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China: Letter to President Hu Jintao

Stop harassment of advocates for social justice

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Essential Background
Background Briefing

September 29, 2006  
President Hu Jintao  
People's Republic of China  
Zhongnanhai, Xichengqu, Beijing  
People's Republic of China  
Dear President Hu,  
We, the undersigned human rights advocates, lawyers, and scholars, write to urge your commitment to ensuring the civil rights of advocates for social justice. We note with concern the sharp increase in official retaliation against such advocates and their families through persistent harassment, banishment, detention, arrest, and imprisonment. We note, too, the frequent use of state secrets charges to discourage social activism.  
For the international community to take seriously China’s oft-stated commitment to a rule of law, and for China’s own citizens to trust the judicial system to redress legitimate grievances, it is urgent that China’s central leadership not look the other way when local courts and law enforcement officials ignore China’s laws and legal procedures with impunity. It is equally urgent that judicial authorities throughout China cease to use China’s state secrets laws to prevent defendants in politically sensitive cases from exercising their rights to fair and impartial hearings.  
Several recent cases cast doubt on your government’s willingness to take those principled steps. Four such cases are of particular concern, those of rights defenders Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, a legal activist, Zhao Yan, a journalist, and Hu Jia, a grassroots HIV/AIDS activist. Their apprehension, the charges against Messrs. Gao, Chen, and Zhao, Mr. Chen’s and Mr. Zhao’s subsequent trials and sentencing, and Mr. Hu’s forcible removal to a police station without a warrant are representative of China’s legal system at its worst. We urge the immediate releases of those still held, the dismissal of all charges, and the immediate restoration of Mr. Gao’s license to practice law.  
Beijing public security officers seized Mr. Gao, a prominent human rights defense lawyer, on August 15, 2006, in Shandong province. On August 18, Xinhua reported that he was detained on suspicion of involvement in “criminal activities.” His whereabouts are unknown. Police officers illegally prevent access to his home, as they so often do to the families of lawyers who assist people in asserting their rights; his wife, daughter, and son may not leave; no one is allowed in.  
All Mr. Gao’s activities were peaceful and legal. He defended journalist and former professor Zheng Yichun whose Internet writings questioned official policies, house church pastor Cai Zhuohua who freely distributed bibles, and fellow legal activist Yang Maodong, better known as Guo Feixiong. He also defended Beijing residents forcibly evicted from their homes, rural residents whose lands were seized, Falungong practitioners, and striking workers.  
However, in November 2005, after Mr. Gao continued to protest against local officials’ abuse of power, sent an open letter to you and to Premier Wen Jiabao urging that the persecution of Falungong practitioners cease, and took on more politically sensitive cases, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Justice suspended his law firm, the Shengzhi Law Office in Beijing, for one year. In December, his license to practice was revoked.  
Mr. Gao made good his promise to “continue to work for the rights of ordinary citizens, as an ordinary person myself if they refuse to let me operate as a lawyer.” On February 4, 2006, he and Mr. Hu initiated a symbolic hunger strike movement to draw attention to official mistreatment of human rights defenders.  
Mr. Gao was particularly concerned, as we are, with retaliation against Chen Guangcheng, sentenced on August 24 by local Yinan county (Shandong province) officials to four years and three months in prison for allegedly organizing a mob to disturb traffic and willfully damaging public property. Mr. Chen, a blind legal activist, had investigated villagers’ claims that local officials used illegal practices to enforce population control laws. The National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), responding to his concerns, agreed that illegal family planning practices did exist. It is our belief that the charges were baseless and brought in response to his activism. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Chen, who was forcibly detained at home and denied any means of communication, to organize a mob or damage public property. Furthermore, even if the charges were true, the sentence was disproportionate to the alleged offenses.  
We are equally concerned about the physical attacks on Mr. Chen’s legal team. Prior to the trial, local officials and unknown assailants prevented the team from collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. On the day of the trial, Mr. Chen was represented in court by two lawyers whom he had never met because his own lawyers were prevented from attending the trial. One of Mr. Chen’s lawyers, law professor Xu Zhiyong, was accused of petty theft and beaten, then held by the police until Mr. Chen’s trial was over.  
Other activists, such as Hu Jia, were prevented from going to Shandong to demonstrate support for Mr. Chen, or apprehended when they arrived. In another instance, local Yinan county police detained writer Deng Yongliang when he arrived on August 18, then transferred him back to Xi’an. As of this writing, it is unclear whether he is still in detention. On August 19, security personnel told Zhao Xin, executive director of the Empowerment and Rights Institute, a Chinese human rights NGO, to leave Beijing and return to his home town in Yunnan province. Mr. Zhao had spoken out in defense of both Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng. Two Beijing law professors, Teng Biao of the Chinese University of Politics and Law and Xu Zhiyong from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, were repeatedly warned by their universities to stay away from the case.  
Zhao Yan, a former journalist for the official Zhongguo Gaige (China Reform) magazine, used the media to expose government mistreatment of farmers and publicly assisted many who tried to reclaim their land or realize just compensation. State Security Bureau agents kept Mr. Zhao under surveillance and harassed him. Under pressure, Mr. Zhao resigned from the magazine in April 2004; a month later he began work as a researcher for the New York Times. Six months later he was formally arrested for “leaking state secrets to a foreigner” after the New York Times correctly predicted that former president Jiang Zemin would resign from his last official post. The New York Times and Mr. Zhao consistently maintained that he was not the source of the information.  
On June 1, 2005, when no evidence to sustain the state secrets charge had been found and Zhao’s time in detention had exceeded allowable limits, the government brought an unrelated fraud charge based on an alleged 2001 incident. According to the government, Mr. Zhao agreed, in exchange for approximately U.S.$2,500, to use his State Council connections to help a local official avoid serving an 18-month re-education through labor sentence. Mr. Zhao has denied he ever took money and has asked for a lie-detector test. On August 25, 2006, two months after his closed trial, the court dismissed the state secrets charge but convicted Mr. Zhao of fraud and sentenced him to a three-year term.  
A charge of state secrets may be justified in the interest of public order or national security. In Mr. Zhao’s case, neither was compromised by the New York Times prediction. What was compromised was the ability of Mr. Zhao’s lawyers to act as defense counsel, in particular because the authorities limited the lawyers’ access to their client and to the prosecutor’s evidence and refused to hear the defense witnesses.  
On September 7, 2006, some dozen plainclothes officers seized Mr. Hu Jia from his home in Beijing and insisted he accompany them to a local police station. They offered no identification nor did they produce a warrant. He was released after twelve hours, but was warned that he was suspected of “criminal activities.” The following day, September 8, police officers took him back to the station for another day of interrogation. Mr. Hu has been held in house arrest since mid-July for his on-going attempts to investigate and publicize the disappearances and detentions of other rights activists. At the time he was seized, he was trying to arrange legal help for Mr. Gao and to collect information on additional disappearances. In February 2006, Mr. Hu “disappeared” for over a month following his and Mr. Gao’s initiation of a rotating symbolic hunger strike. Mr. Hu’s early activism targeted environmental and HIV/AIDS-related abuses.  
These incidents, taken together, suggest that those who try to make Chinese officials more accountable, whether through journalism, legal activism, or other peaceful and internationally recognized channels, will be prosecuted through a legal system that lacks impartiality and denies them basic guarantees of fairness. So long as the government may, with impunity, persecute and punish those whom they perceive as challenging its collective power, the international community and China’s friends and allies will remain deeply skeptical about China’s commitment to reform, to transparency, and to the rule of law.  
We therefore urge again that Messrs. Chen, Gao, and Zhao be released immediately with all their rights fully restored, and that Mr. Hu no longer be confined to his home. We urge that the overhaul of state secret laws, in order to bring them into conformity with international standards, be made a priority. We urge that local officials be held accountable when they use the law to punish and harass would-be challengers. And we urge your public commitment to use your office to further these reforms sooner rather than later.  
R. David Arkush  
Professor & Director of Graduate Studies  
Department of History  
The University of Iowa  
Iowa, U.S.  
Robert Arsenault  
International League for Human Rights  
New York, U.S.  
Harry G. Barnes Jr.  
Retired Diplomat  
Vermont, U.S.  
Richard Baum  
Director of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies  
UCLA Political Science Department  
Los Angeles, California, U.S.  
Jean-Philippe Beja  
Senior Research Fellow  
CNRS, CERI-Sciences-po  
Paris, France  
Robert L. Bernstein  
Retired Chairman and President  
Random House  
New York, U.S.  
Thomas P. Bernstein  
Professor of Political Science  
Columbia University  
New York, U.S.  
Michel Bonnin  
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales  
Paris, France  
Anita Chan  
Visiting Fellow  
Contemporary China Centre  
Research School of Pacific & Asian Studies  
Australian National University  
Canberra, Australia  
Gordon G. Chang  
New Jersey, U.S.  
Peg Christoff, PhD.  
China Debate Series Manager  
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace  
Washington, DC, U.S.  
Jerome A. Cohen  
New York University Law School  
Adjunct Senior Fellow  
Council on Foreign Relations  
New York, U.S.  
Joan Lebold Cohen  
Art Critic  
Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies  
Harvard University  
Cambridge, U.S.  
Alison W. Conner  
Director of International Programs  
University of Hawaii School of Law  
Honolulu, U.S.  
George T. Crane  
Professor of Political Science  
Williams College  
Massachusetts, U.S.  
Meg Davis  
New York, U.S.  
Michael C. Davis  
Professor of Law  
Chinese University of Hong Kong  
Hong Kong  
June Teufel Dreyer  
Professor of Political Science  
University of Miami  
Florida, U.S.  
Dr. Chongyi Feng  
Associate Professor in China Studies  
University of Technology  
Sydney, Australia  
Edward Friedman  
University of Wisconsin  
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.  
Felice D. Gaer  
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights  
New York, New York, U.S.  
Merle Goldman  
Professor Emerita  
Boston University  
Massachusetts, U.S.  
Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies  
Harvard University  
Cambridge, U.S.  
Justice Richard J. Goldstone  
Former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda  
South Africa  
R. Scott Greathead  
Board Member  
Human Rights First  
Board Member  
Human Rights in China  
New York, U.S.  
Dr. Gerry Groot  
Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies  
Centre for Asian Studies  
University of Adelaide, Australia  
Paul Hoffman  
Civil Rights Lawyer  
Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris & Hoffman  
Hermosa Beach, California, U.S.  
Sharon Hom  
Executive Director  
Human Rights in China  
New York, U.S.  
Carol Jones  
University of Glamorgan Law School  
Wales, U.K.  
Richard C. Kagan  
Professor Emeritus  
Hamline University  
Minnesota, U.S.  
David Kelly  
Senior Research Fellow  
East Asian Institute  
National University of Singapore  
Joanne Leedom-Ackerman  
International Secretary  
International PEN  
Washington, DC, U.S.  
Xiaorong Li  
Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy  
University of Maryland  
College Park, Maryland, U.S.  
Perry Link  
Professor of East Asian Studies  
Princeton University  
New Jersey, U.S.  
Daniel Lynch  
Associate Professor  
School of International Relations  
University of Southern California  
California, U.S.  
Roderick MacFarquhar  
Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science  
Harvard University  
Cambridge, U.S.  
James Mann  
Johns Hopkins SAIS  
Washington, DC, U.S.  
Jonathan Mirsky  
London, U.K.  
Robin Munro  
Research Associate  
SOAS Law Department  
London, U.K.  
Andrew J. Nathan  
Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science  
Columbia University  
New York, U.S.  
Eva Pils  
Visiting Assistant Professor of Law  
Cornell University Law School  
Ithaca, New York, U.S.  
Victoria Riskin  
Los Angeles, California, U.S.  
Barnett R. Rubin  
Director of Studies and Senior Fellow  
Center on International Cooperation  
New York University  
New York, U.S.  
Sophie Richardson, PhD.  
Deputy Director  
Asia Division  
Human Rights Watch  
New York, U.S.  
Allan Roth  
Professor Emeritus  
Rutgers University  
New Jersey, U.S.  
Kenneth Roth  
Executive Director  
Human Rights Watch  
New York, U.S.  
Sidney Sheinberg  
The Bubble Factory  
Former COO of MCA/Universal  
Song Yongyi  
Librarian Faculty  
California State University  
Los Angeles, California, U.S.  
Hatla Thelle  
Copenhagen, Denmark  
Steve Tsang, MA, DPhil. (Oxon)  
Louis Cha Fellow and University Reader in Politics  
St. Antony's College  
Oxford, U.K.  
Willem van Kemenade  
Senior Fellow  
Netherlands Institute of International Relations 'Clingendael'  
The Hague, Netherlands  
Peter Van Ness, PhD.  
Contemporary China Centre and Department of International Relations  
Australian National University  
Canberra, Australia  
Xiao Qiang  
China Internet Project  
The Graduate School of Journalism  
University of California at Berkeley  
Berkeley, California, U.S.  
Michael Yahuda  
Emeritus Professor of International Relations  
The London School of Economics and Political Science  
London, U.K.  
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars  
Washington, DC, U.S., Columbia University, U.S.  
Yu Maochun  
China specialist  
Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.  
cc: Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong  
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China  
Via Fax: 202-588-0032  


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