9-22-2011By Alison Searle
Assistant for Advocacy
The new U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke, has said he intends to make human rights a very visible part of his remit, which is crucial if the United States is to keep pressing the issue with the Chinese government. The latest crackdown in China has shocked activists in its depth and severity.
The New York Times reported last week that Chinese dissidents are becoming increasingly vulnerable as new legislation from The National People’s Congress proposes to make disappearances legal: “The proposed revision would allow them to imprison in a secret location anyone who, under home surveillance, is found to hinder an investigation. Suspects’ families would have to be told of their disappearance within 24 hours — unless doing so would hinder the investigation of crimes involving national security or terrorism.” This would make legal current government practices clearly in violation of international human rights standards, and would give security officials the go-ahead to disappear dissidents.
After a trip to China last month, Vice President Joe Biden also reiterated the need for a strong human rights agenda: “In China, I argued that for it to make the transition to an innovation economy, it will have to open its system, not least to human rights. Fundamental rights are universal, and China’s people aspire to them.” Xi Jinping—a top-ranking member of the Secretariat for The People’s Republic of China—is due to visit the United States soon, and that will offer another chance to put human rights at the forefront of US-China relations. In recent years, U.S. messages to the Chinese government and dissidents have been mixed, a muddle of tough talk and too little follow through.
Human Rights Defenders remain at grave risk, and the new legislation will make things even more dangerous for them. We don’t know how many people in China are risking their liberty or lives to stand up for human rights. Some are famous, some unknown. They include journalists and community activists, religious clergy and anti-corruption activists, men and women, young and old, from the cities and the countryside, from every corner of China’s vast terrain. Some of their names and stories we will never know. Here are six lawyers we do know about, and whose cases Human Rights First will be monitoring:
|Gao Zhisheng (Disappeared): A Christian human rights attorney who was repeatedly kidnapped, arrested, and tortured by Chinese authorities in 2008-2009. After a year of being disappeared, Gao resurfaced in 2010 and spoke with his family for the first time since he was abducted from his home in 2009. After visiting with in-laws in April 2010 he informed family members that he would be returning to Beijing a few days later. He never arrived home and has not been seen or heard from since.|
|Li Fangping (Kidnapped): A prominent human rights lawyer who represented a number of high-profile cases regarding victims of political and religious persecution. He dealt with frequent harassment from government officials, including a serious assault in 2006 where he was severely beaten. In April 2011, he was kidnapped outside of the Beijing Yirenping Center, a health rights NGO, where he served as a legal advisor. His whereabouts are still unknown.|
|Ni Yulan (Detained): A former lawyer and housing rights activist, she was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing justice in 2008. She was detained for filming the forced demolition of a Beijing home and resisting the forced demolition of her own home. Ni became disabled after being repeatedly beaten by police while in government custody.|
|Chen Guangcheng (Detained): A blind human rights lawyer, Guangcheng, led a class-action lawsuit in 2005 against the Shandong province for subjecting thousands of people to late-term forced abortions, mandatory sterilization, and unprovoked late-night beatings. Shortly thereafter, he and his immediate family were detained for seven months. His family was eventually released, but Guangcheng was arrested under new charges and still remains in jail today after a final appeal rejection in 2007.|
|Liu Wei (female, law license revoked): A human rights lawyer from Beijing’s Shunhe Law Firm, has not had her license to practice law renewed by the judicial authorities following the conclusion of an annual review of her performance on May 31, 2009. Liu is part of a group of about twenty lawyers whose licenses were stripped for taking ‘sensitive’ human rights cases. Most of the others have succeeded in having their licenses returned after negotiations with the authorities. Ms. Liu has defended Falun Gong practitioners, human rights activists and HIV/AIDS carriers whose infection was related to government misconduct.|
|Ran Yunfei (Released in August 2011): A well-known and widely read Chinese blogger who frequently aired issues like democracy and human rights online. He was detained for six months for inciting subversion, but his unexpected release is possibly linked to an online advocacy effort by government critic, Ai Weiwei.|