American Self-Censorship Association
The ABA again bows to fear of ‘upsetting the Chinese government.’
April 18, 2016
The American Bar Association is bowing to China again. Last year it barely mumbled condemnation after Beijing rounded up more than 200 lawyers and legal activists across China. Now comes news that it also nixed a book deal with a leading human-rights lawyer for fear of “upsetting the Chinese government.”
Teng Biao is a hero of China’s weiquan rights-defense movement who repeatedly faced arrest and torture for counseling clients such as AIDS activist Hu Jia and blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng. In 2014, as China’s legal crackdown intensified, he left for exile in the U.S. and a post at Harvard Law School. The ABA soon commissioned him to write a book tentatively titled “Darkness Before Dawn,” an allusion to the anti-Stalinist classic “Darkness at Noon.”
A month later the ABA changed its mind. “I have some bad news,” an ABA official wrote to Mr. Teng in a January 2015 email he revealed Friday via Foreign Policy magazine. “There is concern that we run the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by publishing your book, and because we have ABA commissions working in China there is fear that we would put them and their work at risk.”
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The ABA doesn’t deny the authenticity of the email but claims this is all a misunderstanding. “The decision not to proceed with publication of the book” was “made for purely economic reasons, based on market research and sales forecasting,” Robert T. Rupp, an ABA associate executive director, told Foreign Policy. “Unfortunately, the reasons resulting in the decision were miscommunicated to Mr. Teng.” Uh-huh.
The ABA represents some 400,000 American lawyers and commits in its mission statement to “advance the rule of law” both “at home and throughout the world.” In China it runs a Rule of Law Initiative for local bar associations, legal aid groups and law schools. But if the price of running such programs is self-censorship regarding Beijing’s worst abuses, the ABA risks enabling more harm than good.
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