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Ai Xiaoming, March 26, 2019
This is the tenth year since I was barred from leaving the country. I still remember the last time I came back to Shenzhen, from Hong Kong, on March 17, 2009. After that I have never been out of Luohu Border Control.
The first time I was barred from leaving the country was in 2005, because I had made the documentary “Taishi Village” (《太石村》). Perhaps it was because the police putting the restrictions on me hadn’t gotten in touch with the customs yet, or because my passport hadn’t expired (the digitalization of personal data wasn’t as strict back then), so between 2005 and early 2009, I left the country several times for meetings or screening tours to universities abroad.
Over the course of the decade, I made many requests to the police to lift the ban, but all were turned down. They had many excuses, common ones being that the decision had been made by someone at a higher-ranking branch (like the Ministry of Public Security, or they joke that the order was in place for my protection. Whatever the case, no matter how I have tried to argue or defend myself, it hasn’t changed a thing.
Once, in my despair, I told those policemen: “Maybe when the day comes that you let me out, I won’t want to leave.” I was extremely sad when I said those words, for if what I said came true, it would mean that I had lost much more than my mere freedom of travel, but my longing to see the outside world, my thirst for academic and artistic exchange, and my love of freedom. Of course, the guobao (国保, Domestic Security Division) officer may not have understood what I meant. But on the other hand I also know that many have undergone suffering far worse than mine. Many have made far greater sacrifices: Tang Jingling (唐荆陵), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟). The price I paid is miniscule by comparison. So I don’t let it disturb me.
Each line of the last stanza is the title of a symphony.
It’s been a very long time since I last saw Suli (素利), and I only got in touch with her on WeChat last month. She was missing for a few years. I took wedding photos of her and Qin Yongmin’s (秦永敏, a political prisoner serving a 13-year sentence) and have always stayed in the loop about her situation. After she read this poem, she left me a message saying that it brought her to tears. This morning she sent me a recording of her reciting my poem. I was very touched and felt a sense of solace. I just hope that we can take care of each other by writing and reading poems.
I think, if one day I regain my freedom of travel, I will definitely read out this poem at some gathering. This is one of the reasons why I thought to have this translated into English.
I Travel the Earth in Sound
My passport is an oracle script
The visas are the rubbings on an ancient stele
The custom is a prison chamber
Crossing the border means smuggling yourself to freedom
Gold and silver treasures hide in my heart, fine and soft
The fine is longing, the soft is affection
At border control we are stark naked
Under the gaze of ultrasound or MRI scanning
You ordered me to open up all of my luggage
You say: computer, folders and documents
I say: those are personal photos
Why would I bring the things that you are looking for?
The winter of ten years ago is already dead
The memories of ten years past — sometimes they recur in a flash
Policewomen at my sides, two cold faces as I use the toilet
Turn on hard drive. Do not close the bathroom door.
Police officers’ silence, long and inscrutable
A verdict without trial
Across the stretch of ten years, the Custom faded into the distance
No hate, and also no love
It is like a world that sometimes feels so far away
Nothing to do with me, like we are at opposite extremes
Don’t tell me anything about travel
A humble puppet dressed in kimono
An ugly doll from the Indian tribes
The delirious cat has grown
I took a Berlin Bear to Tiger Temple
A passport is a sleeping beauty dying to see her prince
Sometimes I feel a desire to bury her, three feet below
In a grave more dear than her abode when alive
A live burial for a nonexistent kiss
Only a name and a nation
Like the Thirteen Tombs, not knowing what they are
One day, I told the police
The truth is, I don’t want to travel anymore
Pass a life sentence on my passport
However you like: firing squad or lethal injection
For someone who doesn’t have the desire anyway
Whatever the punishment is, it won’t matter
Of course, I didn’t tell him
All the places I want to go
Just hearing a name is a night full of starlight
In Honduras, is there the raging flow of waterfalls?
Like a massive symphony every morning, what a deep romance
In Mexico, there is Frieda, her flowers of the desert
Albania, where the mountain hawk soars high and away
Fighter planes frozen in the secrecy of their cavern airbase
Slovenia, a five-word poem
How splendid, a perfect euphony
Liechtenstein and Morocco
As dashing as secret agents
With the thrill and mystery of Hollywood
The Vatican, Britain, Ireland …
I remember the rain on the street corners coming back from Scotland
I remember the wide embrace of Mike and Sue
And that Australia-accented “bloody something”
Greece, Poland, Iceland, Finland
Every name a work of art
Greece, a sweet-scented candle, or the ruins of ancient shrines?
Does Poland have orchids rocking on rippling waves?
Consoling those children floating up in the wisps of blue smoke
Austria, my sister has an apple orchard in the countryside
Kafka’s home on a silent street
Yahong sent me a postcard
Portugal, Denmark, Amsterdam
Czech, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
The white on blue of the Alps
I remember the cellar where the rebel leader was detained
I took the photo for Heping, inside of the castle
A hero rides a mighty steed
Riding gloriously to his homeland
In the splendid summer days by the lakeside in Geneva
We hear the future instructors at Harvard sing Tsai Chin’s songs
One day I will become a sack of ash
Be careful, I might scatter it around Luohu
At every point of entry and in every escalator
Beneath the wheels of everyone’s luggage
Every strand taking me beyond the border
I will be in the air, I will be on the conveyor belts
Softly rising with the steam from your teacups
I will linger in the chimneys visited by Santa Claus
In the wings of great angels
In the cruise ships sailing the oceans wide
In the melody of the Kol Nidrei
I will wander the vast world in which your sword of power buried in the sand
Going to every city, each one raising a flag to a soul set free
But I am still alive
And my passport pleads not guilty
We guard each other in the time before the expiry date
We can start our journey with the ashes
And we can also in this moment
Travel the earth in symphonies
A Night on the Bare Mountain
Also Sprach Zarathustra
In the Steppes of Central Asia
Songs of a Wayfarer
From the New World
March 16, 2019
 Ai Xiaoming received these gifts from her friends when they traveled
back from the other countries. A friend got two dolls of Berlin bear to
her at Berlin International Film Festival. “Tiger Temple” is a fellow
Chinese documentary maker, now the coordinator for the Chinese
Independent Film Forum in Xi’an. Ai gave him one of the dolls of
Berlin bear as a gift of encouragement.
 Poland in Chinese translation consists of the characters 波兰, “wave”
 Tsai Chin is a pop and folk singer from Taiwan. At the Chinese
diasporas’ new year parties in the United States, those who cannot
return to China sing this song, thinking of their hometowns.
Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明) is a retired professor at Sun Yat-sen University. She works on independent documentary films and is a feminist researcher.
Translated from Chinese by Leo T.
Tang Jitian, January 30, 2019
On December 10, 2018, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (La Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme) has awarded the annual French Republic Human Rights Prize to six personalities or organizations that have distinguished themselves in their country for the defense and promotion of human rights, and Chinese human rights lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田) is one of them. He was unable to travel to France to receive the prize. On January 14, 2019, the French Ambassador to China, Mr. Jean-Maurice Ripert, presented him the award in Beijing. –– The Editors
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very grateful to the French government for awarding me the 2018 French Republic Human Rights Prize (Le Prix des droits de l’Homme de la République Française). I think this is not only an affirmation of my own work on behalf of human rights, but also an affirmation of all Chinese human rights defenders, including lawyers. While expressing thanks to those who conferred this award, I also want to say thank you to friends from all walks of life at home and abroad who have expressed concern and given me support and help for more than 10 years. My life became more meaningful because of you!
Since entering the legal profession, especially after coming to Beijing in 2007, I was determined to use the law to help those who had suffered injustices. In addition to handling human rights cases, I also participated extensively in social actions, one of which was an effort in 2008-09, together with a cohort of lawyers to promote direct elections of the Beijing Lawyers’ Association. This action infuriated the Chinese government, and in April 2010, my license to practice law was revoked. Even though I suffered this blow of losing my normal legal practitioner’s identity, it didn’t stop me from engaging in rights defense work. On the contrary, I threw myself into the work even more actively, including the struggle for lawyers’ own rights and interests. And despite having suffered numerous rounds of forced disappearance and arbitrary detention, accompanied by torture, I nonetheless still had the same intention as before –– to continue to be active in the field of rights defense in China.
Although I’ve been restricted from exiting the country for nearly 10 years, making it impossible for me to fully communicate and work together with the outside world, my view was not completely limited. I still have friends from certain countries who have facilitated my work to varying degrees.
As everyone knows, France has a notable tradition of defending human rights. The 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen still has a unique guiding value for today. After the Second World War, and especially in recent years, the French government and civil organizations have made great efforts to promote the improvement of human rights in mainland China. Among the democratic countries, France plays a role that is appropriate for a major country. As a major democracy, France still has considerable room for expansion in promoting world development, especially in China’s human rights cause. I hope it can be even more proactive than in the past in getting involved in China’s human rights matters, and provide practical and effective support and assistance to human rights defenders on the frontline.
Contemporary mainland China has reached a critical juncture: whether to embrace civilization or choose barbarism; whether to practice universal values or push the rules of the jungle; whether to preserve and strengthen the outdated totalitarianism or move toward a new democratic politics –– there is not much time left to waver.
As a member of civil society, I look forward to China getting on the right track as soon as possible, but those selfish and greedy officials in the government are trying to pull the people back into barbarism. It is difficult to imagine what things would be like to have a China with 1.3 billion people suspended alone for a long period of time outside the civilized world: the deteriorating human rights situation in mainland China is not only a nightmare for the Chinese, but will also be a misfortune for all of humanity.
In the face of this grim situation, groups upon groups of Chinese people eager to live with dignity have fought for their rights and interests in various ways, so that future generations can live in a normal environment, and the Chinese nation will not become a burden to the world. Human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, are to some extent shouldering a historical responsibility. As one of them, I hope they will receive more understanding, attention, support, and assistance from the international community.
This award serves as both motivation and pressure. In the past, I only did my job as a human rights lawyer, therefore going forward I can’t stop doing what I am called upon to do. Instead, I should always remind myself not to be complacent, and do more work to the best of my ability using available means. Defending human rights has long been an integral part of my life. I will work together with other human rights defenders, from a new starting point, to make a due contribution to the protection of human rights and the advancement of the rule of law.
Finally, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the guests at the awards ceremony!
Tan Zuoren, January 13, 2019
Huang Qi’s trial opens today (January 14, Beijing time) in Mianyang Intermediary Court, Sichuan Province. – The Editors
Huang Qi (黄琦), 55, is from Neijiang City in Sichuan Province (四川内江市), southwestern China. He holds a bachelor’s degree and is the founder of 64 Tianwang (六四天网) as well as the China Tianwang Human Rights Affairs Center (中国天网人权事务中心). He has for years devoted himself to public interest work, and he is also a dissident. Huang Qi’s late father was a soldier. His mother is a retired cardiologist Ms. Pu Wenqing (蒲文清), 85 years old this year.
Huang Qi graduated from the Radio Department of Sichuan University in 1984. Following his graduation, he worked for years as a businessman. In 1998, Huang Qi and his wife Zeng Li (曾丽) pooled the resources of their family and founded the “Tianwang Center for Missing Persons” (天网寻人网站)—the first such Chinese public welfare organization—in Chengdu. On October 23 of the same year, he founded China’s first private office for locating lost persons. Through this organization, Huang Qi and his wife helped the police crack down on kidnapping and assist the relatives of abducted women and children in finding and rescuing their loved ones.
Tianwang’s work was acknowledged and praised by major Chinese media. The People’s Daily published a special report called “The Many Exploits of Tianwang’s Searches for the Missing” (《天网寻人故事多》). Feature reports by other media include, among others, “My Dream Is to Reunite Ten Thousand Families” (《万家团圆是我的心愿》), “The Missing Persons Center Handles Every Case With Love and Tears” (《寻人事务所一一用爱和泪水来经营》), and “She Founded China’s First Missing Persons Center” (《她创办了中国首家寻人事务所》).
On June 3, 2000, Huang Qi was arrested and imprisoned for posting “sensitive rights defense information on the website of Tianwang Missing Persons Center. It was his first. After two and a half years of detention, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” During his five-year sentence, Huang Qi was repeatedly beaten by police officers, prison guards, and other inmates, leading to serious ailments such as hydrocephalus, brain atrophy, bilateral ventricle enlargement, and narrowing of the urethra.
On June 2, 2005, after Huang Qi was released from prison, the Tianwang Missing Persons Center, still running when he served out his sentence, was officially renamed 64 Tianwang. The core mission of 64 Tianwang is to “stand in solidarity with those who have no power, no money, and no influence” (与无权无钱无势的弱势人群站在一起). It has served as a comprehensive, peaceful, and effective service to protect the rights of petitioners throughout the country who have no other recourse available to them. The volunteers who run 64 Tianwang adhere to the facts in their reports, exposing public corruption scandals and information about civil rights activism. It is the first private media organization in China to provide a wide range of information services for petitioners.
During the May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008, Huang Qi actively participated in disaster relief efforts, and was first to report the shoddily-built tofu-dreg classrooms (校园豆腐渣工程) scandal via 64 Tianwang, incurring the anger of the Sichuan provincial authorities who were under the factional patronage of Zhou Yongkang (周永康). Charged with “Illegal possession of state secrets,” Huang Qi was sentenced again, this time to three years in prison.
By 2011, when Huang Qi was released from his second sentence, he was suffering from a terminal kidney illness. Despite his condition, he continued his public interest activities with 64 Tianwang, and founded the China Tianwang Human Rights Center (中国天网人权事务中心). Huang Qi’s determination did not waver even as his family broke up. Together with other Tianwang volunteers, he established a nationwide information network for petitioners and civil rights, providing first-line, first-hand information from all levels of government about human rights and “stability maintenance” for the public.
On November 28, 2016, Huang Qi was accused of illegally providing state secrets to foreign agencies. This third time, he was arrested and imprisoned for disclosing the contents of a supposedly secret internal document.
On July 28, 2017, after six long-distance trips made in as many months, Huang Qi’s defense lawyer Sui Muqing (隋牧青) was finally able to meet with the ailing Huang Qi at the Mianyang City Detention Center. By this time, Huang Qi’s condition was very serious, and the investigation associated with his criminal case had been concluded several days prior and had been transferred to the prosecution for review.
Despite the obvious deterioration of his health, Huang Qi was in good spirits during the meeting with Sui Muqing. He expressed full confidence that China would move toward constitutional governance, democracy, and social justice.
While Huang Qi remained unyielding throughout his 18-year campaign for civil rights, he has always been willing to provide constructive support for government work in specific issues. In helping a large number of petitioners resolve matters of practical urgency, he won their broad respect and support around the country. Internationally, Huang Qi has earned an honorable reputation for his contributions to the cause of human rights, and has received multiple international awards for his work.
Huang Qi’s rights-protection cause has inevitably hindered the authority and interests of many local governments. Naturally, he has become a crackdown target, spending half of the 18 years of his public interest work in jail! It is indeed very regrettable!
In fact, if we abandon the old ideological prejudice and the unilateral political/rule interest calculation, the human rights cause that Huang Qi supports is indisputably a force that is both in line with fundamental moral values and universal consensus. It is a cause that benefits the fundamental, long-term interests of all society, and as such ought to receive encouragement and support at all levels of government. Especially when China’s political system remains imperfect and society is rife with serious upheaval, Huang Qi is a humanitarian who strives both to protect disadvantaged groups, and as such, he helps maintain social stability. His is perhaps the greatest contribution a citizen can make to the nation!
In view of the uniquely arduous conditions that Chinese political prisoners must cope with, and in view of the painful experience of dissidents such as Li Hong (力虹), Cao Shunli (曹顺利), Peng Ming (彭明), Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), and Yang Tianshui (杨天水), we hope that the authorities will, in keeping with the humanitarian spirit, grant the terminally ill Huang Qi medical leave as soon as possible, so that he can access timely and effective treatment, as well as living conditions suitable for his medical state.
Political issues are complex and perilous, while the humanitarian spirit is humble and simple, and forever. Huang Qi’s release would also mean release for his aging mother, and it would not do the least harm to the authorities. The matter is just this simple: I hope that the relevant authorities will consider this matter and make the decision to release Huang Qi in time and avoid yet another human tragedy!
August 20, 2017
 Over the period of this article’s writing to now, both lawyer Sui Muqing and lawyer Liu Zhengqing (刘正清), who succeeded Sui to defend Huang Qi, have been disbarred.
Tan Zuoren (谭作人), born on 15 May 1954, is an environmentalist, writer and former editor of Literati magazine based in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was imprisoned for five years from 2009-2014 for investigating student deaths during the Wenchuan earthquakes in 2008. [Wikipedia entry]
Translated from Chinese 《民间维权十八年，换来牢狱祸连连》
China Deals Another Blow to the International Human Rights Framework at its UN Universal Periodic Review
Andrea Worden, November 25, 2018
Over the past several years, the Chinese government has steadily been promoting its own version of human rights –– “human rights with Chinese characteristics”–– at the UN, and maneuvering to insert language trumpeted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with Xi Jinping as its core wordsmith, into various UN resolutions, with an eye toward assuming a leadership role in global human rights governance. China’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council (HRC) on November 6, 2018 provided a high-level global forum for the government to announce its newly formulated five-pronged “human rights development path with Chinese characteristics.” In a press conference following the review, Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Jun claimed that more than 120 countries supported China’s path during the review, and that China’s formulation was “completely correct.” In prioritizing “the right to development” as the fundamental human right and implicitly discarding the fundamental principle of the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of all human rights, China’s “path” poses a serious threat to the international human rights system.
Although the key components of the PRC’s human rights path are not new, they have been repackaged into a tidy framework, which China confidently proclaimed at its 2018 UPR (@1:25 and 6:09). Earlier, at its 2013 UPR, the PRC stated in its national report that it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” By 2018, China had discovered the path, described by Zhang Jun as “national conditions-based, people-centered, development-oriented, rule of law-guided and openness-driven.” This article takes a look at some of China’s moves to promote its “development-trumps-all” human rights narrative and agenda, weaken the UPR mechanism (and, in the process, the credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)), and further its efforts to gut the international human rights framework as we know it.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Mechanism
The UPR is a key mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC); indeed, it was intended to make the HRC, established in 2006, more robust and equitable than the body it replaced, the UN Human Rights Commission. In this intergovernmental, State-driven mechanism, all 193 UN Member states are reviewed every four and a half years. The review is conducted on the basis of three documents: the national report of the State being reviewed, and two documents prepared by OHCHR–– the compilation of UN information on the State under review, and the summary of stakeholders’ information, which includes information submitted by NGOs.
Three and a half hours is allocated for the review. The UN Member State under review is allotted a total of 70 minutes, which it uses for opening and final remarks, and comments and responses during the interactive dialogue. The remaining 2 hours and 20 minutes is apportioned equally among the countries that sign up in advance to speak at the review. In China’s 2018 UPR, each State that registered to speak was given 45 seconds to make their statements; in 2013, each country had 50 seconds. The Chinese government uses its influence to stack the roster with its friends (e.g. aid recipients, like-minded dictatorships, BRI partners, etc.) and as a result, countries poised to offer remarks critical of the PRC’s human rights record and make substantive human rights-based recommendations have less time to do so.
The review is intended to evaluate the State under review’s progress toward achieving and implementing recommendations it accepted during its previous review; fulfillment of the State’s human rights obligations and commitments; and the country’s overall human rights situation. During the interactive dialogue portion of China’s 2018 UPR, 150 delegations made statements, and offered 346 recommendations (@1:30). The Chinese government will provide its position on the recommendations by the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019. Regarding which recommendations the PRC is likely to accept, and those it’s likely to reject, the head of the UPR delegation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, suggested the answer during his final remarks. He said “an overwhelming number of countries have fully recognized China’s efforts and achievements in promoting and protecting human rights over the last five years,” and that the Chinese delegation sincerely appreciated their “many constructive comments and recommendations.” @3:07:22) As for certain other countries, Vice Minister Le said, “We will not accept the politically driven accusations from a few countries that are fraught with biases, and in total disregard of facts; even less will we entertain attempts to use human rights as an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs or undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” (@3:08:14)
China Finds its Human Rights Path for the New Era
In the PRC’s National Report submitted for its 2013 UPR (2013 Report), the section that lays out the government’s human rights theory is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights under socialism with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of “human rights with Chinese characteristics.” As noted above, the government stated at that time it was “working to explore paths for human rights development.” (para. 5.) The 2013 Report further states that China:
“respects the principle of universality of human rights and is of the view that all countries have a duty to take measures, commensurate with their national conditions, continuously to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the basic spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international human rights instruments.” (para. 4)
By the time of its 2018 UPR, the PRC had finished its exploration and discovered a “distinctively Chinese” path (@6:35), a path that abandons international human rights norms. The relevant section of the 2018 Report is titled, “The concept and theoretical system of human rights with Chinese characteristics.” There is no mention of the principle of universality of human rights; indeed, the only mention of “universal” is in the negative: “There is no universal road for the development of human rights in the world.” (para. 4) Nor is there a mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), or “relevant international human rights instruments.” Australia noted the change from 2013 in an advance question to China, and asked:
“Does China still accept the principle of universal human rights, and if not, can China explain how its conception of human rights fits into the international human rights regime built on the concept of universality? Can China explain how “human rights with Chinese characteristics” differs from universal human rights, and if it does not, why it wishes to introduce this distinction?” (Advance Questions, Addendum 3)
This is clearly a human rights path grounded in Xi Jinping’s New Era. Not only are fundamental norms of the universality and interdependence of human rights jettisoned, the Chinese government has also dispensed with any mention of theories articulated by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. While the 2013 Report contains references to Hu’s “scientific outlook on development” and “harmonious society,” they are absent from the 2018 Report. The Report states:
“[T]he cause of human rights must be promoted on the basis of national conditions and the needs of the people of that country, and cannot be defined on the basis of a single authority. Guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, China attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights, ever acting as an advocate, practitioner and promoter of the cause of protecting human rights and always following the road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics.” [2018 Report, Para. 4, emphasis added]
The translated phrase “on the basis of a single authority” is a curious rendering of the classical phrase 定于一尊 (dingyuyizun). The meaning is more along the lines of “no one (path of human rights development) should be regarded as the only choice,” or superior to all other choices.
In its 2018 Report, the Chinese government argues, in effect, that the international human rights framework is just one choice among others, and that it should not be taken as the highest authority. What, then, is the highest authority, or “the right system”? For China’s human rights development, there is only one “correct path”–– and it lies with Xi Jinping. The report describes the five-pronged path as the “road of developing human rights with Chinese characteristics” –– a road that “takes national conditions as the foundation”; “takes the people as the centre”; “takes development as the priority”; “takes the rule of law as the criterion”; and “takes openness as the motivator.” (paras. 5-10.)
The PRC’s “Development First” Agenda Gains Further Ground in the HRC
Development, and the right to development, were front and center during the interactive dialogue portion of the UPR, punctuated by strong concerns raised by a smaller number of States about the mass detention of Muslim minorities in “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang, and a wide range of other human rights abuses in China.
As it’s done in the past, the Chinese government seemingly rounded up its friends and beneficiaries to engage in what could be taken as an example of offline “flooding”: the UPR, whose purpose is to review the human rights obligations and actual human rights on the ground of the State under review, was inundated by comments and recommendations from countries praising China’s development, requesting China share best practices, expressing gratitude for aid, and asking for more. Many developing countries and members of the so-called Like-Minded Group (including, e.g., Russia, Syria, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.), which are decidedly not human rights-friendly, offered recommendations to China such as the following:
Namibia: “Continue sharing experiences and best practices in implementing people’s right to development.” (Draft Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: China (11/8/18); A/HRC/WG.6/31/L.3, para. 6.128)
Pakistan: “Continue to promote discussions in the Human Rights Council on the role of development in promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.33); “Continue to promote the Belt and Road Initiative to help other developing countries in their development endeavours” (para. 6.45).
And in an advance question to China before the review, Pakistan asked: “China has made tremendous achievements in implementing the right to development. Could China share relevant experience?” (Advance Questions to China First Batch –Rev)
Lao People’s Democratic Republic: “Continue to communicate with other developing countries on the experience of the state governance, including promoting and protecting human rights” (para. 6.52).
Nigeria: “Sustain its efforts in the global fight against terrorism and extremism” (para. 6.145).
Venezuela: “Continue to forge a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation and building a community with a shared future for human beings” (para. 6.36).
It’s worth noting that Venezuela didn’t quite get the New Era lexicon right during the interactive dialogue, and its recommendation was amended in an early version of the draft report for political correctness. Venezuela did not utter the CCP’s “win-win” slogan during its oral statement, and it described the future as a “shared future for human beings,” neglecting the “building” of “a community.” The Spanish-to-English interpreter used “forms” instead of “type” (as in “new type of international relations”) and “equity” instead of “fairness.” These “mistakes” were subsequently fixed, in what seems to be another example of PRC influence and discourse management at the UN.
Money Matters and OHCHR
In its 2018 Report, the PRC notes that it donated $100,000 to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development mandate, a new special procedure created in September 2016 (para. 76). At first glance, it’s puzzling that this mandate was created in the first place when a Working Group on the Right to Development already exists, but it turns out to have been another move by the PRC to promote development within the HRC, and occupy more “space” and resources focused on the right to development. Not surprisingly, Venezuela introduced the resolution creating the mandate on behalf of China and the Non-Aligned Movement, which was adopted by a vote of 34-2, with 11 abstentions. France and the UK voted against the resolution. The first (and current) special rapporteur, Mr. Saad Alfarargi of Egypt, participated in the first South-South Human Rights Forum held in Beijing in December 2017, by invitation from the Chinese government. During the UPR, Vice Minister Le said that the PRC will invite the Chair of the Working Group on the Right to Development to visit China (@10:24).
At the 2013 UPR, the PRC announced a dramatic increase in its funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Special Envoy of the MFA, Wu Hailong, said that China would increase its annual donation to OHCHR from $50,000 to $800,000 for the next four years (@17:30). During the 2018 review, Vice Minister Le announced that China would (again) donate $800,000 annually to the OHCHR for the next five years (@10:20). The PRC stated in the 2018 Report that it “maintains constructive contacts with [OHCHR], encourages them to perform their duties objectively and impartially, and attaches importance to the concerns of developing countries” (para. 76).
The Chinese government clearly has influence at OHCHR, which it uses to shield its human rights record from scrutiny, mute criticism, and control access to information it would rather keep hidden. The extent of the PRC’s influence, and the different tactics and leverage it uses to exert it, awaits an investigative journalist to thoroughly unravel, but in its groundbreaking report on China’s interference in UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch provides several examples of Chinese pressure on the OHCHR and special procedures, quoting one UN official as saying: “China keeps bullying us, saying, ‘Don’t do that,’ ‘Don’t do this,’ or ‘We urge you not to do this.’”
One of the main functions of OHCHR is to provide support for the work of the HRC, including the UPR, and, as mentioned earlier, it is responsible for drafting the compilation of UN information, and the summary of stakeholders’ information. In the run-up to the 2018 UPR, OHCHR was involved in machinations that point to PRC interference in the Office’s work. The details of the disappearing and reappearing NGO submissions on the OHCHR website, inputs from groups the Chinese government views as particularly “troublesome,” and exclusion of their information from the stakeholders’ summary prepared by OHCHR, are explained in a joint statement signed by concerned NGOs, which include, among others, the Uyghur Human Rights Project, World Uyghur Congress, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, Demosistō, and the International Service for Human Rights. The NGOs stated that despite the OHCHR’s belated fix of most of the issues (mere days before the review), they “remain very concerned that the removal of these reports gives further credence to well-documented NGO concerns of China’s growing influence within the UN human rights system, and the deliberate silencing of critical voices.”
After China’s success in the HRC in June 2017 with its resolution titled, “The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights,” I wrote, “What this means, in short, is that China will continue to promote, and attempt to expand, the importance of the right to development and economic rights, while at the same time endeavoring to curtail and weaken the enforcement of civil and political rights.” And so it has. During the UPR, the Chinese government touted its self-described “correct” human rights path, and by presenting a depraved defense of its “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang demonstrated that it was wholly unconcerned with civil and political rights, and the truth. Despite strong, rights-based recommendations from the human rights-friendly countries that participated in the review, China was nonetheless able to use the global stage of the UPR to further advance its “development trumps all” agenda at the expense of the established international human rights framework.
Andrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.
Follow her on Twitter @tingdc
Andrea Worden’s UN human rights series on China Change:
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.
With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.
Deletion of Wu Gan’s Twitter Posts Reflects the Urgent Need to Protect Chinese Human Rights Activists’ ‘Data Ownership’
Yaxue Cao, November 11, 2018
Around 10:10 pm eastern time on Nov. 8, as I was browsing my Twitter timeline and taking a breaking from editing a website post, a tweet by Wu Gan (吴淦) jumped into my vision. Even though he has gone for three years and a half, his avatar immediately stood out. It’s an auto-generated tweet that reads: “I just activated @Tweet_Delete on my account to automatically delete my old tweets (is.gd/delete)!” Instinctively, I pressed the “prt src” key:
It was 11 am on Nov. 9, Beijing Time. Wu Gan, better known as the “Super Vulgar Butcher,” is serving an eight-year sentence in a prison somewhere in the mountains on the border of Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. He was detained on May 20, 2015, outside the Jiangxi High People’s Court where he had been protesting the court’s denial of lawyers’ access to case files in the “Leping Wrongful Conviction Case.” In December 2017 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for “subversion of state power” following secret detention, torture, and his refusal to admit guilt in exchange for lenient punishment.
I clicked his account. It was emptied out – all 30,277 tweets from Nov. 2009 to May 2015 were gone. The tweet announcing the deletion soon disappeared as well. The circumstances of the deletion are shocking to many Chinese Twitter users because of the scale of the loss.
Wu Gan’s Twitter feed is not just anybody’s feed. In late 2008 he began to actively surf Internet and frequent a vibrant forum called “Cat Eye Forum” (猫眼论坛) at www.tianya.cn, one of China’s earliest Internet portals. He wrote: “I learned of the earthquakes, the shoddy school buildings [that killed thousands of students]; I learned Ai Weiwei’s investigation into the school deaths. I was rather stirred. I began to write articles, and in 2009, I became an activist.”
In a remote town in western Hubei in May 2009, three township officials asked 21-year-old hotel waitress Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) for “special services” and attempted to force themselves on her. Yujiao defended herself using a fruit knife, stabbing one of her would-be rapists to death and wounding another. She turned herself in to the local public security authorities, and was charged with intentional homicide.
The incident found instant resonance with netizens around the country. Compared to today, that time was still something of a “golden age” for online free speech, as the Great Fire Wall was not as fully developed as it is today and the Chinese government had yet to introduce a mechanism of effectively and thoroughly curbing public opinion on the internet.
The way the authorities handled Deng Yujiao’s case stirred outcry among masses of ordinary Chinese. They did not want to see a young girl be imprisoned as a murderess and possibly receive the death sentence for standing her ground against abusive officials. But help could only come from the people and the forces of public opinion.
Wu Gan, a 37-year-old Fujianese businessman who had served in the southern border troops, called upon fellow frequenters of the Cat Eye Forum to “take action to help this young lady who had defended her dignity with a fruit knife.”
A few days later, Wu Gan went to Hubei, spoke with Deng Yujiao’s family, and managed to meet Yujiao in hospital. A photo of the two together went viral. He persuaded the Deng family to engage lawyers for Yujiao, and made arrangements with two lawyers in Beijing. A month later, the local court held a public hearing for Deng Yujiao’s case and handed down a verdict exempting her from punishment.
The Deng Yujiao incident was seen as an encouraging example of how public opinion could lead to justice; at the same time, it became the starting point for Wu Gan to enter the public sphere and conduct online and offline activism. Next, Wu Gan got involved in the case of Shenyang street vendor Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰), who had killed two chengguan (城管) officers (note: chengguan are Chinese urban enforcers infamous for using violence and intimidation) in self-defense. Wu Gan travelled to Shenyang to help Xia’s wife and son get legal help, and rallied public opinion on social media and at the same time recorded his activities and reflections.
Sadly, Wu Gan and thousands of concerned netizens were unsuccessful this time. Xia Junfeng was sentenced to death and executed in 2013. Over the next six years, Wu Gan helped with hundreds of rights defense cases across China by mobilizing public opinion online and working directly with victims on the ground. Most of the people he helped were the socially disadvantaged, such as Deng Yujiao and Xia Junfeng, who had suffered humiliation and deprivation at the hands of the powers-that-be.
Wu Gan’s activism, which he styled “butchering pigs,” aimed to pressure local officials using public opinion, the law, and his unique performance art to pursue social justice in places where the rule of law did not exist. In order to popularize his experiences, Wu Gan, who lacked university education, wrote three handbooks: “Guide to Butchering Pigs” (《杀猪宝典》), “Guide to Drinking Tea” (《喝茶宝典》), and the “Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolition of Homes” (《访民杀猪宝典》). In these pamphlets, Wu taught fellow activists how to protect their rights by resisting the government and dealing with police interrogation and intimidation.
In China’s rights struggle over the last decade, Wu Gan occupies a unique position of seminal importance. He was the first detainee during the 709 crackdown; his steadfast resolve to expose torture and refusal to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence is awe-inspiring.
In an editorial, the Washington Post quoted Wu Gan’s statement to the court: “For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who ‘subverts state power’ is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights.”
Social media revolutionized Chinese citizen resistance, and Wu Gan was one of the most creative user of it. Not surprisingly, he quickly found himself in the crosshairs of the Chinese government’s censorship organ and was barred from domestic platforms like Weibo, so Twitter became a safe haven for him and other human rights activists. There, they didn’t have to worry about their accounts being deleted, and they expressed their thoughts freely and left a record of their activities and thoughts – Twitter was their open diary.
Wu Gan’s Twitter account was such a diary.
At the beginning of this year, when I was doing research for an article, I was able to download his tweets from May 19, 2015, going back to the same date in 2014, reaching apparently the limit Twitter set for retrieving archives.
Take May and June, 2014, as an example: in May, Wu Gan and lawyer Li Heping (李和平) were in the county of Mayang in Huaihua, Hunan Province (湖南怀化麻阳县), where they were assisting a family that had been expropriated of their land, had their house demolished, and relatives in detention. In June, Wu Gan organized a few dozen people to observe the trial of a political prisoner in Hunan, as well as paying attention to the sentencing of Jiangxi’s Liu Ping (刘萍) and the detention of three civil disobedience activists in Guangzhou. That month, Wu Gan also went to Jingdezhen (景德镇) and met with a group of lawyers to work on overturning the the death sentence against four peasants who had been wrongfully convicted of murder. There, he talked to the relatives of the accused about how to use and weaponize the internet. At the same time, he had followed the development of practically all political cases, including those of Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and Gao Yu (高瑜). Wu Gan also released information about donations he had received for completed activities, as well as his experiences, for instance in the Jiansanjiang case [involving rights lawyers beaten up for defending Falun Gong practitioners].
Wu Gan had some rather big ideas: he hoped that Chinese democracy activists overseas could set up a mock voting system for Chinese citizens to elect a Chinese president, as well as judges, legislators, and local officials.
As for current events, his views were often direct and insightful. He said, “If Taiwan still cannot take a hint from today’s situation in Hong Kong and continues to flirt with the Communist Party thinking that trade will lead to a good and risk-free future and think the wolf’s milk they’re drinking is free, one day the Chicoms are going to take back everything when they have an epileptic attack. No good can come of making a deal with the devil.”
In June that year he also said he was occupied with his marriage, fixing up his house, and family matters in his hometown. He said he had to deal with his family life and that [his work on] justice would have to take a back seat for the time being. But afterward, it seems that he had forgotten about this statement.
One of my favorite Wu Gan tweets is: “Some people fancy that after Xi Jinping finishes the anti-corruption campaign and consolidates power, he will return back to the right path. How many times were these people kicked in the head by donkeys to come up with this kind of idea?”
As you can see, due to his extensive contacts with various groups and his involvement in many incidents, his Twitter served as a veritable history of China’s human rights struggle between 2009 to 2015. Today, while he finds himself behind bars, cut off from any means of communication with the outside world, his tens of thousands of tweets have been deleted with just a single click.
This goes beyond Wu Gan’s personal loss; it is a huge setback for researchers and anyone who cares about the struggles of contemporary Chinese society.
What happened to Wu Gan’s tweets isn’t unique. In 2016, Sichuan human rights activist Chen Yunfei (陈云飞) not only had his Twitter posts deleted, but his entire account was closed and erased without any trace. There may well be more political prisoners who have been liquidated from online existence — it embarrasses me to admit that I have not paid the matter enough attention thus far.
The internet age has made information easier to produce and more convenient to circulate. However, It has also made it convenient for a highly sophisticated dictatorship, like the one in China, to wipe out the memories and records of people and even entire communities in an instant. They have been doing this all along, but in the last two or three years, the censorship has reached unprecedented heights in its scale and intensity.
For the Chinese government, it’s not enough to delete domestic social media content. They have been trying to extend their control to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — all of which are banned in China.
Like me, a scholar who studies the Chinese resistance movement was shocked and concerned about the erasure of Wu Gan’s Twitter record. She proposed the concept of “data ownership.” Chinese netizens are not only deprived of data ownership inside the Great Fire Wall; political prisoners and currently active Twitter users face threats to their data security as well.
The researcher urged me and my fellow human rights advocators to study methods of protecting Chinese netizens’ “data ownership” in foreign social media. The data security of those political prisoners who are in prison, or “sensitive people” who are not in prison but are strictly monitored and threatened by the government, is particularly urgent. Seeing the deletion of Twitter content belonging to Wu Gan and Chen Yunfei and the recent round of censorship targeting Chinese Twitter users (I will report on this in a separate article), we sense that the Chinese government will stop at no means to delete more content that they disagree with.
Large companies like Twitter should be held responsible for protecting the data security of political dissidents in authoritarian states. The researcher suggested that human rights organizations should negotiate with Twitter to develop a third-party mechanism to protect the social account data for Chinese political prisoners based on CECC’s relatively complete and constantly updated database (http://ppdcecc.gov/) of Chinese incarcerated for their dissident activities. This system could provide regular backups and prevent the prisoners’ account from being modified.
Right now, what is most urgent is that Twitter needs to know the shocking attacks on free speech that are quietly taking place. We ask Twitter to restore Wu Gan’s Twitter content and Chen Yunfei’s account from its backup database.
Ms. Wang Lihong (王荔蕻), another noted human rights activist and a close friend of Wu Gan, tweeted, “Can someone go talk with Twitter about this? We’re not in jail, and wouldn’t it be a shame if we couldn’t even protect the Twitter account of a prisoner of conscience?”
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao
A Month Or So In The House Of Twitter, Yaxue Cao, January 23, 2012.
Yaxue Cao, October 18, 2018
Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is a small liberal arts college with around 2500 students. The Campus Center is the central meeting place with a bookstore, a cafe, a post office, computer terminals, a small auditorium, lounge areas and art exhibit space. On October 1, a photo exhibit was mounted along the hallways of the center. It is called, adopting a well-known Mao Zedong quote, “Weightier Than Mount Tai, Lighter Than a Feather: Human Rights Experience of Chinese Contemporary Art.”
Featuring ten artists (all but two lived in China), the exhibit includes photographs, conceptual compositions, negative images of Tiananmen Square in 1989, and photographs that depict a wide range of life in China: the student movement in Beijing, migrant workers in the slums outside Beijing, prostitutes and homesexuals. Photographs of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan the same year are also on display. It is a traveling exhibit and was first shown at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. It ends on October 19 at Bard.
On October 3, Siyuan Min (闵思渊), who goes by the name ‘Frederick S. Min,’ a political science major and chair of the Chinese Student Organization on campus, wrote a long letter to one of the two curators of the exhibit, Patricia Keretzky. Keretzky is Oskar Munsterberg Lecturer in Art History and author of more than 10 books about Chinese art, religious and secular, medieval and contemporary. From his letter, we gathered that the exhibit stirred quite a bit of sentiment from a WeChat group that consisted of current Chinese students at Bard, recent graduates and visiting scholars from China. In his letter to Ms. Keretzy, Mr. Min summed up this “vibrant and highly intellectual conversation” on WeChat, China’s popular but heavily censored and surveilled online messaging platform.
The community of Chinese students (currently over 100) and scholars at Bard took issue with the exhibit on three points: the topic, the date and the offensiveness of it.
They objected to the sensitive nature of the topic, singling out “the images of protests,” “an armed person waving a gun in front of Mao Zedong,” and “a Statue of Liberty photoshopped to be on Tiananmen Square where the Monument to the People’s Heroes actually stand(s),” the last of which implying that the two symbols of struggle contravene each other.
They took issue with the date. Why launch the exhibit on October 1, our National Day, “the equivalent of July 4th”? When “a rather reckless man insisted on attending a military drill” on the Serbian national day, he said, a diplomatic crisis ensued causing World War I. He then walked back a little bit from the parallel between Archduke Franz Ferdinand causing World War I with his assassination and the two curators provoking Chinese students at Bard, but we get the idea: it’s a grievous provocation.
Mr. Min went on conveying how Chinese students felt: they feel ‘ambushed’ by such an exhibit at the student center; they feel embarrassed when asked questions by their curious American friends; their pride in their nationality is hurt; they feel “a certain sense of betrayal” because at Bard the atmosphere has been “pluralistic yet always respectful.”
So the photo exhibit is a deviation from the pluralistic and respectful atmosphere at Bard according to this junior. When Chinese students at the University of California San Diego opposed the Dalai Lama giving the commencement speech, they applied the same awkward, brain teaser logic.
Because of the exhibit, the Chinese students and scholars feel, Min went on, judged by “our nationality, our ethnics, the history of our country or the policies of our government.”
But isn’t it the case that the Chinese students and scholars have all these hurt feelings precisely because they themselves identify with the repressive regime, with the policies of the Chinese government and its political sensibilities? They do not seem to recognize that each and every Chinese citizen has the right not to identify with the government. As a political science student, young Mr. Min should know better.
In reply, Ms. Keretzky invited the junior and the Chinese students to come to the screening of dissident films by Chinese artists and a roundtable discussion afterward on Saturday at the Campus Center. None of them came. She also ask Mr. Min to post her response on WeChat. I don’t know whether this has been done. I doubt it, because the words ‘human rights’ and the name ‘Liu Xiaobo’ will not pass through the censorship, even if Min tries to. I doubt he would try in the first place.
“I want to have a dialogue with the Chinese students on campus,” Wu Yuren (吴玉仁), a participating artist, said on Saturday at Bard. “This is a serious exhibit. In 2015, Patricia met with us in Beijing and we had a discussion about it. We know why we do this. Today’s China is undergoing a massive transformation, and artists have the acutest sense it. As freedom of speech is being choked off and art creation faces more and more restriction, it’s only natural that artists are going to express such repression.”
I asked Mr. Wu what would happen to these artists living in China, he said, they are used to regular police summons known as ‘drinking tea,’ forced evictions, and shutdowns of exhibits. “Under dictatorship, artists who explore its manifestations face big dangers.” Wu Yuren himself was detained for ten months in 2010 for using what they called the “rights defense performance art” to oppose forced demolition of art districts in Beijing where he and hundreds of artists had their studios.
“By the way,” he said at Bard, “I want to state a common sense here: October 1st is not the birthday of our motherland.”
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao, or follow China Change @chinachange_org