Beijing’s War on Rights Lawyers and Activists Continues

chinese-protests-WSJ

Stanley Lubmanlubman_a_20091028220718 writesA trio of recent repressive actions by the Chinese party-state represents a disturbing three-pronged attack that treats legality as an unnecessary burden on governance over society, and illustrates how far China is willing to go to snuff out dissent.

The actions include the arrest of seven lawyers accused of “subversion” and four others charged with lesser offenses; the televised “confession” of a China-based Swedish citizen who worked for a rights NGO and has been charged with “endangering state security;” and the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers and publishers One reemerged on CCTV to confess to a prior crime years earlier, and a second has written to his wife from Shenzhen to say that he has been “assisting in an investigation.”

Arrests for “subversion of state power”

The lawyers who have been arrested have all been in the forefront of defending controversial activists. Seven are accused of “subversion of state power,” an offense that has been on the books since 1997 but infrequently used. More commonly, activists such as Pu Zhiqiang have been convicted for the lesser charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels.” (Pu received a three-year sentence that was simultaneously suspended for the same length of time; however, because of his 51p37hYVRlL._SL250_conviction, Pu is barred from practicing law.) Conviction for subversion can lead to a sentence of anywhere from three years to life in prison.

[Order Stanley Lubman’s bookBird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China after Mao” from Amazon.com]

Three of the other lawyers were charged with the lesser offense of “inciting subversion against state power” which, according to a recent posting by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is used against individuals who “express criticism of the government” and is punishable by a sentence of up to five years. One other person, a paralegal, has been charged with “assisting in destruction of evidence; other lawyers have been detained 417gpDdlxrL._SL250_incommunicado or forcibly disappeared for at least six months.

[Order Stanley Lubman’s book “The Evolution of Law Reform in China: An Uncertain Path” from Amazon.com]

The arrests raise the severity of the charges by aiming at speech related to “subversion” — rather than acts. Foreign experts are dismayed; Eva Pils (Kings College London) comments that the situation “is basically about as serious as it gets for human rights advocacy.”

The arrest of the human rights lawyers is a continuation of the crackdown that exploded in July, but the rise of the accusation of “subversion” raises the odds of harsher punishment.

Arrest and televised “confession” of Swedish citizen affiliated with a human rights NGO

A Swedish man in his 30s, Peter Dahlin, a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) that organizes training programs for human rights defenders, was detained in early January, on a charge of “endangering state security.” On Wednesday, he was paraded on China Central Television and shown admitting to have broken Chinese laws, in a televised “confession” that has been denounced by rights advocates as coerced.

[Read the full story here, at China Real Time Report – WSJ]

According to a statement from China Action, the NGO focuses on land law and administrative law and trains non-lawyers to provide pro-bono legal aid to victims of rights violations. Dahlin is in need of daily medication due to affliction by a rare disease; Chinese state media reports say he is receiving it, but no other information has been available. China’s Foreign Ministry says it is granting Swedish consular officials access to him, although no information has been available on his whereabouts.

This detention appears to be yet another response to activities by an NGO that are intended to provide assistance to victims of rights violations. The organization claims that it relies only on Chinese law to resist illegal conduct such as arbitrary detention and property demolition. One of Dahlin’s colleagues has since stated publicly that the group’s priority was “to empower Chinese citizens with legal knowledge” and that it was funded by grants from the European Union and embassies.

The Chinese party-state has been trying to control rampant violation of land rights, but why should an NGO be penalized for such a strategy? It is likely that the Chinese purpose is to….(read more)

Source: China Real Time Report – WSJ

Stanley Lubman, a long-time specialist on Chinese law, is Distinguished Lecturer in Residence (ret.) at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. He is the author of “Bird in a Cage: Legal Reform in China After Mao” (Stanford University Press, 1999) and editor of “The Evolution of Law Reform in China: An Uncertain Path” (Elgar, 2012).



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