Chinese Human Rights Lawyers Group | China Change
This article was first published on ChinaChange web site on January 1, 2018
It is with a heavy heart and a sense of desolation that we begin our New Year’s dedication, just as China is shrouded in smog and enveloped in haze. But regardless of the challenges and suffering of the past year, we have not cowered. We continue to hope that 2018 will bring us closer to freedom. We also wish that our own hope will become infectious and that the citizens of China will together fight for a free, beautiful future and country.
2017 was again a year of no shortage of injustice and wanton violations of the law by the country’s judicial organs. Ugly words such as suffocation, shackles, and dungeons tested our resolve; deaths, disappearances, and bloodshed caused us enormous pain. Though we see no justice and feel no freedom, our faith girds us to continue to persevere — to wait for conscience, to wait for strength, and to await the arrival of spring.
2017 was the year in which we lost a great intellectual of liberty, Liu Xiaobo. He left the world with the saddest dirge, and while alive he expounded in his works, and demonstrated in his life, the incorruptibility, uprightness, and patriotism of the Chinese intellectual. His soul returned to the sea where waves will carry his dream of a free China forever.
2017 saw the persecution of numerous human rights lawyers. Jiang Tianyong, Li Heping, and Xie Yang were all convicted on false charges. Wang Quanzhang was illegally held incommunicado for a cumulative 900 days. The persecution of Li Yuhan has been relentless. All of these cases show just how harsh and dangerous it has become to be a human rights lawyer in China.
In 2017, a large number of lawyers were threatened, coerced, and silenced by local judicial bureaus and legal associations, including Zhu Shenwu, Wu Youshui, Wen Donghai, Wang Liqian, Wang Longde, Yu Wensheng, and Peng Yonghe. For no more than exercising their freedom of expression and proactively defending the interests and rights of their clients, these lawyers were made targets of harassment — and in some cases subject to sanctions by the official lawyer’s association or administrative penalties. This entirely contradicts the claims of officialdom that China is a country ruled by law and that human rights are guaranteed.
In 2017, the draft Law on Supervision made its appearance. This law, which on the surface appears to be coding anti-corruption measures, could before long become yet another extraordinary tool for the dictatorship to infringe on human rights on a massive scale under the guise of “ruling the country according to the law.”
In 2017, the number of occasions on which the law was distorted beyond recognition is countless. Numerous defense lawyers were forcibly dismissed for inexplicable reasons, and there was no further pretense that trials in China are open and public affairs. It has become abundantly clear that citizens in China have no actual rights whatsoever.
In 2017, citizens of conscience were suppressed; the rights of petitioners were dismissed; forced demolitions for the acquisition of land, and their attendant social contradictions became an endless source of tragedy. The abuse scandal at RYB Education kindergartens in Beijing and the expulsion of the “low-end population” in Beijing became capstones to a year already brimming with human rights disasters and drew widespread, appalled attention from the public.
Despite all of the above, countless Chinese who hold tightly to ideals continued to spark hope that human rights must be protected, and justice must be served. The society-wide discussion of the draft Law on Supervision, the heated opinions given in response to the Law on Detention Centers, the condemnation of the expulsion of the “low-end population” from Beijing, and the support for citizen actions around the country — all of this gave us hope.
For their part, human rights lawyers have not hesitated in assuming their historical responsibility, as shown in the spirited defenses given in the political trials and cases of Wu Gan, Chen Yunfei, Huang Qi and Qin Yongmin. The coalition of eight lawyers in Guangdong, involved in a case of a tuberculosis outbreak at a school in Hunan, is the first time since the 709’s crackdown that lawyers have banded together to make a sally, and it is a demonstration of their staunch conviction that human rights must be safeguarded.
Despite the fact that human rights lawyers are illegally prevented from entering the courtroom on a regular basis, colleagues in the legal profession speak out on their behalf. Lawyers collectively censure and protest illegal verdicts, sometimes causing malefactors to retreat in guilty conscience. Rights lawyers also continue to provide legal assistance to petitioners, believers, and other vulnerable populations. Though the help is far from meeting the need, it plants a seed of good that will overcome.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of rights cases end in failure — but it is precisely perseverance in the face of such setbacks that has forged the indomitable character of human rights lawyers in China. The history of human society shows that it’s futile for any dictatorship to stand in the way of progress. The law of the jungle is a temporary phase; the progress of civilization is an inevitability.
In 2018, we won’t harbor false hopes, nor indulge in fantasy — but we will remain steadfast to our cherished ideals of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and we will not stop in our defense and safeguarding of human rights. We’ll be tenacious in our defense of the wronged, the prisoners of conscience, and the pursuit of justice.
2018 is the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government’s signature to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We call on the Chinese authorities to fulfill their promises, immediately ratify the Convention, and implement the protections of civil rights therein, making every Chinese person an actual citizen of their own country.
In 2018, we call for Wang Quanzhang to be released — the suffering he has endured pains all of our hearts. We also wish well for liberal intellectuals, two exemplars of which, Liu Xiaobo and Yang Tianshui, passed away this year. The two were not the enemies of this country, and their departure is a loss to the Chinese people.
In 2018, for moving China toward a more civilized, reasonable, and peaceful society, for helping the Chinese people become more free, more hopeful, and happier, we won’t relent in our efforts, and we know that we must endure. Only by doing so will we live up to this period of time.
The New Year is upon us, and though the haze won’t dissipate all at once, we believe that as long as we continue in our efforts, our lives will to mean, and we’ll be part of a new history for a free China.
In 2018, let’s persevere together!
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.