For Immediate Release: June 4, 2012
Chinese Government’s Continued Abuse of the Legal System to Persecute Rights Lawyers Must End
Washington, DC – On the 23rd anniversary of the Chinese government’s massacre of activists gathered at Tiananmen Square, Human Rights First renewed its call for the United States to make the Chinese government’s persecution of public interest lawyers and other activists a priority concern in the U.S.-China relationship. The organization welcomed the State Department’s statement today calling on China “ to protect the universal human rights of all its citizens; release those who have been wrongfully detained, prosecuted, incarcerated, forcibly disappeared, or placed under house arrest; and end the ongoing harassment of human rights activists and their families.”
“Few could forget the incredible courage of the men and women who gathered in Tiananmen Square to peacefully protest and demand respect for the rights and dignity to which all people are entitled,” said Human Rights First’s President and CEO Elisa Massimino. “Today, their struggle for a more democratic society continues, as does the Chinese government’s repression. The United States must turn rhetoric into action by standing with the public interest lawyers and activists fighting for change, and it can start by ensuring that respect for human rights is a cornerstone of U.S.-China relations.”
Last week, Massimino wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and urged her to make good on her promise to put human rights “at the heart of our diplomacy” with China. Massimino’s letter came less than two weeks after Chen Guangcheng’s arrival in the United States.
In the letter, she wrote, “Secretary Clinton, as a former legal aid lawyer, you understand the importance of a fair and independent legal system. In its negotiations with China, the United States should make the end of persecution of lawyers and other activists a priority. We welcomed your recent statement that human rights are ‘at the heart of our diplomacy’ with China. You can demonstrate the seriousness of this approach by raising the plight of Chinese lawyers consistently in your discussions with Chinese officials and urging that other senior officials in the Obama administration do the same.”
Massimino’s letter to Secretary Clinton also noted that China’s public interest lawyers – including Chen – use China’s legal system to challenge the system’s flaws and they continue to pay a high price for these courageous acts. The Chinese government controls bar associations and uses that leverage to pressure lawyers to back away from politically charged cases, like those involving free expression, religious freedom, and the one-child policy. Those who resist the pressure and continue to champion human rights are likely to encounter the crushing power of the police state.
“Twenty-three years after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, China has advanced in many ways. But the Chinese government’s failure to acknowledge and hold responsible those who ordered and perpetrated attacks on innocent civilians, and it’s continued abuse of the law as a tool of repression against those who seek accountability for such abuses, holds China back. Today’s anniversary is a stark reminder that the people of China continue to live in a society where freedom is illusory and human rights are openly abused,” Massimino said. “The United States should do all that it can to change that reality.”