[主页]->[独立中文笔会]->[滕彪文集]->[The legal system is a battleground, and there’s no turning back]
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The legal system is a battleground, and there’s no turning back

   The legal system is a battleground, and there’s no turning back
   INKSTONE, 2O18.7.13
   On December 22, 2016, four farmers from the southeastern province of Jiangxi, who had been convicted of robbery, rape and murder, were released after 14 years in prison. All charges were dropped.

   This was the case that shocked the country. It wasn’t just a wrongful conviction, or some mistakes made by police, prosecutors and judges.
   Right from the beginning, they all knew that the four men were innocent. But they were given so much pressure by higher authorities that they needed to find scapegoats as soon as possible. Torturers usually get immunity.
   If human rights lawyers didn’t work on the case for years, these men wouldn’t be free. But when they wanted to thank the people who had helped them, they couldn’t find the lawyers and activists.
   At that time, Li Heping, Xu Zhiyong, Jiang Tianyong and Wu Gan were all in jail. I was forced into exile in 2014.
   In the Leping case, we used every lawful means possible: lodging appeals, suing, staging demonstrations and protests, performing art, social media, producing documentaries, working with Amnesty International, and making use of the United Nations’ human rights mechanism.
   The case was only one episode in the tremendous amount of work done by China’s human rights lawyers. Since the rights defense movement began in 2003, lawyers have been promoting rule of law in different ways.
   The imprisonment of human rights lawyers is no accident. Ever since the start of the movement, they have been facing persecution.
   But after Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, there has been a large-scale, well-planned and systematic crackdown on human rights lawyers.
   The crackdown on July 9, 2015 marks the most severe move targeting the legal community since 1979, the year when professional lawyers were allowed to practice again after the Cultural Revolution. At least 321 human rights lawyers and activists were kidnapped, disappeared, faced trial and sentenced. Every lawyer has been tortured.
   Zhou Shifeng, Jiang Tianyong, Yu Wensheng, Li Yuhan and Wu Gan are imprisoned. Wang Quanzhang has disappeared for three years. No one knows where he is. Gao Zhisheng has gone missing again. In the past few months, dozens of human rights lawyers have had their licenses revoked.
    In the late 1970s, Mao Zedong’s reign of terror, which destroyed China’s legal system, was proven unsustainable. There was no choice but to reinstate law and order.
   Ever since, the government has rebuilt its legal system. Protecting human rights was even added to the constitution. The planning economy has been replaced by market forces. The internet has become available. For citizens with the vision to promote freedom and the rule of law, the legal system has become a battleground.
   The custody and repatriation system was abolished after the Sun Zhigang case, which other activists and I worked on ignited a national debate. Resorting to the constitution and existing laws, Some lawyers defended Falun Gong practitioners and dissidents, others helped victims of environmental pollution, forced demolition and torture seek justice.
    Despite increasingly efforts to suppress us, many more stood up and fought for our rights. Inevitably, the movement became more politicized and organized.
   But the government enjoys much greater advantages. It has implemented a litany of laws limiting civil liberties, such as the foreign NGO law, the national security law, the regulations on law firms.
   A typical example is the inclusion of “residential surveillance at a designated location” in criminal proceedings, essentially legalizing forced disappearances. This was what exactly happened in the 709 crackdown, and the arrested lawyers lost all contact with the outside world.
   Authorities also do not hesitate to resort to extra-legal or unlawful means, such as surveillance, house arrest, “black jails”, torture, forced confession on television and punishing families. An authoritarian regime needs to use all these means. If all extra-legal institutions were gone, could the party still rule?
   Considering the removal of presidential term limits from the Constitution, laws are no longer useful weapons in the pursuit of liberties and equal rights. Instead, they have become subordinate to power.
   Of course, the Chinese government will never allow any challenge to one-party rule, and the rights defense movement, which works within the legal system, has its own limits.
   But President Xi Jinping has taken things much further than his predecessors. Apart from building a personality cult around himself, Xi has ordered an all-around, ruthless crackdown on the civil society - and the human rights lawyers are just part of the story.
   This is said to be the “war on law” started by the Chinese Communist Party. The government always has a tight rein on the legal system. But what Xi has done has made people realize that placing hope in the party to introduce rule of law and democracy is nothing but a pipedream.
   The battle is still going on, and human rights lawyers and activists in China haven’t given up. The people fighting for freedom and human dignity in this world won't give up. It’s a matter of life and death - and there’s no way to turn back.
(2018/08/06 发表)
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