Congress Still Calling Out ABA Over Canceled Book Deal
In the latest episode of a months-long saga over the ABA’s cancellation of a Chinese human rights lawyer’s book deal, Congress members once again targeted the association at a hearing this week on Capitol Hill.
Titled “The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics From Tienanmen to Today,” the hearing was hosted by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which monitors human rights in the country.
The purpose of the hearing, according to the CECC’s website, was to “examine the Chinese government’s reach beyond its borders to stifle critical discussion of its human rights record and repressive policies.”
“We’ve invited them (the ABA) to be here, we will invite them again,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who co-chairs the CECC with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
“I do believe it’s an enabling of a dictatorship when a group with such a reputation as the ABA turns down a book like this out of fear of retaliation,” Smith said.
Smith was referring to the book of Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao, which is tentatively titled “Darkness Before the Dawn” and reportedly examines the oppression of Chinese human rights legal community, long at odds with the country’s ruling Communist Party.
The ABA had offered to publish Teng’s book in late 2014, but the following January Teng received an email from an ABA employee informing him the book deal had been canceled because of fears the book would put the ABA’s work in China at risk.
After the email from the ABA employee surfaced last month — and the ABA claimed the employee was mistaken: the book had been rejected for purely economic reasons — Smith and Rubio issued a letter asking the ABA for a better explanation.
The ABA responded with a letter of its own, citing poor sales forecasts for the book made by an unnamed “retail distribution partner.”
At the CECC hearing on Tuesday, Teng, who testified via Skype from London, said he didn’t want to “single out” the ABA, because many organizations self-censor out of fear of upsetting the Chinese government.
Smith called the ordeal a “tale of two stories” — Teng’s story that the ABA had cowed to the Chinese government, and the ABA’s story that it was all about business.
“To the best of my knowledge the ABA is very well endowed with finances,” Smith said. “When they write books on human rights its not to turn a profit, it’s to tell a story, and a story that must be told.”
Martin Flaherty, a law professor at Fordham University who studies the rule of law in China, suggested on Thursday that all the controversy has made the ABA’s business justification weaker.
“With all this notoriety, Teng’s book would clearly sell,” Flaherty wrote in an email. “In that light, what is stopping the ABA from doing the right thing now and offering to publish?”
In addition to Teng, Su Yutong, a Chinese human rights activist, and Gui Minhai, the daughter of a Hong Kong bookseller who has reportedly been disappeared by Chinese authorities, also spoke at the hearing.
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