Second Anniversary of the 709 Crackdown on Chinese Lawyers and Activists

Today is the second anniversary of China’s “709 crackdown” on human rights lawyers and activists. ChinaChange published a statement by the The China Human Rights Lawyers Group here.

This statement is sad but important (I almost mistyped “impotent”). It is noteworthy in many respects but two stand out to me. The first is an extensive note of bitterness not only, as usual, against the Party and government responsible for this obscenity but also against the legal scholars, professors and lawyers in and out of government who have lent their cooperation or blessings to the repression.

The second is the absence of any optimistic prediction that, at least in the near future, the numbers of human rights lawyers will be expanding in response to the effort to suppress them.  This is a grim, realistic assessment of the situation. Those of us lucky enough to be on the outside can only hope that the programs being held today to commemorate 709 will stimulate greater support for this gallant, besieged group and their families, inside as well as outside China. I share the statement’s confidence that, in the long run, the Chinese pendulum will again swing in the direction of freedom and that the historic role of the human rights lawyers will be vindicated. 

More on rights lawyer Wang Yu’s “confession and release” and China’s revival of “brainwashing” practice

There is no doubt whatever that Wang Yu will not be free to resume her practice of human rights law or her previous professional or even personal friendships. Her hope must be to obtain her husband’s release from jail, to be able to see her son and to procure for him the right to study abroad, as was originally planned. The elements of the deal struck will gradually emerge.

To say that her statement was “probably” the product of coercion is silly since she has been held in an immensely coercive environment for over a year. These “confessions” are reminiscent of the “brainwashing” era of the 1950s for which the new China became infamous. Brainwashing was based on long-run confinement in a coercive environment combined with heavy doses of thought reform and the realization that release depended on adopting, at least temporarily, the “new truth”.

The regime obviously altered Wang Yu’s restrictions (it did not “let her go”) because of the enormous international pressures brought to bear. The American Bar Association’s annual meeting at which the award is to be granted is about to be held. Her alleged repudiation of the award, which was a brilliant decision by the ABA to recover its loss of prestige from earlier inadequate criticism of the PRC, is the PRC’s attempt to discourage all foreign legal organizations from further attacks on the PRC’s human rights violations.

Of course, some lawyers and their legal assistants have been released during the past year while other lawyers are still detained and awaiting criminal conviction and prison punishment as well as the loss of their right to practice law, unless they too succumb to the brainwashing and other coercion to which they are being subjected. Even legal assistants such as Zhao Wei have not been spared the “confession and release” farce.

Non-release “release” of human rights activists and their confessions

Photo: Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Photo: Wang Yu and her son Bao Zhuoxuan, Photo courtesy of Bao Zhuoxuan

Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Yu has been “released” on bail, as reported in today’s Wall Street Journal. Wang Yu was seen in a video making a confession. “I also wrote inappropriate things online and accepted interviews with foreign media. For this, I feel ashamed and express remorse,” She said. As to the inaugural American Bar Association (ABA) International Human Rights Award given to her, she was quoted as saying she did not “acknowledge, recognize or accept” the award.

It’s obviously too soon to analyze with confidence but it sounds like another of the curious deals that are being struck between PRC oppressors and courageous but hapless human rights victims, deals involving the welfare of spouses, children, parents, lovers etc as well as the target whose captivity and torture are at stake.

This is all so sad, not only for the oppressed, broken victims but also for China and its standing in the world. These pathetic, ludicrous “confessions” and charges are obviously designed for a Chinese audience, but tens of millions of Chinese are not foolish enough to believe these farces.

Yet the damage to China that these torture-inspired fairy tales inflict abroad is incalculable. Does the Chinese leadership not see this? Xi Jinping is holding himself and the country up to increasing worldwide ridicule. This is the Chinese Communist Party’s distinctive contribution to the playbook of international Communist abuse of the legal system and promises to rank in notoriety with Stalin’s infamous purge trials, although so far no Chinese victims have been formally executed!

I’d like to think that if the ABA, in its new vision, could honor every detained human rights lawyer in China, it could guarantee them some minimal concession from their oppressors, but we know that international prizes can only be helpful in a few cases and certainly cannot free even Nobel Prize winners!

I don’t know what this foretells re the ABA’s work in China. Certainly it adds fuel to the fire of the continuing debate over what the appropriate ABA response to the vicious repression of human rights lawyers should be. If this case results in the termination of the ABA’s praiseworthy activities in China, it would be another classic instance of what Beijing propagandists like to call “dropping a rock on your own foot”.