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China’s Shattered Dream for the Rule of Law, One Year On

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Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group  |  China Change

This article was published first in China Change website on July 8, 2016

Some of the rights lawyers arrested during the last year (chrlco)
Some of the rights lawyers arrested during the last year (chrlco)

Like the rest of us, they traveled around the country through rain and shine and choking smog, assisting the most vulnerable. Like the rest of us, they were exhausted looking after their parents’ health and finding a school for their children. Like the rest of us, they embraced the lofty China Dream, believing in “governing the country according to the law,” and stepping into the role of defending justice and human rights, committed and tireless.

But that dream was shattered on July 9, 2015.  

It began with the arrest of lawyer Wang Yu’s entire family in the early hours of July 9, 2015. Thereafter, the state’s machine of coercion shifted into full gear, raiding the homes of scores of rights lawyers across the country, and disappearing many of them. Hundreds more lawyers, scholars, and activists, known for their efforts in improving civil rights and political rights, were interrogated, threatened, and forcibly silenced. Some family members were punished by being driven from their homes, or prohibited from leaving China…

If this was the mere momentary convulsion of a police state armed to the teeth, perhaps we wouldn’t need be so shocked — after all, in China, this has become a fairly common occurrence. The Chinese people have never been free of fear. In fact, the opposite is the case: we live in a society in which one could become the next Xu Chunhe, or the next Lei Yang tomorrow — and this fear accompanies us every day. But this utterly brazen suppression of human rights defenders, the level of state hierarchy involved, the manner in which it was conducted, the extent of it, and its intensity, shows that it was planned and coordinated at the highest levels, a new development following the establishment of a certain powerful security organ. With this, we are witnessing a transition from spasmodic suppression to a permanent high-pressure state. No doubt, some people will be making history for such “achievements.”  

This year, human rights lawyers and rights defenders have been through six months of forced disappearances under so-called “residential surveillance at a designated place.” After they’re formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” or “subversion of state power,” they’re reportedly transferred to the Tianjin First or Tianjin Second Detention Center;

This year, they have not been able to receive legal help from counsel chosen by their families, nor have their loved ones been provided with the slightest information about their physical and mental well-being;

This year, despite complaints by family, protests by lawyers, attention by foreign media, concern and censure by foreign governments and NGOs, Chinese police have been cold-blooded, callous, and cruel. They manipulate the law as they wish, twist them any which way, appropriate the law maliciously, and are always ready to pull out a different marionette whenever the circumstances require it, as a way of cynically deflecting accountability and questioning.

The most bitterly disappointing and appalling characters of all are the other lawyers who have no sense of conscience. They cast aside what they themselves know is right, sell their souls to the devil, and do deals with the perpetrators. On the surface, they’re the defense counsel for the rights lawyers who have been arrested in the 709 crackdown, but in fact they’re the custom-made excuse by the police to explain why lawyers hired by the family had to be dismissed. But these lawyers don’t dare actually contact the family, nor even reveal their real names to the outside world. They don’t dare defend the lawful rights of their clients, but instead hide in the shadows. Though these questionable lawyers occupy high positions in the [government-controlled] associations of attorneys, have incomes to match, dress the part, and enjoy enviable social status, their actual role in this affair has been more like the decorative ceramic tile in a urinal.

One year isn’t long, but if it’s spent sealed up in solitary confinement, it’s enough to destroy a life. But one year isn’t short — it’s long enough for all to see that the pretense of “governing the country according to the law” has now been torn to shreds!

This year, they have been walled off in prison, bearing witness with their own bodies to the lies that lie beneath the gilded surface, and the cowardice of dictatorship. Outside prison, we are pleased to see that Chinese citizens continue to awaken, as incidents of collective protest increase and spread. China has not become quieter and more stable, as expected by the rulers when they tried to suppress human rights lawyers.

This year, their wives and loved ones have grown to understand their work better. Some wives have stood out bravely, declaring, “We’re leaving behind our makeup to beat the gangsters up,” continuing their husbands’ struggle for rights.

This year, they have never left our thoughts: their convictions, their determined actions, their love and grievances, their smiles and their voices… They travel far and wide in China with firm steps, casting a deep gaze around them. They have never left us, and they will never leave. They are human rights defenders who love this land and this people!  

History will remember them. For now, let’s read aloud their names:

Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, Li Chunfu, Sui Muqing, Zhou Shifeng, Hu Shigen, Bao Longjun, Liu Sixin, Wu Gan, Zhao Wei, Lin Bin, Gou Hongguo, Tang Zhishun, Xing Qingxian, Zhai Yanmin, Liu Xing, Zhang Weihong, Li Yanjun, Yao Jianqing, Yin Xu’an, Wang Fang……

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