Bar News - August 19, 2015
Morning Mail: Seeking Solidarity for Lawyers Detained in China
Editor’s Note: This letter to New Hampshire lawyers is from Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, whose escape from China, and the help he received from NH immigration lawyer George Bruno were the subject of an article in the May issue of Bar News.
I am writing you today in the capacity of honorary member of the New York City Bar Association, and founder of the Chen Guangcheng Foundation, to alert you to a disturbing development in human rights and legal affairs in China. I hope that you will stand with me to call for justice.
Beginning July 10, Chinese authorities have been detaining human rights lawyers and defenders in unprecedented numbers. As of July 14, an estimated 159 human rights lawyers and activists had been taken into custody and held in various facilities throughout the country. People are being taken from their homes, their offices, even while they are out for meals, with no advanced warning or due process. They are being interrogated, threatened, and accused of fabricated crimes. The party authorities are publicly vilifying these citizens who act on behalf of the entire nation, using state-run media to denounce their courageous work and debase their character.
There seems to be no sign of this aggression letting up, but it is clear this was a plan long in the making. Some of this has been reported in the US media, but the extent and significance are much more critical than most people are aware.
The number of lawyers willing to take on human rights or politically sensitive cases in China is small. The lawyers and activists detained in this recent government sweep are extremely bright and courageous people who are willing to put themselves in danger for the sake of human rights, the rule of law, freedom, democracy, and justice in China. These people not only defend civil rights through due process, but also encourage the rights-consciousness of the people, something the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is decidedly against. With each person detained there is a reaction – others are daring to stand up to speak out, only to be detained themselves, and their families threatened.
What we are seeing is the manifestation of an existential fear on the part of the Communist Party regarding its long-term survival. The Chinese people are increasingly aware of their civil and human rights, and in many cases are beginning to react against their continued repression. With the development of the Internet, activists and attorneys have become more agile and open in responding to government-sponsored human rights violations.
As they did when I was in jail and under illegal house arrest, people are connecting via the Internet to organize actions such as traveling to courthouses where sensitive cases are on trial, or in the case of lawyers, traveling more quickly to represent such cases. Protests and actions of this sort have a clear deterring effect on the authorities’ ability to carry out their black-box-style persecution, which is why the CCP now seeks to clamp down.
The CCP continues to speak about governing the country by rule of law, and the CCP’s foreign affairs department spokesperson has declared unabashedly that China is a country with the rule of law. In reality, the CCP has been using its Domestic Stability Maintenance force - the budget for which annually outsizes the military budget - to persecute its own people outside of any legal framework. However, such violence and aggression will not efface the spirit of the human rights community and will not steer the country off its course toward democracy and freedom.
I hope you will support these lawyers, activists, and the cause of democracy in China. Please speak out in the media and to your colleagues. Please demand that the Chinese Communist Party release all lawyers and human rights defenders. Please demand that the CCP abide by its own laws and international law.
This is a crucial time for China – the people are awakening to an understanding of the law and their rights. We need to come together to support those who use the law to push the country down a path that is more open, ethical, democratic and free. Human rights should know no boundaries, and our work to uphold peoples’ rights to access the law should extend beyond borders. Please stand with me and with the Chinese people, for the sake of China and for the world.
The Chen Guangcheng Foundation
Author, The Barefoot Lawyer