Jerome Cohen, possibly the worlds leading expert on Chinese law, has written a post about the upcoming 90th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party. After laying out some of the legal reforms recently added to Chinese law, he concludes:
Nevertheless, experience cautions against optimism. With the backing of party leaders, China’s police have proved formidable opponents of legislative reform. With the acquiescence of both prosecutors and judges, they have also turned any legislative defeats into practical victories by failing to implement norms they oppose, distorting legislative exceptions and manipulating legal concepts to defeat legislative intent. Moreover, they increasingly harass those lawyers who seek to use the law to defend their clients.
Most dangerously, in some cases police — often the national security division of local public security bureaus — have gone outside the already permissive criminal justice and administrative punishment systems. Building on precedents such as their mistreatment of many Falun Gong adherents and their confinement of petitioners in “black jails”, they now simply kidnap certain human rights lawyers, hold them incommunicado in undisclosed locations and subject them to physical and psychological torture that compels written confessions and guarantees of cooperation. When released, these victims face continued monitoring and control. “Soft detention” and “house arrest” sound too bland to accurately portray their plight.
Apart from the dynamic rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who seems to have been permanently “disappeared”, perhaps the most egregious known example of these lawless abuses has been that of the blind “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng and his courageous wife, Yuan Weijing. Shandong police are not content with the slow death that Chen faces after over four years of imprisonment, long-untreated illness, inadequate diet and the total isolation inflicted since his return home. A letter recently smuggled out reveals that in both February and March seventy or eighty police and thugs led by a deputy party secretary broke into their farmhouse, beat Chen unconscious and left Yuan crippled, stripping them of virtually all remaining possessions including their five-year-old daughter’s books and toys. At the letter’s end, Yuan expresses the hope that the couple’s Beijing lawyer friends can stimulate prosecution of those who assaulted and robbed them. She could not know that all the lawyers she names are already suffering various forms of police restraint.
Is this the way the party wants to celebrate its birthday?
This is why it’s so silly to get excited about China signing this law and releasing that white paper and so on. The legal code here is bounded by the paper it’s written on, while the Communist Party exists in a different dimension entirely. To say there’s no relationship between them really doesn’t do it justice, because the law is frequently updated in ways that run directly opposite to how the Party is actually developing. The sooner foreign observers accept this, the better.