Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tom Phillips - 'Reap what you sow': families of seized lawyers send public warning to China

Open letter released on anniversary of human rights crackdown says Beijing’s campaign of fear will not stop them

The wives of some of China’s most prominent civil rights lawyers have issued an emotional and spirited plea for their release, one year after they were seized by police during a government offensive against dissent. In an open letter released on Saturday to mark the anniversary, relatives of the lawyers called on Beijing to end the harassment and persecution of their families.
“As a citizen, asking for the legitimate rights and interests of your family to be protected is the most basic requirement,” they write, warning: “He who plays with fire will get burnt. One day you reap what you sow for the various illegal methods you are today using.”

On 9 July last year security officials launched what activists describe as an unprecedented roundup of human rights lawyers and activists, taking well-known attorneys such as Wang YuLi Heping and Wang Quanzhang into secret detention.

Exactly 12 months later more than 20 of the crackdown’s targets remain behind bars, facing charges of political subversion that could see many of them jailed for life. An article in the Global Times, a Beijing-controlled tabloid, on Friday hinted they would be charged with plotting a “peaceful revolution” designed to overthrow the Communist party.

Activists accuse Chinese president Xi Jinping of trampling on human rights in order to silence potential opponents to his rule. The so-called “709 crackdown” has alarmed activists and foreign observers who view the offensive as part of a broader bid to consolidate political control by an increasingly authoritarian leadership.

Since Xi took power in 2012 liberal academics, bloggers, journalists, religious leaders, feminist campaigners and foreign NGO workers have all come under increasing pressure from authorities. “I really do think that we are moving into the end of China’s reform era,” said Carl Minzner, a professor of Chinese law and politics at New York’s Fordham law school. China’s reform era was characterised by a degree of ideological openness, a degree of political stability and rapid economic growth. And those are all beginning to end,” Minzner added.  “China is now beginning to move in a more ideologically closed, more politically unstable [direction] and the economy is slowing. It is moving in a much more uncertain, and increasingly worrying, direction.”

Writing on his blog, the veteran China expert Jerome Cohen said he had been encouraged by the international outcry surrounding the one-year anniversary of China’s so-called “war on law”. “[But] it is discouraging to realise how little impact all these efforts will have on Xi Jinping and his spear carriers or even on the Chinese people, most of whom are deprived of their right under China’s constitution to know about such efforts,” he wrote.  “How long can we expect even the bravest and most dedicated human rights advocates to endure in the cruelly punishing conditions that Xi Jinping has imposed upon them?” 

The open letter’s signatories vowed to continue their struggle for justice, describing the imprisonment of their loved-ones as “an honour”. “Walking through the long night in the dark, we are not without fear. But fear cannot prevent us from moving forward, as long as love still exists in our hearts,” they wrote, according to a translation posted on the Facebook page of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, an activist organisation monitoring the crackdown.

Speaking ahead of the anniversary, the wife of Li Heping, Wang Qiaoling, said she feared her husband was facing such hardship that he would feel compelled to confess to crimes he did not commit. “We cannot ask them to be Iron Man, Spider-Man or Superman,” she said. “It is very scary,” Wang added. “All I know is that God is in control of everything. Otherwise we would not be able to carry on.”
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/09/reap-what-you-sow-families-of-seized-lawyers-send-public-warning-to-china

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