“China’s Legal Blindness”

Jerome Cohen has an op-ed in the WSJ talking about Chen Guangcheng:

There are three myths about Mr. Chen’s plight that must be dispelled. One is that such cases of persecution and abuse of lawyers and legal activists are rare in China, and only occur when a few heroic dissidents openly invoke the law to confront injustice rather than rely less confrontational methods.

Mr. Chen never saw himself as a “troublemaker” bent on damaging social stability and harmony. He wanted to improve stability and harmony by using legal institutions to process social grievances in an orderly way as prescribed by law. His only mistake was to accept the law as it was written, as a true believer in China’s legal reforms.

One day, when he was especially frustrated by the county court’s refusal to accept the lawsuits he brought on behalf of impoverished pro bono “clients,” he asked me: “What do the authorities want me to do? Lead a protest in the streets? I don’t want to do that.” Yet, in a cruel twist, he was ultimately convicted on bogus charges of interfering with traffic and damaging public property.

China’s activist lawyers and non-professional advocates are under widespread, systematic official assault. Hundreds of lawyers have been persecuted for representing clients who seek to challenge arbitrary residential evictions, environmental pollution, food and drug contamination, official corruption, and discrimination against the sick or disabled. Many public interest and criminal defense lawyers never consider themselves human rights lawyers until the local judicial bureau threatens to take away their license to practice law, the police detain them in jail or at home, the authorities “suggest” that they leave the country, or officially sponsored thugs kidnap and beat them.

A second myth is that Mr. Chen’s recent suffering is merely another example of local government run amok, neither approved nor condoned by the central government. Many attacks on lawyers are indeed local in origin, and Mr. Chen’s case started out that way in 2005 when local authorities first sent thugs to illegally confine him and his family at home. However, the case soon came to the attention of national leaders. After representatives of the Ministry of Public Security reportedly met with local officials to discuss the situation, the authorities launched a criminal prosecution against Mr. Chen, a more conventional type of repression.

A third myth is that there must be some purported legal justification for the suffering that the Chen household has endured since his release from prison last year. Governments, even the Chinese government, normally like to maintain some veneer of plausible legitimacy for their misconduct, however thin it might be. Yet no such justification has come to my knowledge in this case, which seems to have exceeded the bounds of police ingenuity.

When, at an Oct. 28 Beijing press conference, a foreign reporter asked deputy director Li Fei of the Legal Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee to state the legal basis for Mr. Chen’s home imprisonment, he declined to answer. He merely asserted that “in our country the freedom of a citizen is adequately protected, and the use of any compulsory measures is based on law.” The question and its answer were eliminated from both the transcript and the video broadcast of the press conference.

Although it hasn’t gotten Chen out yet, it is still good to see increased international pressure and awareness of his captivity. As an added bonus, some of that international noise can easily leak back into China and lead to more Chinese citizens learning about what their government is doing.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under enforced disappearance, intimidation, law

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s