The Silencing of China’s Human Rights Lawyers
Since the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, the Chinese regime has been in extreme fear of a possible Jasmine Revolution in China. China’s human rights lawyers have become the authorities’ primary targets of crackdown. A large number of outspoken human rights lawyers have been disappeared without any explanation.
Following two days of human rights talks in Beijing between China and the U.S., that included the slew of forced disappearances of human rights lawyers, human rights attorney Teng Biao, who had disappeared for 70 days, was released on April 29.
On the same day, however, Li Fangping, another human rights attorney, was taken away. Li is known for his anti-discrimination advocacy. He has fought for the rights of patients infected with Hepatitis B, AIDS, and leukemia, and other disadvantaged groups.
Lu Jun of the Beijing Yirenping Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting social justice and public health, confirmed that Li was taken away by a group of unidentified personnel. Li’s whereabouts remains unknown.
Lawyers who were released after their disappearances have been reluctant to speak about their experiences, saying it is “not convenient to speak right now.” Others have hinted about torture and abuse and having been told not to speak or else they would not be released next time. Still others have come home with memory loss from psychiatric drug treatments and evidence of beatings.
After Teng returned home he asked his friends to publish the news of his release online, but refused to talk about details. Before his detention, Teng was very vocal; he tweeted about human rights issues almost daily and frequently accepted interviews by foreign media.
Also released on April 19 were rights attorneys Jiang Tianyong and Liu Xiaoyuan. Neither Jiang nor Liu would discuss why they were detained or what happened during their detentions.
Human rights lawyer Tang Jitian was detained on the same day as Teng, but released earlier. He has not yet made any public appearance and has refused to disclose any information. Radio Free Asia said on March 17 that Tang was tortured during his detention, quoting Beijing human rights lawyer Li Jinglin.
When Guangzhou attorney Tang Jinling was released from detention, he couldn’t recognize people and was in a constant daze. Authorities still kept him under house arrest. Later, he and his wife both went missing.
Two other human right lawyers, Li Tiantian from Shanghai and Liu Shihui from Guangzhou, remain missing as well.
Jin Guanghong, an attorney from Beijing who disappeared for 10 days in April, is suffering from partial memory loss and other physical afflictions. During his disappearance, he was beaten and injected with drugs at a mental hospital.
Patrick Kar Wai Poon, executive secretary of the Hong-Kong based China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, said he is worried that these attorneys were abused during detention. “Obviously Teng and other attorneys are facing great pressure after their release,” he told Voice of America.
More Party Pressure
Last year China’s Minister of Justice stated the importance of communist party organizations playing a more active role in the legal field and ordered a party branch office be established in all bar associations.
Recently, Shanxi Department of Justice announced that Shanxi will implement a province-wide “moral evaluation” of all law license applicants. Their political performance and personal behavior will be considered during the evaluation, Yangtze River Business reported on April 19.
This move is seen as a strong signal that China is taking a big left turn, and Shanxi could become a model for other provinces.
An attorney from Beijing with the surname Li told Sound of Hope (SOH) Radio the new policy in Shanxi shows that the regime views attorneys as enemies and is less and less trusting of them. He said there’s a strong leftist trend in the country.
A Mr Yang from China, who works in the legal profession, told SOH it’s his belief that Shanxi’s new policy came from the central government and that other provinces will soon follow suits. “Now it’s just like in the past when politics was in command,” Yang said.
Majority of Legal Community Mute
While the relatively small number of Chinese human rights lawyers are risking their licenses and lives by speaking out for civil rights, the majority of China’s legal community is turning a blind eye to the trend of forced disappearances of their fellow lawyers.
On Apr. 24 over four hundred lawyers, legal scholars, and other experts who attended an event at the People’s University in Beijing were in celebratory mood during the one-year anniversary of the new law school.
During the seven-hour forum “Lawyers and Legal System Reform,” participants praised the outcome of a recent high profile trial in which Chinese authorities dropped the case against Li Zhuang, a prominent lawyer from Beijing. Li had been accused of inciting a client to falsify evidence against an organized crime boss he defended in the city of Chongqing.
Some of the lawyers called it a victory for the rule of law in China, and some lawyers said their voices were heard.
Shi Tao, a commentator with SOH, said that the lawyers at the forum are members of the bar associations, and are precisely the ones who monitor and persecute human rights attorneys and serve the Party.
“As the lawyers celebrated their victory, did anyone mention Ai Weiwei? Did anyone mention Gao Zhisheng? What Gao has accomplished is far beyond what most lawyers are able to do. Yet as these lawyers celebrated, have they thought of Gao?” Shi asked.
Human rights lawyers Gao Zhisheng, Jiang Tianyong, and others were rejected by the bar associations when they tried to renew their licenses.
No Rule of Law
“The entire legal system needs to be evaluated as a whole. Just solving the Li Zhuang case will not solve the problems [of China’s legal system]. Justice for all lawyers is something that should be solved,” Mr Bao Tong, secretary of the late ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang and former director of the Political Reform Research Bureau, told The Epoch Times.
“Caring about the fate of lawyers is also caring about the rule of law in China. If the lawyers are subjected to illegal treatment, it means the principles they defended are not taken seriously. This is a very, very major problem,” Bao said.