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A Chief Justice Like Zhou Qiang Must Leave: An Open Letter Urging Zhou Qiang to Resign

January 19, 2017

Seventy-six well-known Chinese individuals, including legal scholars, practicing lawyers, economists, publishers, documentary filmmakers, writers, and poets, have joined in an open letter to ask for the resignation of Zhou Qiang, President and Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court. In a speech at a conference of chief justices of China’s higher courts on January 14 in Beijing, Zhou asked courts at all levels to firmly oppose the influence of such “incorrect tides of thinking” as Western “constitutional democracy,” “separation of powers,” and “judicial independence.”

The letter states that judicial independence is the cornerstone of a civilization based in the rule of law, a norm that has been universally accepted and incorporated in international treaties, including those signed by China. The signers argue that in challenging this consensus among civilized nations, Zhou’s continued service as Chief Justice of China’s highest court is a mockery of the progress of rule of law in China.

Below is an English translation of the open letter by Human Rights in China.

A Chief Justice Like Zhou Qiang Must Leave:

An Open Letter Urging Zhou Qiang to Resign

January 19, 2017

[Translation by Human Rights in China]

Being a judge is not an ordinary occupation—it is sacred. This sanctity is bestowed by the sacred nature of law itself. A judge has just one duty: safeguard the sacred law. To qualify as a judge—let alone President and Chief Justice of the highest court—one must revere the sanctity of the law and of the profession of judges, and be brave enough to defend this sanctity.

This is the reason we urge Chief Justice Zhou Qiang of the Supreme People’s Court to resign: his demonstrated personal temperament is diametrically opposed to that which is required for his position.

This was reflected in his speech on January 14 at a conference of the chief justices of the nation’s higher courts. In this speech, he characterized judicial independence—universally recognized as a good thing—as “Western,” and grandly urged a fight against "Western judicial independence." In essence, he is using the opposition to "Western judicial independence" in order to declare war on judicial independence in China.

Judicial independence is simply judicial independence. In today's world of deep tolerance among diverse human civilizations, judicial independence is the cornerstone of a civilization based in the rule of law. It has long been accepted by all of humanity and become the shared wealth among humankind. Consequently, it has been included in a variety of international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice, etc. And the Chinese government long ago signed these treaties. There is only “judicial independence”; there is no such thing as “Western judicial independence." This, in theoretical terms, is a long-settled issue, and uncontroversial to begin with.

However, in Zhou Qiang’s January 14 speech, as President and Chief Justice of the Supreme People's Court, he openly challenged this consensus and mobilized the entire court system to declare war against “Western judicial independence." To begin with, he created a problem out of a non-problem, rocking public opinion and causing great ideological confusion. This is clearly not how a professional judge should behave. Related to this, merely five months ago, Zhou Qiang stressed that Party committees and government departments at all levels must not interfere with the judiciary—thus emphasizing judicial independence. This shows even more clearly his flip-flopping and opportunistic nature.

A Chief Justice like Zhou Qiang must leave. Otherwise, it will lead to irreparable consequences.

Judicial independence is at the core of a civilization based in the rule of law. Without judicial independence, rule of law is an illusion. In China, judicial independence is facing stubborn resistance from the power elites. The usual tactic of the power elites is to label judicial independence as "Western," thereby stigmatizing it. That is, they oppose judicial independence itself in the name of opposing "Western judicial independence.” Zhou Qiang's January 14 speech was the perfect appeal to them, and was a testament to his own personal choice: in the intense contest between a civilization based in the rule of law versus a civilization against the rule of law, he stood clearly on the side of the latter.

That someone like Zhou Qiang continues to serve as President and Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court is a mockery of Chinese law and rule of law process. This will cause the public to lose confidence. And confidence is more precious than gold. If the loss of public confidence results in the loss of the majestic power that advances the rule of law, what power is left to constrain the enormous force against the rule of law? What hope would there still be in advancing in China a civilization based in the rule of law?

In order to restore public confidence and hope in the rule of law, and for the dignity of legal persons in China, we, solemnly, in the capacity of citizens, urge Chief Justice Zhou Qiang to admit responsibility and voluntarily resign. If Chief Justice Zhou refuses to accept this request, we will, during the Two Congresses this year, bring this request to the National People's Congress and ask it to exercise its power in accordance with Article 63, paragraph 4, of the Constitution, and remove a Chief Justice of the highest court who harms the common knowledge of the rule of law.

Citizens of the intellectual sector (by family name):

Ai Xiaoming, Guangzhou, Scholar
Buer Jide, Beijing, filmmaker and Painter
Chen Haodong, Shenzhen, Painter
Chen Yixuan, Hunan Lawyer
Chen Jiangang, Beijing, Lawyer
Cui Weiping, Beijing, Scholar
Chu Chengfang, Beijing, Scholar
Feng Yanbo, Xi'an, Scholar
Feng Chongyi, Hunan, Scholar
Fan Xiao, Beijing, Scholar
Fu Minrong, Shanghai, Lawyer
Gan Lan, Chongqing, Lawyer
Gao Qu, Beijing, Constitutional Bachelor
Guo Daohui, Beijing, Scholar
Guo Yuhua, Beijing, Scholar and Lawyer
Guo Xiongwei, Hunan, Scholar
Gu Xiaofeng, Jiangsu, Citizen
Duo Zhanqiang, Beijing, Scholar
Geng Xiaonan, Beijing, Publisher
Li Wen, Beijing, Entrepreneur
Li Nan, Hebei, Poet
Li Yunzhong, Shanghai, Poet
Li Weihua, Taiyuan, Citizen
Liu Weihua, Chongqing, Lawyer
Liu Zhizhang, Ningxia, Freelancers
Lin Liguo, Shanghai, former Lawyer
Lin Daoyan, Hainan, Citizen
Lou Jian, Beijing, Scholar
Li Xianting, Beijing, Artist
Lu Nan, Beijing, Renmin University Alumni
Min Liangchen, Zhengzhou, Freelance Writer
Mao Yushi, Beijing, Scholar
Hao Jian, Beijing, Scholar
Hou Junjun, Shaanxi, Citizen
Jiang Zhiqiang, Beijing, Citizen
Jiang Yongji, Gansu, Law Personnel
Ou Biaofeng, Hunan, Citizen
Qiu Bei, Shanghai Citizen
Qiu Jiajun, Shanghai, Editor
Rong Jian, Beijing, Scholar
Shuai Hao, Beijing, Scholar
Shi Wenhua, Jiangsu, Citizen
Su Xiaoling, Beijing, Writer
Shen Zijun, Lanzhou, Citizen
Shi Binhai, Beijing, Contemporary History Scholar
Tang Longbing, Chongqing, Engineer
Tang Tianhao, Chongqing, Lawyer
Tong Wenjie, Hunan, Citizen
Wang Xiao, Hebei, Senior Economist
Wang Ronghui, Xiamen, Citizen
Wang Dongcheng, Beijing, Scholar
Wang Qingying, Guangdong, Citizen
Wang Ruiqin, Beijing, Entrepreneur
Wu Wei, Beijing, Scholar
Wu Qing, Beijing, Scholar
Xiang Songzuo, Beijing, Scholar
Xiao Xuehui, Chengdu, Scholar
Xu Xu, Hubei, Independent Reviewer
Xia Yeliang, Beijing, Scholar
Xiao Shu, Wuhan, Independent Reviewer
Yan Lingqi, Qinghai, Poet
Yang Yunjin, Shanghai, Scholar
Yuan Zhaohui, Beijing, Citizen
Zi Hang, Guangdong, Writer
Zhu Xinxin, Hebei, Scholar
Zhang Qianfan, Beijing, Scholar
Zhang Wenkai, Beijing, Lawyer
Zhao Xiaohui, Beijing, Screenwriter
Zhang Xianmin, Beijing, Film Maker
Zhou Chenggang, Beijing, Editor
Zhao Shilong, Beijing, Media People
Zhao Qiqiang, Shanghai, Director
Zhao Guojun, Beijing, Law Scholar
Zou Yi, Nanjing, Austrian Economics
Zeng Xiangmei, Guiyang, Retired Engineer
Zhang Shengli, Hangzhou, Writer


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