that upholds reason and the rule of law.
Five years have gone by in a flash, but it’s been five years with historic import. We the human rights lawyers are ordinary human beings, but we are not cowards. If for the sake of China’s human rights we must lose our licenses or even our freedom, then we are willing to make these sacrifices for our country and our people.
Only through sacrifice can we forge ahead to the future! That’s our solemn proclamation on the 5th anniversary of China Human Rights Lawyers Group. Thank you all!
The China Human Rights Lawyers Group
September 13, 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
牺牲自我，点亮未来 — 人权律师团成立五周年献辞
王清鹏, +1 (425)7329584
Related – Analyses and Reports
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018
Communist Party’s Suppression of Lawyers Is a Preemptive Attack Against an Imaginary Threat, Liu Shuqing, May 16, 2018
Crime and Punishment of China’s Rights Lawyers, Mo Zhixu, July 23, 2015.
14 Cases Exemplify the Role Played by Lawyers in the Rights Defense Movement, 2003–2015, Yaxue Cao and Yaqiu Wang, August 19, 2015.
Related – Personal Accounts
The Nightmare – An Excerpt of Lawyer Wang Yu’s Account of 709 Detention and Torture, Wang Yu, November 13, 2017.
A Record of 709, Xie Yanyi, October 15, 2017.
Transcript of Interviews with Lawyer Xie Yang (1) – Arrest, Questions About Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group, Xie Yang, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, January 19, 2017.
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China Change, August 13, 2018
On August 9, the Beijing Justice Bureau issued a decision to cancel lawyer Cheng Hai’s (程海) license. Six months ago in February, the bureau cancelled the registration of his small Beijing Wutian Law Firm, claiming that the firm had not accepted the annual review on schedule. According to China’s Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers (《律师执业管理办法》), a lawyer’s license is revoked if they’re not hired by a firm for six months.
On August 10, lawyer Cheng Hai filed an Application for Administrative Review, which shows that the authorities were committed to having him disbarred, and refused to view contrary evidence. The application shows that Cheng Hai signed an employment contract with the Beijing Liangzhi Law Firm on July 30, and delivered his proof of new employment to the Justice Bureau of Beijing Mentougou District, which oversees the new firm. On August 5, he again mailed the same proof of employment to the Beijing Justice Bureau via EMS. His mail was returned. The authorities, by returning his documents, claim that they received no proof, and thus acted to disbar him.
The disbarment of Cheng Hai is part of the Chinese government’s broad, systematic effort to take human rights lawyers off the field. Those implicated in the 709 Crackdown, whether the detained lawyers or lawyers who signed up to defend their detained colleagues, have been the primary targets. Cheng Hai has represented lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who has been held well over 1,000 days now without trial.
The Beijing Justice Bureau is using the same method to keep lawyer Wang Yu (王宇) and her husband Bao Longjun (包龙军), both 709 detainees, from returning to practice: their previous firm, the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, is no more, and new firms intent on hiring them were pressured not to accept them. Once the six-month period expires, they will also lose their licenses.
Since January 2018, at least 20 human rights lawyers have been disbarred — including Sui Muqing (隋牧青), Xie Yanyi (谢燕益), Li Heping (李和平), Wen Donghai (文东海), and Yu Wensheng (余文生) — or caught in limbo and unable to practice, such as lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原).
The 64-year-old Cheng Hai is known for his dogged pursuit of the law as written, and he holds the authorities to it. He will exhaust all options provided by the law to defend his right to practice and to expose the unscrupulous behaviors of the government.
Cheng Hai was originally trained as an economist and later began practicing law in Beijing in 2000. In 2008 he was one of the five lawyers who called for direct elections at the Beijing Lawyers Association, and over the years has taken part in elections of district-level people’s representatives as an independent candidate. He has defended clients in many religious freedom cases, and has challenged rulings of reeducation-through-labor cases. During the New Citizens Movement trials in 2013-2014, he represented Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), a lawyer-turned-activist.
One lawyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, commented on the wave of disbarments that has been striking against and eroding the community of human rights lawyers in China: “If there is no fundamental progress toward the rule of law, these brave lawyers who dare to defend human rights will inevitably be eliminated. The newer regulations on the management of lawyers are meant to remove those who seek change, and keep only those who submit to the authorities. You can’t really call them lawyers.”
War on Human Rights Lawyers Continues: Up to 16 More Lawyers in China Face Disbarment or Inability to Practice, China Change, May 14, 2018.
Detention and Disbarment: China Continues Campaign Against Human Rights Lawyers in Wake of 709 Crackdown, China Change, January 24, 2018.
China Change, August 8, 2018
Until recently, David Missal (@DavidJRMissal) was a graduate student at the School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, on a two-year DAAD scholarship (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst; or German Academic Exchange Service). Two months ago, Missal told RFA, he applied to the Exit and Entry Administration of the Beijing Public Security Bureau for the renewal of his student visa. Under normal circumstances, it takes about 10 days to complete the process. But last Friday, the bureau notified him that his renewal was denied, and he was ordered to leave China within 10 days. The reason they gave is that Missal has engaged in activities not in accordance with his student visa.
Missal believes that the denial of visa and expulsion has to do with the topic he chose to work on for his journalism study: the study of human rights lawyers, in particular those targeted from July 9, 2015, onwards. (This is despite his advisor approving the research.)
In April, when 709 lawyer Wang Quanzhang’s wife Li Wenzu and a group of activists started a walking trip to Tianjin to highlight the predicament of Wang Quanzhang, who had been disappeared for over 1,000 days, Missal accompanied them as part of his field work.
On May 2, Missal accompanied lawyer Lin Qilei to Wuhan on the latter’s trip to visit his client, veteran dissident Qin Yongmin. Missal was taken away by police for several hours for questioning. In a video he shot with his cell phone, police can be seen repeatedly stopping him from filming.
On July 10, the same day that Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia, was allowed to leave China for Germany following intense international pressure, Qin Yongmin was sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversion – the most severe sentence for a dissident in over a decade.
Missal has spent time with a number of human rights lawyers for his study, according to Lin Qilai, a rights lawyer. But everywhere they went, domestic security police would intervene and stop him. Retaliating against a foreign student and sever his academic career for studying human rights, Lin argues, doesn’t help China’s international image.
Missal asked the Chinese police which of his activities violated the rules for foreign student visas, and the police responded, “You know yourself!”
Tsinghua University’s international student center declined to comment on the event. The Beijing PSB’s Exit and Entry Administration failed to answer RFA’s calls.
Missal started his two-year program last September; he is now contemplating completing his studies in Taiwan.
July 19, 2018
Lawyer Wang Quanzhang (王全璋), who was disappeared on July 15, 2018 in the Chinese Communist Party’s infamous 709 Crackdown on human rights lawyers, has been held incommunicado for just over three years now. Until recently, almost nothing was known about him, including where he was being held, the conditions under which he was being held, and what charges are likely to be brought against him. Whether he was even dead or alive was unknown until recently. Following are two updates on his situation translated by China Change. The first comes from Wang’s newly appointed lawyer, Liu Weiguo (刘卫国); the second, expressing great concern over Wang’s health, from his wife Li Wenzu (李文足). — The Editors
An Update on Wang Quanzhang’s Subversion Case From Lawyer Liu Weiguo
- In late June, 2018, Wang Quanzhang, being held in the Tianjin No. 1 Detention Center, formally submitted to the chief procurator his authorization that I serve as his defense lawyer;
- In July, the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate Court informed me of this commission. I expressed my willingness to accept the commission and made two suggestions: firstly, that the arguments presented by the defense lawyer must conform entirely to the wishes of Wang Quanzhang himself; secondly, that while representing his case, the lawyer must be able to maintain all necessary communication channels with his family;
- On July 12, after receiving an affirmative response from the authorities with regard to the above stipulations, I traveled to Tianjin and in the morning obtained from the chief procurator’s office Wang Quanzhang’s power of attorney. I met with Wang Quanzhang without difficulties in the afternoon;
- Wang Quanzhang was in good spirits and appeared healthy during the meeting, and he thanked the outside world for their concern and help for himself and his family;
- Upon the conclusion of the meeting, I returned to the Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate Court and it became clear in the course of discussion that there was disagreement between myself and the court on the scope of Wang Quanzhang’s case files that I could photocopy and retrieve. For this reason, I decided to temporarily withhold submitting the paperwork for Wang’s defense, while waiting for the court to study the matter of the case files and respond to me, upon which time I would make a decision;
- Because the matter of whether or not I would represent Wang Quanzhang was ‘to be decided,’ I have not until now publicly disclosed the aforementioned matters;
- After receiving the Tianjin No. 2 Court’s affirmative response that I am able to make copies of all related case files, today (July 18) I rushed to Beijing and in the morning met with Wang Quanzhang’s wife to discuss the situation. Li Wenzu asked me to convey to Wang Quanzhang the family’s deep concern for him as well as the attention his case has received around the world;
- Today, in the afternoon, I returned to Tianjin and was able to meet with Wang Quanzhang and exchange ideas on the next stages of the case;
- I have already made a full set of copies of the case files. The trial date has not yet been set.
July 18, 2018
A Second Annoucement on Wang Quanzhang by Wife Li Wenzu*
After Wang Quanzhang was disappeared three years ago, I’ve finally learned that he is now alive, and appear “normal mentally and physically.” When I heard this news, I let out a sigh of relief. Many friends were also excited to hear the news.
I have made an effort to communicate with Lawyer Liu Weiguo for the last few days, in my hopes of understanding the circumstances much better.
What I’ve learned is as follows:
1. Doctors said that Wang Quanzhang was suffering high blood pressure, and made him take medication.
Here I have to say: Quanzhang didn’t have high blood pressure before he was arrested! Of those lawyers who have traveled with him on cases, has anyone seen him taking blood pressure medication? He takes cold showers in winter, and used to carry me on his back up seven flights of stairs without stopping.
Other 709 victims have also been found to have high blood pressure, and then forced to take unidentified medication. Li Heping (李和平) was forced to take as many as six tablets per day; Tang Zhishun (唐志顺) took as many as 21 per day. After taking this medication, they got headaches, their vision was blurry, and they had the sensation of insects crawling all over their bodies. The 709 victims who’ve been released have a commonality: black spots over their whole face. A doctor of Chinese medicine who treated them said that it’s the result of liver damage from prolonged consumption of medication. Quanzhang has been forced to take this medication for three years, so how badly has his body been harmed?
2. When Quanzhang met Liu Weiguo, he was extremely frightened and didn’t dare speak loudly, sometimes even silently miming words to express himself. This led to Liu Weiguo not being able to accurately determine what Quanzhang was trying to say.
Liu Weiguo is the attorney commissioned by Quanzhang himself, so when they met, Quanzhang should absolutely not be in a state of fear if he was in a normal state!
3. Quanzhang told lawyer Liu Weiguo that he made the firm demand that lawyer Cheng Hai (程海) and his wife Li Wenzu (myself) be his defense lawyers, but the authorities categorically refused.
Yesterday I asked lawyer Liu to tell Quanzhang the following:
Firstly, myself and Quan Quan [泉泉, the couple’s son] are doing very well, and so many people have been helping us;
Secondly, Quanzhang, you shouldn’t be afraid of being overheard, you should say whatever you want, and you should speak as loud as you like with lawyer Liu Weiguo;
Thirdly, I hope after you’re released you’ll continue being a lawyer;
Fourthly, Quanzhang, you should not accept a suspended sentence, and I support you in not compromising and not pleading guilty!
Even though I now know that Quanzhang is alive, as the details of the situation continue to emerge, I feel more tormented. Lawyer Liu Weiguo’s simple description of Quanzhang’s demeaner is not the Quanzhang I know. It’s clear now how severe was the torture and suffering Quanzhang has been put through!
I will post updates on Quanzhang’s situation periodically.
I thank all of the friends who have shown so much concern for us!
July 19, 2018
*The first announcement, made on social media on July 13, acknowledged that she had received news of her husband and that he was alive and appeared “normal mentally and physically.” — The Editors
709 Crackdown Three Years on: A Tribute to Wang Quanzhang, Yaxue Cao, July 8, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: Keynote Address on the Second China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day, July 8, 2018, New York City
Terence Halliday, July 9, 2018
Again and again, across history and across regions, lawyers stand in the vanguard of change. In Britain in the 1600s, in France in the 1700s, in Germany in the 1800s, in India and Brazil in the 1970s, in Egypt and Pakistan in the 1990s, in Zambia and Kenya, and, not least in South Korea and Taiwan over the last generation, and in many other places.
In the last days of June 2015 I spent many hours in coffee shops and hotels and restaurants and offices with many of China’s notable rights lawyers.
Wang Yu (王宇) and I discussed the extraordinary nationwide attack on her reputation.
Yu Wensheng (余文生) described his unbearable torture in the hands of the security apparatus.
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) talked about the emotional pain of being separated from his family and having no permanent place to live.
Li Heping (李和平) imagined a society where compassion and justice and religious freedom were embraced by all leaders and citizens.
In those last days of June, 3 years ago, what was their state of mind?
They all knew that clouds were gathering.
They all had suffered in the past and they knew they might suffer in the future.
They all had hope that signs of deepening repression in the near future would be temporary. They all looked in the far future to a new New China which respected human rights, protected basic legal freedoms, allowed for an open political society and the rule of law.
Yet, none expected how quickly a great storm was about to break over their heads.
On 9 July, 2015, exactly three years ago, a massive storm swept them all away. It began with Wang Yu’s disappearance in the middle of the night. It spread rapidly over hours and days and weeks and swept away more than 300 rights lawyers and activists across all of mainland China.
Today we remember the 709 crackdown. But we do more than remember. This is not an historical incident that is fading in our memories.
It is not a monument to the past, only to be recorded in history books.
This Second Day for China Human Rights Lawyers’ shows that the 709 Crackdown is present in this moment. It reveals to China’s citizens, to lawyers across the world, to rights activists and the defenders of minorities, to international organizations, to states that still champion global standards of liberal constitutional orders, that a mighty struggle continues.
The end is not near. Indeed, the struggle deepens inside China and across the world.
And so today, we must ask: What does the 709 Crackdown and its shockwaves tell the world about China and its rulers? What have we learned about China’s rights lawyers and the struggle for freedoms? What of the future?
I. What Does the 709 Crackdown Tell Us About China and Its Rulers?
What does it tell the world about the real China, not the propaganda China, not the mythical China, not the face of China that the Party likes to show the world, but the actual China, the empirical China, the China that free scholars and free media and free international observers report without censorship?
The world is waking up.
The world is waking up to the dark side, the cruelty, the brutality of China’s rulers, and we can see these in the way it treats rights lawyers.
A China where a single person, such as Wang Yu, is humiliated nation-wide in the state-controlled media
A China where brutalized lawyers are forced to make public confessions and mouth wooden words far removed from the values they expressed in my research on China’s defense lawyers
A China where authorities arbitrarily replace a lawyer’s chosen counsel with a government-friendly substitute.
A China that has expanded its repertoire of torture, intensifying and reinforcing the ways it seeks to break the ideals, the minds, even the bodies of rights lawyers
A China where lawyers are disappeared for weeks, months, years in so-called “designated residential surveillance” sites so they are completely removed from families, lawyers, observers, and exposed to extreme psychological and physical pressure, some of it medieval in its primitive methods.
A China where lawyers are subjected to new tortures, not least being forcibly injected with excruciatingly painful disorienting drugs to alter their minds and leave scars for the short-term or long-term or the rest of their lives.
A China where brothers are compelled to pressure brothers, or children are used against their parents, or parents are pressed to change the minds of their children, or where wives are refused access, even knowledge, about their husbands.
A China that has ratcheted up the charges and sentences for detained lawyers.
A China where secret trials have become a new norm for lawyers who most implausibly have betrayed “state secrets.”
The world is waking up to the recognition that China is a country that runs on the fuel of fear.
China’s leaders fear their own people.
When we view China through the eyes of its criminal defense and rights lawyers, we see a fragile China. Across China enormous grievances accumulate for hundreds of millions of Chinese. Pollution, property-takings, religious persecution, suppression of minorities, forced abortions, magnifying inequality, exploited labor, rampant corruption, unjust treatment by police, tainted food.
China’s leaders are afraid:
— civil society
— of Uyghurs
— of Muslims
— of workers
— of Tibetan Buddhists
— of unofficial Christian Protestant churches
— of women
— of unofficial Roman Catholic churches
— of Hong Kong’s fight to preserve its legal freedoms and open civil society
— and of Taiwan – a country which shows that ethnic Chinese, that inheritors of the Confucian tradition, that non-Han indigenous peoples together can build an open political society that adheres to global norms crafted in part by a pre-revolutionary China,
— of foreigners who care about the dignity and freedom of China’s people
The 709 crackdown has cast a long shadow. The world now sees it is one notable move against lawyers as part of many other “againsts.”
The world is waking up to the recognition that China is a deviant state.
It deviates from global standards on arbitrary arrest and detention, on torture, on disappearances, on fair trials, on an independent judiciary, on access to lawyers, on freedom of speech and association and religion.
The world has woken up to an awareness that this mighty nation, a nuclear power, a state flexing its military muscle, and an economic and geopolitical giant, nevertheless is afraid of these few lawyers and the 1000s of other lawyers who share their values.
II. What Does 709 Tell Us Today About These Rights Lawyers?
We’ve learned that activist lawyers are now spread across the country. Once they were largely concentrated in Beijing. Today they are everywhere.
We’ve learned that the struggle for basic freedoms is now nationwide.
In every region ordinary people cried out for justice, for dignity, for their children, for safe food and clear water and pure air, for their property, for their religious beliefs. And rights lawyers responded.
We’ve learned that rights lawyers fight for a core of ideals fundamental to all peoples in our 21st century world. They fight for basic legal freedoms.
- They demand procedural protections for their clients, such as freedom to choose or meet with a lawyer, protection of clients from coerced confessions
- They insist on standards of fairness in court such as seeing and cross-examining evidence.
- They want fair trials and neutral judges.
They fight for an open civil society where there is freedom of speech and association, including the ability of lawyers to form bar associations independent of state control.
They struggle for freedom of religion and protections for all believers, including the savagely repressed adherents of Falun Gong. They want open exchanges of views and beliefs where citizens are freed from stifling censorship.
They fight against the tyranny of a one-party state where all power is concentrated in the hands of supreme rulers. They insist that political power be divided. That the tyrannies of absolute state power be checked by law and other centers of power inside the state and outside of it.
We’ve learned that lawyers’ ideals are so strong they will suffer terribly to maintain their ideals. We’ve seen that wives and daughters and sons – including those joining us today – have stood up to cry out for the most basic standards of justice and human decency.
And, most important, China’s activist lawyers have shown the world that inside China’s beating heart there is an impulse for justice, for freedoms, for a normal society. It is a society where rulers are not afraid of their own people but welcome their views, where leaders do not fear lawyers but welcome their peaceful respect for a just legality.
Inside China’s beating heart there is a tiny minority that gives voice to wrongs and gives vision for the future.
III. What of the Future?
I submit to you that we already know the end of this struggle but we do not know when or how.
For 25 years social scientists, legal scholars and historians have investigated the role of lawyers in the creation of open political societies. These are societies where rights are embedded in constitutions and constitutions are implemented in practice.
Again and again, across history and across regions, lawyers stand in the vanguard of change. In Britain in the 1600s, in France in the 1700s, in Germany in the 1800s, in India and Brazil in the 1970s, in Egypt and Pakistan in the 1990s, in Zambia and Kenya, and, not least in South Korea and Taiwan over the last generation, and in many other places.
Lawyers have fought against absolute monarchs, Big Man regimes, military dictatorships, communist parties, fascist regimes. Lawyers wave the flag of legal rights, civil rights, political rights.
Time and again lawyers and their allies – workers, women’s groups, religious believers, the media – have been defeated, and time and again they have fought back from defeat. The struggle is never over, even in countries where lawyers’ ideals have been instituted for decades or centuries.
Hope is still alive among China’s activists. Now is a dark hour, a moment when defeat seems possible. The darkness may last a long time, years, decades, longer, but the end is never in doubt. Victories and defeats have already been the experience of China’s lawyer activists. And defeats and victories will continue.
Today, the Second Day for China Human Rights Lawyers’ keeps hope alive.
This event expresses a solidarity that crosses nationalities, that goes beyond citizenship that binds together persons of every ethnicity and believers from different religions, that crosses continents and knits together peoples and organizations and states in every place.
It is not only China’s hope but a universal hope – a hope in human dignity, in human flourishing, in legal freedoms, in an open political society, in a future where all may worship as they choose, where every person may speak the language of her or his childhood, where all may honor the cultural traditions in which they are embedded.
This hope is maintained by China’s lawyer activists and sustained by those that stand with them. Today we honor them by standing with them for China and for all peoples who long for freedom and justice.
Terence Halliday is a research professor at the American Bar Foundation, and co-author of Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work (Cambridge U Press, 2016).
Yaxue Cao, on the second China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day, July 8, 2018, New York
As of today, lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for 1,095 days. Over the 1,095 days, his toddler has grown into a boy who vows to fight the “Monster” that took his father; his wife has metamorphosed from a timid housewife to one of the most recognizable faces of the 709 resistance. With each day, we worry about Wang Quanzhang’s fate: Is he still alive? Has he been so severely debilitated by torture that they can’t even show him? These dreadful thoughts eat at our hearts when we think about Wang Quanzhang, and we don’t know how not to think about him.
Wang Quanzhang is 42 years old. Like most human rights lawyers in China, he was born and raised in the countryside, and came of age with a deep-rooted sense that Chinese society was unjust and unfair.
He graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. While still in college in 1999, the brutal, nationwide suppression against Falun Gong began, and he provided legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners. That makes him one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong. As a result, he was threatened and his home was raided by police.
After college, Wang Quanzhang took up volunteer work to teach villagers about Chinese law near Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong. He debated with villagers about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme in China. The villagers believed that in China, power rules — not the law.
They were right then, and they’re right now.
In 2008 Wang Quanzhang moved to Beijing and worked at a string of NGOs. In 2009 he and friends co-founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group NGO (中国维权紧急援助组), to expand access to legal assistance for victims, organize trainings for fellow lawyers, and teach victims to become citizen lawyers using China’s civil and administrative laws.
After 2013, he focused on his legal practice and defended persecuted individuals in court, especially Falun Gong practitioners.
Wang Quanzhang was a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when he was swept up along with scores of other lawyers and activists in July 2015. Among the rights lawyers, he was known for being beaten up a lot, inside and outside the court.
Oh yes, court bailiffs do beat lawyers sometimes, though China has yet to apply for World Cultural Heritage status for this practice.
In February, 2017, Wang Quanzhang was indicted for “subversion of state power.” No one has yet seen a copy of the indictment. We don’t know how the Communist Party built its case against him, but we do know that they have been eager to have him admit guilt, without success.
Foreseeing what was to come, Wang Quanzhang left a letter for his parents in July 2015:
No matter how despicable and ridiculous we appear to be in the portrayal by the manipulated media, Mother, Father, please believe your son, and please believe your son’s friends.
My taking up the work—and walking down the path—of defending human rights wasn’t just a sudden impulse. Instead, it came from a hidden part of my nature, a calling that has intensified over the years—and has always been slowly reaching up like ivy.
This path is doomed to be thorny, tortuous, and rocky.
Dear Father and Mother, please feel proud of me. Also, no matter how horrible the situation is, you must hang on and live, and wait for the day when the clouds disperse and the sun shines through.
I’m immensely grateful for this note of hope, a note of hope from someone who seems to have the least reason to embrace hope.
So what choice do we have but to remain strong, and forge ahead? We have a monster to slay, or our dignity, our freedoms, and indeed, our humanity, will be in peril.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’, Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018.