A New Year’s Message From the Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
( January 3, 2017, Beijing, Sri Lanka Guardian) Time sweeps by, the seasons change, and another year is upon us. As we bid farewell to the old and welcome the new, China’s human rights lawyers greet 2017.
We bore witness to too much in 2016.
We saw the hidden poverty that lies behind the bright and orderly image of the nation.
Due to poverty, a 13-year-old in Jinchang, Gansu, leapt from a building to her death after being humiliated. She had pilfered and eaten a few chocolates at the local market — the first time in her life that she’d savored the taste.
Due to poverty, a student from Linyi, Shandong, who had matriculated but not yet begun college, died after falling into depression due to the shame of being cheated out of her 9,900 yuan ($1,400) in school fees. It may be no more than the price of a meal for China’s nouveau riche, but for this girl, it was her family’s entire savings — and probably debt, too.
Due to poverty, a young mother in Linxia, Gansu, killed her four children then poisoned herself. The local authorities said that they were not responsible.
We’ve seen the unstoppable crushing force of the demolition brigade throughout the country tearing down homes, and the tragedies it’s wrought.
Because of a forced demolition, the young Fan Huapei (范华培) from Zhengzhou killed three people before being shot to death. This was the level of hopelessness experienced by someone who’d been to university. And when the police could have captured him alive, they killed him instead. Other victims who had similarly been harmed and humiliated paid respect to him at his funeral. This should give cause for thought.
Because of a forced demolition, a young man named Jia Jinglong (贾敬龙) killed the village official responsible with a nail gun. Jia was executed this year. Before he died, he declared to his lawyer and family that he was willing to donate his organs after death, and left behind a heartfelt poem bidding farewell to the world. He had a kind heart. If his case wasn’t treated as a question of social stability and political security, he would have been spared the death penalty, given that he had repeatedly sought resolution of the dispute, and gave himself up after the crime.
We’ve seen more environmental pollution and a ceaseless smog that suffocates the cities; we’ve seen contaminated food and poisoned vaccines; we’ve seen how the downtrodden in society hurt each other, and an increase in violent crimes. We’ve seen the death of Lei Yang (雷洋), the outrage in public opinion that followed, the trivial punishments given to police officers, and the increasing abuses of police power. We’ve seen an economic decline and a devaluation of the currency. We’ve seen the deep sense of insecurity that grips the middle class.
For human rights lawyers, the year 2016 is a year of anxiety, dread, and perseverance.
As in 2015, human rights defenders in China continued to suffer enormously in 2016. Civil society was savaged, citizen activists and dissident intellectuals were taken into captivity one by one, some vanished for weeks before news of their detention was released, and others are now still being held incommunicado. In an uninterrupted succession, relatives and friends posted notices of “missing persons” — those who have been forcibly disappeared. They include: the couple Ge Jueping (戈觉平) and Luo Guoying (陆国英), Gu Yimin (顾义民), Hu Cheng (胡诚), Wang Wanping (王婉平), Chen Zongyao (陈宗瑶), Sun Cun (孙林), Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成), Xiao Bing (肖兵), Wang Jianhua (王建华), Li Nanhai (李南海), Ding Yan (丁岩), Wang Jun (王军), Deng Jianfeng (邓剑峰, released just recently), Ma Zhiquan (马志权), Wang Wei (王威), Dong Lingpeng (董凌鹏), Song Liqian (宋立前), Huang Anyang (黄安阳), Huang Qi (黄琦), Pu Fei (蒲飞, recently released), Liu Feiyue (刘飞跃), Xiong Feiling (熊飞骏), Wang Fei (王飞, a.k.a. Hai Di [海底]), and a long list of others. Whether or not these human rights defenders were charged with national security crimes, almost all were placed under residential surveillance at a designated location and denied access to lawyers and any other communication. They were forced into isolation and helplessness, as a way of trying to make them submit. The model of punishment used against “709 incident” rights lawyers was replicated again and again against them.
As for those rolled up in the shocking “709 incident,” after a year of detention incommunicado, and after much preparation by the authorities, Hu Shigen (胡石根), Zhou Shifeng (周世锋) and two others were hauled before a court for show trials. Every one of them confessed guilt, expressed repentance, and vowed not to appeal. Instead of remonstration and urgent defense, the defense lawyers who were appointed to defend them behaved in lockstep with the prosecutors that one could hardly separate them. The court hearing was composed like a concerto, performed to perfection. Just what took place behind closed doors to bring this about will only be known in time.
As for the sentencing to ten years imprisonment of Zhejiang Democracy Party figures Chen Shuqing (陈树庆) and Lü Gengsong (吕耿松) — it has once again become manifestly clear that independent organization and assembly is absolutely forbidden, and that those who venture into this forbidden realm can be charged over and over again for the same “offense.”
The sentencing of dissident Zhang Haitao (张海涛) to 19 years was unprecedented. Such madness and hysteria is a tragic sight to behold.
The secret detention of human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) towards the end of the year was both a continuation and expansion of the 709 arrests. Everyone knows the reason he was arrested: It was to cut off support for the families of the 709 detained lawyers and their rescue efforts, so that they’ll be forced to face the system alone, and, the authorities hope, give up their rights and hope, and cease to protest on behalf of their loved ones. Jiang Tianyong’s case is a clear warning of the severity and urgency that Chinese rights lawyers face.
Of course, through the year we’ve also witnessed the continued awakening and growth of rights awareness in China. These ordinary men and women have taken to the streets to defend their homes, they’ve signed petitions, speaking out for Lei Yang and Jia Jinglong online and offline.
We salute those human rights defenders for their bravery and indomitability. They refuse to submit in the face of increasing repression and persist in the face of danger.
After 17 months of persevering, lawyers were finally able to meet their clients Xie Yang (谢阳) and Wu Gan (吴淦) respectively. The two had not surrendered or been silenced by the cruelty of prison, and they showed again the strength of their commitments even from inside the cell. Perhaps, in the eyes of the cultural elite, these are the uncultivated grassroots members of China’s society, but at this moment, they are models of tenacity and courage and a source of inspiration.
The wives of the persecuted lawyers, meanwhile, have been courageous, wise, broad-minded, tenacious, and united in helping one another. This includes Wang Qiaoling (王峭岭), Li Wenzu (李文足), Chen Guiqiu (陈桂秋), Yuan Shanshan (原珊珊), Liu Ermin (刘二敏), Fan Lili (樊丽丽), and others. They’ve been threatened, intimidated, beaten, detained, and yet not stopped. Their efforts have led their husband’s cases to be more widely known, and their public profile more complete. They’re tender, but not weak. They shed tears before the camera when discussing their husband’s captivity, but they’ve never made a display of weakness to the authorities to plead for false leniency, for they are convinced that their loved one are heroes, not criminals. They’re a group of extraordinary women who have defended rights in their own way in the face of immense adversity. Their behavior and their composure has made them the most beautiful vision in this grim winter, and their actions are thorns in the side of the authorities.
Though the political climate now is perilous, China’s human rights lawyers have not ceased their steps out of fear. Instead, they persist in spite of fear, overcoming it. Fear has not prevented them from taking on the 709 cases. They’ve wielded the law, bringing suits, submitting requests for reconsideration, lodging appeals, writing articles, and fighting for their right to see and defend their clients. These suits may prove to be fruitless in the current circumstances, but the efforts themselves are significant nonetheless. Indeed, in the absence of rule of law, it makes little sense to see only outcomes as measures of heroism.
It’s no exaggeration to say that wherever there are human rights abuses in China, there they are defending against them: in Suzhou, Wuxi, Chengdu, Wenzhou, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen…
They’ve been on the road through all of 2016.
Because we’ve borne witness, we’ve reason to believe that in this new year, China’s human rights lawyers, determined and idealistic, will do whatever is called for to bring light and hope as the regime’s iron curtain continues to descend.
Because we’ve born witness, we believe that human nature yearns for liberty, and that the freedom so hoped for won’t be stopped by the will of a few tyrants. The time will come when human rights will be valued and respected and rights lawyers will have a free, vast platform on which to pursue their vocation.
With the continued advancement of the internet, and the increasing impact that China’s severe social problems are having on each and every person, the ideology and doctrines preached by the Party will have increasingly less purchase. Everyone who has had their interests or rights harmed is a latent ally. Like seeds planted and buds sprouting, is there any question about their strength as they grow by the multitudes?
It is our hope that a China with benign and rule-based governance will eventually be formed by the germination and growth of those countless seeds.
In 2017, let us look up the starry sky above and obey the calls from our hearts. Let us continue to fight through thorns and brambles to do our job. In this era of great change, let us set down more milestones toward the betterment of human rights in China.
Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group
January 1, 2017
Editors’ note: The Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group has about 300 members currently.